Who are the Gangstas?
Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
Here’s this week’s question: Someone comes to your office and asks you, “When were you saved?” What do you say? And wow….do we have a variety of answers for you!
Father Ernesto/Orthodox: When someone asks when I was saved, I respond in a pastoral fashion. I know that if they are using that language, they want to know whether I have an active relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. So, I do not respond theologically; I let them know that I do know Our Lord in an active fashion, and I use their language. So, I say that I am saved, and I mention how at 19 the Lord became an regularly active presence in my life. My answer is theologically wrong, but I am more interested in beginning a conversation. I can always explain better later.
But, when was I saved? Well, the answer is not as simple as the “once saved always saved” folk would like to make it. That is a stance that requires people to not only ignore a significant number of Scriptures, but to even ignore Martin Luther and John Calvin in their writings. In one sense, I was saved when I was baptized as a baby. St. Peter says in Acts 2 to repent and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It then says that he pleaded with the people to “save themselves from this perverse generation.” In other words, he equated repentance and baptism and the Holy Spirit with being saved. But, a baby receives baptism and the Holy Spirit before he/she can even repent. So is that baby saved? Yes! I realize the contrary arguments, but St. Paul’s equating baptism and circumcision, as well as the lack of argument over infant baptism in the Bible point to infant baptism having the same place in God’s economy as circumcision. I say that lack of argument because of the serious arguments by Jewish-Christians that all believers must be circumcised. Yet, no Scripture records arguments about children not being baptized. Do you think that Judaizers, who were so keen to keep the Old Testament Law that they argued for adult circumcision, would stand idly by and say nothing if children of believers were not included in the covenant within 8 days as the Law required? No, precisely because of the Judaizers, and the lack of argument over infant baptism [and other Scriptures having to do with families in the New Testament], it appears that children were included in the New Covenant in the same way as children were included in the Old Covenant. Not baptizing/circumcising infants would have been an incredibly major change in practice. Yet, there is not one argument about it while there are serious arguments about replacing circumcision with baptism. So, I was saved when I was baptized.
But, we are also being saved. St. Paul says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That clearly implies that the failure to do so could be lethal. In fact, it pictures a dynamic view of salvation as something that is a process. In fact, for the Eastern Orthodox, that process is called theosis, or becoming like God. Our aim in life is to be united with God, to be “God-like.” St. Paul also says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” So, I am in the process of salvation. I am being saved. The process is not finished, but I am clearly in the running living stream of salvation. But, I cannot use the past tense, as it is yet an ongoing process.
But, salvation is something that we shall receive at our Lord’s glorious appearing. St. Peter says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fadeâ€”kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” According to this verse by St. Peter, our salvation has yet to be revealed and it is something that we will finally receive at His glorious appearing. It is our inheritance, if we remain faithful, but it is an inheritance that awaits its final execution until His glorious appearing. So, I am yet to be saved; it is my hope and future. It is my faith in what is not yet seen.
An Orthodox article that I like says, “Salvation is past tense in that, through the death and Resurrection of Christ, we have been saved. It is present tense, for we are “being saved” by our active participation through faith in our union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is also future, for we must yet be saved at His glorious Second Coming.”
So, am I saved? Yes, I was saved through the death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ when I was baptized as an infant. So, am I saved? I am in the process of being renewed day by day, of growing from glory to glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the process of salvation is not yet finished. So, I must use the present perfect tense. I am being saved. So, am I saved? Not yet, I await the day when our Lord will gloriously reveal His salvation and I shall truly be saved, and God shall be all and in all.
Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: Since I tell more personal stories than anyone I know (yes, I’ll bring that up at the next counseling session), I’d probably tell them about the time an ex-con turned Baptist evangelist rode into the Methodist youth camp I was attending on a Harley and preached the Gospel. I did NOT want to go to prison.
