Salvation: Journey or Discrete Steps?

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There has been a real emphasis lately on spirituality being a journey/process rather than the modernist approach that looks at it as discrete steps. The modern approach broke down scripture very logically. The result in Restoration Movement churches was the five-step plan of salvation:

  1. Hear
  2. Believe
  3. Repent
  4. Confess
  5. Baptism

While these things are scriptural, many have rejected such a discrete and choppy view of our faith. Instead, they prefer to see our life as a journey and salvation being more of a process of transformation that does not take place at one moment in time but develops over a lifetime in what has popularly been called “transformation.” Just as a butterfly does not instantly go from cocoon to butterfly, this group would say that our lives also don’t transform in an instant. Rather, it happens over the course of our entire lives.

This also has its shortcomings because often scripturally mandated practices are discounted because, after all, transformation does not take place in an instant but is lived out over a life time so the value of those things that are discrete (meaning happening at one instant in time as opposed to non-discrete/continuous actions) are often not valued as highly. And I can understand why. The modern approach has turned much of scripture into a system of check boxes that people today don’t want any part of. The challenge is taking those things in scripture that we have made discrete moments and living them out over a lifetime. That turns what scripture calls us to into the journey that results in salvation by the grace of God. How is this done? Let’s look at the five steps and examine how even those can be turned from discrete instances/moments in time into a lifestyle that is moving us toward spiritual transformation.

1. Hear

  • Discrete/Modern approach – you hear the Gospel and you accept it or reject it
  • Non-discrete – Hearing does not entail the very first time you hear about Jesus. In your first encounter with the Gospel you don’t hear all you need to hear. Hearing takes place over a life time. While our initial encounter with Christ comes by hearing that can bear fruit in our lives welling up to eternal life, the second, third, a one hundredth time we hear about Christ during our Christian walk are no less important. The word “remember” occurs 233 times in the Bible. It is important that we hear the core beliefs of our faith over and over again. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 is a prime example of the importance of repeatedly being reminded of who God is and what he desires.

2. Believe

  • Discrete/Modern- Believing has been minimalized into an instant, “the hour I first believed.” This approach looks at belief as a “yes” or “no.” Either you do or you don’t. Those who do move on to step 3 and those who don’t cannot progress to step 3.
  • Non-discrete – Belief is not at its fullest at your first realization of the lordship of Christ but grows and matures over time. While the initial belief is important and foundational it is no less important than the subsequent growth of our faith and knowledge of God. ” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

3. Repent

  • Discrete/Modern – Once you understand who Jesus is and what he has done for you there is a turning as you turn away from Satan and to God. That readies you to confess your new found faith in Christ
  • Non-discrete – Again, this is not a one time act but something that is practiced over a lifetime as we struggle against sin. If we only see it as something we do prior to baptism we have missed the picture. It is more than words saying, “I repent of my sin” but then not changing our behavior. It is a state of the heart that comes through sorrow over past wrongs with the desire to live more fully for Christ than ever before. In Revelation 2-3 God continually tells Christians that they are in need of repentance.

4. Confess

  • Discrete/Modern – Before someone is baptized they need to confess Jesus as Lord. That might be the only time someone would ever publicly do so.
  • Non-discrete – Confession is not confined to people just prior to baptism but is practiced throughout our lifetimes (1 Tim 6:12, Heb 3:1, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, & 2 Cor 9:13 – Christians are told to confess). In fact, like repentance, confession is asked of Christians nearly as many times as non-Christians in scripture. It is not a one time event but is practiced repeatedly through our words and deeds.

5. Baptism

  • Discrete/Modern – Baptism is a one time act where one submits to God and receives the Holy Spirit.
  • Non-discrete – While there is only “one baptism” (Eph 4:5). The principles involved in baptism are to be lived out on a daily basis. Romans 6 says that baptism symbolizes death to self and resurrection with Christ to new life. Is that to only happen once on one particular day? Can’t we even live out our baptism on a daily basis as we seek to put away the old man of sin and walk in newness of life? That is a daily battle.

