When did you get saved?

Honestly, few questions irk me more than “When did you get saved?”  Seriously, when a street preacher accosts me with the question, my snarkier side occasionally bursts through with something like: Oh, I don’t know, somewhere about 2000 years ago.

It isn’t that I don’t “believe” in the concept of salvation, of course.  It’s that I don’t think “getting people saved” has much to do with Christianity.

Let me back up a bit.  When I use the phrase “getting saved,” I’m referring to the idea that an individual was destined toward hell, but prayed a prayer of commitment and has thusly had their eternity of torment and affliction replaced with an eternity of cherubs and golden streets.

My problem isn’t the concept of hell (although I have brilliant colleagues that argue no one will end up there and I certainly don’t believe it’s ever appropriately or biblically used as an “evangelism technique”), my problem is the belief that a transactional prayer has anything whatsoever to do with one’s salvation.

Jesus didn’t work that way; the apostles don’t seem to have worked that way; there is little or no indication that the scriptures ever even considered Christianity in such a way.  It seems, to me, to be mostly an invention of the North American “great revivals.”

The problem is, we have become an outcome based world where “ends” are more important that “means.”  Apply that to Christianity (which is naturally a “means-based” religion rather than an “ends-based” one) and it quickly becomes a religion focused on “getting people to heaven.”

Not so!  Heaven (or better yet, “the new heavens and the new earth” – a topic for another day) is a pleasant side-effect of Christianity – not the goal of it.  The goal of Christianity is to engage people right now in faithful, thankful discipleship as a response to the (freely-given) reconciliation we have with God and one another in Christ.  Put a bit more actionably: Christianity is about becoming people who love like God loves and live like Jesus lived – not to keep ourselves “out of hell” or to “get into heaven,” but because discipleship is the only true response to (and the only clear indicator of) God’s grace freely given us in Jesus.

I’ll leave my understanding of “biblical evangelism” for another day too.  (I’ll bet you can’t wait!)   🙂


Grace and peace,


18 thoughts on “When did you get saved?

  1. Maybe salvation not a “transaction” per se, but isn’t it still an exchange of some kind? “My presence for your trust.” I was going to write “love for your trust” but I do think that God loves everyone all the time. Still, there does seem to be a difference between believing in Jesus and not.

    My gripe seems to be with a narrow view of salvation. I think the reformed tradition has generally divided it into three parts: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification happens when I/we believe the good news of Jesus Christ and his resurrection and enter into the new covenant with God. Sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s present Holy Spirit in my/our life. Glorification is when I/we finally and fully assume the divine image for all eternity as originally intended.

    The problem as I see it is that Christians evaluate themselves and others based on the first and hold out the third as some kind of carrot. The second is optional or reduced to some kind of polite morality.

    So, I’d answer the agreeably awful question in three different ways: When was I justified? Not until college. When was I sanctified? Still working on it. When was I glorified? Not yet.

    1. Peter,

      I don’t actually think there is any kind of exchange in the salvation process at all (at least in terms of “getting it going.”)

      Part if it is probably the time-line; you and I differ on justification. I’m comfortable with your view of sanctification (I’d say it’s a byproduct of faithful discipleship) and glorification (the culmination of God’s grace). As for justification, though, I’d lay that directly in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. I’d completely separate the reality of Justification for my realization/understanding/acceptance of it.

      Sure, discipleship pretty much begins at that realization/understanding/acceptance (at least, that’s what we hope for!) but the change at that moment is one of illumination rather than one of “eternal destination.”

      Perhaps the UI in my tulip is showing through…

      Grace and peace,

      1. First Tim, I absolutely love this post and appreciate this discussion. I share your frustration with the question “when did you get saved?” There was a time when I was nearly driven mad by trying to figure out my answer to this question. I also share concern with both of you about the language of transaction. I am much more comfortable with Peter’s suggestion of exchange though. It becomes problematic for me if what we emphasize is our our “side” of the exchange, rather than God’s benevolence in meeting us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Tim, I might go so far as to answer your street evangelist with “Before the foundations of the earth” (I’m think like Ephesian 1:4; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8). I once heard the exchange language used this way:

        “This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transformed his wealth to us; that taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.” ~Institutes IV, xvii, 2–3.

