No one is saved (yet)

Growing up in an Evangelical Charismatic church I thought I knew what it meant to be saved.

What do we mean by “saved”?

As far as my 12-year-old-self knew, you said the sinner’s prayer and then you were saved and going to heaven. Just wait at the rapture bus stop. While you are waiting, preach to people you would like in heaven with you and make them Christian too.

We quoted Romans 10:9-13 which described what we did in the sinner’s prayer (or so I thought). At the same time, we cited Ephesians 2:8-9 in case anyone started thinking that the prayer was what saved us. And we frequently made mention of John 3:17 and so we knew that it is Jesus that saves.

We glossed over Acts 16:31, where a man believes and his entire household are saved. Likewise, Mark 16:16 was only used at baptisms in case anyone got the idea that baptism was required to be saved even though “the Bible clearly says” as much.

The salvation we left out

There is a great deal that we leave out or gloss over when it comes to teachings on being saved. If we are to have a valid and unshakable doctrine of salvation all of these issues must be addressed.

Those that endure to the end are saved

Matthew 24:9-13 tells us that those who endure (a lot) and remain faithful are saved. Likewise 1 Timothy 2:15 seems to be saying that women who give birth are saved (if “they” are faithful, loving, and holy).

If you want some thoughts on the Timothy passage, here is a well-reasoned video Bible study. As explanations go, the speaker does a good job of wrestling with a difficult passage.

Those that do great works are saved

The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 3 and especially 1 Corinthians 3:15 has some very confusing things to say about building on the works of the Christ and the Apostles. The things it has to say has echoes of 1 Timothy 2:15 and the woman being saved through childbirth.

Frankly, I do not fully understand these passages. There is, quite possibly, a wider point of things we must go through before we reach salvation. If we have a doctrine that we are saved when we say the sinner’s prayer, I cannot see how we can claim there is one way to be saved.

Fear and trembling are required

In Philippians 2:12 we read that everyone must “work out their own salvation” and do so with “fear and trembling”.

Digging into the passage, the Bible is telling us that salvation far from being a simple two-step process (belief then confession) it is something that must be laboured at.

Given the wealth of passages (Proverbs 10:16, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 1 Thessalonians 1:13) which present the Christian life as a process – a race in one case – I suspect that this passage is simply showing us that we must be active participants in that process.

Only those who are obedient to Christ are saved

The Philippians passage seems all the more insightful when compared with Hebrews 5:9 which says that Christ is the source of salvation (only) for those who obey him. No wonder fear and trembling are part of the “working out” if that is the case.

It seems to me that salvation, rather than being a thing that happens at the point of conversion is the good work that was started in us and is compleated. The Christian walk is not a product of salvation but the journey towards it.

You need to do these things but nothing you do counts

We know that salvation is through grace alone. Salvation we are told (Ephesians 2:8-9) cannot come through any things you can do otherwise we would have something to boast about.

To be saved things you “must” do to be saved depending on where you read:

  • Repent
  • Believe
  • Confess
  • Be baptised
  • Endure
  • Obey
  • Labour in fear
  • Nothing (grace alone)

If nothing else, the overly simplified “being saved through a single prayer” doctrine must ignore a lot of scripture. All of these passages sit so much easier with a doctrine that sees salvation as that which is being worked in us.

The Bible rarely talks about those that “have been” saved

I have been unable to find passages which talk about believers having already been saved. Every passage says “will be”. That’s a future tense – something that has not happened yet. Salvation is a promise for the future.

The closest a Bible passage comes to talking about being saved in the past tense is Paul in Romans 8:24-25 but even that has something startling to say:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.

Paul here is talking about the future hope of salvation. Our final redemption from “this body of sin” is something we hope for. As Paul says, no one hopes for things they already have but we do wait for and have a hope for things not yet come.

Are you saved, Brother?

I have met many Christians for whom it is a point of pride that they are “saved” – their sins are forgiven and they are going to heaven. They chose God and everyone else chose “hell”. Unspoken in that pride is the implication that only idiots go to hell.

The very term “saved” suggests a thing that has already happened. Yet the Bible is replete with passages that suggest that salvation is a journey, maybe even a destination. At best, we could claim to be “saved in hope”. That is, we have a confident expectation of salvation.

Perhaps it is time to retire the idea of “the saved” and “the unsaved” as we are all, currently, the unsaved.

Are you saved?

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