We have typically seen these five things as something for non-Christians to do but scripture is just as adamant that these are to be practiced by Christians as well (baptism is the only exception as only its deeper meaning is lived out over our lifetimes and not the practice itself).

Our salvation is not captured in one time, isolated events that we can point back to and know we are saved. There have been many who were baptized who won’t be in heaven. Salvation does take place over a life time but that does not make those events any less important. Modernism is pretty much DOA (dead on arrival). I contend that there is a balance to be found. We need to remember that there are fundamental truths in scripture that should not be rejected or denied. There has been a rejection of the check-box mentality that we can reduce everything down so simple as to put God in a box and devoid our religion of its heart and soul and rightly so. That neglects grace and is highly irresponsible. Yet I think we can find a middle ground that is healthier than modernism and post-modernism. We need to combine a knowledge of scripture with a heart and soul that seeks God on a daily basis and lives out our salvation through daily devotion to God.

0 Responses

  1. For the origin of this “five step” static approach to salvation see:

    Walter Scott came up with this idea to help school children understand this “plan” and to get their parents to come to hear him preach. His original five steps were:

    Faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit

    However, almost all canned, humanly devised plans exclude, while Jesus came to save the world by making disciples. When we take seriously Jesus command to make disciples we will be blessed with a harvest we cannot imagine.

    Interestingly, we are not called to “convert” people or to “baptize” people or to call people to church membership. This seems to be what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 1:16-17

    Making disciples is our primary purpose into which these other items have their place, but they are not the primary objectives.

    Making disciples is a dynamic process that should encourage us to be happy that a person has begun the process wherever they are and are seeking to grow in Christ.

    My two cents worth!


  2. I agree with you that Salvation is not a one day rescue mission but a spiritual journey of transformation that involves the CONDITION from which humanity must be rescued and the DESTINATION from which humanity must be rescued.

  3. I have to disagree with this concept of salvation being a journey. It may be a journey getting to salvation, but salvation is a one time event.

    It may take hearing the Word many times before someone accepts it, so if you want to call this a journey, so be it. However, once one accepts it, he must believe, repent, and confess, otherwise he really hasn’t accepted the Word; only parts of it.

    Consider this: if salvation is a journey, how do you know when you reached the destination? Are you saved at the beginning of the journey, at the end of the journey, or somewhere along the way.

    The apostles write about having assurance of salvation (see 1 John 5:13).

    Neither Jesus, nor the apostles, ever said that salvation is a journey. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” not, ” Believe in the Lord Jesus, and keep believing, and eventually you will be saved.”

    Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Not, ” Keep believing and you’ll eventually have eternal life.”

    In Acts 2:21, Peter says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Not, ” Keep calling on the name of the Lord and you’ll be saved.”

    After salvation, we do still struggle with sin. As Paul said in Romans 7:19-20, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” This process of dealing with sin and becoming like Christ is a journey. But lets not confuse salvation (justification) with sanctification. Sanctification is a journey that is not completed until a believer dies or until Christ’s return. But, sanctification can not begin without salvation.

    1. So this post was written 5 years ago 🙂
      Thanks for your response. I believe that God saves in a moment. You were lost and now you are saved. I don’t think you are 5% saved and then grow to 20% saved and so on. When you are saved you are brought in that moment from death to life. There is no middle ground between death and life…you can’t be half dead or half alive (depending on if you are a pessimist or optimist, right?). So I agree with you on that. At the same time we can’t just figure that since we once did those things that we are set and can sit on the pew and relax. There is more to the story than just “getting in”.

    2. This certainly heads in the right direction, Matt. Change the word under consideration from “salvation” to “atonement.” The making right of our hearts with God’s (atonement) does not happen in a single moment. “Forgiveness of sins” is only a small part of what we need in order to have life with God and each other. “…and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” There’s much more involved than forgiveness of sins alone. “Salvation” means more than just forgiveness of sins.

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