It’s possible that you have been asked—or maybe you were the one doing the asking—Are you saved? What was the intended meaning of that question? Quite likely the one asking the question had in mind an individual’s ultimate destiny. Is it heaven or hell? When these questions are asked it is usually presumed that the answer will involve Jesus. That is, have you accepted Jesus as your savior?
The question has biblical roots. After all, as we read in the Book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, after Peter had finished his sermon, the people asked what they needed to do. He answered: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus; and you shall be forgiven an; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:37-39).
The question of salvation (soteriology)stands at the core of the Christian message. The question of salvation assumes that in some way the divine-human as well as the human-to-human relationship is broken and needs to be fixed. For Christians this process of fixing what is broken involves Jesus.
According to the Gospel of John, the Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us and those who believed in him (put their trust in him) became children of God (John 1:1-14). Nothing is said here about going to heaven when we die.
As we read on in John’s Gospel we find Jesus in conversation with Nicodemus. The subject of God’s realm comes up in that conversation and Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he is to see the realm for himself he must be born from above (Jn 3:1-10). Jesus tells Nicodemus that God loves the world and those who believe in the Son will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). What Jesus doesn’t tell Nicodemus that day is where eternal life will be spent or what it looks like.
From a Christian perspective, salvation always involves Jesus in some way. The New Testament speaks of the cross being the fulcrum of salvation.
This has led to the development of a variety of atonement theories that seek to explain how Jesus’ death on the cross achieves salvation for those who receive him as Lord and Savior.
Now, here is the question that has bedeviled Christians down through the ages: must one consciously confess Jesus as savior in this life to be included in God’s realm?
This question is of special concern for those who are involved in interfaith dialogue and friendships. The answers to that question are many.
For some, salvation does require a confession of faith. Some would add baptism to the process. Then still others would add discipleship to the list. Of course, there are other questions that have emerged over time, including whether God predetermines who is in the realm and who is not. These questions require more space than this particular venue will allow, but for me, I trust in God’s grace that all things will be reconciled to God in Christ.
The matter of salvation is also deeply intertwined with eschatology (the doctrine of last things). While some Christians believe that the future is fixed because God knows all things including the future, for others the future is open-ended.
How we envision the future has contemporary implications. I approach this question of salvation from a rather eclectic position, but in terms of how I envision the future I do so from the perspective of “open and relational theology.” Therefore, as I see things, the future has yet to be written, but for those who put their trust in God, there is hope that the future will be one of blessing, for God does not disappoint.
Again, Christians have understood the question of salvation in diverse ways. For some, the way to God is narrow, and Scripture affirms such a vision (Lk 13:22-30; Mt. 7:13-14).
On the other hand, there are intriguing passages that suggest a broader view. Consider for instance a passage such as this from Paul: “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to the condemnation led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Rom. 5:18).
What I will say is this, from a Christian perspective, I believe that it is in Christ and in his death and resurrection that we are reconciled to God and one another.
So, what is salvation and who does it involve? While it may include the question of our eternal destination (heaven? A new earth? Union with God?), it also speaks to who we are and what we do here and now. It is then an eschatological question because the future is involved, but whatever the future holds is related to who we are now. For Christians, the question of salvation in all its elements is connected to Jesus, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.