“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:8,9).
IF THE JEWISH LEADERS THOUGHT OF SALVATION IN “INSTITUTIONAL” TERMS, THEY WERE NOT ALONE. Very few of us can say we haven’t made the same mistake. We are strongly tempted to think that our ticket into the eternal fellowship of God is automatically secured by our membership in the group we think God is going to save. As long as we’re in that group, it doesn’t matter what’s in our heart or what we do individually. The “institution” is what dispenses salvation, and if we’re in fellowship with that group, we are saved.
The truth, however, is that we will be judged on an individual basis. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Our human connections will not save us. It is our own deeds that will matter.
This does not mean that our human connections are not important. The New Testament clearly teaches that having obeyed the gospel and come into a right relationship with God, we will need to seek out others who have also been reconciled to God through Christ, so that we can pursue the communal life God has designed for His people in this world (Acts 2:41–47). We can’t be connected to Christ without having some serious brotherly and sisterly duties. But our group relationship grows out of our personal connection to Christ, and not vice versa. The distinction is important.
In regard to God, we all need a stronger sense of personal responsibility. In the end, if we stand before God unforgiven and in a lost condition, it will not be for the sins of others but for our own. We should be thankful that we won’t be lost for the wickedness of others, but we should be sobered by the other side of that truth: we won’t be saved by the righteousness of others. Are we helped in this life by the good lives of those we come in contact with? Yes. And should we give thanks for the helpful influence of godly people? Certainly. But those folks can’t save us. We do not go to heaven on the group plan. The “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) required by the gospel is a matter of personal choice.
“Souls are not saved in bundles” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).