Truth takes a while to penetrate thick skulls

By Curtis K. Shelburne

It bothers me about me to realize how long it takes for even the Lord of the universe to get his truth through my thick skull. The problem is not on God’s end of the equation; the problem is the thickness of what he’s trying to penetrate.

For example, how much clearer could God get the Apostle Paul to put it?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

To borrow from both Charles Dickens and his description of Jacob Marley, and from Robert Farrar Capon in his description of mortals like you and me, in the matter of accomplishing our own salvation, we are as “dead as doornails.” That’s what Paul is saying. It seems clear enough. Save ourselves? The very idea! We might as well try to start a nuclear reaction by rubbing two sticks together.

Maybe there’s a better way to paraphrase Paul’s words and the Holy Spirit’s truth from Ephesians 2, but I think what God is telling us is simply this: “Get over yourselves!”

We can make two big mistakes regarding salvation.

Many folks are at least good enough that they make the more honest of the two. Do you? Maybe you look at yourself and think you’re so bad you can’t be saved? Phooey! Lots of folks have been worse than you. You’re not even all that good at being bad, so get over yourself. And besides that, you never met anybody who hasn’t sinned and thus cut himself off forever from “salvation by perfect works.” In that regard, we’re all in the very same seat in the very same boat. Paul says it more than once in Romans 3 — because we’re so very thickheaded —“All have sinned!”

Ah, but then there’s the less honest of the two really big mistakes: “Yeah, I’ve sinned, but now I’m religious, and I’m really good at performing all the right rituals just right.” (Hmm. Is there a just right?) “Even if I make some mistakes elsewhere and you might or might not be wise to enter into a business deal with me, God’s gonna be really impressed that I’m right on religion. That’s gotta count for something.” (Still counting, are you?)

That’s been a very popular approach to pseudo-salvation for years. Check out the Pharisees in the New Testament — or in the 21st century. Jesus has never seemed very impressed by them. When he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,” he is saying with fire in his eyes, “Get over yourselves!”

The good news is that God’s perfect Son died so that we can indeed get over ourselves — how bad we think we are or how good we think we are — and focus on the only one who is truly good. Then we’re set free to serve him with joy. And we’ll want to praise him and serve him with others who glory in the God who saves us absolutely, only and always “by grace through faith.”