Summary: The fundamental stance we have before God is critical to everything else in our lives, for personal idolatries, failed intimacies, and low self-esteem are all results of our not experiencing salvation.
When I was young, and riding a bicycle, we didn’t wear helmets. Nobody had thought of such a thing. And even if they had, no government was telling us we had to wear helmets. I haven’t even worn so much as a hat since I reached the age of 13, much less a helmet. So when we spilled, we spilled, we hit our silly heads, and took the consequences.
I see some of you right now nodding and saying to yourselves, “That explains a lot of things.” Maybe so.
At any rate, I never thought much about helmets until a few years ago, when my son was a teenager, and Margaret and I were enlisted to take our church’s youth group on a ski retreat. We were supposed to make sure everybody’s teenager survived the slopes, and were all geared up to provide first aid in case the unthinkable happened.
Well, the unthinkable did happen. There was an accident. Word came that one of our youth had taken a bad fall, and had been knocked semi-conscious. We rushed out to where it had happened, and, wouldn’t you know it, it was our own son who had taken the fall. Bryan was semi-conscious, staggering around in the snow, looking dopey, and sounding kind of goofy. We asked him if he was all right, and he just looked blankly at us. We put our arms around him to steady his walk, and his knees went limp. We got him back down to the lodge and asked again if he felt all right. He said, “Where am I?” He couldn’t remember much of anything and couldn’t seem to respond. When after “Where am I?” came “Who am I and who are you?”, I really did get worried. It turns out he had had a mild concussion. Potentially very dangerous. My son might have been seriously hurt. He might even have been killed. I found out that if you go out on to the ski slopes, if you ride a bike on these concrete streets without a helmet to protect your head, you might not be a survivor.
And if we go out into this world without what the Bible calls salvation to protect our life direction, we may not be survivors. When we go out to do battle in this world without salvation to protect us, we may not survive.
Salvation is the standing we have before God. Whether we stand before God full of sin, unclean, all out of joint; or whether we stand before God forgiven, cleansed, put back together – that is the fundamental fact of life. The difference is between surviving and being cast away and lost. Whether we have come into a relationship with God that is clear and certain and firm; or whether we are not sure that we know Him or that He knows us – there is the basic issue of life. It’s called salvation.
Salvation is like a helmet. A helmet protects our brains in the risky circumstances of life. And salvation protects our sense of who we are, because all of life’s circumstances are risky. Without that fundamental standing before God, everything we try to do will mess up, even when it looks good. We must gain confidence about our salvation.
Paul had been a Christian for quite some time. He had conquered a great many problems and had struggled with the meaning of his life. Paul had gone on to do lots of good things. He had founded churches, he had taken the gospel to new places, he was writing letters of profound wisdom to other Christians. Paul had a lot of things to which he could point and say, “Look what I have done for God.” “Look at what a good life I’ve led.” I don’t imagine too many of us would want to put our lives up against Paul’s and endure the comparisons. And yet, isn’t it interesting, after all his accomplishments, after all he has done, Paul is still talking about maybe being lost? About maybe not having salvation? He is still concerned about being a castaway. Is there a little anxiety in his heart?
So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be [a castaway].
It’s a complicated sentence. But in its simplest form I hear Paul saying, “I have to watch out, because in my hurry to tell others what to do, I might lose the way myself. In my rush to be the good guy, I might miss the whole point.” I might not survive, I might be a castaway. I might be lost.
Can we face that question? Are we survivors or are we castaways? Which am I? Am I saved or am I lost? Which are we? Wearing the helmet of salvation, with life’s meaning protected? Or out there on our own, with our senses likely to be scrambled when the tough times come? Which? Survivor or castaway?