Most Christians believe that they can choose to believe the Gospel on their own, and in fact believe that one’s choice determines where they will spend eternity. The problem is, this idea is essentially salvation by works or salvation by self, and is really nothing more than humanism dressed up in religious garb.
Yes, the idea that “choosing to believe the Gospel on one’s own in order to be saved is actually salvation by works or salvation by self” goes against what most religious leaders have taught, but if you need to choose to believe something specific in order to be saved, how can that be anything other than a work? If you don’t agree with me, try choosing right now to truly believe in Thor as your lord and saviour. Can’t do it, can you? Forcing oneself to believe something that one hasn’t already organically come to believe (or that God hasn’t given them the faith to believe) is one of the biggest mental works a person could do, and it seems unlikely that anybody is actually capable of it. And if one has been given the faith to believe the truth then they already believe and have already been saved; this is a very binary concept with no middle ground: one either truly believes (which means they have been given the gift of faith by God to believe the Good News) and is saved, or they don’t (which means God hasn’t given them the faith necessary to believe the Good News) and aren’t. Now, one might try to argue that there isn’t compelling evidence to believe that Thor is our saviour, but pretty much all non-believers would argue that they don’t see compelling evidence to believe that Jesus is either (for that matter, most Christians don’t believe He is our Saviour either, but instead believe He’s only our potential Saviour, and that He only becomes our Saviour if we choose to let Him save us, which means they haven’t believed Paul’s Gospel yet themselves), and we have to believe they’re telling the truth because, if they were lying and actually did see the evidence, they’d have already believed the truth about Christ and salvation which would mean they were already saved.
Regardless, even if someone could somehow brainwash themselves into believing something they really didn’t previously believe, it would still be an action (even if just a mental action) they had to accomplish to save themselves (or accomplish to participate in saving themselves). Pretty much every denomination and cult out there teaches salvation by a combination of Christ’s sacrifice plus our own “free will” (aside from some Calvinist denominations, who at least sort of understand God’s sovereignty), but if salvation is by grace plus something else, it’s not by grace alone. (And yes, I know it’s by grace through faith; but that faith, just like the grace and the salvation itself, is not out of ourselves but is, instead, a gift of God — if that faith were something we had to build up on our own, it would be a work we could boast about, and it would mean we’d ultimately played a role in our own salvation.)
Basically, most Christians actually reject the free gift of salvation (despite mistakenly calling the salvation of their so-called “gospel” a free gift) because they don’t truly believe that it’s what Christ did that saves us (since otherwise they’d have to admit that everyone will be saved) or that salvation really is a free gift that has been given to all (okay, a few Christians will agree that He did give the gift to everyone, but they also teach that He’ll later take it back from people who don’t appreciate the gift enough before they die, although this strange understanding of salvation is believed by very few, thankfully), but rather most believe that Jesus saved absolutely nobody through His death and resurrection. Instead, they believe that salvation is an offer rather than an already existing fact (and that Paul’s Gospel is a proposition rather than simply a proclamation of that fact). They think that He only made it possible for people to save themselves by making the right choice with what He did there (although they’d feign humility by claiming to still give the credit to God and Christ somehow, pretending to believe that salvation is no merit of their own, all the while condemning others to hell for being too unmeritorious to choose to become Christians), and that it’s actually one’s acceptance of the gift of potential salvation that saves them (if they happen to be smart enough or wise enough to make the right decision, of course — people who believe that a “free will” decision is necessary for salvation ultimately believe that salvation depends on human intelligence or wisdom to make the right choice; only those people who are good enough, meaning smart or wise enough, not to mention humble enough, to reject their previous wrong choices and now make the right choice or choices are able to be saved, according to most Christians, ultimately making salvation a moral accomplishment we do for ourselves, completing our salvation through our righteous decision to seek after God after we understand the truth and believe in Christ, with Christ Himself merely accomplishing step one of our salvation through His death and resurrection).
