As a believer, there is one particular phrase that I am trying desperately to banish from my vocabulary:
“I was saved.”
When we say that we’re referring, of course, to the moment of our salvation: the moment that we decided to be believers, acknowledged our sinfulness, and handed our lives and love over to Christ. We’re making a note of the line between before and after, between a life lived for self and a life lived in love as Jesus commanded.
Yet I’m not sure I like how limited that phrase can be, that it refers to salvation in the past tense. When I hear the phrase “I got saved” I always picture Jesus scooping up someone from the “nonbeliever” box and then dropping them in the “believer” box. Poof. There you go. Finis. The transformation is complete!
It isn’t. But sometimes we act as though it is. We pursue people with dedication when they are nonbelievers, and when they “get saved” we wipe the dust off our hands and think, “Whew, finished.” As Christians, we can believe that since we “got saved” (way back when, in the past, at a time that is over now) all that is required of us is a sort of ongoing spiritual maintenance. Saying someone “was saved” or “got saved” is sort of like saying someone bought a car: the major part of the work is done and now all we have to do is run it by the shop every now and again for a tweak.
But salvation isn’t that. Though it is certainly an event and a moment that commences at a particular point in time – the point at which most people say they “got saved” – it is also an ongoing process. The commencement of salvation is not the biggest nor best part of the work; it is the beginning step on a journey. In this regard I might compare it to marriage (which, spiritually, it is): although there is a date that you got married, we also recognize that a marriage is an ongoing process, a relationship, a continued working-out of love. It is not something that ends nor completes at a finite point in time.
And so with salvation.
It’s important to remember that although we humans think of things in terms of time – past, present, and future, one following the other in a neat little row – and are limited by it, God is not. Theologians argue about the details, but what we know is that to God “a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8) and that although God embodied in Christ was subject to the restraints of time and that God the Father and the Holy Spirit can work within the constraints of time, God Himself perceives time differently than we do. God’s perspective is quite different. Knowing that, it’s possible for us to regard our salvation both as a moment that is marked in time and simultaneously as a process that is ongoing our whole lives until we become the creation He knows that we will be. It is a relationship, a journey, an unfolding evolution over time. It is more than a moment or a memory.
And I don’t want to misrepresent that. The greatest joy of my life is that my salvation didn’t begin and end in the moment I sat down on the scratchy fabric of the pew with my pastor. The constant reverberation of God’s claiming of me and my claiming of God is something that echoes back to me every time He speaks, every time I act in love, every time I take one more step forward on the journey.
For me, it can’t be “I got saved.” More accurately, it’s probably, “I was saved, and am being saved, and will be saved.” But that’s unwieldy and too heavy and too clunky to say, so I think I might settle for this:
“The day I came to know Christ was the day I accepted the terms God laid out for me, and from then on we’ve been walking together.”