Also, since I am a United Methodist pastor, I’d use that story to make a couple of points, one of which I keep coming back to since I heard it on one of William Willimon’s podcasts – the miracle isn’t that I asked Jesus into my heart or made a decision for Christ, but that God made a decision for me in Christ. The “when” of my salvation occurred over a three day period in the outskirts of the Roman Empire about 2000 years ago when Jesus was crucified for my sins and then rose again on the third day. Ever since I was born the grace of God was evident and was drawing me to him – what we call “prevenient grace” – until I recognized that God loved me, a sinner, and wanted to make me right with him by grace through faith.
Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: The current rumor is that Peter is on has been on vacation, but I consider it quite likely that he simply isn’t saved, couldn’t tell you when he was saved, and may not even know what “saved” means. So let’s all join hands….
Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: Shortest question yet, and perhaps the most complex – interesting how that works. First of all, it’s sort of a bizarre scenario, that someone would just randomly come into your office and ask a question like that – “hey man, when were you saved?” I’d be inclined to say something funny, honestly. “Oh, I’m not saved yet – the whole God, Jesus thing kinda weirds me out still.” ha! How about that for an answer. Not quite worthy of the studied seriousness of the now infamous Liturgical Gangstas. Therefore, let us try again.
A question like that, to me, would be answered, first of all (well, after the joke) by a few other questions – or at least one: “Come in and have a seat there Johnny, this is ‘gonna take a while. What, precisely, do you mean when you say ‘saved’?” I can’t possibly answer the question without knowing what the question really is, and that requires a definition of what “saved” means – really – seriously.
Do you mean “justified?” Do you mean “entirely sanctified?” Do you mean “fully and completely swallowed up in the Life Essence of God such that I am now transformed into the New Person I was created to be?” Or perhaps, do you mean when I prayed a particular kind of prayer, or when I was first drawn into a recognition of God and of Jesus, into some kind of relationship with Him. Maybe you just want to know when I was Baptized – is that it? And the questioner may answer one of a number of these things. I would then have to go on explaining what I understand it means to be “saved.”
I’d have to answer the question like this: When? Well, sometime in 1979, when I still 12, I remember sort of “waking up” to God, to Jesus, and saying to myself, “OK, I think I believe this, what do I do about it?” So, after going to church with different people, I ended up going through instructions with a Catholic Priest I knew and formally becoming a Christian (and a Catholic) in August of 1980. I was Baptized, Confirmed, and received First Communion that day, when I was 13 years old. Was my inner-man somehow already mingled with the Spirit of God during the process at some point? I don’t really know – that’s probably beyond our kind of knowing. But I know I became a member of His Body, the Church, and received Grace to be Who I was to then become, on that particular day. Sacraments are tangible. God did that on purpose because He knows our inability to know these things. So, I was integrated into the Life of God in 1980, for sure. I was saved.
But – let’s not get carried away here – I am still being saved. What? Yeah – I both am and am being saved. The process of salvation is just that, a process. We may be initially justified at the outset, but that’s not the end of the journey. It has only begun. We are now given the Grace necessary to walk the path toward the fullness of our salvation. When this is complete, when the job is done, I will then be fully “saved.” Salvation is about our complete restoration as fully Human Beings, and because of our deep brokenness, that takes a while.
When I talk about my salvation, I’m not just talking about having a forgiveness stamp in order to get into the heavenly gates. I always think about the Canticle of Zechariah, which we pray in Morning Prayer – there’s a line that says, “…for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” – from Luke 1. “Knowledge of salvation” — by the forgiveness of their sins. Forgiveness is the beginning and leads to the transformation of our very being. It’s not the end.
So, “when was I saved?” A while back and sometime in the future. I was initiated and justified several years ago. I’ve been walking toward the completion of my salvation, by the Grace of God, since then. I trust that He will eventually complete the work He started in me at some point in the future, very likely after I die.
Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: When I was a boy (7 or 8 years old), my parents came into my room and said they wanted to talk to me. They shared the gospel with me: the good news of Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection. They shared with me that every human being must make a personal decision about Christ: whether to trust in and follow Him or to reject and turn away from Him. They shared with me that they could not make this decision for me, and that I must make it for myself, but that they were praying I would receive Christ. I had been raised in church and I knew the story, but I remember the conviction that gripped my heart that night and the sudden awareness of my own sinfulness and need for Christ. I also felt an overwhelming sense of the beauty of the cross and of my need to cling to it. That night, I called upon the name of Christ and gave Him my life. (As an aside, I continued to call out to God for salvation through the blood of Christ every night thereafter. My Dad, realizing this, then began to help me grow in my understanding of what it meant to be in Christ and to walk with Christ.)
