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Saved: Binary or a Process?

Similarly, I also think the standard definition of salvation breeds passivity. It’s like a line in the sand, and we say, “The most important thing in life is to be on the other side of this line.” OK. People cross the line. What then?

Neo in Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian (p.186).

We typically think of salvation in binary terms: in/out, saved/ lost, etc. This language is obviously biblical in the sense that one can find these terms in their English Bible, but I’m not sure if they are biblical in the way we use them.

For example, we ask the question “When is one saved? At the point of baptism or at the point of faith?” When one advocates for the baptism view, someone else inevitably asks, “Well, what happens if one were to die on the way to the baptistry?” Some stand their ground and assert that the person is lost. I’ve heard some of the most prominent men within the Church of Christ say this on video. Others say that only God can know. While some would say that there is no question that the person would be saved based on God’s character.

But do you see how messy this can get?

And this isn’t even considering the people who have never heard the gospel, grew up in other religions, or were honestly mistaken about some point or another.

The point is that there may be some line in the sand, to use Neo’s term, but how dare we presume to know exactly where that is?

So, it may be more helpful to drop the strict binary language that is really a product of our modern world because, while the Bible uses these words, it also talks about salvation as a process.

“…you are being saved…” (1 Corinthians 15:2, NRSV)

“…work out your own salvation…” (Philippians 2:12)

“…the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6)

It also talks about salvation as a future reality to the first century audience.

“…who will appear a second time for salvation…” (Hebrews 9:28)

“…salvation ready to be revealed…” (1 Peter 1:5)

So when we only talk about salvation in strict binary terms we can run into several problems: (1) cultivate an “us versus them” in our churches, (2) deny our own need to grow, and (3) not allow God to draw the line Himself.

Baptism isn’t the finish line; it’s the starting line, but when our main goal is to baptize someone and not help them experience the transforming power of the gospel, then we are really teaching a salvation that isn’t biblical. As Neo said, “It’s as if we have taken what us for Jesus as starting line and turned it into a finish line.”

P.S. this is related to an article I will eventually write in my Questioning the Questions series, so you might want to save this to refer back to later on!

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