If they accepted that it was entirely, 100% what Christ did that saved them rather than their own good and wise and humble choice, they’d also have to accept that Christ’s death and resurrection saves everyone regardless of whether everyone chooses to believe it or not, which is just unacceptable to most of those in the Christian religion. To be fair, yes, you do need to “accept that Jesus is our saviour” (please note that I didn’t say “your saviour”) if you want to experience what is figuratively referred to as “eternal life” in the Bible during the next two ages (which is limited to those who actually do accept the existence of the free gift, and believe the good news that everybody will eventually experience said gift, at least for those under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision). However, accepting Jesus as our saviour doesn’t mean choosing to allow Him to save you (which would mean you would have a role in your own salvation, even if just the small role of making the right decision). Rather, it’s accepting that He has already saved you (and everyone else) after you’ve been given the gift of faith to believe the good news of your (and everyone’s) already existing salvation because of His death for our (meaning everybody’s) sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection. Basically, most Christians put the cart before the horse, thinking they first had faith and were then saved because of this faith. Believers in the necessity of a “free will” decision for salvation might not realize it, but they ultimately believe it’s their faith that saves them rather than God’s grace, when it’s actually by grace we are saved through faith, not by faith we are saved if we accept grace. These people, in fact, have faith in their own faith for their salvation rather than simply having faith that it’s what Christ did for all of humanity that actually saves us all (our faith on its own can’t take away our sins or save us; grace is the horse and faith is the cart). So it’s actually that they were first saved and (if they were also elected for “eternal life” under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision) were then given faith by God to believe the good news of everybody’s already promised salvation and impending immortality (which is what salvation is from an absolute perspective), and are also given “eternal life,” meaning getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of God during the final two ages (which is what salvation is from a relative perspective).
As should be obvious at this point, most Christians actually teach that God and Jesus don’t really save anyone, but instead teach that it’s up to us to save ourselves, despite using scriptural-sounding language to disguise this fact (trying to make it look like they’re actually giving the credit to God and Christ, often even lying to themselves about it), making salvation — from both an absolute and relative perspective — rely on us rather than on God. But in order for one to be saved from a relative perspective, one has to already be saved from an absolute perspective, and entirely apart from any action on their part (at least under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision; under the Gospel of the Circumcision, salvation is more of a joint effort, with works indeed being required or else one’s faith would prove to be dead and useless, but that’s a whole other sort of salvation which we’re not talking about right now), including the act of believing, otherwise their salvation wouldn’t be real to begin with, and it would be their faith bringing a non-existent salvation into being rather than what Christ did that brings salvation. “For instance,” as Martin Zender put it, “what is the use of me asking someone to believe that I deposited a small fortune into his or her bank account if I haven’t actually done it? Would the person’s affirmative confession add money to an empty account? Neither God nor Christ would ever ask unjust God-avoiders to believe a fairy tale, let alone insist that such belief could change fairy tales into realities. In fact, why ask unjust God-avoiders to believe anything unless You were prepared to provide the necessary faith Yourself? This is just what God does: ‘[He] imparts to each the measure of faith’ (Romans 12:3). It’s the only way that anyone can believe. Is salvation real, or isn’t it? Or is it not real until human belief makes it so? But how can human faith make an unreality real simply by the act of believing? I may believe with all my heart that the moon is made of cheese, but it doesn’t make it so. This is madness. Only just people can do something so noble as seek God, but no one is just, not one. Thus, all avoid Him. These are Paul’s words under the inspiration of the holy spirit. Unjust God-avoiders believe and confess nothing concerning God, and even if they could, why pitch them a fable? The question then arises — Did Jesus save me, or didn’t He? If He didn’t, then what am I supposed to believe, even if I could believe? Am I supposed to believe that Jesus didn’t save me? What would be the use of believing a falsehood? If Jesus did save me, then I’m already saved and my subsequent belief — however it comes — affirms a truth, not a