Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What does it mean to be "saved"?

I'm taking a Disciple Bible study course called 'Christian Believers', which is a study of theology and why we believe what we believe.  The current chapter is on salvation.   One of our readings is from Georgia Harkness, a Methodist theologian who died in 1974.  She writes about the change in our life that results from the experience of salvation:  "Sometimes the change is so radical that it seems miraculous.  Sometimes there is a gradual ... almost imperceptible, change in values, motives, feelings and modes of responding to situations.  If there is no difference at all, regeneration has not occurred."

Salvation is one of those 'churchy' terms that means little to non Christians.  I grew up outside the church.  I was 30 years old when I accepted Christ as my savior.  But what does that mean?   The common definition is that Christians believe we are given eternal life, in heaven, with God.  I believe this to be true, though I dare say I don't pretend to understand what that life will look like.  However, to me the Christian life, and the saving grace that Christ offers to all of us, is so much more than some intangible future reward.  John Wesley writes that salvation is "a present salvation.  It is something attainable, yea, actually attained on earth by those who are partakers of this faith."  He writes that salvation "implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment."  To me, salvation frees me to fully experience all the joy that God means for us to enjoy today, on this earth, now.

When I became a Christian, I did not experience a radical, overnight change in my life or my general outlook.  I was not magically transformed.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation."  Since I didn't have a sudden overnight transforming experience, I occasionally wondered if that meant my conversion was not real.  But over time, I did start to notice subtle changes in my outlook, and in the way I treated others.  As I studied the Bible, and took part in small groups at church like Disciple and Sunday School, I learned more about what it meant to be a follower of Christ.  It's not just a question of saying "I believe in Jesus" and saying I am sorry for my sins.  In an earlier chapter of the course I am taking now, we talked about "cheap grace" being the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.  Sacrifice of self is required.  Acts of service toward others is required.  But the great thing is, that if you spend time in prayer and study and worship, you find yourself wanting to do these things.  It is part of a natural (if in some cases, gradual) transformation!

So, Harkness nails my experience exactly, and reassures my own doubts about my salvation experience.  It doesn't have to be an overnight change.  One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was when my dad, who is not a believer, told me he thought that I had become a better person since I became a Christian!  Salvation (and sanctification - a whole separate topic!) is an ongoing process.  The goal is to become more like Christ every day.