Why do we need a Savior?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Why do we need a Savior? I would like your exhaustive answer, please.

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to respond to your query today… although I can’t promise an “exhaustive” report on humanity’s need of a Savior. You see, responding exhaustively is beyond the scope of this venue; indeed, that would require encyclopedic volumes of information… and a quick inspection of our articles shows that we do not offer that here. But if I adequately defend the notion that we need a Savior, any subsequent explanations would only add to the data, not to the argument — and this would be an unnecessary burden after making the case. So I’ll give you some ideas about why we need a Savior, and if these do not satisfy, feel free to re-query.

Since I cannot tell by your question whether you are a believer, whether you expect the Bible to have the correct answer or if you are looking for answers from philosophy or natural theology, I will center on the Bible in this response. Furthermore, let us understand the term “we” in your question to be technically inclusive — that is, every person who has ever lived needs a Savior. Please note also that the term savior enjoys a somewhat broad use in the Bible; anyone who performs a rescuing or delivering function may be designated a savior — not just God (Judges 3:9, 15; 2 Kings 13:5; Nehemiah 9:27). But we must also note that God himself (and not just Jesus specifically) is also called savior (Isaiah 43:11, 45:20-22, 60:16). So to avoid confusion, let us understand the word Savior in your question to designate Jesus.

I’d like to begin with four statements that will guide my answer: First, God has a plan — and human beings are critical to it. Second, humans, in order to worship God legitimately, must have libertarian free-will. Third, God is holy — and he cannot abide with sin. Fourth, every human has sinned, and every human has a sin nature.

You can probably already see the sticky part: living with God requires sinless perfection. But none of us have that… so God cannot accomplish his goals without first fixing humankind. That is why we need a Savior — and Scripture identifies him as Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11; Titus 2:13-14).

Jesus does not make us better people, though, nor does he boost our godliness or augment our holiness. He makes us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) — and I mean new. But is that important? It surely is. If being “new creatures” is what counts with God, then we should let the Savior save… and let the newness begin.

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.” (Galatians 6:15, NIV)

“[Jesus Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, NIV)

With that overview in place, let us now explore these four points to see whether or not this interpretation of why we need a Savior is biblically consistent.

God has meaningful plans for humankind.

Many of God’s plans for us are overarching, like bringing him glory (Isaiah 43:7) and enjoying his fellowship forever (Psalm 144:15). Some are more immediate, like conforming us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). And some speak to our far-future where we will dwell together with God (Revelation 21:3). But when I survey all the heartache that we humans have brought to God (and to ourselves!), I cannot help but wonder why he went through with creating us… but he did.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

Now, I work under the assumption that the Self-Existent One — the omniscient and sufficient God — did not create the cosmos to entertain himself… but that he did so to cultivate relationships with the only people who count: those who could refuse his advances — us! You see, God (as a social and moral agent) desires to have his family love him and thrive. But even the Omnipotent One cannot force a person to love him… and there will be no loving-and-thriving without willing participants.

Now, if God decided not to create anything, he would still be glorious… it’s just that no one would know it but him. Therefore, and assuming a maximal God (I do, but not everybody does), if he did not create us, there would be a type of glory missing — the glory given by volitional beings who could instead withhold it! And under that scenario, we would be able to conceive of a more glorious God than the one who existed… which should give us, as it did Anselm, ontological pause. Therefore, God “had to” create… and “had to” create volitional beings… and “had to” work the plan of redemption… and therefore “had to” send a Savior — so he could stand us in eternity!

The free will of humankind.

There are no Bible verses that address human free will per se, but God commends the prudent use of our free will all throughout the Bible — and that would be nonsensical if true volition did not exist in humankind. Our Reformed brethren would tend to disagree with me when I insist that people have libertarian free will (“Libertarian” is a philosophical term; it does not here refer to the Libertarian political party.), but without it, I see no purpose in creation… I mean, we “get it” that God can create things. But when it comes to sentient beings, why would God even bother making creatures with predetermined outcomes? But also, why would he bother to give them the appearance of free will… which would be the appearance of a life? That would be senseless and fraudulent.

