To truly and completely answer this question, we must first agree what it means to be “saved”. This term is one of those Christian words that many outside the church do not quite understand and can become a heated point of debate and divide families and friends.
Think about this word in every day terms. They use it in baseball. Some one is “safe” if they play by the rules. If they get to the base before the ball does they are “safe”, but even then, there is sometimes a quarrel when people have different perspectives. I’ve seen entire teams start fistfights over a single play, all because they had different perspectives.
When we think of salvation in terms of obeying rules, then we tend to have disagreements as to which rules to follow and how. This is why there are so many denominations in Christianity. People start thinking it’s all about the rules and salvation comes to those who stick within boundaries. The problem with looking at salvation like this is that soon, just like baseball, our salvation becomes a game. We try our best to do the right things. We try our best to learn the rules, and practice hard. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. When we do good things, we feel great, but when we break the rules, we feel terrible because our eternal salvation is riding on our performance. A performance-based salvation is one that is dictated by the individual. Your salvation is determined by your own ability to resist evil. Are you beginning to sense how this definition of “safe” can make a person incredibly scared? What if i screw up? How many times can I screw up before i can’t go to heaven? Can you see how this definition of “salvation” can be understood to be all based on us, and not Jesus?
Imagine it’s your birthday. All you really wanted for your birthday is a baseball bat. You get your first and only present from your parents, and it’s an envelope. You open it up to find a single seed. “What’s this?” you ask.
“It’s a baseball bat!” your parents say. They go on to explain that if you want a baseball bat really bad, then you will have to plant the seed, water it, give it time, then it will grow into a tree, then you cut the tree down, and whittle the trunk of the tree down to a baseball bat. And only if you keep up with the necessary steps of this process will you get what you want. I don’t know about you, but I would be so disappointed. I wouldn’t even want a baseball bat anymore.
In the same way, when people are told they need to work for their salvation, it tends to become something they don’t even want. I’ve heard some pastors say in response to this, “Well, they just have to really want salvation”. I think everyone WANTS salvation, but not everyone can be their own savior. Isn’t that what we call Jesus? The savior. Other people say, “Well, if we work for it, it means more to us”. Sure, a baseball bat that takes you 100 years to make will probably mean more to you than one that is already made, but while you were spending all that time making your bat, you could have been using an already made one. Do you understand my point here? Is the purpose of my life to be gaining my salvation, or is my life’s purpose to use my salvation to bring God glory?
You need to ask what the purpose of your salvation is. We need to take a look at our motives to see the condition of our heart in this matter. Is our salvation for us, or others? Is our salvation simply to keep us out of hell, or is our salvation something that should invite other on a journey to Heaven? Is being saved something that makes me feel better, or something that testifies to others, the power and existence of God?See, I think there is a difference between a seed in an envelope and an actual baseball bat. I think salvation is something Jesus already made for us, He holds it out for us to accept when we realize its worth, value, and necessity in our life. He wants us to go out and use this gift to hit home runs. He wants us to enjoy our gift right now.
Make no mistake, doing good things does not mean you are “saved”.
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” -Matthew 7:22-23
Lets look at another common use of the word “save”. This term comes up a lot when we talk about money. We even have items called “safes”; big boxes that keep people out of our stuff. When you put something in a safe, you are telling everyone, “This is not for you”. We put things in a safe that are valuable to us because we want to protect it.
There are some people who like to use the term salvation to define themselves as one of God’s chosen people. This is great, but what happens, many times, is that this has negative connotations to those that are not saved. Defining salvation this way makes the church a spiritual “safe” that keeps non-believers out; a big box that tells everyone else, “this is not for you”.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” -Romans 8:29-30
Many people use this passage along with Ephesians 1 to further insulate themselves from the “un-chosen”. The problem with this definition of salvation comes from its “us vs. them” nature that tends to form around it. Some of the most judgmental people I’ve ever met were Christians. I feel that it all stems from their idea of salvation somehow making them superior to all other humans. Just because God chose you, does not give you the right to judge others. When you become “saved”, you are not given the right or the authority or the power of God, you are given the grace of God.
Now, the bible does talk about God pre-determining who will follow him, but it also talks about everyone being un-worthy and deserving eternal punishment.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” -Romans 3:23
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 6:23
Imagine 10 guys are in jail serving life sentences in cement boxes with no windows. An opportunity comes for five prisoners to serve on a highway clean-up crew. Five of the ten prisoners are chosen and are allowed to get outside for a while each week. These five that are chosen can take on one of two different attitudes. They could return each day feeling elite and better than the ones that stayed. feeling a sense of pride and looking down on the ones who stayed, the chosen could then even begin to make fun of the others. Or they could return to their cells each day with gratitude for the opportunity, and compassion and sympathy for the ones left behind, remembering that they are all prisoners.
So if we all truly do not deserve salvation, but God chooses to give it, than the response should not be vindictive self-righteous indignation, but self-less compassion, constant thankfulness and joy, and a sense of responsibility.
So Salvation is not just doing good things.
Salvation is not an elite club.
So what IS salvation…?