Why Striving for Salvation Won't Save You

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

Millions of people strive for salvation, while finding no rest in their unending efforts. At the same time, millions of others rest in their salvation, while then earnestly living for the one who died and rose to save them. So what's the difference?

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One approach seeks to earn eternal life. And yet, it never becomes a personal possession. The other approach doesn't seek to earn eternal life. Instead, it celebrates the fact that eternal life is a free gift through faith in Christ. This is what allows a person to "rest" in the cross. When you rest in what Jesus did for you, there is tremendous peace and the assurance of salvation. On the other hand, when you strive for salvation, you end up doing it all in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. (see John 6:63) And it doesn't produce any lasting satisfaction for your soul.

Strivers and resters approach religion very differently. And they view God differently. Strivers think their acceptance before God is based upon their hard work. Resters, on the other hand, know their acceptance before God is based upon Christ's work at the cross.

Strivers are just as sincere as resters, but the basis of their confidence is man-centered. The basis by which resters are confident is the work of God. Everything happened at the cross. It all went down there. But so many people overlook it, and move right into doing religious stuff. That's not the way to acquire salvation for your soul. Doing religious stuff is meaningless unless you have first been to the cross. Through faith, the cross becomes your ongoing source of forgiveness, salvation, and assurance.

To put it simply, resters trust in Christ's one-time sacrifice, while strivers trust in their works which they pile up day after day.

It is ingrained in man's nature that he can somehow work his way into God's family. But that's not how God operates. If man could earn it by his deeds, then why did Jesus come to earth to suffer and die? If man can do it through his efforts, why did Jesus choose the cross? And why did the Father choose this path of suffering for the Son in the first place? That is, if man can work his way into God's family.

Nope. That's not at all how it works. Instead, man needs birth or adoption. It's the only way into the family. Born again through faith. Or another way of describing it, adopted into the family through faith. There is no other way. We need to have faith in Jesus, and Him alone. Entering the family is necessary, and it occurs when you repent of your sins and believe the good news. This involves resting in Christ, and no longer striving to make yourself acceptable to God.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) It's available for anyone who wants to rest in the Lord. By the way, notice what Jesus didn't say. He didn't say, "Come to me, and strive to be forgiven." Or, "Come to me, and work hard to make yourself worthy of receiving mercy." That wasn't Christ's message. Instead, He offered grace and salvation for anyone who is weary of sinning and weary of striving.

One of the amazing things about becoming a believer is the way in which it frees you up to do so much work for the Lord. You become free from the burden of striving to save yourself, now that your life is rooted in God's unconditional love and eternal acceptance. It makes all the difference in the world. Resting beats striving any day of the week, and twice on Sunday!

Just watch people who strive. They long for God's approval, and yet it remains elusive. Their minds are filled with religious ideas, but they lack real peace and contentment. There must be a better way. Thankfully, God has given us one.

The greatest things done for God are always rooted in rest. In fact, a person doesn't even begin to do anything "good" for God until first resting in the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. That changes everything. It makes all things new. And nothing in the world can compare to the assurance it produces in the heart of a believer.

Striving for salvation will never save you, regardless of your religious credentials. God isn't impressed with your religious pedigree, but He is moved with compassion for every one of His children. In order to become a child of God, you must make an adjustment in the way you approach religion. Stop striving. Start resting. Stop trying to earn heaven. Believe that Jesus earned it for you. And then once you are in the family, you will definitely be motivated to work for the Lord. And your work will be done with the right motivation.

Does that mean there is such a thing as "wrong motivation" in the realm of religion? Absolutely. It happens all the time. In fact, there are actually more people striving than resting. And they do their work under many different labels. But the common denominator is their decision to strive for salvation. They trust themselves, and their religion, and their sincere attempts at holy living. Resters, on the other hand, don't trust those things. They trust Jesus and His perfect sacrifice. They find their rest there.

And that's why God accepts them. It's on account of Christ, and Him alone. The Father can only accept man through the cross. It's only when you rest in the cross that you enter the kingdom of God. Striving has never saved a single soul, but the blood of Jesus has saved millions of people. Believers trust Jesus to freely forgive their sins. Salvation is a gift which only resters receive, and only by faith alone.

So which one are you? A striver, or a rester?

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.