Answering people’s questions is an important task in the apologetics enterprise. But defending the Christian faith often involves first explaining what historic Christianity teaches. This is why today’s Christian apologists need to recognize that the field of apologetics was seen historically as a branch of theology. Thus, skilled apologists must demonstrate a grasp of theology, doctrine, and history.
Recently I received a question from a Christian who was struggling with an aspect of Christian theology. His question focuses on the heart of Christianity. Many of us have asked this question, so I hope his query and my response will help you also.
Sorry for this simple question, but it really challenges my faith and I can’t find a satisfying answer anywhere. . . .From a Christian perspective: “Why would God save us just because we believe in Jesus as our Savior?” What makes a believer so special in the eyes of God that he grants them eternal life rather than eternal damnation?
I appreciated the reader’s question because it allows us to get to the heart of the gospel. We can begin by examining what the apostle Paul wrote in Titus 3:4-7:
4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
The root of the New Testament Greek word for “faith” (pisteuo: verb; pistis: noun) is “trust.” A believer in Christ places his or her “confident trust” in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The nonbeliever has no faith in Christ and thus is not trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Believing in Christ means that the person has been adopted into the family of God. The nonbeliever stands outside of God’s family because of his or her unbelief. The Christian believer is not special in himself or herself but is a sinner just like nonbelievers. The “specialness” is found in God’s loving grace and mercy extended to the person through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
What the believer does that the nonbeliever does not is merely to “trust” in God’s promises concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With faith (trust) comes forgiveness, adoption, and eternal life via God’s amazing love. Without faith (trust) comes divine judgment, separation, and eternal damnation via God’s justice. Love isn’t possible without being conjoined with the attribute of justice.
So a person is saved by grace (unmerited favor), through faith (trust), in Jesus Christ (his life, death, and resurrection), but not by works (not by their own merit). Nobody earns salvation but instead receives it by trusting God who lovingly provides salvation by his grace and mercy.
So why would God save us? God saves people who confess their sin and ask for his forgiveness and trust that Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection make them right with God. Salvation comes because of God’s loving grace and mercy and is received through faith (trust) in Jesus Christ. A Christian’s good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas, see chapters 9 and 10.