The Mona Lisa picture painted by Leonardo da Vinci has stood the test of time as a masterpiece. Adored by millions of onlookers over the centuries, the portrait is a classic because of its simple-yet-detailed artistic touch by the master painter himself.
Imagine, however, if a visitor didn’t like the smile, the hair, or face of the famous portrait. So, he takes a permanent marker and draws his own corrections. If a person did that, the masterpiece would be ruined. If you added anything to it, it would not be the same.
The same can be said of the salvation we have founded only in Christ. It is a “masterpiece”—that is, a perfect, sacrificial death for all who trust in him. Perfect atonement for imperfect sinners. It stands as it is.
If we try to add anything to the work of Christ, we’d ruin it. The finished work of Jesus + _________ = bankrupt.
Perhaps this is why which Hebrews 10:11 says that nothing other than Jesus “can…take away sins.”
So, today, I (Darin) wanted to share 10 common things people trust in that can never take away sin (there are certainly more than this!). May this be a reminder for all of us how good we have it in being saved by the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
# 1 - Being Religious
Simply being religious can never forgive your sins any more than meowing like a cat makes you a cat. Religious people find God useful. Growing Christians find God beautiful. No matter how religious or irreligious you are, you are always worshipping something. It’s possible to look very religious and not be close to God.
But there is mercy at the foot of the cross for empty religion. It isn’t enough to be decent and devout and religious, we must repent of our sins, believe in Jesus alone, and follow him (Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). God is not content with our formal religious observance. No, he wants the allegiance of our minds and the worship of our hearts and there’s powerful grace for this battle.
#2 - Sincerity
We'll sneeze a Ferrari into existence sooner than we'll merit a relationship with God by our efforts and sincerity (Is. 64:6; Rom. 11:6; Gal. 2:21, etc.). Sincerity is not the measure of truth. Sincerity in faith matters, but it must be directed upon the proper object of faith. God doesn't love us based on our anything--sincerity, "goodness," effort, piety. Rather he loves us based on Jesus' everything.
Being sincere, being religious, and being in the general net of Christianity does not make you a Christian. There are honest, honorable, devout, and sincere people who need Jesus, too. Hell is full of sincere, religious people, never born again—and heaven is full of immoral people who repented and believed in Christ.
#3 - Morality
The famous preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said: “Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.”
If you want to become a Christian, all you need is nothing—but most people don't have that. Most of us come with our recommendation letters, our resume, our morality, our money, etc.
Morality is not the same as Christianity. The Christian does not practice morality for morality’s sake, but for God’s sake, glory & delight. How deluded must a man become to believe that he has lived his life or even a few hours in the perpetual obedience that the Law requires (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10)? In view of God's high standard should it not be evident to all that salvation is "by grace alone”? Jesus kept every part of the law and endured the cross for our salvation. He simply asks us to die to ourselves and by faith to follow him.
#4 - Church Attendance
“Attendance at places of worship is declining, and reverence for holy things is vanishing," observed Spurgeon in London in August1887.
On regular, weekly attendance of worship on the Lord’s Day: We live in a world of infinite options, but God is not an option and our worship of him is not an option. “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
It’s more than going to church or memorizing Bible verses to be one of God’s chosen people is to belong to Jesus. We are commanded to regularly join with God’s people. But “just showing up” won’t make you a Christian. Turning to Jesus alone does that (Rom. 5:1).
#5 - Walking An Aisle / Raising a Hand / Praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”
Millions are convinced of their salvation because one time they prayed the sinner's prayer. However, they remain unchanged by the Gospel. It is so much easier a thing to walk and aisle than to take up a cross.
Little is made of the Gospel today because we have so little left of it. It has been reduced to a few spiritual laws and a sinner's prayer.
Salvation is suspect if it is confined to a one-time transaction that supposedly seals the fate of the one who prayed the sinner’s prayer. We're not saved by the “sinner's prayer,” but by the praying Savior. Salvation is defined by prepositional phrases. We are saved BY grace alone, THROUGH faith alone, IN Christ alone, FOR good works. It is grace alone that supplied faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, etc.).
