As Jack walked across the street, cars screeched to a halt. He turned to see a taxi inches away from his legs. The driver laid on his horn, the last straw for Jack. He pounded the hood with both fists and screamed, “Leave me alone!” He walked in a daze to the other side of the street. His mind raced as he considered the doctor’s news that he had cancer. His wife walked out on him last night for a younger version, and he could hear voices his head telling him to throw in the towel.
On his sidewalk, a homeless man flashed a “Turn or Burn” sign in his face, yelling, “Repent or go to Hell! Jesus will save your soul!” Jack muttered under his breath, “My soul’s fine. It’s the rest of me that needs help.” That homeless guy decided his eternal fate without asking anything about him.
Although this fictional story is a characterization, these descriptions might give us a fresh view of salvation. Salvation has been defined and redefined. Groups tend to define it according to their distinctions. It suffers the projection of our own desires.
Every Christian group defines salvation differently. Some widen salvation until it’s almost undefinable while others narrow it almost to impossibility. God’s salvation must reflect his grace and greatness. It can’t be narrowed to legalism, for God’s grace is great. It can’t be too wide, for God’s holiness demands righteousness. There is a robust balance between both views that captures the biblical framework for salvation. Salvation can’t be any wider than Jesus, the narrow gate.
But under Jesus, this narrow gate, there is a wide spectrum. The Greek word used for salvation in the New Testament includes the ideas of rescue, deliverance, and healing. Although most English versions choose “save” most of the time, different contexts demand different words. One paralytic’s four friends lower him before Jesus and Jesus tells him, “Your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk” (Matthew 9:5; Luke 5:23). He both saved and healed the man in one shot!
Biblical salvation works two different ways. We’re not just saved out of sins or from the world. We’re also saved into God’s kingdom, grace, and family. He didn’t just remove you from your bad situation. He also put you in the best situation. Salvation’s power mustn’t be limited.
The Bible uses images to flesh out salvation in our lives. They include being born again (John 3:3, 7), adopted (Romans 8:15, 23), building his temple (Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:4-10), citizens of God’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:19), chosen/predestined (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:4; Revelation 17:14), to name a few. But the New Testament is clear that:
- Jesus is the foundation of salvation. We are Jesus’ body collectively (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) and he is the foundation (1 Peter 2:6). He is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
- Transformation from the former life. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). For example, Paul used to kill Christians but became an apostle (Acts 9; Galatians 1:13-17). If there is no life change, there is no salvation (Ephesians 2:1-5).
- Becoming like Jesus. God has a vision, goal, and destiny for us. He is conforming us into Jesus’ image (Romans 8:29). We shun sin and take on godly character. We want to please God instead of ourselves. We follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Toward the end of the twentieth century, evangelists pushed decision-making for Christ. This isn’t wrong but it’s incomplete. Some did make decisions for Jesus, including the disciples and Zacchaeus. Christians tend to bring people to church, get them to make a decision for Christ, and then leave them to their own devices.
In my opinion, decision-based evangelism is mechanical. Some people in the Bible didn’t choose Christ. The paralytic with the four friends was healed by their faith and saved by Jesus’ word. Nowhere do we hear from him. In responding to the gospel, a person does accept Christ’s sacrifice, but there is also surrender to God’s will. While a person decides to follow Jesus, God has been preparing that person to receive Christ by his Holy Spirit.
Others never ask for a decision or any milestone moment. They invite people to church and consider them belonging to God’s family. Time doesn’t save a person. There must be a commitment to Christ. The Gospel must be preached and the person must confess (Romans 10:9-10, 14-15).
Some people are “saved” tens of times, returning to the altar over and over, especially during times of rebellion. I hear many stories about teenagers constantly making decisions for Christ. Perhaps a good fire and brimstone message scared them into Jesus arms. Maybe they saw the beauty of God’s grace and ran into his arms. They tell me salvation finally “stuck” for them eventually. Then the lifestyle change began.
Some believe, “Once saved, always saved.” Others believe you can lose your salvation and fall away. The former group tends to have trouble with lifestyle change while the latter group have an “eternally insecure” outlook. It becomes a debate about God’s sovereignty versus human free will. I believe God’s salvation is binding and someone falling away must actively pursue it. God puts us in his hand and only we can jump out of it.
I can’t get over the complete, comprehensive, and holistic way that God saves us! I am in awe of his love and grateful for his salvation. I deserve far less. Maybe you feel the same way. He took a monster for the devil and made me a monster for his Kingdom. What do you think? Where does your church fell on this spectrum? Tell me about your experience in the comment below.