        Of course a Calvin quote does not settle anything. But I do think it is a lovely way of talking about salvation. What I also love about the quote is that it holds justification, sanctification and glorification together (though Calvin does seem to talk of them separately elsewhere). But here they are held together. I am not so comfortable talking about salvation (as we may very well experience it) as 3 separate compartmentalized realities. I would much rather emphasize the union with God made possible and complete in Christ from eternity even as we experience it as an ongoing reality.

        I think it is also important to note that Calvin was holding these things together in the context of his meditation on the Lord’s Supper: the moment when we celebrate our justification, have our ongoing sanctification nurtured and participate in some real way in the feast of the lamb, a foretaste of our glorification. I once had an Orthodox priest tell me he would answer a slightly different question (“Do you know that you are saved?”) this way: “Existentially I believe so. Ontologically it remains to be seen.” I think I would answer the same way, only adding that in the Eucharist we get a tangible glimpse of that ontological reality.

    1. I haven’t heard that episode – generally speaking, I enjoy “This American Life” though… You might find Daniel Meeter’s book interesting: Why Be a Christian if No One Goes to Hell. It deals directly with that question:

  2. Tim,
    Perhaps you consider your “…somewhere about 2000 years ago.” reply “snarky”, but I think you’re right on. I believe, for those who are saved, it has been our destiny from “beforehand” as in Eph 2:10.(not that this specific reference is to salvation)

    That point when some identify their connection with Jesus can be the point where they really begin to grow and value what God is making (notice the continuation) happen in their lives. When a seedling breaks through the soil, it is not the beginning of its life, but it is the beginning of observable growth. That is the point where the gardener begins to train that plant, particularly if it is to be a decorative plant that will grow to a special shape or kept to a specific place or size.

    It’s interesting that in both of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul used the expression that is translated in several versions, “…being saved…” something happening over time.

    I also agree that heaven or hell is not, or perhaps I should say, SHOULD NOT be the goal of the Christian. It seems to me that Jesus put very little emphasis on the eternal, but very much emphasis on the present… that is, our relationship with those around us, and our interaction with them.

    Well said… thanks for your post.

    1. Thanks for the imagery of the seed, and visible growth. Excellent analogy. It seems to me that having grown up in the church, God was at work in my from the moment I was conceived, but the “visible growth” part didn’t occur until much later. I went to a non-denominational evangelical seminary – the pressure to give a date for one’s salvation was palpable – but I agree with Tim that my salvation occurred at some obscure moment lost to time. And I am eternally grateful!

  3. I think Tim just made another helpful distinction: becoming a disciple. There may be a date when I became a disciple: some people are aware of their date; I find that I, as someone who grew up in the faith, have a problem saying that on “x” date I definitely became a disciple, though can think of several occasions when I became a better disciple. Perhaps God is perfectly aware of a particular moment of my discipleship, but the Holy Spirit usually seems to be telling me that what is important is that I am a disciple now, not when I became one.

    Peter’s three categories are also a very helpful reminder, but, while I agree that my sanctification is a process, and that my glorification is part of the culmination of God’s grace and for me a future event (but more about that in a minute), I am stuck with the idea that my justification happened on a cross at Calvary one dark Friday afternoon long ago (this could get me into a discussion of why I believe hymns such as “Because He lives” are heretical from a Reformed perspective, but that is off topic). The problem we have with “getting saved” is not just transactional, but that is makes salvation about us, and it is difficult to make things too much about us and still have a Reformed understanding. Most of what we think about as salvation is, like most of what we think about most things, all about our sovereign God. God does the saving, God-in-Christ does the gathering, protecting, and preserving that makes us a Church; even the fact that our cooperation is required is because God gave us the free will. But none of that makes us the initiators, and–using transactional terminology–even what we might use to pay for salvation has been provided completely by God, as is any desire to pay.

