He was thrashing his arms and legs in the open sea. The choppy waves threatening with every pass to pull him under the surface, never to be seen again. He had no life-jacket, no raft, and was running out of hope.
Just as his strength was about to fail completely, a rescue ship approaches. It pulls up close beside him and a man throws out a life line.
“Grab hold!” The man yells. He quickly does as he is told and grabs the flotation ring attached to the end of the line.
“Put it under your arms and hold on!” The man continues. Once he has secured himself, the lifeline is pulled in and he is brought onto the ship, safe and sound.
This little illustration parallels closely the means by which we are saved. Unfortunately, members of the church are often accused of believing that we must work our way to salvation. The accusation asserts that we believe we can require God to save us because we believe our works of obedience force his hand. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just as the man in the story, the sinner finds himself thrashing in the harsh waves of the world. When the ship of salvation arrives, what happens? Does the man save himself? Has he in any way forced entry into the ship with overwhelming power or position? No, not by any means.
The man was unable to save himself. He had not been able, while thrashing in the water, to build his own boat, lift himself from the water, or otherwise get himself to shore. Such is the situation in which we find ourselves with sin. We are separated from God with no means under our own power to save ourselves. Paul places that very emphasis upon the situation in Romans 4 when, speaking about Abraham, he says: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom. 4:2-5). Abraham was not able to save himself through his works of sacrifice. Even though he did many good things, those actions alone were not enough to release him from sin. Therefore, just as with the man in the story, there had to be some outside force to save him from the waves of sin.
By the grace of God, he has made it possible for us to be rescued from the deeps. However, belief alone is not sufficient. The man in the story believed that the rescue ship could save him, but that did not automatically put him in the boat; there was still something that had to be done. Instead he was told to do three things: grab the lifeline, secure himself, and hold on. All three of these things had to be done in order for his rescue to be accomplished.
The same holds true with us. Belief in Jesus and all he accomplished is absolutely necessary, but more is required to get us into the ship of salvation. Believing that we can be saved we must be willing to take hold of the life line and enter the boat. That is accomplished by repenting of our sins (Acts 2:38); confessing Christ before men (Mat. 10:32); and being immersed in water (1 Pet. 3:21).
By grabbing the lifeline, we have not saved ourselves; instead, we have simply followed the directions necessary to allow the ship to rescue us. The power for our salvation is not found in our own actions, but in the lifeline that is cast (the blood of Christ – Heb. 9:24-28); nevertheless, without following the directions that tell us how to get in the boat (Rom. 1:16), it is impossible to find our way into the ship by any other means.
Now, let us take our illustration a step further. Once the man is in the ship he is saved, but not safe. For the ship is still on the ocean, not at shore in the harbor. Therefore, in order to truly reach safety, the man has to stay on the ship. I am reminded of the old movie Captains Courageous in which a young boy is thrown overboard into the sea and is picked up by a fishing trawler. However, instead of a cozy ride back to shore, the trawler has a job to do and the boy is going to have to remain with them to the end of it. Additionally, if the boy is going to stay on the boat, he will have to work to earn his keep; otherwise there is no room for dead weight.
The same holds true for us in the ship of salvation (the church). Once aboard, it has a mission to do (rescue as many as possible), and there is no room for dead weight. Therefore, we must either get to work and earn our keep, or jump off the ship back into the sea; for it is not until the ship finally reaches shore that we are truly safe. Unfortunately, far too many have chosen to jump back into the sea.
Have you been rescued by the ship of salvation? Having heard the call and seen the lifeline, what will you do with it; will you accept it for what it is, or will you claim it is too difficult and try to find another way into the ship? Please do not make that mistake, for there will be no other ship available, and no other lifeline extended but the one the Lord has delivered through his blood and his instructions.