This question, perhaps above all others, has caused contention and division within the body of Christ – His church – for the better (or worse) part of two thousand years.
Are we saved at the moment we believe? The moment we repent? The moment we confess Christ as Son of God? The moment we are baptized? The moment we receive the Holy Spirit?
It’s important to those who want to be contentious and divisive because the moment at which one is saved may be the key to which aspect of our salvation they wish to promote above all the rest – as if one were more important than the others; or as if the steps along the path toward God in Christ must be taken in a certain order; or as if taking a certain number of steps is all up to us and does not involve grace at all until after we alone have taken them ….
It’s important to them so they can establish their own beliefs as uniquely right, correct, and holy – and their own fellowship sharing those beliefs to be uniquely approved by God and saved, and all others heretical and condemned to hellfire.
May I suggest that Jesus describes the moment we are saved in Matthew 25?
That it’s the moment when the Master, the King – when Jesus Himself – either says “Well done, good and faithful servant!” or “Throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness!”?
That it’s the moment when HE decides, not when WE decide?
That it’s the moment culminating all the moments between “the hour I first believed” (Amazing Grace) and “the hour of my departure for worlds unknown” (Be With Me, Lord)? All the decisions we have made; the choices we’ve chosen; the steps we’ve taken; the acts of obedience and gratitude and trust in His grace that we have shown – all in partnership with God and Christ through the Holy Spirit?
That’s what I’d like to propose.
So, am I suggesting that we cannot know until then whether we are saved?
Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting.
We believe that grace is real, and that is called faith not knowledge.
Through faith we are saved:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Ephesians 2:8
… and that faith itself is not even wholly our doing; it is the gift of God.
So, am I suggesting that we have nothing to do with the process?
No, not at all! Our willingness to extend our faith – to believe, to stop pursuing evil and self and begin pursuing good and God, to confess His Son for Who He IS, to immerse ourselves in the water of living His life in this world by the power of His Holy Spirit – is absolutely essential to a salvation that begins in this life and never ends. As we receive His grace, we extend it to others; become channels of that blessing to those around us. We feed the starving; give water to the parched; show hospitality to the homeless; look after the sick; visit the imprisoned. We demonstrate that God cares about the whole person; in this life as well as the next.
That point of view takes the emphasis off of a minimalistic “five-steps-and-you’re-done” salvation. It restores the fullness of the gospel lived out rather than just intellectually acknowledged in a reduced-calorie recipe for redemption which has no salvific value at all if not demonstrated daily instead of displayed once on a Sunday in a church and fondly recalled as the-day-I-was-saved-so-that-now-I-can-go-back-to-living-the-life-I-want-to-live. That may be the moment our salvation begins, but it is certainly not the be-all-and-end-all of it.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
We can have absolute confidence – faith – in what Christ has done, even when we have lost faith in the flesh and in checklist-salvation and even in ourselves; our own ability to be-good-all-the-time-and-do-all-the-right-things-and-believe-all-the-correct-beliefs-and-obey-all-of-the-church-rules.
One more time: it is our faith in Him which saves us; not in ourselves.
But remember: it was His faith in us which led Him to the cross on our behalf.
And that deserves our whole-hearted, life-long response of faith, gratitude, and worship. It means being prepared, with lamps expectantly trimmed. It means knowing the Master’s desire for a return on his investment, and His faith in us as re-investors of the deposit He has made on our salvation. It means that faith-in-the-living separates the sheep from the goats.
That kind of service will bear fruit for His kingdom, bring others and ourselves closer to Him – and it will not go unrewarded; it will inevitably lead to the moment we are saved.
That’s the message of Matthew 25.
You can have confidence in it.