I came by my Christian faith honestly. I was born into it. Brought up in the bosom of the Baptist church, I’ve been subjected to more altar calls than I can count. Ever heard of being born again again?
Like most Evangelicals, Baptists are fond of sharing their salvation stories. “I was an adult when I came to the Lord …” “I got saved at youth camp on May 5th when I was twelve.” “My co-worker witnessed to me and led me in the Sinner’s Prayer.” “I was in Times Square and this guy handed me a tract …” These faith-affirming testimonies are an important part of our Christian life.
I used to facilitate an evangelism course in one of our local megachurches. The curriculum encouraged sharing our faith with friends using the testimony of when we came to the Lord, of what our life was like before Christ and what it is like now in Christ. While I still consider this to be an effective way of sharing our faith, I also believe it has the potential of hindering us in walking it out.
2 Corinthians 6:1-2
1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. ESV
Before I continue, I owe the reader a bit of disclosure in the interest of clarity. I believe in a salvation that is eternal and commenced at a particular point in time. In debates over salvation, this position is often characterized as “once saved, always saved.” Because Evangelicalism holds to the belief of salvation by grace through faith, anything less than “once saved, always saved” is perceived as leavened with the legalism of a salvation based on works.
If Evangelicals were asked to choose an anthem, “Amazing Grace” would be sure to top the list. This song evokes all the wonder and worship of the conversion experience in a powerful melody that has stood the test of time. “I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see” is in my estimation one of the most beautiful and elegant declarations of faith ever written. But John Newton’s hymn does more than just encapsulate the conversion experience. It expresses the walk of sanctification. “’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,” he wrote, “And grace will lead me home.”
My concern is that in framing the doctrine of eternal salvation as “once saved always saved,” we’ve lost sight of the continual function of God’s grace in our lives. Grace once received isn’t always received, nor necessarily received to its ultimate purpose.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. NKJV
God’s grace teaches us that our walk of hope in this life requires the rejection of ungodly desires and deeds in the pursuit of pure works for His glory. Being born again isn’t the completion of redemption any more than being born into this world is the completion of life. Growth is the hallmark of the kingdom of God. So long as we see salvation only as an event and not a process, the grace of God will not have its full effect in our lives.
1 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; KJV [Emphasis added.]
I do not believe the new birth aspect of our salvation—being recreated in our spirit into the image of Christ through incorruptible seed as imparted by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts—can be lost. But it certainly can be neglected. When we neglect our salvation, grace is vain. God’s favor in our lives has no effect in us or the world around us when we let the reality of being new creations in Christ slip away and continue to behave as slaves to sin.
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. KJV
God is at work in us, but we have to work it out through us. In that sense, our salvation—the redeemed behavior of our inner and outer lives—is not an accomplished fact but an intentionally walked out discipline. We may all have testimonies of when we came to the cross, but our journey is a daily walk with and through the cross into the power of His resurrection. Salvation is not a yesterday thing. It’s a today thing. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”