This post and its subsequent parts have been merged into a single post. You should read that instead.
The previous post of this series ended with: "Who shall save me from this wretched body of death?"
We thus reach the second word in the three-word summary of the Gospel ("Christ saves sinners"). What can we do to be saved from our sins? Sin is alienation from God, so our sin distances us from goodness itself. Sin is wickedness, so our evil makes us objects of God's rightful wrath. How shall we save ourselves? What righteousness, what achievement, what works of good deeds can we offer God, to convince him to take us back? Or what discipline or self-improvement can we undergo to empower ourselves and work our way back to him? We have none of these things, because God is the source of all such goodness and the very nature of our predicament is that we have strayed from him. There is nothing we can do. Any good we think we have is his to begin with. Even the first desire to repent would need to come from him, for we don't have it in ourselves.
So there is no hope in any kind of equivalent exchange. We have nothing good apart from God: nothing to give, nothing to exchange, nothing to bribe God with, and nothing to improve ourselves with. This actually points the way to the solution: we need a nonequivalent exchange - no; an unmerited, outright gift - in order to be saved. We need a transcendent class of help that does for us what we could never do for ourselves - like lead being transmuted into gold, a wooden puppet becoming a person, a fictional character becoming real, or the dead coming back to life.
If God provides such help, it would not be because we deserved it, but because he simply loves us. Not because we are good, but to enable us to do good. Not because we're worth it, but to make us worthy. We could do nothing to contribute to our salvation, but only accept it, trusting in the help God provides. Trust, or faith, would therefore be the mechanism of this salvation in us. Note that faith, of itself, will not save you: a strong faith in a faulty climbing rope will kill you, whereas a weak faith in a good rope will keep you safe. It's the object of faith that's all important: thus we must place ourselves in God's hands. So faith is merely that act of trusting God - an expression of our understanding that it is God alone who does all the saving, including giving us that very faith to accept his salvation.
Furthermore, if God would provide such help, it would not merely be a one-time course correction; rather it will take us all the way from our creation to our destination. Otherwise we could simply sin again. Don't think that God first created us as "plan A", then saw us going wrong and rescued us as "plan B". God foresaw our fall before he created us, and his plan to make us his children has always been to save us from our sins, once and for all time. This plan includes everything: his breath of life that made us alive, his own image in which he made us, and his foreknowledge and predestination for us before all time. In addition, he rescues us from our sins, restores our broken relationship with him, sanctifies us to make us holy, gifts us his own righteousness, and keeps us from falling, until he finally fulfills in us our destiny - to become like him as his grown children. This plan is everything good that God has for us, which is everything good, period. This is not "plan B", it is the complete fulfillment of God's eternal plan. This is our salvation.
He who began this good work in us will surely bring about its completion. We therefore no longer speak of what God would do, but of what God has been doing since before the foundation of the world, and will continue to do until our faith is made perfect. But what gives us this confidence? And how will God accomplish all this? For that matter, what about other questions like when, where, why, and who? All these questions have their answer in a single sentence: for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son (Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The next post of this series will at last discuss that first word in the three-word summary of the Gospel, "Christ".
You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 3) (Next post of this series)
Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Another post, from the table of contents