Verses like John 3:16 tell us what the gospel is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should have eternal life.” Now we might find ourselves asking, “…but how, Jesus?” How does this salvation come to us? We don’t have a perfect knowledge like Jesus to know all the implications of a verse as full of meaning as John 3:16.
To begin to answer the question of ‘How?’, we can look at verses like Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The answer, at least in part, to the question of how this salvation comes to us is given here. Salvation comes by grace through faith. It comes as a gift. It is not earned. It is free. Do you feel a weight come off your shoulders when you hear that? It is a gift, not based on works. Jesus is so merciful to us!
He has done all the heavy lifting for us on the cross. If we aren’t rehearsing this in our minds, we might fall into the sin of believing that we have contributed in some way to our salvation. It could be a subtle boast of the heart that we don’t even notice. What is an everyday example of how this could play out in our lives? You look at someone and think to yourself how far they must be from God. Could they ever have faith in Jesus and gain his salvation with those sins?
What have we done in a situation like that? For one, we have made ourselves more acceptable to God based on something other than His free gift of grace. In addition, we have limited God’s free grace, making it only big enough for our more, shall we say “acceptable” sins, but not for the sins of others. We have magnified our righteousness and minimized our sin. This is just one manifestation of the subtle pride and boasting that comes if ever we forget the “How?” of the gospel. That salvation is the gift of God, not a result of works.
This is why it is so important to daily remind ourselves of the gospel. Importantly, we need to consider whether the gospel we are believing is one that relies completely on the grace of God or one that allows us to hold on to our pride and self-righteous qualifications. If we find that we are believing in our hearts that our acceptance before God is helped in some way by our own acts of righteousness, we need to repent and confess it to God. Then return to the gospel as we received it, a free gift by grace through faith. Like we sing in the hymn Rock of Ages “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”