    It is particularly American to want us to each be in charge of our own destiny, and thus to rely on the transactional model with dates, et cetera. Maybe it is more generally human, and especially human from a post-enlightenment perspective, but the American experience seems to bring out this aspect of us extremely well.

    Now, go back to glorification. For us, this is part of a future culmination of God’s grace, but God is an eternal being, and so does not perceive past or future; using C.S. Lewis’ terms, it is, for God, all an “ever-present now.” For God, the answer to “When did creation begin?” is “Now”; the answer to “When did humanity fall?” is “Now”; the answer to “When does life (every life) begin?” is “Now”; the answer to “When shall creation be redeemed?” is “Now.” This is almost gibberish to us, but, then, all of our obsession with times and seasons and categories is, in some sense, rather nonsensical to God. The end result, however, for our discussion here is that justification, sanctification, and glorifitcation for everyone who is or was or ever will be happens now, as far as the One Who Is and Ever Shall Be, Who Causes All Things to Be, is concerned.

    So, if any of us were to ask God, “When was I saved?” God’s answer would be, “Now.” And, from a Reformed perspective, that should be the only answer that matters, yes?

  4. Thanks for starting this conversation, Tim! As someone raised by Christian parents and already immersed in the rituals of attending worship weekly and soaking up what my teachers taught in Sunday School, I could never pinpoint a moment of salvation. I’ve had two or three “experiences” where I felt so much closer to God in that moment, that it was almost like salvation came anew, but there was no “me-before-Christ” switch to “me-after-Christ.”

    The biggest problem with the idea that a person needs to pinpoint a salvation moment is that it makes pinpointing that moment a work that is necessary for salvation. As someone who believes it is all about grace, I really resist anything that makes us have to add something to our checklist of whether we’re in or out. It’s also especially problematic for people who were raised in the church and may not have had as noticeable a change when “salvation came.”

    So…when did I get saved? I think I’m still getting saved daily. It was a work that started before I was old enough to even realize what was happening, and each day God’s mercies are made new. Pretty cool stuff.

  5. When did I get saved? Judging from Ephesians 1 I would say it was sometime “before the foundation of the world,” although I knew it not in any meaningful sense until the fall of 2001, which means that those many years of nominal faith were actually something much less. But the really good part was when I (was) moved from an Arminian understanding of salvation to a Reformed one, around 2005-6 or so. Identifying a “moment of salvation” seems to be basically irrelevant, although my dear friends of a Baptist persuasion think otherwise. What is important is that I know who the Saver is and that I live for His glory.

    Disclaimer, or perhaps Explainer, since this is my first comment to this blog. I don’t believe that God has a gender per se, but since His word uses male pronouns so do I in referring to Him.

    1. About God’s gender… I’m quite sure it’s not important for any of us to know or care if God has a gender or is one or another. However, since He presents Himself to us, and expects us to see him in a male perspective, I suspect He is not pleased if we insist on assigning Him something else. It appears to me that God has been pretty clear throughout His Word that His expectations are not merely wishes or preferences.

      1. I don’t actually think God expects or encourages us to imagine divinity as male at all. I think the scriptures suggest that God wants us to imagine divinity as personified – and since English (and a number of languages) only allow personhood to be described as either male or female, masculine language (especially 2-5 thousand years ago) would have been the natural choice.

  6. There’s a great story by Peter Rollins (from Orthodox Heretic) where you die and see that Lucifer is the one at the judgement seat and he has damned Jesus to hell, and he asks you if you would like to join Jesus. The idea is to to try to figure out which people are just in it for the reward.

  7. Great question Tim! I think we get into trouble around our definitions of “salvation”. I agree with the point I think you are trying to make… that Christianity isn’t some transactional event that “gets us to heaven”. I also agree with your statement that “Christianity is about becoming people who love like God loves and live like Jesus lived.”

