Years ago I recall a conversation I had with a friend of mine. We would often find ourselves discussing big topics of life. One day after I had been sharing a perspective on Jesus, my friend turned to me and said, “Raef, I just don’t need a Savior.” I recall finding myself at a loss for words. What do you say to a person who truly believes they have no need of a Savior?
In light of Good Friday, I thought I would offer some perspective on that question. Over this weekend countless Christians around the world will worship Jesus as their Savior. The term Savior is important to define. Jesus was not just a martyr who died for a religious cause, or even a misunderstood rabbi who died in an act of religious persecution. The great claim of the Bible is that the crucifix was the altar upon which the final sacrifice was made. Our sin and rebellion towards God had justly earned the wage of death. But the Father, in his great mercy, sent the Son to take those wages upon himself. Jesus is our Savior, because He saves us from the just wrath of God towards our sin. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
For many, this kind of talk is fanatical and overly religious, detached from any sense of reality. For many, Christians are fools for their worship of Jesus. Like my friend described earlier, the modern mindset believes itself immune from a need of a Savior, certainly from a bloody one on a cross.
And yet, the modern mind cannot escape its need to worship something, to seek salvation somewhere. While with their mouth they reject their need of a Savior, with their actions they reveal that they are desperate for salvation. Perhaps they do not use the word ‘sin’ to describe the problems in the world and in their life, but they recognize that all is not as it should be. Perhaps they do not use the word ‘salvation’ to describe the answers they are looking for, but they are seeking somewhere to place their hope. Everyone recognize brokenness exists both in society at large and in their own lives and families. So where does their help come from? To whom, or to what, do they turn to for salvation?
As it turns out, they have turned to any number of empty-Saviors. While mocking the Christian for their worship of Christ, they themselves worship in their own ways and bow down at their own altars. These empty-Savior cannot save simply because they do not have the capacity to solve the root problem we face, a heart full of deceit. Worshiping these empty-Saviors is as foolish as a man needing a heart transplant visiting the dentist and thereby believing his problems solved.
The State Cannot Save
Among the false Saviors of our day, the State ranks perhaps among the top. It is believed that if only we could elect particular leaders, pass certain laws, or promote certain ideologies, then the vast majority of the problems that plague society would diminish. Even though many would not use the language of “worship” to describe their thoughts about the State, it is worship nonetheless. Our vision for how things will get better by and large falls within the purview of the State. Eventually they will solve things right? The religious zeal of state worship is kept ever in our view through our media. When the State becomes the Savior then politics becomes the religion, the method by which we discern who is worthy and who is unworthy. While true totalitarian regimes demand state-worship and suppress any other worship, we in the West have begun to freely offer our worship and to freely place our hope and vision for the future on the State’s ability to provide.
Now don’t get me wrong, the State does indeed play an important role in society. Legislation matters. But it is possible to yearn for just governance while not placing one’s hope in the State. I suggest that the problem we face runs far deeper than the State’s ability to solve and that it is an absurdity to hope in a Leviathon state to heal the wounds of society. Rather than looking to the government to manufacture solutions to fix the problem of the heart—problems that no man-made program can truly solve—we must look for a Savior that can deal with the heart.
A Cause Cannot Save
For others, their worship is found in a cause they believe in. All of their attention, their effort, their zeal and passion is aimed at a particular cause or set of causes. The cause becomes the great fight to stand for, something to live for, a mechanism for fighting evil and solving the world’s problems. These causes give the sensation that real movement and progress is being made—salvation is just around the corner. #MeToo, #BLM, #LGBTQIA+, #MAGA, #Ukraine, #ClimateChange, etc. Even if the target has no grounding in reality, or is riddled with inconsistencies, stay the course with a religious zeal.
