Every other day it seems news breaks about another business going belly up and filing for bankruptcy. Earlier this week Hostess became the latest company to bite the cream-filled dust.
Businesses or individuals drowning in debt are grateful for the relief. Yet others might say it is unjust for the financially irresponsible to have debts pardoned while the rest of us whittle away at our own mountain of debt. Perseverance in hopes of paying off debt seems the nobler choice to giving up altogether and asking for help.
The same might be said about perspectives on sin and salvation. Assuming first that sin is acknowledged as a problem (some perspectives wouldn’t go that far), the common thought is that so long as we are generally good, we can boast (but not too much) in our ability to stay “in the black.” Should we avoid racking up exorbitant amounts of sin, then surely we would be ushered into heaven when our days on Earth are over.
According to philosopher and theologian Kenneth Samples, this notion that good people go to heaven and only the truly evil people go to hell is extremely popular. The trouble is, one person might define “good” as simply not causing harm to others while another defines it as a selfless act for another’s benefit.
If there isn’t agreement on how to measure goodness, then how can we be assured of our standing with God?
Christianity says scratch that—no one is good enough. Just as for those drowning in financial debt, the only solution is to claim spiritual bankruptcy.
Salvation through grace, not by works, is just one of the “dangerous ideas” discussed in Kenneth Samples’ latest book, 7 Truths that Changed the World (release date: May 2012). When it comes to salvation, he points out, Christianity alone challenges the assumption that we are capable of clawing our way out of the spiritual red:
The natural human religious instinct is to believe that God accepts people on the basis of their own good works. Thus, historic Christianity has challenged all people to think in a radically different way about how they find acceptance before God.
The solution isn’t to work harder in hopes of willing sin out of our lives. The solution starts with declaring total depravity. The doctrine of total depravity, as Ken has explained, means that humans, though not wholly evil, are “pervasively sinful” and therefore incapable of earning God’s favor on their own. The good news is that Christ’s death on the cross provides much-needed relief and puts those who trust in His goodness in good standing. Ken adds,
Christians can be comforted that no matter how great their sin, God’s gracious gift of salvation in Christ’s atoning death is both complete and permanent.
Not only that, but our “goodness” deficit is filled in what theologians call the Great Exchange. According to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here are a few helpful articles by Ken Samples on some of Christianity’s dangerous ideas: