A few weeks ago I preached a sermon and used the somewhat classic metaphor of a chair to explain what saving faith looks like. In case you missed that sermon or have never heard the metaphor, here’s my summary version:
If I’m trying to bring someone who’s never seen or heard of a chair before into the fullest possible understanding of what a chair is and does, how do I go about doing it?
1) I would begin by verbally sharing a definition/description of a chair.
2) I would find a chair as an example so this person could see that the description I’ve given makes sense with what they see. For them to ‘know’ and understand a chair, it’s important for them to agree and believe that the information I’ve given them is true.
3) They’ve got to sit in the chair. Unless they take this final step, can they ever really gain the fullest possible understanding of what a chair is and does? No. Unless they sit, their understanding of a chair remains a matter of detached theory, nothing more.
HEAR: For a person to be saved, they must hear the definition of the “Good News—“ They must hear the story of what God did through Christ to save them. Often this happens—and the process stops. Many people simply reject this message outright, so… many times— end of story. BELIEVE: But often, that person will hear the gospel message and it will resonate with them, it will make sense to them. They’ll know it’s true. We all know people like this; maybe they’ve read the Bible, perhaps even know it pretty well, they believe there is a God and it’s even possible they can regurgitate coherent Christian theology back at you. They understand the message. They understand that it’s true. But again, many stop there. What step remains for that person to be saved? CHOOSE: What remains is a choice of the will. Theory is safe. It is agreement at a distance. Saving faith is always risky, because it’s up close and personal. For a person to take a step beyond the ranks of fallen angels (James 2:19), he/she must risk claiming the Truth of that gospel message as their own truth, putting all their eggs in one basket and then banking their life on it. There are some things that can only be proved from the inside; my pastor uses BBQ ribs to make this point. Until you take a bite, how will you ever really know whether or not they’re the best ribs in the world? “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
All metaphors have a limit to their usefulness. That’s why, as my wife was preparing to talk with some of her Jehovah’s Witness friends this week, she wanted to know if the chair metaphor had reached it’s useful limit? “What’s making you wonder?” I asked. Apparently, Her and her friends were planning to talk about the content of John 3:16. Now, I know, you wouldn’t think there was much guesswork left in that verse anymore… but that’s where you’d be wrong. You see, the version we’re familiar with says—16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is not how the verse is worded in the JW Bible. Here is that same verse, from their “New World Translation”: 6 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”
Now, granted, this may not seem like a huge difference. You could argue that they’ve simply tried to make the same point I made above, that believing something is true isn’t enough to save—that you’ve got to make a choice to believe in a way that commits you personally. You’ve got to exercise the limp muscles of detached theory by doing something. The problem is that we believe what you “do” to “not perish but have eternal life” is make a once and for all-time choice to follow Jesus. The way they’ve worded the verse, however, implies an ongoing discipline of work in order to remain saved. Keep learning more information about God. Keep serving God. Keep the commandments and rules of God, etc. Keep doing these things and then, if you’ve done it enough—“you will not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”
My wife wanted to point out, using the chair as an example of something we’re exercising faith in, that-- even using this translation-- what is the best way to “exercise faith” in a chair? What is the best way to learn about a chair, the best way to serve the purpose of a chair, the best way to get to know a chair? You can agree on the definition of the chair, you can look at one and study it and chart it and diagram it and theorize about it and agree on it’s potential capabilities, etc, but unless you SIT ON IT, you don’t really know that chair. Until you sit on it yourself, you don’t really know its sturdiness, its trustworthiness, its functionality. You’re not “exercising” full faith in that chair until and unless you sit on it, putting all your eggs in one basket and banking your hope for dignity and rest on the strength of its legs rather than your own.
“What would make you wonder if the metaphor had reached its useful limit?” I had asked, and my wife said, “Well… what if they agree with all that and then say—‘Sure, but you gotta stay sitting on the chair or else you’re lost?’” This is a good point. Here’s my thought—Do you remember that prank you always heard about but never had the guts to pull as a kid—the one where you spread super glue all over your teacher’s chair? What happens when she (I always imagine a ‘she’) tries to stand up off the chair…? Exactly. The teacher is laminated to the chair.
In my “spare time,” I’m an aspiring knife maker. There’s a process during the assembly of a certain type of knife handle that requires the application of a two-part epoxy. The chemicals for this rock-solid connecting glue are held separately in two distinct containers. Individually, they are not sticky. But when the two are mixed together—watch out! You’ve got about 5 minutes before liquid becomes a solid. Here’s the point— the moment you say “yes” to what the love of God did for you, you’re sitting in the chair; by resting in the work of Jesus, you’re exercising your faith in the only way that matters (Hebrews 10:10-12). And, more importantly, if the love of God is one part of an indestructible spiritual epoxy, that part that created the chair and made it available to you (Matt. 11:28), then the volitional choice you make to sit on the chair, that choice of the will to transfer trust of support from yourself to it (Him), is the other half of an unbreakable bonding action. You become laminated to Christ.
So that we read in Romans 8:38-39—
38”For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When you say, “yes” to Jesus, nothing, not even yourself (are you a ‘created thing?’) can separate you from the love and favor of God; you’re laminated to Him. When you say “yes” to Jesus, when you accept Him as your savior, it sticks.