I would point to this moment as the moment I was “saved.” I believe, for others, it is more of a process. Indeed, this event began a process that I am still in the midst of. Along the way I’ve had powerful moments of epiphany and further understanding, some so overwhelming that I would say, “I now know what it is to be saved!”, but this does not keep me from seeing that night in my bedroom as the night when my heart was awakened to the gospel.
My pastoral modus operandi is never to answer the first question posed but instead to ask, â€œWhy are you asking?â€ Not having that luxury here, let me attempt to summarize succinctly my Lutheran take on it.
The best way to approach the â€œwhenâ€ question is to note the distinction between the two modes of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos, or chronological time, is time as we experience it – evening and morning, clocks and calendars, one event followed by another in sequence. This is the way of history. Kairos is eternal moment, all time compressed into a single point, what some might call â€œeternity.â€ Kairos is Godâ€™s time, where every moment embraces all of chronological time so that God says â€œI am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacobâ€ long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are chronologically dead. Only as we understand kairos, can we understand Christâ€™s sacrifice as being â€œonce for allâ€ (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:12,26; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:10) meaning that this atoning death on a Friday afternoon embraces all people and all times.
As a sacramental aside, worship is a kairotic moment in chronos, an eternal moment in historical time and place. â€œToday, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearingâ€ (Luke 4:21). Every act of God, whether the preaching of the good news of salvation or the application of salvation in Baptism or the Holy Supper is a kairotic moment of salvation in chronological time and place. The eternal breaks in to the temporal, the infinite resides in the finite, and all that God has done for us and for our salvation is brought to bear on us in our own here and now.
Back to the question â€œWhen were you saved?â€ Answer: It depends how you look at it and why you are asking. Kairotically speaking, I was saved in Christ â€œfrom before the foundation of the worldâ€ (Ephesians 1:4). Donâ€™t leave out the â€œin Christâ€ or youâ€™ll get it wrong. There is no â€œelectionâ€ apart from the Elect One, the Lamb who was slain â€œbefore the foundation of the worldâ€ (Revelation 13:8). This is the doctrine of election, which can only be understood properly â€œin Christâ€ (see Ephesians 1:3-14) and in kairos, outside of chronological time.
Played out in the chronos of salvation history, salvation is past, present, and future. Chronologically and objectively speaking, I was saved in Christ, am being saved in Christ, and will be saved in Christ. I was saved at 3 PM on that Good Friday some two thousand years ago when the incarnate Son of God hung dead on the cross from the forgiveness of my sins, embracing me in His death. â€œWhen I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.â€ (John 12:32).
I was saved when I was baptized, having been buried with Christ in His death (Rom 6:4) and clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27). Through the work of the Holy Spiritâ€™s washing of water with the Word by which He rebirths and renews us daily, I received the gift of faith by which I am able to enjoy and put to use the objective and forensic gift of salvation every breathing moment of my life. I would also note here that because salvation is a forensic act of God in that God declares the sinner to be righteous, it is also a sacramental act of God in that God baptizes the sinner declaring him to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Again, donâ€™t forget the â€œin Christâ€ or you will get it wrong.
I am being saved whenever I hear the spoken Word of Christ forgiving my sin and receive that Word of Christ as being for me through trust (ie faith). â€œNow is the time (kairos) of your salvationâ€ (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is the ongoing work of Baptism, daily drowning the sinner to death and raising the saint in Christ to life.
I will be saved at the coming judgment according to the promise of Christ, â€œHe who believes and is baptized will be savedâ€ (Mark 16:16).
Iâ€™m sure this raises more questions that it answers, but that is the way of â€œwhenâ€ questions when they are viewed from the perspective of Godâ€™s kairos and our chronos.