Jesus Is My Savior Still

Righteousness by faith

Alan Parker
Jesus Is My Savior Still
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

I don’t think you can conquer this.” I let the words hang in the air and watched the student’s face carefully to see how he would react. His expression showed incredulity. “You’re saying that I cannot do anything about this?” I paused again and chose my words carefully.

“On your own, you can’t stop. You are helpless, but you’re not hopeless.” I reached back to my bookshelf, pulled out a worn copy of Steps to Christ, by Ellen White, and turned to page 18: “It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them.”1

It may seem strange to tell someone they cannot change. Many people want counseling, a pill, or a strategy. There may be value to these approaches. But what if the problem, at its core, is sin? Something they cannot change. Then the solution requires something more radical and profound. It requires a Savior.

Bad News and Good News

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Romans. It is the most compelling explanation of the gospel that I have found. But it’s surprising how Paul begins his gospel argument. His first three chapters climax in 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

This is Paul’s starting point. We are sinners. We are living in brokenness, alienated from God, others, and ourselves. It is hard for us to accept that the real issue is sin, but knowing our condition enables us to receive the right cure. If my leg were broken, I wouldn’t expect the doctor to tell me to try walking on it. No, the bad news of my broken leg prepares me for the better news that there is a surgeon who can set the bones right and put me on a path of healing.

In their insightful book How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp make this comment: “Only when you accept the bad news of the gospel does the good news make any sense. The grace, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, patience, power, healing, and hope of the gospel are for sinners. They are only meaningful to you if you admit that you have the disease and realize that it is terminal.”2

Wrong Approaches to Sin

Once we realize that the real problem is sin, we must accept God’s solution to it. Unfortunately, even Christians deal with sin in inappropriate ways. The first wrong approach to sin is that of apathy. It stems from a sentimental view of God, which sees Him as freely dispensing forgiveness without requiring radical change or obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, called this “cheap grace.” It’s a “grace” that we offer ourselves and is, therefore, a grace without Jesus.3

A person who doesn’t feel the need for change won’t. They will not experience victory, because they do not feel it is required or even obtainable. This is a false view of the gospel because it sees God as taking care of the sin without having to change the sinner.

Another wrong approach to sin is shame. It’s built on the idea that we should feel ashamed of what we have done when we mess up. The more shame we feel, the more “repentant” we are. Shame is different from guilt: guilt drives us to the Savior; shame drives us from God into our own feelings. In the Garden of Eden, Adam felt shame rather than guilt, and ran from God.

Shame is a particularly ineffective approach to sin because it is a form of self-atonement. “If I can make myself feel bad enough, then it will somehow erase my sin.” This makes us more likely to sin because we can take care of it through our bad feelings. “If I mess up, I’ll feel awful afterward, and then I can get on with my life.”

A final wrong approach to sin is to use strategies that will attempt to control or manage our behaviors. But this too is ineffective. The behavior is simply the fruit of a deeper root. Putting filters on a computer won’t change the desire for pornography. Eventually a determined person will find a way around the filters. The real problem is the heart and its desires (James 1:14, 15). Unless we change our desires, the behaviors will keep reoccurring.

So how do we change the heart? Steps to Christ describes both the problem and the solution. “You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ.”4This brings us back to the gospel in the book of Romans.

The Solution Is Grace

After Paul tells us that we are all suffering the terrible effects of sin, he identifies the solution. We are “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). The solution to the problem of sin is a Savior.

There are three key phrases in this verse. The first one is “justified freely.” It conjures up the picture of a person standing before a judge who declares they are “not guilty.” This verdict comes readily from God, who, rather than placing the sinner under just condemnation, sets them free. But how can a guilty person be declared innocent?

The answer is in the following phrase, which states that it happens “by His grace.” Grace refers to God showing favor to people who don’t deserve it. Since our sin is ultimately against God, He is the only one who can forgive it. Although we are guilty, God freely offers His pardon. This, however, is not cheap grace.

Billy Graham gives an illustration of this. He was caught speeding in a Southern town and went to court. The judge determined he was guilty, and the fine was $10, $1 for every mile over the speed limit. It was something that had to be paid. But the judge recognized the famous evangelist, took $10 out of his own wallet to pay the fine, and invited Graham to join him for dinner!5 The grace was free, but it still required payment.

