We use the phrase, “safe and sound,” often enough that it’s easy to think that the two words are almost synonymous and that the distinction is a matter of nuance. But it’s not.
Someone once illustrated the difference. “The steamship whose machinery is broken may be brought into port and made fast to the dock. She is safe, but not sound. Repairs may last a long time.”
Too many Christians are content to be safe and indifferent to their need to be sound.
We have been taught that the focus of the gospel is about avoiding hell and entering heaven after death. Accepting Christ means that you are saved – and therefore safe.
There may even be the assumption that, once saved, you are also sound, and nothing else needs to be done except to devote yourself to the task of helping others get safe through Jesus.
But that is clearly not the case, as we can see all too many people who are Christians but hardly Christ-like.
To be fair, I don’t want to fall into the trap of judging others without holding myself to the same standard, and I know I fall far short of the goal of Christ-likeness.
Nonetheless, we all know Christians who are mean, who are divisive, who are bigoted, who are dishonest, who are materialistic and so on – and not just occasionally but characteristically.
This says to me that perhaps it’s not just an issue of how difficult being like Christ is. Maybe it indicates that there is a problem somewhere in our understanding of what it means to be Christian.
This not an indictment on those Christians who are characteristically mean, for instance, but who admit it and are working to submit to the Spirit’s guidance to make them kinder and more patient.
It is a warning, however, to those Christians who aren’t trying and feel little need to.
In their minds they are safe from the fires of hell, so nothing else really matters. The rest is optional.
But being safe from the after-death consequences of sin is not the same as being healed from the effects of sin.
A foundering ship that makes it to port is safe, but the purpose of a ship is not to be permanently moored to the dock; such a ship is just taking up valuable space. The purpose of a ship is to sail, and to sail it must be seaworthy.
The danger of sin is not just to a person’s after-death experience, but also to their whole-life experience.
Christ came not just to make us safe, but also to make us sound – to heal us from the powerful effects of sin that keep us from living the life God intended for us.
Sin diminishes our humanity; Christ wants to help us recover our made-in-his-image humanity, which he declared is “very good.”
We often make a big deal about how different our lives in Christ are before death versus after death: streets of asphalt versus streets of gold, seeing through a glass darkly versus seeing face to face, temporary earthly body versus eternal spiritual body and so on.
What we often miss is the biblical emphasis on the continuity of a person’s before-death existence with their after-death existence.
In fact, Jesus didn’t really talk much in terms of before-death and after-death. Read him closely and you’ll see that he talked in terms of life in the Kingdom of God versus life outside the Kingdom of God.
Those who prepare now to live in the kingdom – which is “at hand” but not yet fully – will be ready to live in the kingdom when it does come in its fullness. They will be sound.
Those who are unprepared when the kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven” will founder. They will sink.
In other words, soundness matters. It’s unsafe to be taking on water when the kingdom comes.
Salvation is more than getting safe; it is becoming sound. A full understanding of the gospel makes it clear that you can’t sign up for one without signing up for the other.
Thinking that you can be Christian without being Christ-like is neither safe nor sound.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.