What is the One Prerequisite to Salvation?

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. (Psalm 62:1, NIV)

Lots of people talk about salvation, but the question is salvation of what?

“Your soul.”

OK, my soul. But what am I saving my soul from?

“An eternity without God; eternal damnation!”

OK, but why do I need to save my soul from eternal damnation or an eternity without God?

“Because you’re a sinner!”

OK, but what makes me a sinner?

“You were born that way!”

The prerequisite to salvation is that we have to believe that we need saving in the first place! In order to believe that we need to be saved from anything, we have to understand who we are, who God is, and what awaits us in the future. Well, obviously in order to believe in all that, we need to also believe in God, but if you don’t already, stay tuned – we’ll get into that a little later on.

So, here we are. We’re told, “You need to be saved – from an eternity without God!” Many say, “From eternal damnation and hellfire!” Some would say, “No, from annihilation!” but I’ll go into that at a later point also. Either way, for now, let’s just say that it won’t be pretty and you won’t like it.

So, we’ve now heard that we’re not on a good path. A path that will be very ugly and terrible should we choose to remain on it. Maybe we don’t believe that we are on that path. Maybe we believe that we are on a good path.

Well, that depends. In order to understand what path we are on, we have to first look at who we are. We are sinners. That means, we have all committed some wrong, at some point in our lives. Now, keep in mind, that means any wrong. This applies even if we were hypothetically entirely good – except that one time when we did that one thing that we knew we shouldn’t or weren’t supposed to do . Well, that’s still one wrongdoing. Maybe somehow that was the only flaw ever, but that’s still “missing the mark”. Now, I don’t honestly think there is anyone out there who could say they have done only one thing wrong in their entire life, but even if there was, they would be included in this.

More so, one outward wrong isn’t the only way we can “miss the mark”. Let’s say that someone never outwardly lied, cheated, stole, murdered, cheated on their spouse, etc. But let’s say that they got really angry at some coworker and they thought, “Grr, I could just bash their face in!”  But he/she didn’t actually do that. Never lays a hand on the other person.

Or, maybe a married man sees a beautiful woman walking down the street and starts fantasizing about sleeping with her. But, he never physically goes after her in any way or even so much as speaks to her. Maybe some woman living in a small rambler, with an old beater car had a neighbor who had a large, lovely house. It was just beautiful. She also had designer clothes and a nice car. The woman was always cordial with her neighbor when she would visit her, but always went home frustrated and thinking, “I wish I had a house like hers, a car like hers, and all the money she has to throw around!”

Well, those are also examples of “missing the mark”.

One might at that point say, “OK, but that’s awfully extreme.”  Well yes, yes it is quite extreme.

One might also say, “Well, maybe I’ve done something like that, but so does everyone else! We all do stuff like that!” Well yes, yes we all do.

So, this is an awfully high standard that we have to achieve, right?

Well, who says we have to achieve that high of a standard? Why can’t the standard be a bit lower, more feasible? Well, that’s where God comes in. God is the standard of purity, holiness, truth, faithfulness, righteousness, and perfection. But, because He is that standard, He also requires that standard of us.

Well, shoot. We are in a real bind, here. We can’t meet that standard. We can’t achieve that level of perfection! We can only try to be “better than the next guy”.

OK, so we realize that we aren’t at a good level . . . but we can’t meet that standard. So what?

Well, according to the Bible, these people won’t go to heaven:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [by perversion], nor those who participate in homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers [whose words are used as weapons to abuse, insult, humiliate, intimidate, or slander], nor swindlers will inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10, AMP)

Well, at that point, you might say, “Well I don’t do any of those things!” Well, that’s good. It’s still better to not be like that than to be like that. But, did you ever do any of those things? To any degree? Remember, a little white lie is still a lie! Have you ever been greedy? Have you ever been verbally abusive to someone? The point is, we have all done at least one of these things at least one time in our lives, if not multiple times, if not every day! And even if you don’t believe you have, the list gets longer.

So, we must concede that all of us have done at least one of these things, at least once in our lives, if not multiple of them all the time!

Well, at this point one might say, “I can’t help it! It’s in my nature. God will just have to accept that. I’m trying.”

Well, if you are one to say that, you are right about one thing. It is in your nature. It’s in mine too! But, I have bad news. He won’t “just accept that”. We’ll talk more about that later also, but remember that God requires His standard from each of us. Yet, we’re stuck with this awful state that we’re in.

This is why, we need a Savior. We can’t save ourselves from eternal darkness, eternal separation, eternal damnation – any of it! We can try our best but it simply isn’t good enough to meet God’s incredible standard.

