A few weeks ago, my family went to the US National Whitewater Center, a great facility in our area that offers tons of outdoor activities. We had an excellent time rafting, rock climbing and paddle boarding. Well, they had a good time paddle boarding; I had a good time swimming.
Near the end of the day, we went to their ropes area for their high ropes elements. What an awesome experience! This took me back to the time I spent on high ropes elements while on staff at Lake Forest Ranch. Best of all, I got to enjoy this with my kids.
The course uses a static belay system by which you are attached to a wire above while you make your way through the course. The reality is that if you fall, the rope will catch you after only a couple of feet. So, while there’s always a risk of minor injury on something like this, it’s not like you are going to fall to the forest floor 20 feet below.
You just need to trust the rope and enjoy the course.
We’ve been in James for over a month now and James has been pressing on the validity of our faith, not in the sense that what we believe might not be true, but in the sense that our faith might not be a true, vibrant faith. In chapter 1 alone, he warns three times about the danger of deceiving ourselves with worthless religion that would reveal us as hearers and talkers of the Word, but not doers. So, I’ve been pressing the question to make sure that we are being confronted appropriately by the book of James.
Anytime God’s word presses on the validity of someone’s faith in Jesus, the phrase “”once saved, always saved” comes up. It’s just too culturally common in our context—particularly when reading a book like James, or Hebrews 6, or other passages that might cause us to question if we are truly saved or not. Our context is scattered with people who “prayed a prayer” when they were 8 but there has been no life change expressed from their faith profession. And yet, they know a phrase that is supposed to bring them comfort—”once saved, always saved.”
To be clear, I believe with everything I am that the Bible teaches that all who belong to Jesus will be kept to the end. I’m confident that those who are saved by Jesus are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. So, I believe both in preservation (that God preserves all who belong to Him to the end) and perseverance (that all who belong to God will trust Him until the end). I do not believe that anyone who has been ransomed by Jesus will be lost by Jesus.
But, when the phrase comes up, it feels like an attempt to escape the questions that scare us. What if I’m not really saved? What if I have a dead faith or a worthless religion that’s all talk and no action? And, rather than letting those questions chase us to Jesus, we silence them with “once saved, always saved” and memories of VBS or youth camp. It almost feels like someone getting on a ropes course to hang on by their safety line instead of enjoying the course for which they are kept safe.
We are saved and kept by God’s grace not so we can hang in the air chanting “once saved, always saved” but so we can be freed to pursue Him with reckless abandon. By grace, we belong to Him so we can follow Him with a risk-taking zeal for God’s glory. We are safe in His arms so we can run the race marked out for us, trusting that when we fall, we don’t hit the forest floor. His grace catches and sustains us along the journey (It’s also empowering us along the journey, but that’s for another post).
So, what about you? Are you hanging by a safety line or are you enjoying the course marked out for you? James wants us to know God’s grace in the gospel. He wants us to live it out by faith with a religion that is pure and undefiled before God and invades every part of our lives. He is calling us to a radical life of following after Jesus. He wants us to trust the rope and enjoy the course.