There’s a lot of different theories on how salvation works. Though I’m not going to establish a theory right here and now, I had some interesting thoughts about the whole process.
I grew up in an evangelical Baptist setting. Thus, the primary association for “salvation” was the so-called “conversion” – that is, a person asks God to enter their heart and life, and by result are transformed into a new being, a Christian, a fuller human life, etc. I’m not sure I subscribe to this universally because of my own unique circumstances.
You know how Christian churches always say that you should raise your children AS Christians from birth in a Godly manner and all that sort of thing? Well, that happened to me. In about the same way as Israel was given the idea in Deuteronomy to that affect – to recall and teach one’s children what happened to them, and by association what happens to those who became Christians – I haven’t had a “before” and “after” moment like so many of my peers. For me, I have been the very model of Proverbs 22:6:
6 Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
We find something similar in Ephesians 6:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
I’m sorry that I was raised according to the same Biblical principles that every pastor I seem to watch tries to emphasize. I guess that makes most of the sermonizing on that note wholly irrelevant to me…until I have children. I have never NOT been a Christian because, well, that was just the paradigm by which I was raised. There was a moment of belief, sure, but that was just a stepping stone on the road to discipleship. There was no “eureka!” because Jesus was always there, and Scripture was always the authority. In Deuteronomy 4, the ideas is a kind of conveyance, to remember, record, and recite the things that happened before and pass onto your children:
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the Lord your God has destroyed them from among you. 4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.
5 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
9 “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’
Not that I regret it or anything – I have certainly seen the wisdom of that decision through my life, no doubt – but it’s difficult for me to relate to this “conversion” notion in any way, shape, or form. Of course I relate to the sola fide most emphasized by my comrades in the denomination, but I can’t for the life of me say I converted from one mindset to another. I have always been a Christian in some form. so how does that relate to the Christian experience? Conversion can’t be this ultimate moment in a person’s life; otherwise, what exactly did I do wrong? This is the same kind of thoughts that motivated Stanley Hauerwas to his work in theology: he couldn’t get “saved”, and by God he was going to force God to do it by serving Him. “I became a theologian because I could not get ‘saved’…I wanted to be saved, but did not think you should fake it”, as he says in his memoirs.
And why should we force people into that mold? Everyone knows John 3:16, right?
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Does it say anywhere that we need a special prayer to induct people into Church? Or that there’s some magical experience that happens to a person and that this is the long and the short of it? What we see only strikes one who looks at it closely: “belief” remains the heart of the matter. If you’re a Protestant, I imagine this will resonate with you. Furthermore, take a look at the following verses in John 3:
17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he whopractices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Again, beliefs becomes the distinguishing element between those in Christ and those not with Christ. If you take a cursory look at the Gospels, you can see the disciples believed. They had their times of failure and doubt, but by no means did their transformation occurs in some instaneous form. One becomes new, but by becoming new we re-enter a child-like state of spiritual awareness. We must start over from the beginning.
Or, you might say, conversion isn’t something to be envied in the way we do. Rather, it’s something to which we rejoice that another person has understood, felt, and accepted the Good News wholly and utterly, tranforming their past and giving hope to their future. We celebrate conversions because they show the grace of a loving God, not because they’re the primary event and the most defining moment in a person’s life. It’s better off to have a “head start”, so to speak, then to be blindsided half way through a race, finding out you’ve actually been running the wrong way. Perhaps my elaborate metaphor didn’t make it clear, so here’s a Bible verse:
2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
3 John 2-4