Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What I Believe About Salvation

Where to begin on this topic? It would be fairly easy to rely on the “evangelical subculture” and its history of the last 50 years. I could focus on the “Four Spiritual Laws” of Bill Bright and the success of his Campus Crusade for Christ. It would be pretty simple to regurgitate the words and works of a personal hero, Billy Graham, who has devoted his life to getting people to accept the message of salvation. There are literally millions of Christians in the world today because of the work and ministries of these two men.

It would be easy to follow the “Romans Road” or do an exposition of John 3.16 and any of those would be a good view of the doctrine of salvation. Let me give you the basics:
  • People are sinful and separated from God. Every human has the natural tendency to sin. We have inherited this from Adam. This is called “original sin.”
  • The only way to be reconciled to God is through the initiative of God. You and I are incapable of avoiding or eliminating sin. We need God to take action for our salvation.
  • God’s plan includes the gift of his son, Jesus Christ. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have the opportunity to be “saved.” Through his death on the cross, he took our sins so that we could be forgiven.
  • As we commit to live for and with Jesus, we experience salvation in our own lives. This is a personal decision that each of us makes.

Historically speaking, the experience of “being saved” has been a part of the typical church and family experience. However, over the last 100 years or so, things have changed. In the early part of the last century camp meetings across the United States emphasized personal salvation, in a particular way. Altar calls were instituted for the first time. Mourner’s Benches were used for individuals to pray and grieve over their sins. The Sawdust Trail became a metaphor for repenting and turning to God.

In the last 50 years evangelicals have formalized these modifications. In many congregations today the “sinner’s prayer” is required for holding office or assuming any type of leadership. The assumption is that if a person does not repeat a sinner’s prayer, answer an altar call or jump through some other specified hoops, he cannot be truly Christian. I want to help bring a different perspective to this conversation.

I believe that salvation, the act of sinners being rescued and changed, is a completely sovereign work of God. That means that even if you answer an altar call, the saving comes from God. But, we cannot limit God to working only through the sinner’s prayer. It is possible, indeed probable, that God often works without the assistance of a specific set of words. God does not need a formula to save people.

I believe that there are occasions when people get saved without the benefit of a sinner’s prayer. When an individual is seeking truth, trying to live a “good life” and being influenced by God, she may find herself “saved” without ever making a conscious decision. God is bigger than my definition of salvation, or my requirements for it.

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