How do we speak of our salvation? Are we saved or are we being saved? Is our salvation something that happened in the past, in a moment in time, that we can point to and declare, “this is when I got saved?” Or, is our salvation an on going process, a journey in which every day we are not only being transformed more and more into the image of God, but we are literally living into our salvation, becoming more and more saved?
In our modern mindset, or at least in the theology we inherited from the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, we often like to point to a specific point in time, a moment in which we can say this is the turning point. This is usually our baptism, a particular sacramental event in which God promises to act and be present, even when we do not understand all of the ramifications of his acting. Our baptism becomes confirmation that we have been saved, that our sins are forgiven, and that we have received the Holy Spirit which as Paul says is our deposit, our guarantee of an eternal home with God.
It’s important to notice that all of those statements are true. Baptism is a sacramental experience of God’s presence and power. At our baptism our sins are forgiven and we receive the Holy Spirit, which is a deposit or seal or our inheritance with the Saints. The problem though is when we think of our salvation as a point then it becomes a past event, that while wonderful, has little influence on our daily lives. This view of salvation is also very individualistic. It is all about me and my personal moment of salvation and not about what God may be doing in the world.
It’s interesting that Paul on many occasions uses the language of being saved. It’s not just that as Christians we are saved, but that our baptism propels us into a life’s journey that is about being saved. And this journey involves all of creation, God is trying to bring salvation to the world.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you also stand, through which also you are being saved if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
For Paul, it appears, salvation is not just a fixed point in time, but it is a journey, a process, in which we are ever transformed, ever changed more and more into God likeness. Baptism is still important, but it is not the end all point, it is instead a marker along the way as we continue to hold firm to the message that was proclaimed. Paul uses the language of being saved because he views salvation as a process in which we grow morally and ethically into people who live out the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
The Good News is not just that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sins. The Good News is that we can participate with Christ in the new age, the age of the Kingdom of Heaven. The message of the cross is not just that sins are forgiven, but that we can participate with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection and after dying to self we can live a new life in allegiance to God. This new life is not something that we automatically get right the moment we are” saved” but instead is something that we continually grow into through the process of “being saved.” Therefore salvation is not just about me getting right with God (an individual mindset) but is about me living out Kingdom of God principles with those around me ( a communal mindset).
Thinking about salvation as a process changes things because it confronts our daily decisions and daily activities and forces us to ask the question, “how am I living out my salvation today?”