“Safe and sound.” We use the phrase 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.
Dallas Willard quotes an anonymous author who gives this striking illustration of 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.”
How many Christians are there who are content to be safe and indifferent to their need to be sound? The evidence would indicate that there are a lot, maybe even most. This may be a function of the theology that we have been taught, particularly in evangelical circles with our history of or even birth in a revivalism that emphasized avoiding hell and entering heaven after death. In this form of the gospel the problem of sin is that it separates us from God, a separation that becomes permanent upon death. We are in danger of hell, and Christ died to give us an escape, so that the person who “accepts Christ as their personal savior” gets “saved” from eternal spiritual death, and upon death enters into eternal spiritual life. 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 have no problem claiming to be Christian, but the claim that I am Christ-like is not mine to make, so I don’t want to make it sound like I am falling into the trap of judging others without holding myself to the same standard. Nonetheless, the presence of Christians who are mean, who are divisive, who are bigoted, who are dishonest, who are materialistic, etc., and not just occasionally but characteristically, indicates to me that there is a problem somewhere in our understanding (and maybe even our teaching) of what it means to be Christian. To be clear, I’m not making an indictment on those Christians who are characteristically mean, for instance, but who recognize it and are actively working to submit to the Spirit’s working in their lives to make them kinder and more patient, but on those Christians who aren’t trying and feel little need to. 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 made seaworthy. The danger of sin is not just to a person’s after-death experience, but to their whole-life experience. Christ came not just to make us safe, but to make us sound—to heal us from the powerful effects of sin that keep us from living the life God intended us to live. 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 the discontinuity between our existence in Christ before death and that of our existence in Christ after death: streets of asphalt vs. streets of gold, seeing through a glass darkly vs. seeing face-to-face, diminishing earthly body vs. eternal spiritual body, etc. 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 vs. 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. But 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, and I believe that 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.