#6 - Church Membership
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones deemed church membership as “the biggest honor which can come a man’s way in this world” (Butterfield, Openness, p. 177). (You can research more on the topic here: https://www.9marks.org/article/journaltwelve-reasons-why-membership-matters/).
Doctrine, church membership, ministry, etc. are important aspects of Christianity, but they do not prove that we are Christian (Gal. 6:15).
It's amazing to me how many Christians who rail against “cancel culture” have cancelled their church membership over disagreement with their church leaders this past year over things that, compared to the gospel, will probably seem rather insignificant in light of eternity. Church membership is less like joining a club & more like being adopted into a family. It's not what you do in the church that saves you. It's what Jesus did on the cross. It is not the profession of Christ that saves, but the possession of Him. Salvation is not being in church, but being in Christ (Phil. 3:9).
#7- Trying Hard(-er)
The Christian will become almost nauseous at the slightest suggestion that his right standing before God is the product of his own merit.
The Bible doesn’t give us a god at the top of a moral ladder that says, “If you try hard to summon up your strength & live right, you can make it!" Instead, we repeatedly see weak people who don’t deserve God's grace, don’t seek it & don't appreciate it even after they have received it.
When Jesus says, “I never knew you” in Matthew 7:21-23, he means, “I don’t recognize you as my disciple, as my follower. You are a spiritual stranger to me.” The bottom line is that we are utterly disqualified to draw near to God by our own merit. If anything is to be done to mend this breach, it must be done by God! There are many roads that lead to hell, but only one road to heaven. Religion, philosophy, and morality damn, but Jesus alone saves (Gal. 3:24; Rom. 3:28-30, etc.).
#8 - Baptism
Baptism is not necessary for one to be saved. However, it is necessary for one to be obedient. In other words, baptism is not necessary for you to be a Christian, but it is necessary for you to be baptized to be a faithful Christian. It a symbolic act that shows the world you are now identifying with Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20, etc.) And I would add: persistent rejection of God’s command to be baptized is likely evidence that you are not, in fact, a Christian.
Again, we are not saved by works. Belief and baptism are not the same thing. But baptism should follow belief.
(As to whether you can be disobedient and be a Christian: obviously, every Christian is disobedient at times. So, the question is— is there a disobedience that gives evidence that we are not believers? I think the answer is yes. Particularly if we persist in unrepentant disobedience. )
#9 - Having the Right Beliefs (Doctrine)
Spurgeon again: “Believing right doctrine will no more save you, than doing good works will save you."
Simply believing God exists just qualifies you to be a demon (James 2:19). The most serious monotheists in the world are demons. We deceive ourselves whenever we equate "doctrinal conviction" with Christ-likeness. Even demons know "correct doctrine."
Faithfulness to correct doctrine and loyalty to the creeds is not the same thing as trust in the God whom the creeds describe for salvation. Christianity is so much more than getting your doctrine right, but it is not less. In order to genuinely possess right biblical doctrine, it must also possess you. That is, you can quote all the doctrine all day (similar to the 1st century Pharisees), but if you have not truly trusted the God of the doctrine and turned from your sin, you are still lost in your sins.
#10 - Doing Nothing / Nada
There are, at the end of the day, only two responses we can make to Jesus: We can receive him or we can reject him. Everyone who comes in contact with Jesus has rendered a judgment on him. Even ignoring him is a decision about his identity. Life isn't about making the right decisions, but trusting the right Lord. Jesus directs our steps and straightens our paths. Either you’ll have to kill him, or you’ll have to crown him.
The one thing you can’t do is just say, “What an interesting guy.” Please don’t try to keep Jesus on the periphery of your life. He cannot remain there. If you ignore reality (God, sin, Jesus, cross, Spirit, heaven), you inevitably miscounsel and miss heaven and all that is promised to us in the person and work of the risen Jesus.