That being said, free will may be necessary for true glory, but it this age it is sure to accost God’s holiness. This speaks to our need for a Savior.

See how the following verses speak to free will in that God assumes it as a normal part of life: (Genesis 2:16-17; 4:6-7; Deuteronomy. 11:26-28; 30:19-20; Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 1:29, 16:9; Isaiah 55:6-7; Mark 8:34; John 1:12; 7:17; Romans 10:9-10; 13:12; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Galatians 5:16-17; 2 Timothy 2:26; James 1: 3-6, 4:7; Revelation 3:20.)

The Holiness of God.

With over 900 biblical references to the holiness of God, its importance to his creation cannot be overstated… even though we humans cannot fathom it. That being said, the Bible still teaches that we should pursue holiness.

“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
(Leviticus 19:2, NIV)

 “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
(1 Peter 1:15–16, NIV)

“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NIV)

Jesus, too, taught that we should approach God with the understanding that he is holy — and that we should acknowledge that first. But this is more than just making mental assent to one of God’s attributes. We should imagine ourselves as the high priest entering the most holy place (Leviticus 16:2).

“This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” (Matthew 6:9, NIV)

We need a Savior because God is too pure to abide sinfulness… even though the timing of God’s punishment (and/or his mercy) occasionally frustrates his friends.

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”  (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV)

(See also Exodus 3:5, 15:11, 19:5-6; Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26; Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 71:22, 99:3-5; Isaiah 5:16, 57:15; Luke 1:35; John 17:11; Acts 3:13-14, 4:26-30; Romans 6:19-23, 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 30, 3:16-17; Ephesians 1:4, 5:25-27; 1 Thessalonians 3:13-4:3, 4:7; Hebrews 10:10, 12:10, 12:14; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5; Revelation 4:7-8)

The sinfulness of humankind. 

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul brings the entire Old Testament to bear with a synthesis of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah — but viewed under the New Testament’s relationship to the Law. In so doing he considers every segment of Scripture — the Law, the Writings, the Prophets and the New Testament — and as such, we can say with confidence that the counsel of the Bible is that every person has sinned, that every person is a sinner… and (because of his holiness) that every person therein requires remediation.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:10–24, NIV)  

Many people object to the idea that sin is an objective reality. But anyone who does not agree with God’s revelation through the Apostle Paul is free to ask the Apostle John for a second opinion.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NIV)

So, here’s the thing: God’s word says very directly that every human being is a sinner — and it goes on to say that any people who disagree with this are not only wrong… they are wrong by reason of self-deception!

What we have then is God saying — and in no uncertain terms — that everybody is a sinner… even the ones who don’t think they are. What this means is that everyone needs a Savior… even the ones who don’t think they do.

(See also Psalm 51:5, 10, 143:2; Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8-10.)

The necessity of a Savior. 

To summarize and to conclude, God has a plan — it is perfect… and he won’t change his mind about executing it. But his plan involves us humans… and our free-will conspires to make us sinners. But God is holy; he cannot be in the presence of sin — and this would make it impossible for him to work his eternal plan with us… unless he somehow made us clean. He used to do this a year at a time under the Law (Heb. 9:7), but those sacrifices were temporary and imperfect — and God is planning for eternity. His solution? Make the perfect sacrifice — and do it once and for all. This he did this with his Son on the cross.

“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (Romans 6:10, NIV)

Our Savior is a manifestation of God’s love — and he saved us, not because we deserved it, but as a function of his mercy. He made us acceptable through regeneration — being born again as new creatures — and being justified to God by his grace so that we are heirs to eternal life.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7, NIV)

Why do we need a Savior? His sacrifice unlocked everything for us — and if there were any other way for God to work his plan without compromise, he would have chosen that over the humiliation that he suffered on the cross. Therefore, the fact that God went through with this — that Jesus did indeed die on the cross — is proof enough that we need a Savior.

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