by Glison Angela Lehto, author of Miss Aqua and the Fear Monster, scheduled for digital and paperback release in 2016!
Salvation is like a righteous judge paying for the crime of a guilty prisoner so he can go free. Salvation is like a shepherd who rescues a lost sheep that wandered into danger. Salvation is like a merciful father reinstating a prodigal child into his household.
Ever wonder why there are so many metaphors about salvation? If the gospel is simple—we’re all sinners, we need grace, Jesus died for us—then why do we need such a diversity of parables to explain it? C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.”
Salvation is mysteriously wonderful and more comprehensive than we can imagine. God somehow encapsulated His divine existence in the form of a human soul and body, and absorbed all the effects of selfishness, fear, rebellion, and sin into Himself. Like a doctor who could somehow take on all the illnesses in the world and eradicate them by suffering their effects and dying. See? Another metaphor!
The point is, the gospel is greater than we can understand. I agree with Mr. Lewis: we know Jesus does save us. How exactly He does that, we don’t know. Thus, the hundreds of analogies. And I’m giving you another one. To my knowledge, I made this up, though there are probably other imaginative Christians who have thought of it before.
How about a PIRATE metaphor for the gospel? Arrrggh!
Here be the problem, mates: many a sinful soul will refuse to admit he or she be in need o’ savin’. ‘Tis our pride an’ shame wot keeps us from runnin’ into the arms o’ Jesus. We think we can be good enough on our own to earn God’s pardon an’ approval. To confess we be naught but scoundrels and rogues, why, ‘tis a great insult to our dignity, an’ a great threat to our self-worth. ‘Cause the sad truth be that most o’ us think our worth comes from our performance. So we try hard to reform our scurvy ways, but we never can escape our buccaneer nature.
I’ll try to stop writing with a pirate accent now. I’m convinced that more “good” people than “bad” people miss out on God’s mercy. Look at Jesus’ interactions. Who came flocking to Him? The prostitutes, thieves, drunks, tax collectors, and pirates! (Well, at least the first century Palestinian version of them). Who took offense at Him and refused His grace? The upright religious people, the good citizens, and the faithful Jews. One of the worst sicknesses of the human soul is self-sufficiency. If I think there’s even a chance I can do it myself, then there’s no way I’ll accept help from God or anyone else. I want to do it myself and get the credit for it. Thanks, Jesus. I like Your teachings, but I’m all set. I’m not so bad as to need You to die for me. I’ll figure it out on my own.
This mindset not only keeps unbelievers stuck in spiritual death, but it also keeps Christians stuck in slavery. Many of us trust Jesus just enough for the salvation of our souls. We’re going to Heaven. Thank You, God! But then we decide we’ll take it from there. And we strive to be good, to make ourselves into better Christians, and to earn God’s favor. We accept Jesus for salvation, but we refuse to let Him keep helping us into spiritual maturity (in Christianese, it’s called “sanctification). We think we have to do it ourselves. The blood of Christ saved me, but now it’s my own blood, sweat, and tears that will make me holy! We misapply verses like, “Be ye holy, as God is holy,” and load each other down with religious to-do lists. We forget that “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free! Don’t be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
I used to live in Christian slavery. I was saved as a teen, but spent the first ten years of my life with Christ in legalism and self-effort. Initially, I came to Jesus as the guilty, needy pirate I was. I realized the law called for me “to be hanged by the neck until dead.” I knew I had broken God’s covenant. I was well aware of my black-hearted thoughts and my devilish ways. I pleaded guilty to all those acts of piracy. And then I marveled in the grace of God that said I was pardoned!
But instead of enjoying God’s love and mercy for me, I quickly relapsed into guilt and shame. I let well-intentioned religious people convince me that I had to try hard to behave well. That I had to meet all these high-sounding requirements, like reading my Bible so many chapters a day, and praying for so long every morning. That I had to teach Sunday school and lead Bible studies. That I had to serve others whenever there was a need, give my time and energy to whoever wanted to take it, and never say no to anyone. Spiritual discipline isn’t bad, by any means, but when you depend on it instead of Jesus, it’s just as sinful as raiding, pillaging, and carousing. Maybe even more destructive, because these things look so good on the outside. My joy dried up. My peace withered. I ran harder and harder on the religious treadmill, trying to get other people to tell me what a good Christian I was. All in the name of “living for Jesus.”
What had happened? I forgot I was a pirate. I forgot how bad I am, and I forgot how good God is. I felt pressure from the “good” people, the faithful Christians, the ones who look like they have it all together. I forgot that salvation is a free gift and an ongoing work of the Spirit within us. I let them tell me I had to make myself into Super Christian. So this redeemed pirate took a bath, put on a frilly white dress and long gloves, and tried hard to look good. Because if I didn’t live up to God’s expectations, maybe He wouldn’t be so merciful to me after all. And at least I had to keep up with the performance of all the other Super Christians. I did a lot of good things out of fear and guilt. I worked like a dog at my Christianity, and fooled lots of people that I was mature and selfless. But inside, I was a fearful pirate trying to force herself to fit into the tea party crowd.
Eventually, I burnt out. And thankfully, Jesus reminded me that He knows I’m a pirate. He’s not like the religious people, who only approve of me when I perform well. Jesus loves me no matter what my performance is like. He loved me even when I was in willful rebellion, plunderin’ ships on the high seas! He pardoned me because He loves me and wants a relationship with me, not so I could impress everyone by how spiritual I am, or win the “good little Christian” contest. So I took off those white gloves, put on me sea-farin’ get-up again, and set sail under the flag of God’s grace. I remembered that I’m just a pirate. I don’t have to try to be Super Christian. In fact, I can’t. In fact, there’s no such thing! We’re just as sinful as the other scallywags, and God’s mercy is just as much for us as for the rest of the rabble. Jesus brought me to life by His power, and it’s by His power that He continues to express that life in me. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms me, so yes, I am becoming less of a scoundrel over time. But my focus is completely different. I’m not worrying about my performance any more. I just let Him captain the ship and enjoy our adventures together.
Glison Angela Lehto is the newest author of Flagship Fiction, with her debut novel Miss Aqua and the Fear Monster, coming in the spring of 2016. She’s a pirate, a mermaid, a poet, a dancer, and a secret agent. She’s passionate about helping Christians understand their freedom and spiritual riches in Christ, and experience the fullness of life that Jesus promised. She lives in Maine, where she enjoys windsurfing and swimming instead of pillaging the coastline.