Our purpose in this life is to audition for the next. We can not save ourselves or insure eternal life by anything we can do. There is no human accomplishment that will impress God.
What God has always stated is that He wants us to willingly follow Him. There is no sacrifice, no tribute we can bring that will convince Him we are worth saving other than the gift of a broken and contrite spirit.
God’s grace is extended to everyone who wants it. That’s the key: We can’t merely offer lip service and follow ritual, we must have in our hearts a desire to be in harmony with God.
This life is a refinery. As with any refining process, the pure will be separated, the impure will be discarded (“pure” here is used in a strict metallurgical sense, we’re not talking about moral purity ‘cuz we’re all sinners and far from perfect).
Those of us willing to be refined, willing to be purged of our bad habits and desires, we will find God’s eternal grace. Those who reject that grace, who prefer to go their own way and do what they wish, they will not find that grace.
It’s as simple as that.
The Apostle Paul famously wrote about the church being like a body, with some followers serving as limbs, some as eyes, some as hands, etc. A good analogy -- for as far as it went.
I think a more apt analogy (at least for today) would be that the church is like an orchestra. Sometimes we are to work in concert with others, sometimes we are to be silent, sometimes we are to stand out on our own. Sometimes the music will be soft, sometimes it will be carried by just a few of the instruments, other times the entire orchestra will come crashing in with its full power and majesty.
I think the Apostle Paul would have appreciated this analogy if he had ever heard modern orchestral music. Modern orchestral music is a fairly recent invention, only a few hundred years old. For most of human history, when several musicians played together they all played the same melody at the same time in the same tempo and the same volume. It’s only fairly recently that the various instruments began playing different parts of the music, some playing a counter-melody, some providing a back beat, some going silent so others could perform solo, and varying their tempo and volume.
Paul, never having experienced this, had no frame of reference to liken musicians in an orchestra or band to the body of Christ here on earth, so he stuck with a more obvious analogy to the human body.
But there’s another reason I think the orchestra analogy is a good one.
My good friend Mark Evanier says that the classic Broadway musical Li'l Abner is still a huge favorite with high schools and colleges around the country for one not-so-obvious reason.
Everybody who auditions for Li'l Abner is sure to get a role in the final production.
It may not be a starring role, it may not be a principal role, it may not even be a supporting role, but everybody who tries out can find a slot for themselves as one of the denizens of Dogpatch U.S.A.
As a result schools around the country love to put on a production of Li'l Abner: If a hundred students try out, there will be a hundred singers and dancers in the cast and chorus. Indeed, if the school is big enough, Dogpatch might end up more densely populated than midtown Manhattan.
God’s arkestra is like that, too. Everyone who auditions -- that’s to say everyone who approaches God with a sincerely contrite and willing spirit -- gets to play a part in the final production. There’s no limit to the number of people who can be in God’s arkestra -- indeed, He wants all of His children to belong to it, but you can’t belong unless you want to belong and are willing to belong.
(a tip o’ the turban to Sun Ra for the inspiration behind this entry’s title)