A Facebook friend is working toward an MFA at Seattle Pacific University, and recently answered this question for a writing assignment: “How has my understanding of ‘getting saved’ changed over the years.”
Evaluating our faith is always a good exercise. I’m in the midst of that process, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts, and challenge you to consider how your understanding has evolved over time.
For the sake of this piece, I’ll use the words, “getting saved” to describe conversion to Christianity. For the uninitiated this means “bending the knee,” “getting washed by the blood of the lamb,” “throwing yourself at the foot of the cross,” “asking Jesus into your heart,” and changing your allegiance from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, becoming a Christian means professing faith in Jesus Christ alone. Briefly, here’s the deal:
- Our sin—the wrong we do and the ways we fall short—separate us from a pure and holy God.
- Jesus, God’s only Son, came to live among men, died a horrific death on the cross, and rose from the dead.
- Jesus bore our sin on the cross. He paid the price so that our relationship with God could be restored and we could know abundant life, hope, and the unconditional love of Father.
- Repenting of sin and believing in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross are essential to Christian conversion, including the gift of eternal life.
Three scriptures along these lines.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10. “…that whoever believes in him should have eternal life” John 3:16. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” Romans 10:9.
Are you still with me? This is turning into a longish blog.
Here’s a personal, brief account of my conversion: For several years I felt haunted by God. However, the Christians I knew—those I regularly faced off against at various protests—were ninnies. I saw nothing appealing about them or in them. But there I was, with a longing for God, and spells of peace that seemingly came out of nowhere.
So I decided to dip my toe in the water. I found a church in the yellow pages (one with a big ad) and started attending. After a month of slipping in and out of services, I knew there was no way out of the pool. On a Sunday evening, a determined pastor refused to leave the stage until someone came forward to “bend the knee.” Christians can get cynical about these sorts of things, but I knew he was talking about me. I walked forward.
Just like you might see on cable television, a weepy, sweaty, red-faced pastor held my hand in the air and shouted something to the heavens—I no longer remember what. Next I was whisked back stage by a kind woman. The angels in heaven likely rejoiced (as the Bible says), but I was gripped by fear, sorrow, and a little PTSD from what just happened on stage.
A committed relationship, a (visible) professional activist career, and my friendships were wrapped up in lesbian feminist politics at the time. Jumping ship was not a healthy looking option. It meant exposure and humiliation that I’d seen befall others… those we activists suspected were unstable, and vulnerable to the wile ways of misogynist men and weak-kneed women. At the moment of my conversion, my life as I knew it was over.
The kind lady, let’s call her Barbara, reacted to my emotions by asking if I really meant my decision and if I wanted to reconsider or think about it. Maybe it’s the evangelist in me, but to this day I think, “Hey Babs, ya’ll just hooked a fish, don’t toss it back just yet.” I was sent home with a thick white envelope full of church information.
I’ve lamented over how it all went down: No quiet hand-holding prayer over tea at a neighbor’s home. No husband and wife gently leading me through scripture. I came crashing into Christianity.
My faith quickly took root. I had no idea just how complicated or turbulent my journey within Christianity would become, but at the time, I loved Jesus, pure and simple, and He changed my life. He called me His daughter, He renewed me with His love, and sang over me with joy.
Getting saved seemed pretty black and white back then. I immersed myself in street and door-to-door evangelism, and rejoiced when someone prayed with me to “receive Jesus.” I had my pitch down and the linch pin was eternal life. I’d say something like, “If you died tonight, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?” Christians have a tendency to dangle eternal life like a carrot. But a desire for eternal life, for a relationship with God, and to be absolved of wrongdoing, only gets you up bat. You can’t force yourself to believe. You can’t force faith. It’s a gift and a mysterious work God does within a human heart.
Webster’s states that faith is “…complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” And the Bible says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1. Faith grows out of relationship and with time, not from a simple prayer.
That said, I believe here’s a ton of grace during those first moments when you decide to follow Jesus, and this manifests in an initial infusion of faith through the Holy Spirit. When I pray with someone actively dying in hospice or in another setting, I am confident that God is doing His thing within their soul. I lend my faith to the process and pray they dig their heels in deeply.
I haven’t fully thought through this issue, but these are my initial thoughts.