If You Can’t Save Yourself, Then What?

By Mark D. Roberts

May 29, 2018

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10


In these Life for Leaders devotions, I’ve talked before about my battle a couple of years ago with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. While hiking in the High Sierra of California, I was bitten by a tick that gave me this potentially fatal disease. But I had no idea about this tick bite. So, when I got what seemed to be a bad case of the flu, I did all the usual things to try and heal myself. But I kept getting worse and worse. Finally, my wife took me to the hospital, where I spent several days, receiving non-stop treatment with antibiotics. This treatment literally saved my life. Without it, I would have died. There was no way I could have saved myself. I needed to be saved. Period.

A man wandering alone on dunes of sand.The same is true when it comes to our salvation from sin and all that comes along with it, ultimately death. Notice that Ephesians 2:8 uses the verb “to save” in the passive mood. It does not say “you have saved yourself,” using the active voice (or the middle voice in Greek). Rather, the text reads “you have been saved.” Salvation is something that has happened to you. You did not make it happen yourself. You have been saved by something external to yourself. Salvation is something you receive, a gift of God’s grace.

If you’re a Christian, I expect you have heard this before. But, if you’re like me and most Christians I know, you struggle to let this truth penetrate your heart and permeate your life. There is something about us that wants to earn our own salvation. Or, at any rate, there is something about us that thinks we can and we should.

The passive verb in Ephesians 2:8 makes it abundantly clear that our salvation is not something we produce. It is something done to us and for us. In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion, we’ll look more closely at how salvation happens in our lives. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

Something to Think About:

Is there something in you that wants to believe you can and should save yourself?

Has the fact that salvation is something God does—not something you do—truly touched your mind and heart?

If you really believed that you have been saved by something or someone outside of yourself, how might this affect the way you think? Feel? Live?

Something to Do:

When someone gives you a gift, you say “thank you.” Take some time to reflect on God’s gift of salvation and to express your gratitude for this gift.


Gracious God, I confess that there is a part of me that thinks I can save myself, or, at least, that I can contribute significantly to my salvation by my own efforts. Forgive me, Lord, for my arrogance.

There is also something in me that feels as if I should save myself, that being saved from the outside is being too dependent or irresponsible. Forgive me, Lord, for my ignorance.

Yet there is also something in me that knows I cannot save myself. I know I need a Savior. I need you to be my Savior. How I thank and praise you for doing what I could not do by myself. I have been saved… by you! What a wonder! Thank you! Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Grace and Righteousness Lead to Eternal Life through Christ (Romans 5:12–21)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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