The final phrase in this verse explains that grace happens “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption has to do with liberty bought at a price. If a person was made a slave because of debt, they could be freed by a ransom—someone paying off their obligations. Jesus paid that debt for us.

So how does this help a person struggling with addictive behaviors? Instead of focusing on the sin, we are to focus on the Savior. Jesus has already paid the price. He has already bought our freedom. We are to live in the light of that reality, and then the already purchased freedom becomes ours. 

Why We Need a Savior

As we look to Jesus, we discover He offers us three powerful solutions to sin. First, Jesus abolished the penalty for sin. The Bible says the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and Jesus stepped in and paid that for you.

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13, 14).

Second, Jesus dealt a death blow to the reign of sin and its power in your life. Paul states that sin has no “dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14). That doesn’t mean your desires for sin have disappeared. It means that a new power is now operating. The cross showed that Jesus succeeded where Adam failed. Human desires were conquered, and sin was now a defeated enemy.

Jesus is not only our Savior because He died for us, but also because He lives for us, interceding on our behalf. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15, 16, ESV).6 We have victory over sin because Jesus gives us the grace and power we need when tempted.

Third, Jesus came as our Savior so that the presence of sin could be eradicated from the universe. The struggle with sin will not continue forever. Our future peace is secured. Every time we have victory over sin, we participate in that future reality of a perfect universe in which love reigns supremely and selfishness is banished. When we know there is a finish line, we can lean into finishing the race strong.

This is the message of the gospel. The word “gospel” means good news. It is good news that the problem is sin, because then the solution is a Savior. It’s good news that the penalty of sin is removed for all those who are in Christ by faith. It’s good news that the same power that gave Jesus the victory is the power that is available to you now. It’s good news that Jesus is your Savior in heaven right now, interceding on your behalf. It’s good news that a judgment is coming that will forever remove sin from the universe.

Righteousness by Faith

This brings us to a final point to be made about God’s solution. Change comes through faith. Faith not in yourself, but in your Savior. Faith is not just a belief, but a choice. It is trusting God and yielding your life to Him.

“Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure.”7 (See also Phil. 2:12, 13.)

Righteousness by faith is how God changes us. We don’t depend on cheap grace to remove the demand for obedience. We don’t shame ourselves or use strategies to make change happen. We turn to Jesus. We look to Him. We put our confidence in Him and choose the path of surrender instead of the path of self-reliance.

When I was a boy, I went to the sea for the first time. I could swim, but I wasn’t used to the sea currents. Before I knew it, I was caught in a riptide and was being pulled out to sea. I tried to swim back to the shore, but it was hopeless. Fortunately, a lifeguard saw me and swam to get me. I tried to tell him I would be OK, but he knew better. He told me to stop swimming and to trust him. He lifted me onto his flotation board with his strong arms and pulled me safely back to shore. Without his help, I would have drowned that day, trusting in my ability to save myself.  

Righteousness by faith is trusting in Jesus to save us, and then consciously choosing Him and surrendering to Him daily. This won’t be easy. Some days your sins will gain the victory. Some days you will feel far from God. But on those days, remember that old adage: “Be my feelings what they will, Jesus is my Savior still.” Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on Jesus. Keep your eyes “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Jesus Is My Savior Still

What happened to that student struggling with an addictive sin? He gave up on trying to fix it himself. That day he surrendered his life to Jesus. There was no quick fix, but the more he looked to Jesus, the more his heart was changed. Instead of trusting his feelings, he put his trust in His Savior. And as his heart changed, his desires changed. He fell in love with Jesus. He learned that no matter what he faced, “Jesus is my Savior still.” And praise God, he found the victory!

1 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 18. (Italics supplied.)

2 Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro, N.C.: New Growth Press, 2008), p. 16.

3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1963; first published, 1937).

4 E. G. White, p. 51. (Italics supplied.)

5 Progress magazine, Dec. 14, 1992.

6 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

7 E. G. White, pp. 62, 63.

Alan Parker