Nearly every time a person uses the term “saved,” they’re referring to two specific things. First, that there was a moment time where there was a turning point in their life, or a conversion into a relationship with God. This was typically done by praying a type of “sinner’s prayer,” where confession of sin and acceptance of Christ’s lordship over their lives were the main themes. This is vintage Evangelicalism, of which there was perhaps none better than Billy Graham. He would give his message to droves at large venues such as stadiums and conference centers, invite the listeners to respond by “accepting Christ,” and then symbolize that acceptance by walking to the front where someone could pray with you. The second reference to the word “saved” is to indicate that the person is “in.” It’s an identity statement that says that the person is a true believer and awaiting eternity with God. They will also use this to further distinguish themselves over/against others who say they are Christians but have no such conversion testimony. Now I’ll address the second reference in my next blog entry, but let’s take a moment and unpack the first intended meaning of the word “saved.”
When we look at the word in the Bible, specifically in the New Testament, we find a variety of uses. The Evangelical bent is well founded, not only its use as a reference to a past event (Titus 3:5), but also the plethora of stories of converted people. But what is often overlooked is the present and future tenses of the word “saved,” or more correctly…”save.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” indicating that salvation is an on-going process. And Paul in Philippians 1:28 says, “but that you will be saved—and that by God,” revealing a future orientation. Then there is the “race” metaphor that Paul uses in regards to his faith. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Why would Paul talk in such ways if his salvation was purely a past conversion event? In fact, it appears that “save” is used more often in the present and future tenses than the past. What does this mean?
ON A JOURNEY
It means that Paul believed, as well as the early church, that salvation was more than just a sinner’s prayer at a Billy Graham Crusade. In fact, Billy Graham realized this as well. Eventually they began to recruit local pastors and leaders to stand at the front of the stage, and as the new converts came forward they would pray for them, fill out an information card about them, and follow up. The goal was to encourage these new believers to make their faith more than just a one-time event. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer before I experienced a transformation in my own life and faith. And along my own journey, I find myself being conformed and renewed at various points. So I have come to believe that salvation is a process. Turns out that my own tradition has given me some language for this too. From the moment we’re born, God chases after us with his ever-relentless love. That’s called Prevenient Grace. Then there’s a point when we “get it,” where we accept that love and begin a reciprocated relationship. That would be Justification. But that’s not the end. In fact, we’re just getting going. We are then continued to be molded and shaped into a being that reflects the goodness of God, or “Christ-likeness.” That’s called Sanctification. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect…far from it; but it does mean we’re on a process -a process that will come to completion in heaven.
Now this may evoke further questions, many of which I hope answer as I address some of the other themes. Feel free to comment or address some of your own queries, and hopefully I can include some of those in my next write-ups.
If you missed it, here’s the Introduction to this series…