What Works Salvation Looks Like

by Joe McKeever

On Jan. 7, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the LSU Tigers played in the championship football game, climaxing the 2007 season.

LSU won-but that's not the point of this story. The respective college bands are.

The LSU band fielded 325 players, while Ohio State had 224 players on the field. Those are huge musical groups.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. During the football season, the LSU band practices 90 minutes each afternoon Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday nights prior to home games, they practice for up to 2 hours during a dress rehearsal open to the public.

The Ohio State band members practice from 4 to 6 pm each weekday, one hour inside and one hour outside, regardless of the weather.

With both bands, there are no "returning starters" among the musicians. That is, each band member must earn his own spot anew each fall and maintain it through weekly competitions.

More than 450 people tried out for the 192 regular spots on the Ohio State squad, and-get this-anyone can challenge a band member each Monday. If one is challenged for his position, the two musicians have a "play off" and the winner is chosen by band squad leaders and directors. All music is played from memory, and musicians must pass a test each Friday. Those who fail 3 times during the year will be cut permanently.

Now, think of that. Daily practice, weekly tests, weekly challenges, annual auditions in which you have to win your chair all over again. Each week someone may try to bump you and take your slot. Think of the insecurity of the band members, always anxious lest someone better than he shows up, always putting in long hours but living in the fear that it's never enough.

This is the identical fear many religious people live with, particularly those who believe their salvation is based on good works. They're always wondering how good they're doing, always fearful that what they are doing is never enough, ever worrying that a failure here or a sin there may undo all the good they've done. Wondering, fearing, doubting. It's a miserable existence. Furthermore, please notice, it's a life totally preoccupied with self.

There is no place in the life of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ for such misery and fear, let alone the self-centeredness. "Christ has not given us the spirit of fear," Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:7, "but of power and love and a sound mind."

One of the many reasons for which the Epistles of Romans, Ephesians, and Titus, were written was to settle this matter of salvation of works-or-faith once and for all. "For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9); "Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy hath he saved us" (Titus 3:5); see also Romans 1:17, 6:23, 11:6, etc.).

But after shooting down works as a means of salvation, Paul turns right around and restores works to its proper place in the believers' lives: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus that we should bring forth good works" (Eph. 2:10). Our works are the result of our salvation, not the means to it.

Are you saved? Good. Then quit worrying about whether you are saved and whether the Lord loves you, and start believing His word and His integrity. Give thanks for your salvation and pick up your tools and get into the field. The harvest is waiting for you. Quit worrying and go to working, not to earn anything with God, but to please Him.

Before leaving this subject let me say that we never want to give false security to someone who is living like the devil and yet believing they are going to heaven because at some point they walked the aisle of a church and were baptized. Paul said, "To this purpose I wrote to you that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things" (2 Cor.2:9).

Salvation is not by works. It comes by faith, faith, faith. It's all of grace. But genuine salvation produces a change inside the human heart. Thereafter, your heart's desire is to please the Lord.

The proof of your salvation is not a preacher's signature on a certificate or the memory of an experience or the presence of a feeling. The proof that you are saved is the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ inside you, which shows up in the changed way you are living.

Dr. McKeever is director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. He is also
a talented cartoonist whose creations have long been displayed in Pulpit Helps.

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