While talking with a friend of mine yesterday, we got on the subject of atonement. She is a proponent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” and that Jesus’ death on the cross was wholly sufficient for all people but we must “choose to accept” his sacrifice for it to be of benefit to our lives. While it’s something that’s often taught in churches, it’s not taught in the Bible. If it were so, Jesus would have asked that the paralytic man who was lowered to him through the ceiling, “ask Him into his heart” before he would be absolved of his sins. Instead what do we hear? Your sins are forgiven. Now go and sin no more. What was Jesus’ requirement for healing? That they have faith in His ability to heal them and, upon their restoration, he told them to go and sin no more. There is no man-focused acceptance required, but a faith that He is the only one who can bring you salvation from your troubles.
At my response to her, she stated that the gift of salvation is like a man who goes to a store and buys an item for you and leaves it at the counter. It’s wholly paid for but you cannot receive it until you accept it. This places the act of salvation firmly in the hands of the one to whom it is granted. It also, unfortunately, means that you can LOSE your salvation if you either decide that it’s not something that you desire and also if you are found unworthy of the gift. She also stated that anyone who goes to hell, is sent there because of their refusal to accept Jesus’ sacrifice in their place. This goes directly in opposition to scripture that teaches that we are secured by God, and not ourselves (Jn 6:35-37,10:27-29; Rom 8:1,35,38-39,11:29). We cannot out sin the grace of God and once God has transformed our heart and filled us with new desires (Eze 36:26), we will be bound to God by HIS sacrifice on our behalf and it is HIM who upholds and sustains us in this new covenant.
A better (though weak) analogy is that you are guilty of a capital crime. You’ve been caught, found guilty before the court and are now awaiting your execution when a man whom you do not know says that he loves you so much that he is willing to take your place in the electric chair so that you may go free. Against your own guilt which you know you carry, and your desire to see justice fulfilled on you, the judge agrees to this man’s proposal and he is executed on your behalf. The work is complete, justice is fulfilled and you are set free, no more under debt to the law. You may wish that he did not give his life for yours and you fully understand that you are not worthy of his sacrifice, but it has been placed upon you and you are granted redemption from your sins against the court. In the same way, Jesus has taken our place on the cross and has died the death that you and I deserve for our crimes against God.
If anything, our only participation in this act of salvation comes as we are the object upon which the grace of God is bestowed. God is the one who saves us, against our nature, from His wrath, by His grace, and for His glory. Men are not cast into the eternal hellfire for their refusal to accept Jesus. The demons fully acknowledged who He is and proclaimed it loudly before Him (Mt 8:29; Mk 3:11,5:7; Lk 4:41,8:28) and we know that they are not saved because hell was created FOR them (Mt 25:41). Who knows more than they do that He is the Christ, the son of the living God? He created them and they saw Him in power when they were cast down to the earth. If all we need to do is to accept his teaching or his authority, who is more prepared to enter into heaven than they? Our salvation is not based upon a mental ascent to His power in our lives, nor a religious acceptance of his teachings. It is, as it has always been, reliant upon His work on our lives and when He changes our hearts from being self-serving to thankful appreciation of the work that He has completed for us, in our stead. It is through our trust (faith) in Him to complete the salvation that He has promised. Men are cast into hell for their sins as they are judged based on the product of their lives (Eze 18:4; Rev 20:12-13). It is the Christian who can take comfort in this, knowing that we stand before God, cleansed from our sins. If I had to stand before Him in the knowledge that my own ability to hold onto the salvation that He has provided for me I would be deeply concerned. I loudly proclaim with the great hymn writer Edward Mote:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
On Christ, My solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.