Everyone loves analogies. When it comes to explaining important truths, whether in religion or academia, analogies can be invaluable in helping us understand certain concepts. They can also be very detrimental if we don’t pay close attention to them and make sure we’re presenting them appropriately. But usually they’ll benefit us in our understanding of truth.
With this in mind, I’m aware of many analogies for the process of salvation; i.e., how we become lost, what God does to save us, what we do to save ourselves, and the part brethren have in this. Consider the following analogy, using the image of a ship on the ocean.
The ship is the church, headed for home (Heaven). The water is the world. In the water surrounding the ship are people who are lost. They’re lost because they have chosen to disobey God (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 John 3:4). Most don’t even realize they’re lost and will eventually drown because, to be honest, it’s fun to swim in the water. Therefore most continue in their fun, never even noticing the ship or the evangelistic calls from the people on board (Christians) who want to save them and who have even thrown them the lifesaver (the Gospel).
Occasionally there’s a person in the water who realizes his dire situation. So he heeds the warnings of those on board. In order to be saved he must have true remorse for his foolishness of putting himself in this perilous predicament (2 Cor. 7:10). Next he must respond to the efforts of those trying to save him. They’ve thrown him the lifesaver, which is floating easily within his reach, and he believes that this lifesaver can and will save him. But, as close as he is to salvation, he’s still lost. What will he do now?
This scene, so far, represents man’s sin and God’s grace, which is available to every single person in the water (Titus 2:11-12). It is not God who caused this man, or anyone else, to be lost (Rom. 3:23; Col. 2:13); God didn’t push him overboard! But it is God who, through the sacrifice of His Son, created this ship (the church) to save the world from sin and eternal punishment.
But we notice that God’s grace can be rejected; not everyone will be saved (Matt. 7:13-14; 21-23). This man is not saved yet. He hasn’t grabbed the lifesaver yet (i.e., obeyed the Gospel). So, what will he do with God’s gracious offer of salvation, given through the Gospel (lifesaver) being thrown to him by concerned Christians?
Now enter faith. Faith is man’s part in salvation and it includes his obedience to the gospel (Jas. 2:14-26; Heb. 5:9). If this man truly trusts this salvation process, he’ll act upon his belief and take hold of the lifesaver. And what if he doesn’t?
According to many religious folks, this man is already saved—by grace alone. But grace is the hand of God sent down to save us; it’s up to each of us to reach out in faith and take that hand or, in this analogy, the lifesaver. If this man rejects the lifesaver, he rejects God’s grace. And there is no other ship or lifesaver that will be offered. Grace and faith are equally useless without the other.
Therefore, in faith, he takes hold of the lifesaver (i.e., he obeys the Gospel)! He knows the promise of God, that through his grasp on the lifesaver he will be pulled to safety. He is doing his part to save himself (cf. Acts 2:40) and God is doing His part—through the Gospel truth and through loving brethren.
But what if the man lets go of the lifesaver (or, once in the ship, decides to jump back into the water)? Sadly, this often happens. Having been saved from drowning, people will let go of the Gospel and return to the world, like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Pet. 2:20-22). Holding onto the lifesaver—the Gospel—is our continued responsibility of remaining faithful even unto death (Rev. 2:10) and growing in the grace and know-ledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Once in the ship, we have to remain in the ship!
Most people are drowning, completely uninterested in the lifesaver or the ship. Some people are joyously jumping from the ship back into the miry water. Still others, through obedience, are being pulled to safety by those who love them and who steadfastly believe, live, and teach the truth. Which are you?