Again, it is not that there are not wonderful causes to stand for, and plenty of foolish ones as well. It is simply that for many, the feeling one gets of placing their name alongside a cause has become a modern day salvation effort. “The world is bad, but I can make it better by seeing this change take place.” Sometimes advocacy does bring real change for the better. And other times, the changes that are sought were not thought through very well, and bring more problems and pain than before. Again, the problem runs deeper. Until we deal with the problem of the human heart, all the advocacy and change in the world is simply swapping one set of problems for another. In other words, the next big hashtag will always be right around the corner. We need a bigger Savior.
Discovering Your True Inner Self Cannot Save
“Man is born free, and everywhere is in chains.” So said the French philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau in the 1700’s. That simple philosophy has become the North Star of modern secularism. The idea is simply that to achieve “salvation” one must look inwards to one’s true inner self. Everywhere we are ‘kept in chains’ by external forces that desire conformity. But if you want the good life, the pure life, the authentic life, then burst forth from those chains and find your inner self. Just be the authentic you. This is perhaps most easily seen in the modern transgender movement. A movement so full of religious zeal, that it ardently advocates for the irreversible chemical castration of children and persecutes (often through violence) anyone who hints that perhaps chemical castration for minors is unwise. How did we get here? Because the “true self” has become a Savior, a God to whom we must sacrifice, even if the sacrifice is a child’s life.
This is a train wreck of an ideology because once again it fails to understand the root cause of the problems in our world. It believes that our purest inner self is good! Salvation comes from within! But we all know this is not true. Every one of us, even on our best days, have failed to live up to our own standards. What happens when you get down to the inner core of your own heart, when you find the “true self” society told you about, and you realize that all the same anxiety, fear, anger, pride, and selfishness is just as much there as it was before?
We need a bigger Savior.
Obtaining the Good Life Cannot Save
Lastly, there are many who simply want to mind their own business and live the good life. For these, the great Savior is always just around the corner, when they have enough money to pay off all the bills, and rest comfortably. We have been sold a vision of the good life for many years by our media, which is one of the reasons why we are prone to take moral advice from celebrities. The celebrity represents the person who has made it, they’ve reached salvation and can now function as our Pastors and Priests guiding us to the Promised Land.
Yet, even a shallow inquiry into whether or not the good ol’ American Dream can save, reveals the foolishness of the thought. The problem runs far too deep for money, fame, and comfort to solve. Even the wealthiest among us faces tragedy, sickness, death, and all too often the internal insecurities and nagging sensation that still something is not right. We can sacrifice it all on the altar of ease and comfort, only to discover we’re still just as empty and broken as we were when we started. We need a bigger Savior.
In Christ Alone
The reality is that everyone is looking for a Savior. We all know that there is something drastically wrong in the world, and something malfunctioning in our own hearts. As the Apostle Paul said, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). Many might reject this with their mouth—as my friend mentioned earlier did—but their actions prove otherwise. Everyone is seeking salvation somewhere. The real question is whether our Savior is up to the job.
To the Christian, I adjure you to look to the cross this Good Friday, and meditate on the wonders of the crucifixion, where Christ took your place underneath the wrath of God in order to grant you a new heart, a new birth, an eternal transformation from the inside out. His is a salvation that does not change with the weather or with the ever-shifting sands of cultural pressure. In one of my favorite songs it is said, “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song. This cornerstone, this solid ground. Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.” That’s the thing about Jesus. He is firm through every drought and storm. For He is God, unchanging and perfect in all of his ways.
His is a salvation that does not fade with time, that does not buckle under pressure, and that is not dependent on our limited capacity to adhere, for it is in our weakness that His power is most clearly seen (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). His is a salvation that solves the root problem of hearts that have strayed from God’s design, because He alone offers a new heart. “We must be born again” (John 3:3). His is a hope that comforts every fear and insecurity for He truly does know our souls design. His is a sacrifice that fulfills the requirements of God’s order of creation, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). His is a salvation that rooted in sacrificial love for, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Christ alone changes hearts. He alone is the true and proper Savior.