See, we deserve a terrible punishment. We don’t always think that we do, but that’s because we are always prone to compare ourselves to other people. We have to compare ourselves to the standard of God, and then we realize just how badly we fall short. Also remember that not all sins are against other people, but all sins are against God. So even all the times when maybe we didn’t even know we were doing anything wrong, maybe we knew but we didn’t think it was that wrong, maybe we didn’t do anything but we had a defiant attitude… and even when we were younger, and we were disobedient or defiant to our parents! All of these are wrongdoings against God Himself.

However, there is one Person who meets that standard, fully. And, He already died in your place, and in my place. He chose to suffer a horrendous death on the cross for anyone who would choose to to their belief and faith in Him. Who is He? Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can satisfy the demands for God’s perfection because He Himself is not just fully man, but also fully God. He never committed a single sin, He never did anything wrong, in fact – He was perfect in every way. Yet, He humiliated Himself in every way (starting with taking on human nature!), and then suffered terribly in every way. He suffered humiliation, mockery, slander, betrayal, starvation, temptation, mental anguish, extreme stress, and excruciating physical pain – because He loves you and wants that badly for you to be with Him in eternity. 

Jesus Christ does not desire that anyone should spend eternity apart from Him. No one. Nada. Even the worst imaginable wrongdoings He is willing to forgive. Even if you’ve been sinning all your life, even if you’ve done some incredibly terrible things – Jesus will still forgive you, if you humbly ask Him to. If you admit that you’ve done some bad things – maybe a lot, maybe a little, maybe not even so much outwardly but you’ve had a lot of terrible thoughts – He is willing to forgive you of all of that if you will just confess it all to Him and ask for His forgiveness. The Bible clearly states how simple it is to have eternal life:

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40, NIV)

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20, ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NIV)

Now that it is clear what we are facing, and now that it is clear how badly we miss the mark, and how ready and willing Christ is to accept you, there is only one question left to answer:

Will you accept Him as your Savior?

The Story of Job – Do We Suffer Because God is Making Bets with Satan?

The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit. (Job 37:23-24, ESV)

One of my favorite books in the Bible is the Book of Job. It seems snuck in there out of nowhere because there’s no real lead up or aftermath. Job is referred to elsewhere in the Bible, but ultimately, the Book of Job seems very self-contained.

Job is a very popular book of the Bible for sermons and discussions on why we suffer. It’s actually an exquisitely perfect book for this purpose – perhaps why it’s in there!

If you’re never read the Book of Job, it’s a bit long but worth a read. The version I’ve linked to is the ESV and I’ll explain why in a moment.

The Book of Job starts by telling briefly about Job, how he is very wealthy and a very righteous man. Job is described as a “man [who] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”. Then it goes on to tell how he has all sorts of wealth by way of servants, herds and flocks, plus a wife and 10 children. We’re told that Job is even proactive by offering sacrifices just in case his children had sinned. Again, “blameless and upright” in every sense.

The story then takes a very odd sounding turn, where Satan joins the “sons of God” who are presenting their selves before Him. God inquires where he came from and Satan says he was walking around earth. Then we see this verse:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8, NKJV)

Now, this seems really strange. It reads as though God is literally offering up Job to Satan. Which, Satan then basically replies, “Of course he fears you! You’ve given him all this wealth! You’ve blessed him and all he has – but take it away and he’ll curse you to your face!”

God replies to Satan basically saying, “Fine. Do what you want with everything he has, but don’t do any harm to him.”

Satan proceeds to send in people who either steal or kill his children, flocks, and servants. Job is deeply hurt but does not sin against God.

Then, a little later on, the same thing happens. Satan shows up again, saying he’s been roaming the earth. God now tells him:

“Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” (Job 2:3, NKJV)

Satan responds in a similar way, this time basically saying, “Yeah, sure, but that’s because he values his life more than anything. If you cause him physical suffering, he’ll curse you to your face!”

God now basically tells him, “Do what you will to him, but don’t kill him.”

Job is 42 chapters long, but at the point above, we’re only into chapter 2.

Satan inflicts painful boils from Job’s head to his feet – covering his whole body. His wife even tells him, “Do you still hold your integrity? Curse God and die!” and he reprimands her foolish words.

Verse 10 tells us that through all this, Job still didn’t sin.

