Getting or Being Saved?
by Greg Albrecht
Are you saved, brother?” the intense young man asked me. He continued, “If you’re not saved, you need to get saved!” When the young evangelist cornered me, I surmised he was hoping to save another soul from the eternal torment of hell-fire. I responded, “Before I reply, may I ask you to tell me what it is you believe I need to be saved from?” The earnest young man didn’t miss a beat (as I suspected, he rattled off the stock answer he’d learned in Saving Souls 101) “if you don’t get saved, you’re going to hell.”
I locked eyes with him and asked him another question: “So, let me get this straight—I need to ‘get’ saved so I won’t burn forever in hell?” “Exactly!” he said. I assured this sincere young man that I have ‘been’ saved, but I insisted that I didn’t ‘get’ saved. Nothing I did saved me. I didn’t get saved, rather, I accepted what was already been accomplished and provided for me. I accepted the reality that I am loved of God, and that he has saved me, not by my works, but by his grace.
“Moreover,” I told the young evangelist, “God has saved me for new life which Christ now lives within me. He has saved me from the legalistic person I used to be— he has rescued me from the clutches of performance-based religion so that I can live free, in him—now and forever. God has saved me so that I can now put my faith in the righteousness of Christ, given by God, through his grace. He has saved me from putting my faith in religion with all of its traditions and customs—including the idea that God will roast me on a spit in hell for all eternity if I don’t make the grade.”
“Now,” I said, “I’ve answered your question—let me ask you a question. Have you been saved or did you ‘get’ saved? Furthermore, have you been saved or did you ‘get’ religion and its so-called righteousness which it awards to its followers if they religiously follow its rules, regulations and restrictions?”
In the conversation that followed, when I evangelized the young evangelist, I tried to gently help him see that an emphasis on getting saved can lead us away from Christ. When we (or religion) take any credit for anything which belongs only to God, then we are more likely to be in a relationship with religion than we are with our loving God.
In Colossians 1:19-23 Paul explains that we are reconciled to God, because of Christ, by God’s grace. Reconciliation is a relational term; it has to do with a restored and repaired relationship. Nothing in this or other similar passages would lead us to think about getting saved. When we are reconciled by Christ, with and to God, we are saved— saved from a life apart from God, saved from ourselves, saved from religion, saved from what we were so that he can transform us into who he wants us to become and be.
I don’t like the tenor and tone of getting saved—it seems to me that the relational gift of God’s grace is better defined as being saved, being reconciled, converted, transformed, spiritually adopted and spiritually reborn. Those terms give the glory to God—they accurately identify him as the mover and shaker behind our salvation. The idea of getting saved can lead us away from God’s grace, and point us in the direction of the presumed importance of our works—our involvement in our salvation.
There is no doubt that Scripture speaks of us “being” saved—but the biblical emphasis lies on being saved, not on getting saved. We are saved, according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the death of the old man, the life we lead in this flesh apart from Christ, so that Christ may live in us. We are saved for his life!
But according to legalistic religion, we get saved from eternal torture in hell to which God will subject us unless we do everything religion tells us to do.
Getting saved carries the idea of continuing duties and burdens we must fulfill, ensuring that we keep God happy so that he will not change his mind and send us to hell. Getting saved is all about our need to continually be on our best behavior, or else instead of God sending Santa Claus to our house, he will send hell, mayhem, suffering and torment.
Being saved and reconciled is about the work of Christ, which is an initial decision and act, as well as an ongoing transformation. But the idea behind getting saved is that once we “get” it then we need to keep doing stuff to make sure you hang on to it. Thank God that our relationship with God is not up to us. Thank God that our salvation is not ours to get and keep, but it is God’s to grant and confer.