So you want to be in that number?
by Dave Breese
We have often sung the song and doubtless we'll sing it again many times. We have watched as many a band has given us an animated presentation of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” They are singing about heaven, of course, and expressing the fond hope of nearly everyone that they will go to heaven some day. They do this by pensively singing,
“Lord, I want to be in that number
We wish it could be said that everyone truly wants to be in that number that arrives at heaven one day. Unfortunately, many foolishly do not. But even more sadly, most people do not know what it takes to be in that number. They have never truly understood the correct answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
Nor do we often hear that question answered even the church servicesyes, even funeral services. Speaking about the deceased, it is common to say, “Well, he was a good man.” “He loved his family.” “He certainly did a lot for people and even much for the Church.” It is fascinating to hear these oft-repeated reasons why people will probably go to heaven. We must, however, remind ourselves that being good, doing our best and embracing a religionnone of these are the reasons one goes to heaven. Salvation is not produced by the conduct of our lives.
The reason that we cannot be saved by our conduct is the fact strongly presented in the Bible that “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The problem with man is that he is a sinner. By that we mean that he has violated the will, the law, the commandment of God and, therefore, the penalty of sin has come upon him. So long as a man is a sinner, no amount of righteous deeds can produce forgiveness before God.
This matter of man being a sinner is a very serious thing. God expands on that by saying, “There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:11-12).
Because of the serious condition, indeed, the fatal condition of man, salvation cannot come because of human works. The Scripture says this exactly, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5).
No, human works, good deeds, correct practices, or even religious observance will not bring everlasting life to the sinner.
The hymn writer of Rock of Ages said it well in writing,
“Could my zeal no langour know,
If one cannot be in that number based on human works, how then can any person be saved?
The answer is in the meaning of one of the most wonderful words in the Bible. That word is grace.
Concerning this, the Scripture says, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Grace is a wonderful word because it means “unmerited favor.” It means “being forgiven when I do not deserve it.” You see, my sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. God refuses to hold them against me and brings salvation to my heart on the basis of grace alone.
This matter of salvation by grace is very difficult for many people to believe. They argue many things, such as, “I'm too great a sinner and, therefore, I do not deserve this gift.” The answer is that each of us is a sinner and you are correct in saying that no one deserves this gift. If we did deserve salvation, we would not need it. Because we don't deserve it, we must receive it as a gift.
Others will argue, saying, “I have at least some righteousness and, therefore, I don't need to be saved entirely by grace.” The fact is that none of us have any righteousness whatsoever in the presence of our holy God. The minuscule righteousness of a mere human being is only credit and credential before men. It produces no standing before God. Hell is well-populated by people who went about attempting to establish their own righteousness and did not receive the righteousness of God.
You see, we are not saved by personal righteousness! Rather, we are saved by imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness is standing before God accredited to us by being “deposited in our account.” It is to receive righteousness as a gift. Imputed righteousness is ascribed righteousness, credited righteousness. It is not our goodness but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This alone becomes the credential that makes it possible for the sinner, now forgiven, to have standing before God.
How sad that “salvation by imputed righteousness” is so ill-understood by religious people today. For want of that understanding, many are foolishly attempting to work their way to heaven. They may believe in salvation by some works and some grace. This is not salvation at all because true salvation is all of grace.
If you want then “to be in that number when the saints go marching in,” you must accept salvation by grace alone. You must believe that on the cross of Calvary Christ paid the awful penalty for your sins. Believing in Christ means to believe that he is the Son of God and that He died for us. When I believe that I am instantly and eternally saved, I have the possession of the gift of God, which is everlasting life.
What then does it take to be “in that number” when the Saints go marching in? What must I do to be saved? The answer of the Scripture is pure and simple, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). We invite you today to believe the Gospel and, therefore, to be sure of a home in heaven.
We must also extend a warning to all who are considering salvation. The alternative to knowing Christ is a dreadful one indeed. The Scripture says, “He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
That statement alone should be reason enough for every reader to believe the Gospel and accept the finished work of Christ at Calvary's cross as the sole and only basis for salvation. For you there is no time to lose. Say yes to Jesus Christ and do it today.