The 100 Percent Savior
By David Feddes
I’ve got good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first? The good news? Sorry. You won’t be able to believe the good news, or understand why it is so good, unless you first know the bad news. If the bad news gets too grim for you, keep reading anyway, and remember: the good news is coming.
The part of the Christian message that may offend more people than any other is what the Bible says about sin. Other religions speak of sin as a behavior problem we need to correct, or a shortage of knowledge we need to correct through education and training, or as an offense we need to make up for by performing some ritual or by trying harder. But the Bible speaks of sin as a 3-D disaster: a debt so monstrous we can’t possibly pay it, a distance between us and God so enormous we can’t possibly cross it, a deadness so final that we have no spiritual life at all.
And that’s not what we like to hear. If we think about sin at all (and we’d rather not), we like to think of it as a minor failing—perhaps having a scoop of ice cream when we’re supposed to be dieting. We like to think that sin is just a glitch that pops up now and then in the lives of people who are otherwise pretty good. We like to think that sin isn’t that big a deal. Sure, nobody’s perfect—but who wants to be perfect, anyway?
But like it or not, the Bible says that sin is a 100 percent disaster, a condition of absolute ruin. Scripture uses a number of different pictures to drive the point home, and three of the most striking are the three D’s: debt, distance, and deadness.
Scripture often speaks of sin as a debt. We owe God for offending him and misusing what he’s given us. We’d like to think our debt isn’t all that big, or even if it is, we can make up for it. But Jesus destroys any notion we might have that our sin is minor or that we can somehow cover the debt. In one of his parables Jesus describes a man who is hauled in before a king. He faces the loss of all his possessions and even his family unless he pays the debt he owes. This man owes the king ten thousand talents. One talent was worth ten thousand denarii, and a denarius was worth a day’s wage, so ten thousand talents was equivalent to one hundred million days’ wages.
And yet, when the man appears before the king, what does he say? “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” Yeah, right! He could work seven days a week, with only a sick day off now and then, and it would still take him 300,000 years to make ten thousand talents. What’s he going to do? Work a year and then say, “There! One year down, only 299,999 years to go.” Ridiculous! Even if the man had enough lifetimes to do it, the interest on such an amount would make the debt get larger rather than smaller, no matter how much he worked.
Jesus says our sin is like that debt. The price of what we owe God is beyond calculation. If there’s any hope at all of paying the debt, it won’t be in working harder or doing a few more good deeds. Our only hope is if the King should somehow absorb the loss himself and cancel the debt.
Another way the Bible describes the effect of sin is in terms of distance. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We can’t cover the distance between our sinful selves and God’s perfect glory. We all fall short.
Often we don’t see it that way, of course. We don’t think think about falling short of God. Instead, we look around at others and tell ourselves that we’re better than a lot of them. But so what? Even if that were true, it won’t close the distance between us and God.
Imagine you’re standing on the edge of a cliff on one side of a deep canyon, and you need to get to the other side a thousand feet away. Will it help you if you can jump a bit further than other people? If you were an old grandmother trying to leap across, you’d only fly a few feet and then you’d plunge down to the rocks below. If you were younger and stronger, you might jump several feet further into space, but you’d still end up falling and smashing yourself on the rocks below. If you were the world record holder in the long jump, and you had the wind at your back, you might fly further than anybody else, but so what? You’d still fall way short and perish.
It doesn’t matter how you compare to others. What matters is whether you can cover the distance between you and God. And you can’t. You can try with all your might, but if all you’ve got is your own ability, you’re going to land in the abyss of hell. All have sinned and fall short–far short–of the glory of God. When you want to cross a canyon a thousand feet wide, you don’t need to improve your jumping. You need a bridge.
A third way the Bible pictures our condition is in terms of deadness. Scripture speaks of being “dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). In another place it says that a person “who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Existence without God is a living death.
How grim! How bleak! How utterly hopeless! How can a dead person do anything to improve? How can a dead person do anything but rot and decay and disintegrate?
It’s a grim picture, and we see again why it does no good to make comparisons among different people. Without God, all are dead in sin, and one dead person is no less dead than another. One corpse may be in a little better condition than another, but so what? Dead is dead. A person who dies of a sudden heart attack and whose body still looks okay is no less dead than a person whose body is mangled in a car crash. A person whose dead body has barely begun to rot is not less dead than someone whose body has rotted away leaving only a skeleton. One dead body may look better than another, but dead is dead. There are degrees of decay, but not degrees of deadness.
