On January 5th, 2004, under cover of darkness, I was dropped off in front of concrete steps that led to solid metal double doors with a solid metal sign above that read, “Through These Portals Pass Prospects For America’s Finest Fighting Force. United States Marines.”
Marine Corps Recruit Training at Parris Island, South Carolina, was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. The physical demands were grueling, but the psychological and mental strengthening were just as seemingly insurmountable. One of the earliest psychological challenges that were thrust upon us was the forbidden use of the word “I.” We were unauthorized to refer to ourselves in the first person in any way. Doing so would be met with a response from our Drill Instructors that would produce weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“I need this.”
“May I go to the bathroom?”
“I forgot, Sir.”
Using the words “I, me, my, we” were all violations and were met swiftly by a Drill Instructor yelling and spitting into your ear “I! I! I! I!” “How about ‘this Recruit’?!”
We were instructed when referring to ourselves to do so in this way,
“Sir, good morning Sir! This recruit requests permission to speak with Drill Instructor Sergeant Kardos, Sir!”
“This recruit requests to make a head call (go to the bathroom).”
“This recruit was instructed but cannot recall at this time (I forgot),”
There were sixty-four recruits in my platoon, Platoon 2036. There were no “I’s” in 2036. Only recruits. This was a difficult transition to make at first. Many recruits found themselves on the wrong end of a Marine drill instructor yelling at them to remember that “I” did not exist.
Just like at Parris Island, “I” is not going to cut it when it comes to being known by Christ. The answer of “because I” to the question “How are you saved?” is wrong from the start. If your hope is in “I,” if your reasons for being known by Christ are because of all of the “wonderful” things you have done, you are going to miss the whole point. When you approach salvation from this perspective, Scripture can often take on a terrifying meaning:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:22-23).
This passage used to scare me to death when I was in the Church youth group. I considered it the most frightening passage in all of Scripture. I knew that I had not prophesied, cast out demons, or done mighty works. All I heard from this passage was the “depart from me.” And yet even those around me who had done these things still seemed only to hear, “depart from me.” Despite what we had done or not done, all of the Christians I knew lived in fear they had not done enough.
With this view, how could I ever be sure that I was doing all of the things? How could I show myself approved? How could I ever hope to have any assurance of my salvation and right standing with God? If even those who did all of these wonderful things failed to make the cut, how could I?? How was I going to make sure that Jesus knew me? How was I going to be sure that I was saved? I, I, I, I!
When it comes to salvation in Christ, the correct emphasis is not on your choosing, your deciding, or your accepting but instead on God’s action. The correct answer to the question “How are you saved?” is “because HE.”
God decided to send Jesus to save you; God chose you when HE sent a preacher to tell you about the good news that Christ died for you. Jesus gave HIS life for you on the cross. When asked, “how did you get ‘saved’?” Your first thought should not be, “I got saved when I chose to ask Jesus into my heart in 1989.” It should rather be, “I was saved by Christ when HE chose to lay down his life and die on the cross for me.” Who is doing the saving? Who is doing the deciding? Who is doing the choosing? It is always Christ.
I deserve death, hell, and the grave according to even the good that I have done in this world. It is not enough. I in the first person is damned and unknown. However, there is someone outside of I, someone outside of you, that our faith and hope is in. I earned wrath with my sin. But He chose to gift me with his grace and faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23). The reason Christ knows us is because of all the good things he has done for us, specifically in his dying on the cross and raising three days later for our justification (Rom. 4:25).
Our reasons for why we will be with him and have eternal life are because HE saved us.
Our reasons for receiving the forgiveness of sins is because HE gave it to us as a gift, not because we tried to purchase it with our good works and mighty things we have done for him.
It was HE who purchased us. Not with silver and gold but with his precious blood. What is more valuable in this universe or anywhere else for that matter than the blood of God? Nothing. And that is why you will not hear the words “depart from me”:
Because HE died for you (Rom. 5:8).
Because HE was united with you in your baptism (Gal. 3:27).
Because HE promised he would never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
Because HE promised that where he is you would be also (John 14:3).
Because HE died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins (1 Cor. 15:3).
So rest in the faith and hope that on that day, your confession will be “because you, Jesus, died for me! I am here because you promised! You know me because your name was placed on me!” Only those who are hoping in and choosing to believe in themselves, rejecting Christ for them, will not be recognized by Christ. All who have received faith in Christ will be recognized. For their confession will be the same one that Paul gave to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not ify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:20-21).
The problem is “I.” But the way, truth, and the life is Christ. Specifically, Christ for you.