For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). If our eternal salvation was on the basis of works and we could earn it successfully, then God would be our debtor: He would owe us something (Romans 4:1-3). The Bible teaches that God owes no man anything, and our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
This can be illustrated by the following example. Out in Southern California, there is an island off the coast called Catalina, 26 miles from the pier at Newport Beach. Suppose that one day three men are standing on the end of the pier. One is an alcoholic, grubby, sick, living on the streets. The second is the average American, and the third is a fine, upstanding, pillar-of-the-community person.
All of a sudden the alcoholic leaps off the edge of the pier five feet out into the water. The other two yell, “What are you trying to do?” The man in the water yells back, “I’m jumping to Catalina!”
The second man, the average man on the street, says, “Watch me. I can do better than that!” He proceeds to jump, landing 10 feet out, twice as far as the alcoholic. The third man, very moral, upright, outstanding person that he is, laughs disdainfully at the two men in the water. He moves back about 50 yards, takes a running leap and lands 20 feet out, twice as far as Mr. Average, and four times as far as Mr. Alcoholic.
The Coast Guard fishes them out of the water and asks what they are doing, to which they all reply, “We are jumping to Catalina,” and Mr. Average boasts of his beating Mr. Alcoholic, and Mr. Great boasts of his accomplishment in beating both of them. The Coast Guard officer could only shake his head and exclaim, “You fools! You are all still 26 miles short of your target.”
Although modern man considers himself better than—or at least as good as—others, he is still far from the target God has set for us. It is impossible for anyone to jump from the pier to Catalina, and it is impossible for anyone to reach heaven by his own deeds and apart from Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself puts it, “No man comes to the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6).
Mark Weir serves Spokane as the the pastor of the Spokane Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church.