Wednesday, October 24, 2018

When are we saved?

When are we saved? That's an important question. Is there a simple or single answer to that question? What's the benchmark? 

1. In traditional Catholicism/Lutheranism/Anglicanism, there's a sense in which you are saved when you are baptized. That's the benchmark. I reject that paradigm, for reasons I've given on multiple occasions. 

2. In popular evangelism, it's customary to say that you are saved when you are converted. That's the benchmark. On one definition, that's a useful answer. But there are limitations to that answer:

i) What about lifelong Christians? They don't have a conversion experience. They were believers for as long as they can remember.

ii) Moreover, to equate salvation with conversion doesn't explain why conversion saves you. 

3. Here's a deeper explanation: to be saved means that if you were to die at that moment, you'd go to heaven. In a sense, that shifts the benchmark to the moment of death rather than the moment of conversion. 

4. However, that explanation has complications. Freewill theists generally believe that you can lose your salvation. Ben Witherington likes to say that you're not eternally secure until you're secure in eternity. So a freewill theist might distinguish between getting saved and saved for good–or final salvation. 

So the answer depends on where you put the benchmark: conversion or final salvation. On one definition, you are saved when you begin going down the heavenbound road. On another definition, you are saved when you arrive at the heavenly destination. 

5. Here's a variation on the same metaphor: before you got saved, you were on a hellbound road. Getting saved is turning off the hellbound road and turning onto the heavenbound road. 

But in traditional freewill theism, once you get onto the heavenbound road, there are exits back to the hellbound road. 

6. There are some freewill theists who don't think you can lose your salvation (e.g. Charles Ryrie, Charles Stanley, Zane Hodges). 

7. You also have freewill theists who believe in postmortem conversion. Both roads extend into the afterlife. You can die on the hellbound road, but after death, take the exit to heaven. So that relocates the benchmark to a postmortem setting. 

8. For their part, Calvinists sometimes debate whether the elect undergo a transition from wrath to grace. Prior to regeneration and justification, were the elect under God's wrath? Put another way, were they lost prior to regeneration and justification? In Calvinism, what's the benchmark for salvation? 

9. Reverting to the metaphor of the journey, prior to regeneration/justification, the elect are on road leading to hell. And if they continued in that direction until they died, they'd be damned. When they are regenerated/justified, they exit onto the heavenbound road. 

You might say they were lost in the sense that if they maintained the initial trajectory, they'd end up in hell. That's the end of the road they started down. 

Or to vary the metaphor, in order to be saved, in the sense of reaching heaven, they must pass through various checkpoints along the way. Mountains to cross and rivers to ford. If they were to drop out of the race before negotiating the necessary checkpoints, they'd be damned. 

10. However, in the case of the elect, the hellbound trajectory or hellbound destination is hypothetical. Even if they started out in the wrong direction, they were predestined to turn off the hellbound road and turn onto the heavenbound road. Athough they haven't arrived at the heavenly destination, that outcome is inevitable. 

So in what sense were they lost–or were they? To vary the metaphor, suppose a father takes his young son hiking. At one point the son wanders off and loses his way. He doesn't know how to get back. He doesn't know the right direction.

However, the father is watching his son the whole time from a hill. He can see his son on the trail. 

The boy is hopelessly lost in the sense that the boy can't find his way back on his own. But in another sense the son was never lost because his father is his guide even when he can't see his father. While the son lost track of his dad, his dad never lost track of his son. The boy was always safe–under his father's watchful gaze. 


  1. Fascinating topic. I agree. As a Calvinist i tend to think the answer is I was saved in eternity past. As that is what predestination is all about.

  2. I wouldn't say it was hypothetical as much as I would ask in what category of salvation one was wondering. God knows the trajectory of our lives. In this category, it depends on one's lapsarian view. Logically subsequent to that, in temporal terms, we have the categories of regeneration and faith, covenant obedience in baptism, sanctification, death into the "bosom of Abraham," and resurrection, each of which represent points along that trajectory that people point to as moments of salvation.