Now that Lent is over and we’ve entered the Easter Season (yes, it continues on AFTER Easter, not just before) it’s time to get back to my regularly scheduled topical blog posts. Since we’re in the Easter season I thought I’d discuss something that many feel is central to the Easter story, the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian.
Specifically, what does it mean to be saved?
I posed this question on Facebook and here is a sampling of answers I received:
- “To believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and was sacrificed so that we can be saved and to have a personal intimate relationship with Him.”
- “On one level ‘being saved’ is to be reconnected with the force that gives life, ie reconnected to God and having that which brings separation (sin) removed.”
- “It’s about healing and being ‘cleansed’ rooted in ‘righteousness’ …We are free to act out of our salvation all we want. We are free to ignore it all we want. We are “reconciled” already. We are ‘saved.'”
- “Evidence of true salvation is a changed life. A fruitful life…a life that is led by intimacy with Jesus is evidence of true salvation. Though true intimacy is a life long journey that comes as one matures.”
- “God saves us *for* or *to* something, not just *from* something. And that something is God’s kingdom, where love and justice and grace abundantly reside; where we are saved to do the holy ministry of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit.”
- “It means that I was rescued by Jesus Christ’s death, to a new life, where I can now have a full relationship with God and live with him eternally. He paid the price, and once I accept Him as my Lord and Savior I become changed.”
- “Upon repenting of my sins, and accepting JESUS as my Lord and Savior, his blood covers my sins, and I am saved. But, then I must follow through with living my life hearing his word, and doing as he instructs me.”
- “When I hear people say “I’m saved,”–to me it just means they’ve said the saving prayer and aren’t going to hell, but it doesn’t tell me that they actually know Jesus.”
- “Many people also can claim to be “saved” and are not. To the public, it is simply a general declaration of faith you identify with, and helps others to better categorize your specific beliefs. It’s not something, however, anyone can truly know of anyone else. It’s between the individual and God, and no one else can truly see all of what’s in another’s heart. “
- “Being ‘saved’ in the eyes of God is to accept him as your savior and give you life to the service of him. However, for about 90% of people that have been ‘saved’ that act does not resonate into their daily lives and therefore has little meaning in the end. “
I appreciate my friends who took the time to respond and share their thoughts. As you can see, there is a bit of a spread in how my small subject sample understand the meaning of being “saved” and even some healthy doubt in the usefulness/effectiveness of the claim. Honestly, I’ve been wrestling with this concept for the past4 to 5 years. My response would have been very similar to many of these pre-seminary, but now (as a few of my friends also noted) I’m really starting to question the centrality/effectiveness of the concept of being “saved” and “salvation” in Western/Evangelical church culture. I blame seminary for unsettling the foundation that I had been taught up to that point. I blame good seminary instructors, books and articles I read for slowly deconstructing and reorienting my understanding of being “saved” and “salvation” as a Christian.
Recently I’ve been reading the “King Jesus Gospel” by Scot McKnight and he points out that we’ve transitioned from the “apostolic” or “King Jesus” Gospel presented by Jesus and the apostles to a “salvation” Gospel preached in most Western Evangelical churches today. He goes to great pains to make the argument that the “King Jesus” Gospel has a much different focus than the “salvation” Gospel most of us would be familiar with. He writes,
“the gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as the Savior…much of the soterian [salvation] approach to evangelism today fastens on Jesus as (personal ) Savior and dodges Jesus as Messiah and Lord.”
For McKnight, the “are you saved?” approach today, focuses on our sin and need of salvation through Jesus. For those preaching in the book of Acts, McKnight argues for the primary importance of confessing Jesus as Lord, Messiah and Christ as promised in the story of Israel. At issue then with a “salvation” Gospel is getting people “saved” without an understanding or grasp of what it really means for Jesus to be Messiah, Lord and Christ.
Another recent article that had me pondering the idea of being “saved” again was posted by a rabbi I follow on Twitter. The Coffee Shop Rabbi posted, “Have You Been Saved?” and ruminated on this question she been asked in the past and discussed what salvation means in a Jewish context. She states, “I am here to tell you that I have not been saved. However, I have on my shoulders the ohl hashamayim, the yoke of the covenant, and therefore I am on a mission to save what I can of my tiny little corner of the world. I am not on that mission by myself. I am on that mission as one of the Jewish People.” I think Jesus talked about a yoke somewhere too…
I’m with McKnight and the Coffee Shop Rabbi in thinking that there is more to “salvation” and being “saved” than just praying a prayer, going to church and living a good life. I’ve even strayed from telling people that I’m 100% sure I’m saved. I know in the Orthodox tradition salvation is understood as a life process and truly only happens once one is welcomed into Heaven. We are continually “saved” throughout our life, growing ever deeper in our process of sanctification.
Finally, is “are you saved” even the question people are asking or concerned with? Is there a greater possibility of evangelism if we open up to answering other questions? Answering questions that people are actually wrestling with in a Gospel centered fashion? What if we were more concerned with, as the Coffee Shop Rabbi suggested, leaving the world a better place than when we found it? Might evangelism be more effective if we saw it as the kind of process that we can invite people to join in on and walk with them through? Can we be more effective in “saving” others by serving the world, answering their questions, and engaging with the world in a meaningful way in order to fulfill the law in the way that Jesus demonstrated?
Sorry for ending with questions and no real solid answers…but that’s where I’m at. Feel free to leave a comment with your own answers, questions or share with your friends to see what they have to say.