It was supper time, and there were only a few empty seats in the communion hall of the church in Florida where I and a few others were preaching.
But one of those empty seats was right next to me. When the seat was taken, however, the pleasant young woman who sat down had no plate of food in her hands. What she had, however, was a request. A really strange request.
“Can I please pull your hair?”
I have been a pastor for 25 years since next June and have been doing evangelistic meetings for even longer than that. I have preached in at least 14 different countries and dozens of states. And yet, it was the very first time that anyone, anywhere, had asked me that. But if you know me, even through my weekly columns, you know that the weird things, the adventures, and the unbeaten paths are some of my favorite things in life.
“Help yourself,” I said with a smile.
She reached out and grabbed a handful, carefully pulled it hard, and as soon as she did, young people came from all over, crowding around the people sitting next to and across from me. .
“It’s real,” she said. In the end, I actually helped the young lady win $100 from the guy who set her up for the hair stunt. I agree with that; as someone with enough historical and economic knowledge to appreciate capitalism, i admire people who can make $100 in less than 30 seconds without doing anything illegal or immoral.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, a question had arisen about my hair and whether it was “Wagner or wig”. It’s a good question to have asked about you at my age, I suppose; that means it’s good enough for people to wonder. I am also blessed in the teeth department, with all original teeth that have never had cavities or braces.
As I was talking about follicles and premolars with the youngsters, I shifted the conversation to my grandfather. You see, he kept all of his hair and teeth perfect until the day he died in the mid-80s.
My mother, now 70, is exactly the same. The fact that I have all the original hair and perfect teeth has nothing to do with kindness, effort or skill on my part; they were passed on to me through genetics, just like my blue eyes and tanned skin. Other people have brushed and flossed and washed and conditioned their hair as well or better than me, and yet have gone bald and battled cavities and crooked teeth. There are just some things that are gifts and cannot be justly boasted about.
Things like salvation.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved, through faith; and that does not come from you: it is the gift of God: not of works, so that no one should boast.
It is one of the most essential passages and fundamental truths in the entire Bible. It gets right to the heart of the question, “how can I be saved?” And in this passage we find both the how and the why of the how. Salvation comes exclusively by grace through faith apart from any work on our part. And one of the reasons for that is that no one can ever brag about it.
There is no deficit of religion in our world. In fact, there is such a surplus that a person could shop around a bit and find what suits them, no matter how incomprehensible.
Would you like to obtain salvation by martyring yourself while killing infidels? This circle is not difficult to find. Would you like to do it by self-flagellation until you’re bleeding profusely in the streets? Check, there is that too. Or how about something more mundane, like simply keeping the Ten Commandments and some hand-picked Old Testament laws? You have more options than you can count.
What about something a little weirder, say, a satirical pasta-centric religion? Believe it or not, there is even that. Then there is the more common, but equally false belief system as all of the above, that simply being a member of a church, or being baptized, or giving to the poor, or following the Golden Rule, or even just being an American grants a person favor in the eyes of God and a dwelling place in heaven.
The truth is that salvation will produce good works, but good works never produce salvation. There will never be a person who stands before the Lord and boasts, “Here I am, Lord, because of what I have done to earn my salvation!” There will only be people who will kneel before the Lord and humbly say, “Here I am, Lord, because of what you have done to give me the gift of salvation!
Salvation always and only comes to those who respond to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), agree with God about their lost state (Luke 18:13), and turn to God from sin (1 Thessalonians 1:9, Luke 13:3) receiving Christ as their Lord and Savior (John 1:12. Romans 10:9-10). Our salvation is a gift that he offers and that we receive, not a task that we perform.
God does not give everyone the gift of good hair or good teeth or above average height or even general good health. But He absolutely offers everyone the gift of salvation (2 Peter 3:9, Romans 10:13, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 1 John 2:2).
You cannot earn it, but you can choose to receive it gladly.
Bo Wagner is the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, a well-traveled evangelist and the author of several books. His website is wordofhismouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.