People in sin are dead. You might protest that lots of people without Christ still have a lot of good in them, and you might wonder how anybody can say such people are spiritually dead. But we’ve just seen the answer to that. The degree of decay and corruption may differ from person to person—some are utterly rotten and do all sorts of horrible things, others look okay and don’t seem all that bad—but all are equally dead in sin, equally unable to live forever in God, equally helpless to make themselves alive and healthy again. If we’re ever to have life, it will have to be a life that comes from outside us.
Debt, distance, and deadness: that 3-D picture of sin is horrifying, it’s offensive, and none of us likes to hear it. But it’s the truth. It comes straight from the pages of the Bible, straight from the mouth of God himself. There is no other view of life, no other religion, that takes such a grim view of human potential and possibilities. Christianity is the most pessimistic of all religions.
And yet Christianity is also the most optimistic of all religions, for it bases everything, not on our potential and possibilities, but on the power of God to save us. And that brings us to the good news. Sin is a 100 percent disaster, but Jesus is a 100 percent Savior. In Titus 3 the apostle Paul writes, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” He saved us”—God did it, we didn’t do any of it, and he did it “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
Jesus is the 100 percent Savior. The Bible says “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). Another translation of that verse says “he is able to save for all time.” Still another translation, the old King James Version, puts it in a way I love: “He is able to save them to the uttermost.” To the uttermost! For all time! Completely! Any way you translate it, it means that Jesus is the 100 percent Savior. He provides 100 percent of what we need–not 20 percent, not 50 percent, not 99 percent, but 100 percent.
Think again of the Bible’s 3-D picture of sin—debt, distance, and deadness. The bad news of the Bible is that we can’t do anything to solve our sin problem, but the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus does it all—100 percent. To overcome the D’s of sin, Jesus provides three R’s of rescue. Redemption pays our debt. Reconciliation bridges the distance between us and God. And rebirth takes us from our deadness and makes us alive again.
To deal with our debt, Jesus provides redemption, payment in full. Even before Jesus came, God showed the inspired writers of the Old Testament that we can’t begin to pay the price to cover our sins and purchase eternal life, and that if we trust ourselves, our situation is hopeless. But God also inspired the biblical writers to see that God would somehow redeem, he would somehow pay the price, for those who trust him. Psalm 130 says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness… O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”
Full redemption! 100 percent payment! The writers of the Old Testament saw it coming, and the New Testament writers tell how it happened. The payment was nothing less than the blood of the only begotten Son of God. Jesus was nailed to a cross and he poured out his blood to redeem us, to pay for our sins. St. Peter writes that “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). St. Paul says the same thing when he writes: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
We saw earlier the bad news that the debt and penalty of our sins is so enormous that we can’t ever pay it. But now we see the good news that the price Jesus paid is so infinitely high that there’s no debt he can’t cover, no sin he can’t pay for. Just before Jesus died, he cried out, “Finished!” Jesus didn’t just mean he was finished suffering. The word in the original language is a word business people used to close out an account: cancelled, paid in full, nothing left to pay–finished! Jesus paid the debt of sin 100 percent.
Wouldn’t it be foolish, then, to try to add anything of our own to what Jesus has paid? Let’s say you got yourself into deep financial trouble. You borrowed way too much money, you ran up huge credit card debts, and you had no way to pay any of it. The bank was about to take away your car and even your house. But now suppose that a relative died and left you a fortune. How would you handle the debts you owed? Would you keep looking at your old bank accounts to see whether you had enough in them to pay all your debts? No, those old accounts of yours don’t have anything to offer but more debts. So instead of looking at your old accounts and your own financial record, you look to your new inheritance. You depend on that to pay your debt.
Wouldn’t it be foolish to depend on your own efforts to pay for your sins? Your own efforts are always tainted by sin. They just add to our debt. Your own accounts are all debts, no deposits. But Jesus provides 100 percent payment. You can’t add a thing to the payment he’s already provided. All you can do is accept it and rejoice in the fact that the 100 percent Savior redeems you from your debt.
