Just a few years after Kathy and I were married I decided I wanted a canoe. I purchased a 16′ Coleman (TM) brand canoe made out of a durable synthetic material, and a friend and I assembled it. We assembled it in the living room of a second story apartment, which isn’t the brightest of plans, nor is getting a complete canoe out of a second story apartment an easy task, but that’s a story for another day.
With a little practice, I did learn the basics of canoeing, and while far from being an expert, I can manoeuvre one with relative ease. There was one occasion though where I was still very much still in the early phases of the learning curve and that’s what I want to speak about this morning.
We went down to Alberta’s famous Cypress Hills Provincial Park for a few days of camping and took the canoe with us. Early the first morning, I threw the canoe into the lake, climbed into the stern (that’s the back of the boat for the non-boating crowd) and went for a solo trip. The lake is beautiful and runs east to west for some distance. The prevailing winds come from the west.
It wasn’t long before a breeze came up, which quickly became a stiff wind. I enjoyed racing down the lake with the wind. The scenery was beautiful and the trip exhilarating.
When I got to the far end of the lake, I turned for the long paddle back to the campground. I couldn’t generate enough momentum to work my way back up the lake. With me in the stern, the lightweight canoe just lifted up into the waves and I could make no progress. I’d paddle until I was pooped, get a couple of hundred yards at most and then be blown back to my starting point. I wasn’t literally up the creek without a paddle but for all intents and purposes I might as well have been.
I’ve since learned that if I had thrown some rocks into the bow for ballast, the front end would have cut through the waves with relative ease and I would have been much better off. I didn’t know that then, and eventually realized that no matter how hard I worked I was not going to paddle back up the lake. Since the wind blows there pretty much non-stop that left me in a dilemma. I grabbed the rope tied to the bow, climbed into the lake, and began walking along the shore towing the canoe behind me.
The water was cold and I was no longer enjoying the wonderful scenery. I had walked for the better part of an hour, dragging the canoe against the wind when a motorboat came by and realized my problem. The driver was kind enough to tie the canoe behind his boat and give me a ride back to the campground. In a few minutes we covered what might have taken me another hour or more of walking.
Without the help of the kindly boater I would have had a lot of work still ahead of me. If I had continued trying to paddle instead of getting out and pulling the canoe, I might still be there… well perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I think you get my point.
Paddling that canoe into the wind solo reminds me of the way many people try to get to heaven. They feel that if they work hard enough, long enough, to be “nice”, “moral” people they will be able to earn their way.
The truth is that no one ever earns his or her salvation. You see, we born dead in our sin. No amount of “work” by a dead person can ever give life. Only God can give life. God is life.
John 14:6 NIV
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Romans 3:21-24 NIV
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:28 NIV
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Romans 5:1-2 NIV
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
This morning’s lesson wouldn’t be complete without the verses you probably assumed I was going to start with
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
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.
Our works are important. There are works to be done after we become believers. God has ordained them.
Ephesians 2:10 NIV
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
James 2:17 NIV
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James 2:26 NIV
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
By all means continue to paddle, continue to strive for good works, but remember that those works do not earn you salvation. Salvation is a gift from God that must be accepted or rejected on its own merit.
Until next time, consider the state of your salvation. Did you get it by faith? If not you don’t have it! Is it manifesting itself in your life by works of love? If not you need to check your heart.
If you have salvation by faith and works as an outpouring of love rejoice! If not, it’s time to get right with God today.