As a pastor, I commonly hear other pastors who share about salvations and baptisms that take place at their churches. I genuinely rejoice with them. I don’t have many at my church and that does not mean that my church is not doing Kingdom work. We still have several a year. I want to establish that in my introduction because you should know the context I am writing from. That way you can disagree with me and find flaws all day long in what I write on this subject of understanding salvation.
I write from a Wesleyan-Arminian point of view and that is mixed with experience. A lot of my theology comes from reading my Bible and relating Scripture to what I believe I have experienced personally with Jesus Christ in my life. However, I do not necessarily rule out completely all aspects of Calvinism. Therefore, what I am writing does not always dispute Calvinism; except the more extreme point of view of living a life of sin and still being thought of as “saved” according to reciting The Sinner’s Prayer once.
The issue we must wrestle with is can we say someone is really saved as often as we have heard it? Especially in the rather large numbers that some suggest? It is possible, but we should consider what seems to be real, and reasonable, salvation. This has to be wrestled with because if people are coming to Jesus Christ in the droves that we hear about, then we should see serious transformation of our local communities. After all, if the Spirit of Christ is now dwelling in those who have been “saved,” then we should see many people living their lives in complete reverse of how they were living them before.
As I understand salvation, I realize that my heart has been regenerated. This means that my heart is made new. Or, restored to a point that I am no longer at war with God by the way I live my life. Of course discipleship as a process and learning under the influence of the Holy Spirit will guide me and help me to change. With that type of understanding of being taught by Jesus, we have to say that when someone has a real experience with Jesus Christ there is a very noticeable change in the beginning of their new life. In fact, others can see it and will question that person about why they are acting different.
Many times I hear pastors ask people to raise their hands if they repeated after them that they believe in Jesus Christ. That is great to believe, but did that person repeating The Sinner’s Prayer really repent? Frankly, you will not know until after that person has been placed in the same situations that tempted him or her to sin, and the result is that he or she chooses the way of Christ instead of sin.
I think that Calvinists and Wesleyan-Arminians would agree that if there is not fruit that demonstrates a change in the heart of the person, then that person has not been regenerated, or born again. If this be so, then this may change the amount of people mentioned on a regular basis that many say our saved. Let me talk out of the other side of my mouth now. If someone repeats The Sinner’s Prayer with me, then I will share that with others and say they are “saved” too. I think this is because we do not know what to do with that result, and this is the reminder that only God knows who is really saved.
I think that it is time to reconsider our great need to speak about numbers. I also think that we need to explore different terminology that communicates salvation, but with the understanding that the person has begun his or her race with Jesus and now the person has to decide to finish as well. Whether you believe in Eternal Security or not, you have to put that aside and ask yourself whether or not salvations are really taking place. Further, I do not think that I even have to tap the issue of water baptism because, although Christians should be water baptized, we all know that someone can go down a dry sinner and come back up a wet sinner, which means not a saint. Most of us have known personally people who fit this description.
Let me be clear in case you think that I am saying that people are perfect after salvation. I am referring to people who make significant lifestyle changes after receiving Christ. Yet, they will still stumble as they continue to strive to be guided more by the Nature of Christ that was pronounced to be birthed in them. Nevertheless, they should be actively running the race with those who are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Salvation cannot include in it that you can still live your life in a similar way that you did before because you “prayed” The Sinner’s Prayer. In fact, your life is centered around building up Christ’s Kingdom instead yours. Seeing people building up The Kingdom is the sign that transformation has indeed taken place in their hearts. This is why I feel a little leery of people raising their hands and believing they are now really dead to the flesh.
It seems to me that evidence should be considered before the pronouncement by those of us in ministry. I think if we carefully reconsider our quick pronouncements of salvation and look for evidences of regeneration, then we would see different numbers that are more accurate in the long run. My fear is that The Church and those who are without Jesus are confused about where they are in relation to each other. Therefore, I wonder if instead we should consider being saved as a more accurate way of describing salvation.