In verse 11, 3 of Job’s friends come to visit him and mourn with him. Initially they don’t say anything but then they start to pipe up and the next 29 chapters are two of the friends and Job talking. However, there is evidently a 4th person who is younger and is pretty much biting his tongue until chapter 32. The younger friend reprimands Job and his two friends and sticks up for God through to chapter 38, when God “speaks out of a whirlwind” and rebukes Job Himself (and what a rebuke indeed)! In chapter 42, Job repents and God rebukes his 3 friends (not the younger friend) for speaking wrongly of Him and Job’s wealth and family is restored.

As I mentioned, it’s a very fascinating book. The problem is that it seems to be frequently misunderstood, or not understood at all. The theme that I tend to hear in regards to the Book of Job is, “We may not always understand why we suffer.” I don’t know if this is even consistently followed up with something such as, “but God is in control of all things.” Now, that’s true. But stay with me!

The other argument I hear is typically from skeptics and unbelievers and goes something like this, “So when I’m suffering, it means that God is making bets with the devil?” – said in a sarcastic tone, of course!

Well, I have something that I’d like to point out to you that God opened my eyes to! But first, let’s examine what Job’s 3 friends were saying.

When I first heard the entire Book of Job via audiobook, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to understand what God reprimanded them for. I could understand why He said what He said to Job, but I didn’t see what the friends did wrong.

Later on, one of my favorite speakers happened to mention the Book of Job and in the process, explained. Job’s friends were accusing Job of being punished for sin. They had the assumption wealth, health and happiness came from good behavior, and pain, loss or suffering came from bad behavior. Therefore, Job was clearly being punished meaning he must have done something bad and he had to ‘fess up! This is why I linked to the ESV – the headers over each part of the conversation are very clear as to what is going on – so you won’t miss it like I did!

Job, on the other hand, was kind of basically declaring that he was righteous and therefore how could God do this to him?

God comes back at him with a sweeping, awe-inspiring response that in essence is saying, “Since when did you become God?” It is well worth the time to read even only that portion!

So then, what is the meaning of it? What is the meaning of our suffering, or even the meaning of this book?

Well, there are many possible reasons for suffering. I don’t think Job’s friends were wrong to conclude that it could have been punishment for some un-repented sin (though, assuming they were well aware of Job’s character they should have not assumed that anyway). Remember though, they were declaring that it was always the case. We do know that sometimes God allows hardship as a means of discipline or judgment but that is not the rule!

We could say that the real message of Job is simply, “We don’t know.” We don’t know why God allows suffering. We might retrospectively come to realize a possible reason, or even one of perhaps several reasons, maybe even during suffering we might realize a potential reason for it. We may never know the reason that we suffered because it may not become clear until after we’re dead. But ultimately, we just don’t know. Who knows the mind of God?

While I do maintain that the message of Job is in one sense ultimately, “We don’t/can’t know (because we aren’t God)”, I don’t believe that’s the whole message. Sure, part of the message is, “We don’t know, but we have to trust God that He will bring us through it.” That’s one common thing that I’ve seen in relation to the story of Job as it pertains to human suffering.

However, I also think that a lot of people ultimately miss the deep-down message. Now, maybe I’m underestimating. Maybe a lot more people have realized this. But I haven’t seen it much so I figure I’d share what God showed me.

God actually blessed Job in allowing him to suffer. Now, I don’t mean this at the end where God gives him back all his things. That’s a nice ending for Job, but that doesn’t mean that we can consistently expect the same result – especially not if we spend all our time complaining about our suffering!

But, how could Job’s immense, long suffering have possibly been a blessing? Sounds positively absurd, right? Well, to understand this, we have to think from what we know of God’s perspective and from our current perspective rather than from Job’s.

Still with me? Here’s what I mean.

We have the Book of Job. Job is famous as a righteous man and his story has been used countless times to help others. We take it for granted that we have this book in our Bibles, but Job didn’t know that people full millenniums later would be benefiting from his story. Job didn’t realize how God was blessing him with this alone. Job probably died with absolutely no indication of what all that was for. He may have died utterly perplexed as to the ultimate reason God had for that long period of loss and suffering in his life. Could there have been other reasons that God had that aren’t mentioned in the Bible? Sure! But we don’t need to know those other possible reasons to understand the definite reasons.

We can still see that Job has received a great honor. God not only allowed him an entire book of the Bible, but also that his story has been told for generations upon generations. His story has helped many people to take comfort in their suffering knowing that God is in control of all things. In short, God gave Job the great honor of using him to fulfill a much greater purpose.

