Stepping aboard his 24-foot sailboat, Robin Graham sailed away from waving parents at the Port of Los Angeles and slowly became a speck in an endless landscape of white-capped waves and deep blue ocean swells. It was his 16th birthday the day he plunged through a world in which everything rose, twisted, turned, leaned and fell, constantly, day and night. His record-breaking ocean voyage circumnavigated the perilous globe and was unique in all of history.
Meanwhile, north of Los Angeles, another 16-year-old studied ocean sailing in a class taught by a certified U.S. Coast Guard instructor. That teen poured over coastal waterway charts in a class that analyzed their ciphered depictions of shorelines, depths, navigational aids, hazards, latitude, longitude, restricted zones, navigational aids, compass adjustments, currents, and endless rules. The boy plotted imaginary courses using headings and bearings adjusted for obstacles, sea-lanes, currents, tides, and wind direction. In time, the class’ sailing knowledge was tested and he was officially “certified” in marine sailing.
Earlier in your life, you became intrigued with Christianity. You heard from others what it was like and desired to learn more. You were educated through teaching and you studied until you became a “certified” Christian at baptism. Since then, you have been taught Christian principles and instructed from God’s Word in preparation for directing a godly course in your life.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 says “…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wisefor salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”(Emphasis added throughout)
Question: Are you a real Christian?
Question: Was the “certified” teenager a real sailor?
The answer to both could be “yes.” In reality, religious people have biblical knowledge, just as the teen had nautical knowledge. Having knowledge of how to sail expertly, and receiving advice from experts, can make one feel as if he is also a competent sailor. But a learner of sailing cannot be compared with one who actually sails the high seas. Similarly, a learner of God’s Word may feel godly, but he cannot be compared with one who actually lives by every Word of God (Luke 4:4).
Reading biblical admonitions and hearing sermons about love and serving can make one feel like he is growing in them. Associating with genuine Christians and discussing godliness together can also make one feel as if he or she is a genuine Christian. But the truth is that we must each diligently work to show ourselves approved by God (2 Timothy 2:15) and to work out our own salvation with deep reverence and trembling in fear of making grave errors (Philippians 2:12). Similarly, every sailor must chart and actually sail his personal course across a treacherous ocean with deep respect for the potential grave upon which he sails. As with sailors, it is also with Christians – the lack of tested experience can lead to disaster. “This charge I commit unto you…that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; (19) Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”(1 Timothy 1:18-19 KJV).
The sunny afternoon was cut by a chilly breeze sweeping the deck of the 31-foot sailboat on its nearly silent voyage passing below the twin towers of the World Trade Center and on to the Statue of Liberty. The “certified,” “instructed,” and twice-sailed man was briefly invited to steer the sleek 31-foot sailboat and for those five minutes of the two-hour cruise, he was the pilot steering its course. The feel of the tiller, the tautness of the sails and the ambiance of Manhattan Island renewed sailing as his beloved sport-of-sports once again. The wind in the sails made him feel good to be a sailor again.
Does knowing that you have God’s Holy Spirit give you confidence of being a genuine Christian? Does being called to be a son or daughter of God assure you of being in the Body of Christ? Does knowing that God will never leave or forsake you provide you with security of your resurrection at the seventh Trumpet? If you re-read those questions, you may notice that all of their components are merely things God does to prepare you to act. Yet, their mere presence can give a false sense of spirituality, even before any use of them has yet occurred. An important question we might ask is, “Do I feel like a Christian, or am I living a Christ-like life?” Experience is expected to follow knowledge as you use godly education and apply biblical teaching to actual hands-on deeds of service in everyday life.
You are a Christian and you are holy because Christ purchased you with His blood. At your baptism, He forgives your sins and hallows you with his Holy Spirit. That state comprises your starting point. Jesus gave us the Parable of the Talents (i.e., Holy Spirit) to show God’s intent for us to move beyond being just “certified” as holy children and “educated” in godliness (Matthew 25:14-28). He next describes His responsibility of saving only the serving “sheep” from among un-thoughtful “goats.” Christ must assess your character by the experience you have gained from using His Spirit to perform godliness in every imaginable situation (Matthew 25:35-36). His selection will involve a quality and degree of experience gained in the living of Christianity. Matthew 25:29, “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
After some 45 years of being associated with sailing, I could easily walk back into the Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in New York City and say, “Sir, I would like to rent your 31-foot sailboat.” Its owner would certainly ask, “Who are you?” I would answer, “I’m a sailor.” He would reply, “I don’t know you, what boats have you been sailing?” I could inform him that at age 16 I took an official ocean sailing course (inside an office building). And at age 36, my brother demonstrated for me how to trim a sail and how to tack into the wind. And then how I had managed to rent a 25’ sailboat, twice! I could surprise him with, “I have even sailed before on your 31’ sailboat, and the pilot let me steer it.”
“Son,” he would say, “that does not make you a sailor. Our sailors have spent years training with instructors, growing their skills in the sailboat’s systems, operations, performance, structural limitations, maintenance, emergency procedures, river and ocean currents, tacking, marine navigation, and following all the federal and state navigation laws. Meanwhile, what have you been doing?”
I could plead, “Well, I read Robin Graham’s book The Dove, and I’ve spoken with sailors from the high seas, and I would have taken up sailing many years ago, except it was inconvenient, expensive, and time consuming.” He would shake his head and sigh, “But, you didn’t actually get around to sailing yourself.”
“But, I love sailing, and I know how,” I would plead! All he could honestly say would be, “Please leave. We only rent to real sailors.”
Similarly, Christ has the responsibility of assigning leadership positions in the Kingdom to only real Christians. Luke 13:25-27, “… you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' (26) then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' (27) But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.'”
Perhaps you and I are not counted among true ocean sailors. There are some activities we like to experience vicariously and enjoy them in a casual association. However, we need to insure that we are indeed genuine Christians, living Christ-like lives of service. Those judged so will be counted worthy of God’s Kingdom. 2 Thessalonians 1:5, “…the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God…”
For more reading on being a genuine Christian, request the booklets: You Can Have Living Faith and Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.