It was once quite common to hear people say, “I was saved in Vacation Bible School,” or “I was saved in a small group Bible study.” What did they mean by that? Saved from what? Saved for what? In what sense saved?
There was a time when the church employed salvation language frequently, but in the mainline church that changed years ago and has, more recently, been changing in evangelical circles, too. Salvation-talk is out of fashion. No one these day wants to say, “I’m saved.” It seems self-focused and more than a little politically incorrect.
And yet the Bible is full of salvation talk. Salvation is seen as our most pressing need and as God’s great concern. That may be difficult for us to understand because in our time the breadth and richness of salvation has been drastically understated. Breadth and richness don’t sell in a culture that produces lite beer, lite soft drinks, lite computer software and lite radio stations. We want to reduce the calories, reduce the complexity and reduce the effort of just about everything, including salvation. So we have salvation lite: Great Benefits…Less Responsibility.
What is salvation lite? It’s what’s left of the rich biblical teaching about God’s salvation after cutting everything from it that is not about me. When that’s been done, the only thing left to salvation is a free trip to heaven when I die. That’s salvation lite.
I once urged a young man to give his life to God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He told me that there would always be time for that later, and he was planning to do a lot of living until then. When he was old, he said, “Like in my seventies, then I’ll get religion; then I’ll get saved.”
Where did he get the idea that he could put God on hold for fifty years? What made him think that salvation was unnecessary until he came to death’s door? Sadly, his reasoning was based on the salvation lite teaching he had heard from church people. In his mind – and in most people’s minds – salvation remains inoperative and irrelevant until one dies. It is a boarding pass to be produced at death so that you can fly to the heavenly skies.
Such an idea of salvation would have been incomprehensible to Peter, Paul and the rest of the early church. For them, salvation was rooted in God’s actions in history, bloomed at the coming of Christ and will come to fruition at his return. They understood that, though God’s great work of salvation is unfolding all around us, salvation is not our personal property. Individuals may and must be saved, but that doesn’t mean salvation is individualistic.
In recent years our nation has gone through a spiritual earthquake, but reclining in her spiritual La-Z-Boy, the Church has hardly noticed. We are in the midst of a mass exodus from the Church and from Christianity – perhaps ours is the time of apostasy to which the Apostle Paul referred. (According to the last census, the number of people claiming no religious affiliation was the fastest growing religious category among Americans. It also showed that over one-third of the people who now call themselves irreligious are under the age of 30.)
I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for this apostasy, but one of the main ones is this: the salvation offered by the Church seems to a growing number of people to have nothing to do with real life. It seems completely irrelevant. It hasn’t even occurred to them that salvation might be important to their relationships and their work and their satisfaction in life.
But that is because they don’t understand salvation. They think of it as a boarding pass for a trip they don’t want to take to a place they don’t care to see. In reality, salvation is a rich, satisfying (and eternal) life – “more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, the message).
First Published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, January 10, 2015