I read this post this morning which got me thinking about things again. Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary speaks of our marking of the day we were “saved”. He remembers his (it’s today, hence the post). Others don’t. He writes,
Some of you were brought to Christ suddenly and dramatically. Your past life as a prostitute or a drunk or a warlord gave way to a radically different direction as a disciple. In that, your situation is quite similar to the Apostle Paul’s. Others of you, though saved just as truly in some point in time, aren’t able to identify that time. Your memory is of a slow realization of the gospel, and you can’t necessarily pinpoint when you were converted in that time-frame. Your situation sounds more like that of Paul’s disciple Timothy. The point of the gospel isn’t celebrating an experience; it’s believing a Man who is your crucified, resurrected, reigning Life.
But I wondered, are we saved at specific moment in time, even if we can’t remember it? Those who have prolonged conversion- do they have a point in that process when they “qualified” as saved? Where is that marker? One moment we were condemned sinners on the threshold of hell, and the next we were on the road to glory in our heavenly dwelling. Possibly. But I can’t say I truly see God as operating that way; as if that one prayer is a magic key out of hell and into heaven.
Perhaps part of the problem is a bad theology of repentance- thinking of repentance as moment when we prayed for forgiveness. But true repentance, μετάνοια, meaning to change one’s mind, making an about-face, is about more than that. It can be a process of stripping away, tearing down the old ways to make way for the new (See Colossians 3). Scripturally, we do see in Acts moments of illumination, where sinners turn and begin a new life right away as disciples. We often point to Saul of Tarsus, and his experience on the Damascus road (pictured right, as portrayed by Caravaggio). But what of the time spent by Paul after this in Damascus and elsewhere? Paul himself speaks of a prolonged time of learning and reflecting. When was he actually “saved”? Was it on that road, or was it while he was visited by Ananias, or the moment of his baptism (Acts 9:10-19)?
Salvation, I think is a journey. Paul tells the Philippians to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Salvation, is a journey, an endeavour, a movement, moreso than a moment. There may indeed be a dramatic moment when that journey starts, but I cringe when people ask others “when did you get saved?” My response would be “I’ll be saved when God is done saving me”. I need salvation daily, hourly. That’s what Paul is saying to the Philippians. We are always in need of God’s life in us to remove the remnant of sin. That’s what Jesus meant when he called us to abide in him (John 15). Live in salvation. Salvation isn’t simply switching teams, but living as new person within the new team, until the final redemption occurs and salvation is fully experienced.
I appreciate Russell Moore’s take on the situation- that it’s OK to not have a momentous occasion to call your moment of salvation- and to focus on how we as individuals are hearing God’s call along the way. But what I struggle with is the way Moore speaks of a “realization of the gospel”, of his own salvation he says, “I just knew at that moment that the central point of all those things was true: the gospel” which seems to imply that salvation hinges on intellectual assent, a mental affirmation of an idea as true; a proposition I simply find difficult. The gospel isn’t something to be “realized”, but something to be experienced and surrounded by, and lived in. One of the passages that rocked my world last year was 1 John 1:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin
In other words, intellect is one small part. Salvation is revealed to us, and we are to walk in that light- it isn’t enough to simply accept that the light is in fact light. To call Jesus saviour and Lord is not what Jesus is calling us to. In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Intellectually accepting that Jesus is Lord isn’t enough (See James 2:19). I would assume Moore would agree on this. The problem is the way salvation has been talked about for so long gives us the ingrained way of thinking about it and talking about it; “I asked Jesus into my heart”, “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour”, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus”. The sinner’s prayer is not found in Scripture. What is found is a call to die to self, and walk in salvation. To live a new life, free from the entanglements. Salvation is lived, not realized.