fable. Because honestly — who affirms a fable? Lies are to be denied, not affirmed. You Christians laud Jesus Christ in all your colorful brochures, heralding His death and resurrection as though it actually accomplished something — up until the time I must ‘believe or burn,’ at which time salvation turns from a done-deal wrought by a spectacular Savior into a job-op proposed by a Wanna-Be Hero. Jesus didn’t save me after all; it was false advertising. What you mean to tell me is that Jesus merely provided me the opportunity to save myself if I could somehow break through a God-enforced, Adamic stubbornness. Is that the exercise? Then present salvation as an exercise, not a grace. You misrepresent it. You’re hypocrites. You idiots really ought to make up your minds about salvation: is it real or a put-on? If it’s real, then present it that way. Stay true to your spectacular Savior brochures. Tell me what Jesus Christ did, and not what He hopes to do if only I can cooperate with Him. Tell me that I’m saved, and mean it. Do that, and my belief will become the caboose on the train of salvation that it truly is, rather than the engine. Jesus Christ on the cross is the engine, is He not? Unless, of course, I’m really not saved. If I’m not saved, then quit telling lies such as ‘Jesus saves.’ Jesus doesn’t save squat if I’m in the same position after the cross as before it. Before the cross I’m doomed, and after the cross — according to you — I’m still doomed. What the hell did Jesus actually do on the cross then? At best, Calvary is a proposition. If it’s merely that, then quit saying, ‘Jesus saves.’ Say instead, ‘Jesus tried.’ If I am saved, then tell me I’m saved and I’ll believe it, because why would I deny a fact? It’s not my habit. I’m into truth, not pretense, and certainly not duplicities. Give it to me straight, you deceitful people who say one thing and mean another.”
So, which is it? Did Jesus Christ save you, or did you save yourself? If you’re saved because of the fact of Christ’s death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection, and because of that fact alone (regardless of whether you believe it or not), then it can indeed be said that Christ saved you (and that He saved everyone else too). If, on the other hand — after Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection — you’re not saved, because you haven’t believed the fact that He did the above, then it can’t be said that Christ actually saved you (because you haven’t actually been saved yet), nor can it be said that He is your Saviour (because someone can’t be said to be a person’s saviour without having actually saved that person first), and really, this ”gospel” can’t actually be called good news at all, at least not for most people.
And so, even though Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, most Christians teach that you still have to help yourself before God will help you, because there’s still something specific you yourself have to do in order to get saved, which is choose to believe a very specific thing. (And hopefully you were born smart enough and/or wise enough and/or humble enough, or at least have built up the necessary intelligence and/or wisdom and/or humility at this point in your life to be able to make the right decision to believe the necessary thing that saves you, because what Jesus did wasn’t enough on its own to save you without your belief in that specific thing, and if you can’t help yourself by bringing yourself to choose to believe that specific thing, you’re out of luck and God just won’t help you, so here’s hoping that whatever isn’t in those who can’t bring themselves to choose to believe the right thing is in you so that you can, or if it’s the other way around, hopefully whatever is in them that prevents them from choosing to believe the right thing isn’t in you so that you can.) Of course, some will also add certain actions — such as repentance of sin, confessing Jesus as Lord, and even water baptism, among other things — to the requirements for salvation, but for now let’s keep it simple and just leave it at having to choose to believe something very specific in order to get saved, especially since adding additional requirements on top of believing something specific won’t actually change anything about my point that the common belief is Jesus’ death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection, just wasn’t enough to save anyone without them having to add to what He did by choosing to believe something specific.
Simply put, having faith isn’t a work, but having to choose to have faith clearly is (anything that one has to choose to do on their own — be it having to choose to believe something, or having to choose to take a certain action after they’ve believed something — is, by definition, a work; the only thing that can’t possibly count as a work is something God gives us apart from us having to do anything to receive, keep, or enjoy it). Only God can give us the faith to believe the true Gospel of the Uncircumcision, though, because believing Paul’s Gospel is so difficult that even most Christians can’t do it since they refuse to believe what it actually means (that everyone will eventually experience salvation because of what Christ accomplished).