    My perspective, however, is that we can’t become people who love like God and live like Jesus if we don’t engage Father/Son/Spirit in a daily relationship of love, trust, and accountability. My definition of salvation is “to be in right relationship with Father/Son/Spirit”. Salvation is our opportunity to once again walk with God “in the cool of the day”. (Gen. 3:8, John 17:20-21)

    While its true that I was “saved” around 2000 years ago, if I choose not to live in relationship with God, then there is all this potential for relationship, but it remains unrealized in my life. What I believe is that God has been “walking with me” even before I was born… but every day I must continually be opening myself to the awareness that I am not walking alone — as I so often feel, and sometimes desire. In my life, there are many moments where I am aware, and many where I am not. For me, there was a time and a place when I first began to understand just how “not alone” I really am. It wasn’t the moment I “got saved”… but it was a moment when I started to “get (as in understand) salvation.” I think these moments are worth remembering, and honoring, and I think that’s what many are trying to do when they talk about “getting saved”.

    This has been helpful even to try articulate, so thanks for asking the question. Next time I get asked, I’m going to say: “I ‘got saved’ 2000 years or so ago. I “get saved” every time I remember that I am not alone, and never have been.”

  8. I’ve always wondered why some kind of assent to God’s first act somehow negates grace. If I were to assert that I faith was my finally my decision, I don’t think that has to mean that I am suddenly “in charge of my destiny or salvation.” There would be nothing to assent to if God did not first act, if I was not surrounded by people who were doing their best to work out their salvation in my presence and plant seeds of God’s Word in my life, I wouldn’t have any reason to trust in God rather than something or someone else.

    Ephesians also talks about a hearing and believing that happens before the sealing of the Spirit (just a little later in chapter 1). That exchange happens on a few occasions in the book of Acts. Word, believe, Spirit. So, maybe “my presence for your faith” isn’t quite right because God was present to me through his Word and his people even before I believed. Still, there is something in the Bible about the presence of the Spirit that happens following belief in the Word.

    Just to be clear, I could not earn that Spirit or demand that exchange. God even laid out how one could receive that pledge: faith. It’s a plan that God chose before the foundation of the world. It’s something that God freely gives out of his great love for us. And, it’s something that God will sustain in me through the Holy Spirit.

    1. I think it is all a matter of perspective. I absolutely believe there can be a time where we choose to accept what God has already given. But, is it really choice that saves? I don’t think so. It all depends on if we’re trying to discuss salvation from God’s perspective, or from our own. All we know for sure is our own, and it can certainly feel like choice to us.

      That said, we choose every day, don’t we? Salvation is both a moment and a process.

  9. Baptists vote to keep the Sinner’s Prayer…again

    Preuters News Agency

    Meeting today in London, a convention of the world’s Baptists narrowly endorsed the continued use of the Sinner’s Prayer as the hallmark act of Christian conversion. Here is the final draft of the convention’s statement on this issue:

    “Baptists today again affirm the Sinner’s Prayer as the act by which a sinner is justified before God. To be clear, it is not the recitation of the prayer itself that saves, nor is it necessary to endorse a set order of the words to be prayed, nor must the prayer be verbalized to others. What is necessary for salvation is this: A genuine, heartfelt prayer that 1.) acknowledges one’s sinfulness and hopeless state of perdition before God 2.) cries out to God with true repentance of one’s sins 3.) petitions God for his free gift of salvation 4.) asks Christ to indwell his heart/soul 5.) commits to abandoning his prior sinful lifestyle and promises to follow Christ and his righteousness.”

    Controversy over this statement simmered for the entire three days of the convention. A group of younger Baptists from the developing world pushed for the removal of the Sinner’s Prayer from the Baptist Statement of Faith, declaring that it was unscriptural and lacked any evidence of use in the Early Church. These young people read statements from the Early Church Fathers from the convention podium, noting that requiring a prayer (spoken or thought) for salvation was unheard of in the Early Church. This assertion created quite a stir as many of the older convention attendees were not accustomed to hearing appeals to the “catholic” Church Fathers as a source of authority for Baptist doctrine.

    The younger group put forward a new, brash, proposal as the new official Baptist Act of Christian Conversion:

    “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”

    This proposal prompted outrage from the majority of convention attendees. One prominent Baptist pastor from the United States summed up the majority’s sentiments by this statement:

    “Too Lutheran.”

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