Today I drove one of those long stretches of Texas highway. You know the kind–where after miles and miles of nothing you might see an interesting little shop or an old man selling watermelons on the side of the road. I was just about halfway home when I noticed a sign that had been hand lettered by some well-meaning Christian: “You don’t believe in the rapture? It’s okay, you probably wouldn’t go anyway.”
And, although I can guess as to the reasons that a person would tell himself that he should painstakingly place this message on a sign for thousands of passing cars to see, as the mesquite trees zoomed by outside my windows I just couldn’t stop cringing. Because regardless of your “rapture” stance, the heart of the message wasn’t really about a rapture or whether or not you should believe in it. The sign was really about pride.
The truth is that the person who hand placed each of those letters did it because he is proud of his decision to become a Christian. He is so proud of his intelligence or his spiritual prowess or his own humility. He is proud that he believes in God, and he thinks if you don’t believe then you are lacking in intelligence or you are just stubborn or prideful or you are a bad decision maker. But, he and his fellow Christians? Smart, compliant, humble, good decision-makers.
There’s only one problem with that way of thinking. It’s not biblical.
The Bible tells us that we are all sinners. (Romans 3:23)
We are God’s enemies. (Romans 8:7)
And the only way that we can ever come to believe in Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross is if God gifts us with the faith to believe. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The reality is that we have nothing, I mean NOTHING, to be proud of when it comes to our salvation. If we were left to our own devices, even the most sincere believer among us would’ve walked a path straight to hell. Because our hearts are bent toward evil and wrong-doing. (Jeremiah 17:9) And, only God can change hearts. Not us.
I suppose the real reason that I cringed for miles after I saw the sign is because I know what it feels like to have pride lurking around inside of me. I know what it is to be blindsided by a hunger for some of the glory that belongs to God. I understand the temptation to take credit where it isn’t due, to point to my abilities instead of God’s greatness, to really feel in some deep part of my soul that I have done something to help save myself.
Maybe we all feel a little sense of misplaced pride in our salvation.
In Dr. Seuss’s book The Sneetches, he tells the story of a group of creatures that were split into two categories: the Sneetches with stars on their bellies and the Sneetches without stars. The star-bellied Sneetches did nothing at all to earn stars on their bellies–they were presumably just a gift from their creator, but they took great pride in them anyway. In fact, they were so proud that they often mocked the Sneetches without stars, refusing to invite them to their “frankfurter roasts.”
Man, that really sounds a lot like Christianity sometimes. We love our goodness. We love our Christian-ness. We love our slightly superior views of ourselves. Maybe instead of putting up signs that mock the lost, we should pray that we would become a walking billboard that says, “Saved by grace. Nothing more.” Something tells me that’s a much more inviting way to try and show people that they, like us, need Jesus.