A second thing Jesus does is this: he deals with the distance between us and God and reconciles us to him. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The canyon of sin that separates us from God is so wide we can’t ever jump across it. We always fall short. “But now in Christ Jesus,” says the Bible, “you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Jesus bridges the canyon of alienation from God and removes the distance brought about by sin. He restores the relationship and brings us close to God and reconciles us to him.
The Bible says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).
You wouldn’t want to count on your own jumping ability to get you across a huge canyon. You’d rather count on a bridge. So don’t count on your own efforts to bring you back to God. Count on Jesus. He is your bridge, your connection with God.
And let me emphasize again, Jesus is 100 percent of your bridge. He isn’t 50 percent and you 50 percent. He isn’t even 99 percent and you 1 percent. No, your connection to God has got to be 100 percent Jesus. You can’t add anything to what Jesus provides.
What would you think of a bridge supported by cables where almost the entire length of each cable was of the strongest steel but a short section of each cable was made of rotten thread? Would you want to count on a bridge like that? No, every last bit of that cable has to be absolutely strong and reliable. A bridge is only as strong as its weakest part. In the same way, if even the smallest part of your connection to God depends on your own achievements, you’re in trouble. But if your connection to God is 100 percent Jesus, you can be completely confident. Jesus isn’t half a Savior. He’s the 100 percent Savior.
Now let’s move on to the third of the 3 D’s, deadness, and look at the third R of rescue by Jesus: rebirth. God’s solution to spiritual deadness is rebirth. In Ephesians 2 the apostle Paul says to some people who have come to Christ, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of [Satan] the prince of the power of the air… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1,4-5). The Bible speaks over and over again of how God makes dead souls alive in Christ, of being born of God, born from above, born again.
Being born isn’t something you do. It’s something that happens to you. You didn’t decide, “I’m going to come alive in my mother’s womb.” You didn’t decide, “I’m going to be born.” Life isn’t something you give to yourself. It’s something that’s given to you. That’s true of physical life and it’s true of spiritual life. It’s true of birth, and its true of rebirth. You don’t do anything to make yourself alive. God makes you alive through the life-giving power of Jesus’ resurrection. He raises your dead heart to life through the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
If you don’t believe any of this, maybe it’s because you’re dead in sin, too dead to respond. But if you find yourself believing the gospel message you’ve been hearing, if you find yourself admitting your hopelessness in sin and looking to Jesus for your salvation, it’s not because you’ve somehow managed to work up a certain amount of faith. No! It means that the Spirit of Christ is waking your spirit from its deadness and giving you rebirth. God is doing it. It’s the work of Jesus, from beginning to end.
100 Percent Faith
If you’re born again in Jesus, put your faith in him 100 percent. Don’t ever slip back into counting on anything but the 100 percent Savior. The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to some people in the Roman province of Galatia whom Jesus had saved but who were temporarily forgetting what had saved them. They were starting to slip back into putting their trust in various works and rituals. Paul wrote them and said, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! You foolish Galatians! Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified… Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 2:21,3:3)
Throughout history there’s always been a temptation and tendency even within the church itself for some people to say that the bad news isn’t quite so bad as the Bible says, and to say that we’re still able to do something to contribute to our salvation. And along with that there’s also been the tendency to say that the good news isn’t quite so good, that Jesus is perhaps necessary for salvation but not sufficient, that Jesus does his part and that the rest depends on our efforts.
Any teaching which denies our total ruin in sin leaves room for us to do at least something in relation to God, and whatever it is that we’re supposedly still able to do is soon taught as something we’re required to do as part of earning our salvation. The more we think we can do, the less we depend on Jesus to do.
Some have said, for example, that Jesus’ blood covers our past sins but not our future sins, and so the church must add to Jesus’ sacrifice by offering certain rituals and requiring certain actions in order to deal with sins that Jesus’ blood hasn’t covered. However, the Bible says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Because of the continual tendency to make the bad news not so bad and the good news not so good, God-ordained leaders from Paul to Augustine to Luther and Calvin to our own day have had to reform the church’s message again and again and again to keep it in line with the biblical gospel. The Spirit of Christ is always reforming and reviving his church so that the church will preach the bad news in all its dreadfulness and the good news in all its glory. And when the Spirit applies that 100 percent truth of the gospel to the heart of a 100 percent sinner like you or me, we receive 100 percent forgiveness and eternal life through 100 percent faith in the 100 percent Savior.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.