ARE WE SAVED?
In the modern evangelical Christian world, it is common to hear the expression ‘We are saved’, or ‘We have been saved’. There are even hymns dedicated to this topic with the cliché question: ‘Are you saved’?
The expression itself is not a problem, and nobody can really say it is theologically incorrect. But what it can be wrong may be the way we understand that expression.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT IT
The Bible teaches that all humanity, in its natural state, needs to be redeemed from a fallen condition (Romans 3:9, 23); through the redemption that was carried out by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth (2Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:14; 1Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:14).
According to that teaching, when a person comes to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and redeemer, repents of his sins, and submits to him, that person is consider to be ‘saved’ (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:5, 8), and since then he is called a ‘saint’ (2Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1) regardless of his conduct, since his righteousness is based in his acceptance of Jesus and justification by grace.
(Romans 3:24; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:11).
However, this same Bible seems to warn about the need to remain faithful to attain this salvation (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13; Hebrews 3:6), and at least try to live under God’s moral will (Matthew 7:21; Romans 2:13; James 2:20).
Even further, there are some parts of the Scripture that speak of being ‘sealed’, which implies guarantee of permanency, in this case, permanency in the condition of being ‘saved’ by grace (2Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14), from where nobody can move us away, since our salvation is guaranteed by God himself (John 10:27-29).
How can these contradictory texts be understood?
SAVED LEGALLY BUT NOT YET
When a person comes to believe in Jesus and accepts him as Lord and Savior, that person must repent and surrender his life to God for eternity (Matthew 3:2; Acts 2:38, 3:19; 2Timothy 2:25), followed by baptism in water by immersion, as a testimony of that conversion (Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38).
Only afterwards, he or she can be catalogued as having experienced a ‘conversion’ of heart. A new birth, in the spiritual sense, and to have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, meaning, that through his faith, repentance and surrender to God, that person has received by grace, the permanent mark of God, which is the Holy Spirit, that proves in the material world that he has been cleansed by the Blood of Jesus, and belongs now to God, and that neither the devil, nor sin or death can have a claim over him or her (John 5:24).
This Justified condition, is a legal status, spiritually correct and accomplished potentially, but not in real time.
We are all legally and potentially redeemed by Jesus, and we stand totally free of sin from the moment we repent and surrender to Christ, and can be called saints. But we still experience sickness, old age, sinful desires, and we eventually die. We live with all the effects of the fallen nature until our sanctification is fully accomplished in physical reality, and this will occur slower or faster, according to how we cooperate with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.
By grace, the doors of Heaven have been open, and the Spirit will help us to get there, but He will not force us. We must decide continually to follow him into the presence of God. (1Corinthians 10:13; 2Peter 3:9; Galatians 5:13).
The same way all fallen characteristics are still on us after our ‘official redemption’, the same way, even though we are ‘officially saved’, we are still in the process of being saved. We will be really saved, only when we finished our earthly pilgrimage and are absolved of our sins in our personal judgement and granted entry into the presence of God in glory at the time of the Last Judgement (James 1:12).
For this reason the Bible, even though calls us ‘saints’ and ‘saved’, still warns us about being perseverant and keeping in harmony with God’s will, in order to finish this race and accomplish our redemption (1Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 5:9).
CAN THE PREDESTINED BE LOST?
Of course not. Not even the smallest chance of it.
However, the traditional idea is that salvation happens only to those who God has ‘predestined to Eternal Life’, and that coming to the knowledge of Jesus is a direct consequence of this election. This is morally wrong, since it implies that God has chosen some and rejected others in that process. In this theory, humans who have not been elected have no real opportunity of salvation even before they came into existence.
But election occurs the other way around.
God choses the elect, according to his foreknowledge of how people will react and remain faithful, to the call of the gospel. It is our free decision, made possible through the prevenient grace of God which gives us the freedom to accept and remain in Christ.
As God is eternal and omniscient, He elects from eternity all those who will decide to accept Christ and will persevere to the end. Their names are written in the Book of Life, but based on their free choice, and not in an arbitrary act of God (Luke 10:20).
The same way, all those who reject the gospel, will be condemned through their own choice, and not due to God’s lack of interests or decision.
The problem is that nobody really knows who is elected and who is not. We can assume and guess, but nobody knows for certain. Therefore, we all should worry about remaining faithful, in order to bring into happening that election we hope for. The gospel must be announced to everyone, without any negative presumption.
WHAT EXACTLY IS TO PERSEVERE?
As we live in the dispensation of Grace, Christian perseverance is not about fulfilling the commands of God to perfection, as if we were under the Mosaic Law. Neither that is the sense of ‘works’ in James 2:17.
To persevere in Christ means to maintain the faith in the person and mission of Jesus. Never to deny him, neither in act nor by word. It does not mean a clean performance of conduct.
To persevere in Christ also means to keep the dogmatic revelation intact. Not to allow corruption of the deposit of the faith entrusted to the living Church in the Bible. To allow knowingly heresy or apostasy, it is not to persevere in the faith, but to deny it.
But even though to persevere in the faith does not imply an immaculate conduct or a faultless creed, it necessarily implies a voluntary submission to God, which brings along a willful doing of his will. Our actions (ἔργα), do not necessarily mean fulfilment of commands, but it is working according to the will of God, out of faith and love for him, which includes his will expressed in his commands.
If we fail in doing his will, we can have forgiveness through the Name of Jesus, from God (1John 2:1), so that we prove to be with God; because from the ‘abundance of the heart’ comes out our actions. If we love God, we will not displease him, but we would do what he wants.
Salvation is like a cheque.
It is given to us, under the promise to cash out as salvation and a crown of Glory, but we must get to the bank to make it effective.
It is our responsibility to keep the cheque, don’t lose it, and eventually get to the bank to cash it, and only then, when we have achieved the price, we can really say we have the pay we expected. But before, even though it has already been given to us, it is only a promise in paper.
The same way, we have the seal of the Spirit, as the warranty of our salvation, but that salvation will be fixed, only once we have made it effective in Glory. Until then, we are ‘saved’ in quotation marks.
“Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”