Greetings, ST, ‘Sieurs, and ‘Ettes.
It’s always a treat to be with you for these posts. This time around, I’m responding to a further request from our gracious host: Would I sketch out the two viewpoints toward the question often asked in the Reform Christian tradion: “Are you saved?” I’ll gladly attempt to illustrate these approaches, without making any ‘debating points’. Instead, let’s imagine a possible conversation between friends about two of the most common ways of looking at this life-orienting choice. As a reminder, no matter which view a person takes, it is rooted in an overall decision to turn toward God, despite individual choices that may – at times – result in our getting sidetracked along the path.
The first view is often called “once saved, always saved”. Someone who holds this view largely understands salvation in and through Christ as an individually-situated, all-inclusive, single event. (One that can often be recalled by day/date/time.) Its power and gift is felt to be great enough that it covers all of one’s actions, regardless of motivation or consequence, from that moment on – encompassing one’s past, present, and future.
Another view, which could be called “saved in hope” – though it really doesn’t have a ‘catchphrase’ – describes someone who sees salvation as an ongoing process that requires one’s active participation and assent on a continuing basis; daily, if not more frequently. Although it isn’t quite the “St. Paul on the Road to Damascus” moment, there are more faith-community milestones that can be recalled on the path to making an inherited, communal faith committed and personal. These often involve sacramental celebrations: Baptism, Reconciliation/Penance, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination-Consecration, Anointing of the Sick. I hear you saying: “Very nice, Chaps, but…Where’s the ‘conversation’ you promised us?” Coming right up, gentle readers. Let’s listen in, as “Rick” and “Jane” work their way through the “How?” of new life in Christ, together. (“Rick” goes first, followed by “Jane”. )
R: Hi, Jane! Thanks for coming to our small-group study, looking at the idea of ‘once saved, always saved’. Let’s start with St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, chapter 10, verse 9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” [KJV] This looks and sounds like once and for all, doesn’t it?
J: Hello, Rick! I’m glad you invited me. The different ways that people think about their walk with Christ have always interested me. If St. Paul tells the church in Rome that speaking and believing once is enough, what do we do with his further words to the Romans in chapter 13, verse 11: “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”? Related thoughts on Paul’s part are present in his first letter to the community in Corinth [1 Cor. 3:15] and [1 Cor. 5:5] about what should happen to an individual who breaks faith, requiring repentance and restoration.
Also, Paul’s reminder to the faithful at Ephesus – that salvation is an unearned gift – not the result of any action on their part, may point us toward God’s action as Giver. Seeing ourselves as receiving a gift. You and I can’t just ‘magically’ obtain it as an entitlement by saying the right words to compel God’s compliance. One’s entry into salvation is just the start of a lifelong interactive process. Seeing salvation as a gift and process also pulls us away from self-satisfaction and assurance that grace cannot be lost through our decision to sin, ever. Let’s also recall that gifts are, by definition, given in freedom. They can be accepted, rejected, and restored because of our freedom, as children of One who created us for that freedom [Galatians, chapter 5, verse 1]. Just because your seatbelt and door locks keep you safely inside a moving vehicle – while someone else drives down the highway – nothing is preventing you from loosening the seatbelt, unlocking and opening the door; prior to jumping out while the vehicle is underway….God values our freedom more than we cherish our safety.
R: That’s a lot to think and pray about, Jane.
Where does that sense of salvation as pure gift – that is ours to receive or reject – put us with respect to John, chapter 10, verse 28: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” [KJV] Doesn’t Jesus mean what he says, and say what he means? We’re safely in his hands, and we can’t ever be taken from him, can we?
J: Well, Rick, it’s certainly true that once we’re *in* Jesus’ hands, we cannot be ‘snatched’ from them. Jesus, during his last supper with the apostles, reassures them that they are to him like a vine and its branches. St. Paul reminds his spiritual children in Rome, and elsewhere, of their closeness to Christ. Spiritual father that he is, he also cautions them about the consequences of freely separating themselves from the love of God in Christ. He even shares about his own efforts to be vigilant.
In fact, Paul advises the Philippians to “[W]ork out your own salvation, with fear and trembling” [Phil. chapter 2, verse 12] while he is away from them. Since salvation takes place in the context of *relationship* to Christ and fellow believers, there are necessarily past, present, and future dimensions in and through it, since we as human beings change and, hopefully, grow.
R: Jane, we’re glad you came tonight, it’s been a learning opportunity for all of us! Shall we head to the kitchen for coffee, cake, and conversation?
J: Thanks, I’ve enjoyed it, Rick…Lead on, to the kitchen. You folks have a lovely fellowship hall.
Chaps, here….Hope the role-play was enjoyable. Have at it in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Until next time, Blessings and Peace…Out!