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Beyond skin-deep salvation

by Perry Engle

“Pastor P, check it out. I’m going to put you in my next tattoo.” It’s the type of comment a person, much less a church leader, doesn’t often get.

He’d gotten a number of tattoos since I’d last seen him, and now he was having one drawn up to look like a list of credits on a strip of movie film inked under his skin.

“I’m honored,” was about all I could think to say.

“You’ve had more influence on my life than anyone but Jesus.”

I realized he wasn’t kidding and that I really might end up imprinted in red or blue on this guy’s bicep, where people would forever ask who “Pastor Perry” was.

I can’t say I’ve ever aspired to being a tattoo on someone’s body, but it was a reminder of how indelibly our lives are imprinted on those who cross our paths. Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering just how much good I’ve done in my twenty years of preaching sermons, writing articles, counseling marriages, and administrating within the Church. I’ve wondered a lot about how much salvation has really taken hold in people’s messed up lives.

Truthfully, my friend hasn’t been doing all that well the past few years. By his own admission, life’s been tougher than he could have imagined. And even though Jesus gets top billing on his list of credits, his life has been marked more by disappointment than by discipleship.

It’s caused me to rethink my role in leading people to Christ. I’ve come to appreciate that getting people saved is just the first step along the way of helping them become truly converted. As someone once said, our job isn’t just getting sinners into heaven, but getting heaven into sinners as well.

How’s this done? Those new to the faith need to be immediately introduced to an intimate, abiding relationship with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Ultimately, lives yielded to the Spirit grow in quality, depth, and fruitfulness. Those separated from Him will eventually wither and die.

The Bible says that all of us—tattooed and otherwise—need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). It occurs to me that this is God’s way of saying that “being saved” is a whole lot more than just skin deep.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle is the bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC Church. He and his wife, Marta, and their three daughters (all currently tattoo- free) live in Ontario, Calif.


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