That is why, no matter what situation we are put in and no matter how grim it may seem, it doesn’t mean that suddenly God is no longer in control and it certainly doesn’t mean that God no longer loves us. It means we have to put our trust fully in Him that He will not only take us through our situation but also that He has a reason and purpose for it, regardless of whether we ever realize it or not.

Any time that God can use us, we should be grateful and consider it a huge honor and privilege. To suffer and even die for Christ would be the greatest honor. This flies in the face of secular logic, but we have to remember that the Lord does many things we don’t understand at the time they are happening. I’m writing that as much to myself as I am to anyone reading this right now! I think we all forget that far too often.

To illustrate this, even to myself, every time I think about suffering in the name of Jesus I think about Rachel Scott. I didn’t know her by name, in fact I had to look her name up just to type that. But she is the girl who was killed at Columbine when they asked her if she was Christian. She didn’t denounce her Lord and Savior, and she paid for it with her life. But, here I am – not having known her at all, having only heard about her via the news, thinking to myself of how incredible it was that she did that. Despite being stared down by death, she did not reject Christ. As is now also the case with the recent victims of the Oregon Umpqua Community College shooting.

One of the most powerful responses I’ve heard to the question of where God is in the midst of our suffering, was said to a woman who said that she had prayed for God to share His mind with her. After praying the prayer, she said her health and the health of her family began to decline, with her suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time of the questioning. She wanted to know why she experienced such decline after praying that prayer.

One of the speakers gave a response to her direct question. He then sat down and his response was followed up by this response, by Muslim-turned-Christian, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi:

 We so take it for granted that we wake up in the morning. What say do we have, that we wake up in the morning? We go to sleep and we wake up and it happens regularly, so we take it for granted, but there’s nothing we do to make that happen cognizantly. And we think about, momentarily, the malady that you mentioned that you have – the multiple sclerosis. We just act, so immediately we act. We see things, we can point to it, and it’s so natural to us. We don’t even think about what’s happening here. That your brain and your nerves function as electrical systems, and you have capacitors that allow your signal to go from your brain to your finger. And for your muscles to work at the very fast rate at which they do. And those capacitors, if they stop working, these myelin sheaths, you get multiple sclerosis. Just one small part of a very complex system can cause such devastating effects. And as painful as it is, I think one thing that you have probably learned is just how beautiful it is, and how much people take it for granted when this amazingly complex system works the way it ought to. Something we take for granted every single day. And I know when I pray, early on when I began to pray as a Christian. . . You know I was a Muslim, formerly, and part of my prayer was the 5 daily prayers. It was very scripted. Everything was scripted. The only thing I got to choose in my 5 daily prayers was which portion of the Qur’an to recite. So when I began to learn to pray as a Christian these improvisational prayers, I used to say, ‘What am I supposed to pray?’ And I’d look at my hands as I’m praying, and I said ‘I’ve got 10 things to pray about right here.’ Every single [looking at fingers]. . . What if I didn’t have these? My whole life would be absolutely different. And so, you have learned that message unlike many of the rest of us will ever be able to learn it. But the other thing that I learned in the process of transitioning from Islam to Christianity . . . was that God – according to Islam we don’t learn this – God did not stand apart from your suffering. He didn’t watch you suffer and say, ‘I want to see what she ultimately does. I want to see what way she finds for herself.’ God takes a look at our suffering, and says, ‘I cannot remain aloof from that suffering. I will enter into it.’ You know, Jesus could have come as a prince in the human sense. He could’ve come with power. He could’ve come at any time in human history. He chose to come at a very specific time when people had invented how to execute people the most painful way ever devised, the most humiliating way ever devised. God said, ‘That type of suffering which goes beyond all other suffering, that’s what I will choose to take on for myself.’ He entered into it. And why did He do that? Out of love for you. He didn’t watch you suffer and stand aloof. He took that suffering upon Himself so that He could show us what true love was all about. And you are learning this, in a way none of us the rest of us will. So, I praise the Lord for who He is, and I praise the Lord for who you are. You were designed before the creation of the world – this is also a Christian truth. You were designed before the creation of the world with every single aspect of you in mind. You are not incidental. You are not random. You are not an accident. You are a loved creation of God, and that is absolutely amazing. So, if I can encourage you with anything, it’s who He is, and who He’s made you to be.

My prayer tonight as I’m typing this, for myself as well as for you, is that we live our lives both in submission and in gratitude to Him. When we are facing tough times, it is easy to get dismayed. But we need not be dismayed knowing that we have Christ. He knows our suffering, no matter how big or how small, and His hand is over all things, and all things He’s worked towards His ultimate purpose. We can rest our faith in Him and trust Him in all things.