I was raised Protestant. As a child, I was taught that salvation was a one-on-one thing between me and Jesus. Sin put me in danger, but I could remove that danger singlehandedly, by doing three things:
- Recognizing that I had sinned
- Truly feeling sorry for my sin
- Asking God to forgive my sin
Then my sin was forgiven. That’s all there was to it. No one needed to be involved in the transaction except me and Jesus. It was up to me to repent, and it was up to Jesus to forgive. No other person was needed.
Then I learned this was all wrong.
In fact, forgiveness often happens in community.
Salvation from sin often happens because of what other people do.
The book of Job–the oldest book of Scripture–gives a powerful example of this:
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. (Job 42:7-9)
Why didn’t God just ask Job’s friends to pray for themselves?
For these men to be forgiven of their sins, why were Job’s prayers needed?
Because . . .
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
And if the prayer of a righteous man avails much,
then it may be that the prayer of a sinful man avails very little.
If a person ignores God’s law, then “even his prayer is an abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9).
Indeed, God says that some people’s prayers are ignored:
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had sinned, so God did not want them praying solo. For God to forgive their sin, the prayers of a righteous man were required. In this case, the righteous man was Job. As Scripture says, God forgave their sins, because the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
We are not saved one-on-one. We are saved in community.
Things work similarly during the ministry of Jesus. Three of the Gospels record an account of the Lord healing a paralytic. The paralytic was unable to walk, so his friends carried him to Jesus.
When Jesus forgives the man’s sins, it is not because He sees his faith.
Rather, Jesus forgives the man’s sins because He sees their faith:
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” (Matthew 9:2)
Because multiple men had faith, one man’s sins were forgiven.
For the paralytic, salvation was not just one-on-one with Jesus.
He had faith, and he also had to thank his friends for their faith on his behalf.
We need others to pray for us.
And we need the Saints to pray for us.
We need them to have faith on our behalf.
Our eternal salvation partially depends on them.