Many of us have been trained to read the Bible like a legal text rather than a relational document. When we do that we usually look for the actions God wants so that we can fulfill them. I have no objection to obedience! The problem is, it is entirely possible to fulfill the “to do’s” without giving God your heart, mind, soul and strength. I have been thinking about the “steps” of salvation recently and wanted to share a few thoughts.
First, there is the temptation to minimalize our response to God. It is the attitude of wanting to do exactly what God wants, nothing more. I am not saying everyone does that but it is a temptation. When it comes to responding to God in faith and recognizing all God has done for us we should want the maximum response, not the minimum one.
Second, there is the temptation to see our response as “works righteousness.” The terminology “steps of salvation” sound like we are the ones doing all the walking. The truth is God came all the way, we just need to recognize that and respond in faith to that fact. That is called faith. That faith will lead us to transformation, lived out through the things mentioned in the second point.
Last, our faith response is transformative. We aren’t commanded to confess Jesus is Lord because God wants to hear the words. There is a transformative element to it. We are confessing Christ above all others. We are placing Christ at the center of our lives. We are forsaking all else for the sake of the one we confess. But often it is reduced to “has so and so confessed Jesus as Lord or do they still need to do that?” Do our daily actions confess Christ? I think this is an initial act of faith but I also think confession is a part of the life of the saved as well. Or take repentance. Repentance is a transformative act. It is not just saying you need to recognize evil for evil. It is not even saying you just need to stop doing evil. Real repentance will drive you toward the positive opposite/righteous response. If you are tempted to steal, repentance can make you generous instead. Repentance is rejecting the wrong, admitting the evil of it all and turning to choose what is right and holy. That means repentance is an ongoing act in the life of the Christian. This even changes the way we see baptism. Baptism is a wholly transformative act of submission. In baptism we are united with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Our old self dies and we are raised in newness of life (Rom 6:1-6). How would our lives look if lived out valuing the same elements present in our baptism? Instead, often people are taught that the implications of baptism relate only to that moment and little connection is made to the life that is lived beyond. I am convinced God doesn’t just want my old self dead in that moment. God wants my old self dead the next day and the next. God doesn’t want me to resurrect that old guy…that old way of life. It is tempting to try to do that. Instead, God calls us to live as resurrected people. This is true in baptism and it is true in every moment lived out thereafter.
My conclusion in all of this is this, God is seeking our transformation. The “steps” are components of that transformation that God is seeking out that are more than going through the motions and are more than just making sure you said this and did that. These things actually change us, or allow God to change us. These things are a part of the bigger picture of getting our lives more and more in line with the life of Christ. So yes, there are multiple components of the response God is looking for to the Gospel. It would be a mistake to see those things as checkboxes to check, hoops to jump through, or meritorious works that earn anything. Instead, how might we live every single day if we viewed every component of our response as transformative reactions to the grace of God? One thing it would do is change the way we view God’s working in our lives away from seeing it solely back when we were baptized and start seeing the “steps” of salvation as more continuous components of the life of faith. As it stands, the acts of faith and the Christian life thereafter are often taught as isolated and disconnected events. I think that is a mistake.