“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:9–15)
When I was a kid, my construction worker dad would bring home scrap wood from the job site for me to use. I gathered enough wood to build a platform tree fort in our yard. It was my private oasis to hang out in, and a good place to throw water balloons from. To get to the top-level required climbing up a rope. When I climbed to the top, I would then pull the rope up so that no one else could come up. One night, my mom came out with dinner for me, but since I’d pulled the rope there was no way for her to come up to me, so I let down the rope and came down to her.
In most religions, the holy God lives high up in heaven in His own version of a tree fort. We sinners live down here on earth and need to find a way to get up to God. Every effort to climb up to God is often referred to as works. Works include such things as living a good moral life, reincarnating to pay off your karmic debt, offering a sacrifice, making a pilgrimage to a holy place, and so on. In a conversation with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus says it this way in John 3:13, “No one has ever gone into heaven.” Who is saved by ascending up to God by their own works? Jesus says, “No one.”
In Christianity, the holy God came down from His tree fort in the person Jesus Christ. The truth is that the only way anyone is saved is by works. The difference between other religions and Christianity is that we are saved by Jesus’ works, not our own. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” He was saying that His sinless and substitutionary death were the work needed to provide access to the Kingdom of God for sinners. In that same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus describes Himself as “the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.”
In summary, we are not saved by our works, but rather by our faith in Jesus’ works. We do not ascend up to heaven to find salvation, but instead Jesus descended down from heaven to bring salvation.
How about you? Do you tend more toward trying to earn salvation with your works or trusting in Jesus’ works for your salvation?