Growing up, I distinctly remember sitting on a floor in a crowded muddle of school children singing, “Oh, when the saints go marching in; oh, when the saints go marching in; Oh, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.”
The catchy tune conjured images of the redeemed marching triumphantly into Glory. I imagined them wearing terrible plaid uniforms (much like the ones we donned daily), marching in an orderly fashion to loud band music. To be honest, in my mind’s eye, the whole situation closely resembled the festive St. Patty’s Day parades we looked forward to annually, minus the drinking and the leprechauns, of course.
As we belted out the tune, I could all but see the orderly rows of neat and tidy people marching victoriously in step with the brass band. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of that number? Sign me up.
I did not realize until a dozen or so years later that the redeemed of the Lord are quite a rag tag crew. When the Lord graciously transferred my soul from the dominion of darkness into the light of the Son that He so loves, one of the first things I learned was that the whole Christianity thing was not the gig I had imagined all along.
My image of the crispy clean saints marching like the Salvation Army has long since been replaced by more a realistic image: weary yet resolute, disheveled yet dignified ranks of weak ones made strong by their Savior.
We don’t match, we don’t stay in line and we are not running victoriously or performing perfectly choreographed dances every block or so. We are a limping, dependent people who know that apart from Him we can do nothing. Yet, simultaneously, we are a leaping, hopeful people who believe that God’s promises will not drop to the ground empty (namely because the tomb that once held Christ was found empty on the third day).
We did not enlist; rather, we were drafted by an irresistible grace. We were pulled into a race for which we were not ready or fit by a Savior who perfectly qualified us. From an outside perceptive or a cursory look at our lives and our circumstances, victorious would probably be the last descriptor attributed to us. To be sure, we are confident of victory, but our victory looks nothing like the common view of such. We are marching in and towards a victory that has been inaugurated by and will be completed by Christ.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he beautifully sums up the experience of those in the ranks of the redeemed.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by various lusts and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3: 3-7.
So far in my experience, Oswald Chambers’ description of a saint most closely resembles reality. He writes that “according to the New Testament, a saint is a piece of rugged human stuff remade by the atonement into oneness with God by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In a similar manner A.W. Tower beautifully captures the strange essence of a man or woman who is and is becoming a saint in The Pursuit of God.
“He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than Angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto.”
The saints’ march towards Christ and the new heavens and the new earth is a peculiar one. We are limping and broken, leaning in full dependence on the strength of our God; yet we are leaping and dancing to the beautiful song of salvation by grace.
Limping and leaping, leaping and limping, we continue our strange march onwards towards glory.
It’s not the march I imagined as a child; it is far more broken and beautiful. But I do so love being in this number.