For much of my life I thought “being saved” meant accepting Jesus in a moment of faith. Those who were saved had done this faith act/decision and those who were not saved had not yet done it. “Are you saved?” really meant “Have you prayed to receive Jesus?” Time to think, the fullness of the truth of Holy Scripture, and great grace, have all conspired to change my view quite significantly. Let me explain.
The word saved refers to being rescued, to our deliverance. While conversion is the beginning of our new life it is just that, a beginning. The conversion itself may not even be something that a person is deeply aware of existentially. The reality is what matters – “new life” has begun. Paul says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17). Another way to translate the last part of the first sentence is: “that person is a new creation.” Thus the main point here is our becoming “a new creation.” Jesus is making everything new thus when he puts His Spirit within us we are made “new.”
This does not deny the preaching of the good news and the attendant call of that message to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” It does, however, put this call into a fuller, deeper and more God-centered context. Let me elaborate on this point.
The Christian life is a process. Salvation is the working of the entire Trinity to bring us to a new life that is whole. To understand the true nature of eternal life it is necessary to understand the nature of Christian conversion. The basic problem of the human race is that we have willfully broken from God. Though created for fellowship and partnership with the living God, our first ancestors (and we) chose to go their own sinful ways and to live independently from him. One of the consequences of this is that God withdrew his Spirit from men and women and left us in a condition that the Bible describes as being spiritually “dead.” We are empty of God and spiritual (eternal) life.
The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s activity in history to bring us back to himself, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Adam’s primary sin was to doubt God, to seek to determine his own life independently of God, apart from him. This was the pattern of Lucifer! Adam chose to follow this way. The Orthodox monk Archimandrite Sophrony says, “Herein lies the essence of Adam’s sin–it was a movement towards self-divinization” (His Life Is Mine, 37).
Adam sought to share in the divine nature by seeking unity with God through his own will rather than by trusting God. Satan suggested that God had introduced a prohibition that restricted his freedom to seek the plentitude of divine knowledge (cf. Genesis 3:5). The tragedy was not in desiring to know but rather in the rejection of God’s love that provided a way for him to know and be known.
Our responsibility is to acknowledge our sin, to turn from our acts of unbelief and rebellion, and to submit to Jesus Christ. When we do this two wonderful things happen. First, we receive forgiveness and are accepted into full fellowship with God. We enter once again in the fellowship of the triune God. The second, and equally important part of the process, is that the third Person in the divine Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, comes to live within our mortal flesh. This experience is described in the New Testament as being “born of…the Spirit” (John 3:5), crossing over “from death to life” (John 5:24), being “made…alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). A true believer is spoken of as one who already “has everlasting life” (John 6:47) and has already been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 1:1).
We are saved by the life, death, resurrection and present intercession of Christ alone, not by our acts or deeds. This salvation is from sin. But our view of sin is often skewed by our understanding of what sin really is. The Old Testament understood sin as the breach of the moral and religious precepts of the Law of Moses. But the New Testament transferred the concept of sin to the inward man. Says Archimandrite Sophrony, “To apprehend sin in oneself is a spiritual act, impossible without grace, with the drawing near to us of Divine Light” (His Life Is Mine, 41). So long as we think of sin in the sense of breaking religious precepts we will not address the problem of our inner man that I’ve been addressing from Galatians 5.
Most of my Christian life was lived in an attempt to manage sin and to do what would make me a better Christian. One of my problems was that I primarily understood sin as “the infringement of the ethical standards of human society or of any legal injunction” (His Life Is Mine, 41). But Sophrony rightly says: “Sin cuts us off from the God of Love made manifest to us as Light in Whom there is no darkness at all; cf. 1 John 1:5” (His Life Is Mine, 41). “To behold one’s pitiful reality is a heavenly gift, one of the greatest” (His Life Is Mine, 41).
I believe this kind of thinking is much closer to what Paul is really saying in Galatians 5.
Next: The Love of God and Our Spiritual Transformation