We Christians have a language all our own. We use phrases like ‘servant’s heart’ and ‘letting our light shine’ quite liberally. Sometimes we forget that those outside the Church don’t know what the phrases mean. For example, what does it mean to ‘be saved’?
The phrase is obviously linked to the Christian concept of salvation. But what exactly is salvation? How does one obtain it and, once obtained, can it be lost? These the types of questions that have plagued Christians and non-Christians alike since the beginning of time.
What Being Saved Is Not
Before discussing what it means to be saved, let’s discuss what salvation is not. For starters, being saved is not the same thing as being forgiven. Forgiveness is possible because of the salvation experience, but not exclusive to it. Furthermore, you can be a saved, born-again believer and still have unconfessed sin in your life. Unconfessed sin is not forgiven until it is confessed.
Being saved is also not being a good person. There are plenty of good people who spend a lifetime doing good things and still wind up in hell. As uncomfortable as that sounds, it’s the truth. Jesus himself warned against gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul. The state of the soul has nothing to do with being good in this life.
Finally, being saved is not the result of having ‘asked Jesus into your heart’. The whole concept of asking Jesus into your heart is one of the biggest lies perpetrated on the Church in recent history. The salvation experience combines an acknowledgment of sin, repentance, and submission to Jesus Christ as Lord. Asking Jesus into your heart does none of those things. It is nothing but a meaningless sentence that does nothing for the soul.
What Being Saved Means
Truly being saved means that the eternal punishment for sin no longer applies to you. Your soul has been saved from the eternal lake of fire because someone else has taken the punishment for your sin, on your behalf. That someone is Jesus Christ.
Now, this comes as no surprise to professing Christians. So why mention it? Because obtaining salvation involves a very specific process the Church seems to have lost track of. We have lost track of it because we don’t know how to study the Scriptures.
We take John 3:16 on its own and assume that all one must do to be saved is believe in Jesus. But the Bible is not a series of single versus to be read and understood individually. Like reading any other book, a full understanding requires context. Passages like John 3:16 must be understood within the full context of the chapter, book, and the entire Bible.
Action but Not Works
Ephesians 2:8-9 make it clear that salvation is given as a gift from God to man, made possible by the grace Jesus secured on the cross. It is clear from Ephesians 2 and comparable Scriptures that salvation is not a matter of works. In other words, I cannot save myself by doing good things. Yet that does not mean I am not involved in the salvation experience at all. I am.
Obtaining salvation requires action. You will see action in every incident in which the New Testament describes someone being saved. The woman with the issue of blood reached out to Jesus in the street. The one leper out of 10 who ended up being saved actively sought out Jesus after his healing. The apostle Paul submitted to Jesus’ authority on the road to Damascus.
Romans 10:8-11 explains obtaining salvation in the simplest possible terms:
8 But what says it? The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9 That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.
10 For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11 For the Scripture says, Whoever believes on him shall not be ashamed.
In this text we see the belief portion mentioned in John 3:16. Yet we also see an additional component that requires action. That component is confessing with the mouth. Obtaining salvation is therefore a matter of believing what God has said and then confessing to it as the truth.
The whole point of verbal confession is to force us to take a stand one way or the other. Having to consciously form the words and speak them aloud forces a person to decide, once and for all, whether or not what he believes is actually true.
A Note about Forgiveness
In closing this post, I want to draw your attention to the forgiveness issue. The Bible draws a distinct difference between forgiveness and justification. To be justified is to be in a position in which God does not hold you eternally accountable for your sins. Preachers sometimes define justification as God “looking at me just as if I’d never sinned.”
Justification is an eternal matter. The Christian’s eternal soul has been justified by the work Jesus did on the cross. A justified person will not be held eternally accountable for sin because Jesus paid for it.
Forgiveness is not an eternal matter. It is a temporal matter. In other words, while justification is for the future, forgiveness is for the here and now. We need forgiveness because sin interrupts our relationship with the Father. We ask forgiveness in order to restore that relationship.
This is why 1 John 1:9 encourages born-again believers to confess their sins. God responds to confession with forgiveness, being faithful and just in doing so. If Jesus’ death on the cross obtained forgiveness for all sins past, present and future — without any action on our part — there would be no need to confess in the here and now. But we do need to confess in order to obtain the forgiveness that Jesus worked to secure.
In summary, being saved means no longer being held eternally accountable for sin. There is only one way to obtain salvation: believe the gospel message, confess it orally, and submit to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Anything short of that leaves one wanting at the eternal judgment.