Does man contribute to his salvation? Does man have any part to play, any role to fulfill, in the salvation process? Does salvation arise from human activity? Some say no. What saith the Scripture?
It is imperative to properly define our terms. Webster defines “contribute” as follows: “1: to give a part to a common fund or store b: to play a significant part in bringing about an end or result.” Among the definitions Webster gives for the word “part” is: “one’s share or allotted task (as in an action)… A function or course of action performed.”
The above definitions deserve elaboration as they relate to the questions asked in the first paragraph of this article. Does man contribute to his salvation? Yes. Not in the sense that he gives a part to a common fund or store but in the sense that he plays a significant part in bringing about an end or result. In other words, it is true that there is nothing that I can contribute to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to make it any more efficacious or powerful than it already is. I cannot improve upon the redemptive work of Christ. (I cannot ever remember hearing a preacher in the Lord’s church say that we can, by what we do, add anything to the Divine side of God’s work. Yet, the charge is being made that this is a widespread mistake among us). God’s part is his and I cannot add anything to his part.
However, this is not to say that I have no part to play. I have an allotted task to perform. My performance of this task is not meritorious (Eph. 2:8,9). I can never do enough to deserve salvation (Luke 17:10). Yet, without doing the will of the Father in heaven, I can never enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). I do not nullify God’s part (Grace) by doing my part (Obedient Faith).
Hebrews 5:9 should forevermore settle the controversy as to whether God and man both have a part to play in the salvation process. The record says that Jesus became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. The word “author” is the translation of the Greek word “aitios.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Greek New Testament Words notes the meaning of the word which is found only once in the New Testament. He says that Christ “on the grounds of his finished work on earth has become the personal mediating cause of eternal salvation.” Thus, the word “author” denotes God’s indispensable role in saving humanity. Jesus is the divine cause of eternal salvation. Does man also have a part in this process? The latter portion of verse 9 answers with a resounding yes! Jesus is the cause of eternal salvation only to men and women who obey him. If obedience is never offered in response to the grace he proffered, then salvation will never be realized.
Numerous examples of this principle are found in Scriptures. God made gracious provisions for Noah and his family to be saved from the flood. Did Noah contribute one whit to his salvation from the flood? “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22). By faith he prepared an ark to the saving of his house (Hebrews 11:7). Noah couldn’t add anything to God’s power to protect him and God wouldn’t build the ark for Noah. Thus, God had his part and Noah had his. Noah didn’t earn anything. God deserves all the glory. However, if Noah hadn’t built the ark and followed God’s instructions, all of the grace that God had promised Noah would have been pointless.
It was the power of God that caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down. Yet, man had a part to play in bringing about the transaction. Men walking around the walls didn’t contribute any power that God needed to make the walls fall down. But God had made it clear that he would not do his part until man had done his (Heb. 11:30). The same is true of our salvation. Though he has already done his part in the sending of his Son to die on the cross, he will not do his part in cleansing us from our sins until we have done our part in humbly submitting to his will. Salvation would never have arisen for Saul if he had not arisen and been baptized (Acts 22:16).
God has done his part, and without it, no amount of man’s part can justify. God’s part has been to demonstrate his grace. Our part is to access that grace by a faith that submits and obeys (Rom. 5:1,2; 6:1-4) and to realize that even after we have done our part we have not merited our redemption. God has done his part. We must do ours to receive the promise (Heb. 10:36).