Salvation by works has often been compared to saving yourself from drowning. Many religions essentially teach that they can give proper swimming techniques in the midst of a vast ocean of personal depravity. Of course, they move you closer to the shore and decrease the depth of the water. In other words, they teach that you are not really that lost, and if you are not that lost then you do not need a savior. You just need a guide or a teacher.
Those who call themselves Christians often fall into a similar trap in their understanding of keeping God’s laws. They imply that these laws are also instructions to at least “keep us saved”. However, swimming instructions written on stone tablets are not the best thing to throw someone who is still in deep water. The deep water I speak of is the propensity of the flesh to steer left like a grocery cart with a bent wheel. It does this when God’s law steers right. Rom 7:7-25 Denying this is like trying to hold a beach ball under water in a pool. It will come up somewhere.
The religions of man have it all wrong; we are not drowning at all! We are actually already dead, spiritually dead that is. Scripture teaches us that we are all dead in our sins and that none of us seeks after God. Eph 2:1-10; Rom 3:9-20 The absurdity of saving oneself in this predicament is the same as thinking a drowned man can administer CPR to himself. He is utterly helpless. Yes, we do have a responsibility to hear and repent, and “NO” this is not a Calvinist argument about total depravity. We are dead in our sins, but a totally depraved person grazes naked in the field with cows. Sorry for that tangent.
Jesus had an interesting way of bringing religious people to an understanding that they needed salvation. He did not bring in grace at first unless people were humble. He brought in the law. He reinforced the fact that the tablets of the law were weightier that the Pharisees thought. He pressed this until the hearer exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” This is when He introduced grace and mercy because it was only then that it could be appreciated.
One of the evangelistic mistakes that we often make in communicating the gospel to people of other religions is trying to explain the person & ministry of Jesus before they see their need for salvation. Even though our postmodern world rejects moral absolutes many world religious still accept them. In these cases we can establish a degree of righteousness using their own standards that brings in self doubt. We can then bring in the gospel that brings a correct fear of God. The terror of an inescapable judgment is actually desirable. It is not popular, but facing the Dark Night of the Soul puts a person in the best position of understanding the hope of trusting in the finished work of Christ.
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him.
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:14-17