Grace Immersion

Day 31

The Gospel According to LOST

Read Ephesians 2:1–10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8–9

For six years the TV show Lost spun the yarn of several plane crash survivors on a mysterious island somewhere in the South Pacific. This masterfully made series captivated the imaginations of millions, including me.

The last show was an excellent parable for what passes for Christianity — or at least spirituality — in America today. In the afterlife the show’s characters all gather for passage into some sort of heaven. They meet in a place dominated by Christian symbolism: there are several shots of a statue of Christ; a character leading them is named “Christian Shepherd”; they sit in church-like pews… and there are also many symbols of other religions. But the real point of the episode is revealed in several comments about how characters had redeemed themselves.

As Maureen Ryan, the TV columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote, the last episode was “a testament to what the show was about: creating your own world. Creating your own fate.” She went on:

Sorry to get all religious on you, but… these lyrics came to mind:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

They once were lost, but now they’re found. They got to leave on their own terms. It just felt true to the show and [its] themes: It’s never too late. You can always remake your fate. No one is eternally good or bad. You can… redeem your character through your actions.

She’s right about the themes of the show, and I found it interesting they reminded her of ‘Amazing Grace.” But the song doesn’t say “I saved a wretch like me.” It says “Amazing grace saved a wretch like me.” The Lost finale was an emotionally moving demonstration of what you could call America’s pop culture religion: You may be “lost” but you can save yourself and go to heaven if you’re good enough.

It’s all so close to what the Bible teaches that a Christian friend asked me the day after the Lost finale, “That’s not what we believe… is it?”

Well, I do think that’s exactly what a lot of us believe, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. Biblically, the lost are more like drowning people who can’t save themselves. In fact, the Bible puts it in even starker terms: Before God’s grace rescued you, you were dead. How much can a dead man do to save himself? Absolutely zero.

So why do we seem to want to believe we can redeem ourselves? In today’s passage from Ephesians — which reads like a summary of the whole book of Romans — the Apostle Paul implies this way of thinking gives me reason to “boast”: It makes me feel good about myself!

At first it’s soothing and hopeful when I believe I can turn my life around. It’s inspiring, in a self-help, Horatio Alger “Go west, young man!” kind of way, except the cry is, “Go to Heaven, young man!”

Three problems:

  1. In real life, willpower doesn’t work for long, not even with my fate in the balance.
  2. Self-effort can lead to discouragement. I’m never sure if I’m doing enough to merit redemption.
  3. Self-effort leads to subtle pride. I begin to measure myself against what others are doing.

This last effect is the most dangerous of all. Pride has poisoned everything we humans have done here on earth, especially religion. The only way for human pride not to taint heaven is for salvation to come as a gift of love from a gracious God.

I still loved the Lost finale, but I know this: I once was lost, and when I go to heaven it will be because the true Christian Shepherd found me and will lead me home!

How would you describe the way our popular culture believes we get to heaven?

How would you describe the Bible’s teaching?

Thank God that you did not have to depend on your own works to get you to heaven, but were saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ! Ask God to help you spread that good news!