Changing The Way We See “Steps” of Salvation

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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.

0 Responses

  1. Excellent article, Matt. I know it is just semantics, but would the word “processes” be better? I see a “step” as something that I complete, step one, then step two, then step three. A process is never actually completed, however. We are forever in the process of conversion, forever in the process of confession, forever in the process of repentance, forever in the process of sanctification. Now, our baptism is a one point event, but even that is a reminder of our need to constantly die to ourself so that Christ can live within us. I guess any English word can be abused, and that is why we must always be checking our language against our behavior.

    1. This is something I wonder about. I wonder if salvation itself is not so much a process as it is an instant in time. The process would then be the spiritual growth/maturity that follows. There is a point when we cross over from death to life. Is there a time we are only half dead or half alive (depending on how optimistic you are 😉 What do you think?

    2. Perhaps a little thread drift here, but I have threatened to hold a couple of folks under the water until the bubbles stopped coming up…is that “half-dead, half-alive”?? I wanted to make sure they were really converted!

  2. Hear. Believe. Repent. Confess. Be Baptized. H+F+R+C+B=S.

    It becomes very cut and dried, doesn’t it. We never see this as what it really is: the development of a new babe in Christ from conception to birth and even beyond!

    Paul Smith said “our baptism is a one point event.” In one sense that is correct. The apostle could look back at baptism and say “as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Yet, it is a one point event that has a lasting significance. It is into Christ. We are plunged, submerged, buried, immersed into Christ – and there is no indication that we ever emerge from that immersion! (That is, we do not emerge from it unless we make shipwreck our faith.) We do not return to the womb to be born again – but we continue to live in Jesus by the Spirit that He gives.

    We cannot believe in one whom we do not know. Hence, we must hear the gospel – not as a “step” of salvation, but as the means of having faith in Jesus. The same is true of all of what we have called “steps.” All have significance because they are aspects of our coming into a relationship with Jesus.

    A Good post, Matt! Some day I’d like to share with you my M.A. thesis, The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians. This post reminded me of some of the things I wrote almost half my life-time ago!

  3. I understand where you are coming from. There have definitely been way too many people believe and teach that the “steps” were akin to some sort of degree culminating in a diploma of salvation. You know, the chart with actual steps where the first one to the top is “hear”…. (one down, four to go!). Perhaps that isn’t the best way of understanding it all. Would almost be like a chart with hear being the 40 yard line, believe being the 30, etc, with baptism of course being the goal line. However,whether we call believing, repenting and being baptized “steps” (or anything else), one still must “do” (for lack of another better word) them. It seems that it is an even worse approach to so oppose the “steps of salvation” that people end up changing God’s “plan of salvation” (is their a better way of saying that?). I guess that its just hard to teach that certain “things” must be done or believed to be saved without some people looking ay it like, “cool, I did that already, now I’m saved”. However, I believe it is just as bad, or worse, to deny that any of the “steps” are not essential to salvation. As if their is nothing a sinner must “do” to be saved. Basically, their may be a better way of calling what God teaches are necessary to salvation other than “the steps ” but I don’t know what it is. What do you think?

  4. Also, and to your point, a lot of people believe and teach that “obeying the gospel” is something “we did” to become Christians and if one has been a Christian for ten years, it means he “obeyed the Gospel” ten years ago.

    Of course, the truth is that as Christians we must continue to “obey the gospel” until this life is over.

    The difficulty is in the face that their is a certain and precise point in time wherein a sinner is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the body of Christ. And their are certain and specific “things” that must be believed and/or obeyed prior to that happening.

    1. My goal in this post was to help people see that salvation is a process of transformation, helping us grow more and more like Christ and that the acts God as does require of us (as you so well pointed out and which so many people don’t want to actually say) have a transformative component that is much more meaningful than doing them just to do them. I am afraid too often they have been taught as things to do (which is correct) but with little to no teaching on how those things work on our lives to transform us from that day onward (as you also pointed out). Love the football analogy. That made me laugh.

  5. Salvation is being added by Christ to His School of Christ: it is not a punched ticked for the joy bus to heaven. Church is exclusively A School of Christ according to the Campbells, and Christ for the Qahal, synagogue or Church of Christ in the wilderness which never changed: Stephen called it the ekklesia and Paul synagogued with the ekklesia to teach the Word.

    In Romans 10 Paul cycles through the necessary path to salvation. Only repentance is left out because not everyone is disqualified by character from becoming a disciple of Christ.

    Being enrolled in the School of a Master Tentmaker follows a logical pattern: He does not accept you to reveal his secrets until he has been asked, has baptized you, given you his name, given you new clothing and adopted you. Otherwise, “believeth not” means complieth not and he could not trust you. We are baptized (1 Peter 3:21) to ask for A good conscience, consciousness or a co-perception of the Word also defined by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3. A holy spirit is our spirit made holy by Christ [Walter Scott, Alexander Campbell and 1 peter 3]

    You don’t become a brain surgeon by believing in the professor or watching an operation on TV.

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