[My blog has many more readers now than it did a couple of years ago. With that in mind, from time to time I like to repost things I wrote some while ago. This post was originally posted in June 2014.]
A few months ago, I wrote a post called On being saved, in which I sought to address the question “What must I do to be saved?”. In other words, it was a post about the how of salvation.
Today I’d like to think about the question “What does it mean to be saved?”. In other words, this is a post about not the how but the what of salvation. Another way we could ask the question is “What are we saved for, or what are we saved into?”.
If you asked a random sample of western believers what is the purpose of salvation, I’m pretty sure a high proportion would give as their first answer something involving eternal life and/or “going to heaven” after you die. We see salvation largely as a kind of status that secures benefits for us that kick in once our time on this earth is done – a celestial insurance policy, if you will. Of course, there are also some benefits to be enjoyed now, but these largely revolve around the assurance of knowing that we are included in the group whose eternal destiny is sorted and secure.
This “now versus future” duality is so deeply ingrained in our western psyche that it’s hard for us to be aware of, let alone shake off.
In almost thirty years of being a Christian, I’ve sat through more evangelistic services than I could possibly count. The vast majority of them have operated on the premise of “selling” the benefits of eternal security in order to get people to “make a commitment” today. Often no apology is made for using extreme psychological and emotional pressure to get people to “pray the prayer”. The justification is apparently quite sound: when someone’s eternal destiny is at stake, you use any means you can to get them to sit up and take notice.
If I sound uncharitable about those who practice this approach to evangelism, I don’t mean to. In most cases, they are deeply sincere and loving people who genuinely want the best for those they are addressing.
But I’ve been thinking. Specifically, about Jesus and his ministry. If you measure evangelistic efficiency by the number of appeals or altar calls made, Jesus wasn’t much of an evangelist. He didn’t go around trying to convince people to tick the right boxes so they could be saved. He mostly just encouraged people to repent and follow him. Which could be paraphrased “Change the way you think, and do like I do”.