Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Biblical Salvation: How It’s Possible To Be A Christian And Still Not Be “Saved”

Growing up evangelical, one of the primary questions we were taught to ask strangers was: “Are you saved?” Or, better yet: “If you died tonight do you know where you’d go?”

The concept of being saved was pretty simple, really: You’re a sinner headed for hell, Jesus died to take your punishment, and if you “ask him into your heart” you’ll go to heaven instead of hell.

Salvation as understood this way has taken root in much of Americanized Christianity, and even global Christianity thanks in part to the American way of packaging and exporting an Americanized version of the faith. It is a simple, non-costly understanding of salvation that has little biblical precedence even though it is so commonplace.

This truncated version of salvation turns it into something elusive, something secret. Like a membership card tucked into the deepest corner of your wallet, you have no way of knowing who has one, and who does not. This is precisely why and how so many Christians came to see Donald Trump as “saved” and one of us: leaders like James Dobson reported rumors that he “accepted Christ” (as if it’s like accepting an offer for a low interest credit card) and from that moment on, Trump is seen by many to be “saved” and thus one of us.

But that’s not biblical salvation– biblical salvation has little to do with a secret transaction that points you toward heaven or sends you to hell, in the commonly understood sense.

While the NT term salvation can hold a variety of nuance, the ultimate contextual meaning of salvation in the NT is in reference for one who joined God’s Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus. Joining God’s Kingdom is much like joining any other Kingdom that has one who rules from a throne: you join by pledging your allegiance and obedience to the King– and then living that out.

In Americanized Christianity, salvation often only includes half that equation, or at least offers a footnote to the idea of living out Kingdom principles. They’ll often say things like, “Well, we don’t have to emulate Jesus in this particular area of life because he was unique” or, “Well, the Kingdom of God isn’t fully here yet, so Jesus was just describing how we’ll live one day in a perfect world.”

Readers Digest version: As long as you have the card in your pocket, you’re saved. The second half is nice, but not totally necessary, because there’s a lot of “reasons” why we don’t always do what Jesus did. In this case, the faux version of salvation we grew up with was an easy, individualized transaction that was focused on where you’ll go when you die, not on how you live in the here and now.

However, biblical salvation is directly linked to net-result of actually doing what Jesus said (aka, living the principles of his Kingdom). This is precisely because biblical salvation has little to do with life after death (though it does some), but has a lot to do with life right now. In fact, when Jesus uses the term “eternal life” in the NT, he often uses this term in the present tense.

Since the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is founded upon very specific principles, a specific culture that must be lived out (see the Sermon on the Mount for his full manifesto), biblical salvation seems to be heavily focused on being saved from an old way of living, and saved into a new way of living– a way of life that Jesus described as “eternal.”

For those who reject Kingdom principles, for those who oppress the poor, for those who reject the immigrant, those who refuse the way of nonviolent enemy love, those who refuse to live out the culture of the Kingdom right now, it would be a stretch to say they are “saved” in the biblical sense, because until they put down their guns, feed the hungry, and welcome the immigrant, they have not yet entered God’s Kingdom and begun living in it. They may have “asked Jesus into their heart” but they have not yet joined the Kingdom- and that’s what salvation is about.

Thus, salvation is not a transaction that is open and shut, taking place in totality within the recesses of one’s heart. It surely begins in the heart, but salvation doesn’t end there– it is not possible to be “saved” in the biblical sense if one is not actively striving to be obedient to the King and the culture of the Kingdom– and Scripture speaks quite forcefully on this point.

This is precisely why Jesus said it is possible to be deeply religious, to be a lover of the Bible, and to still not be saved (Matthew 21:31, John 5:39-40). It is also why he said that many who are thrown into the lake of fire on judgement day will be Christians who did not care for the poor and needy, and thus never actually entered the Kingdom (Matthew 5:31-46). Certainly, other NT writers back up this concept of salvation, such as the author of James who wrote that faith which is not followed up by caring for the poor and hungry cannot save you (James 2:14-17).

Does biblical salvation have anything to do with the afterlife? To a degree, yes. God’s Kingdom will be eternal. However, the bigger issue is this: If one is not willing to live in the Kingdom now, no matter who they ask into their heart, the chances that they’d even want to live in the Kingdom then seem slim. God, of course, sees that– and the Bible warns us in that regard to not think that simply raising our hand at the end of a sermon means we’re headed to paradise when we die.

There’s little point in talking about being saved then, if we aren’t first saved right now– because salvation isn’t as much a distant event, but a present reality.

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Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

BLC

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

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What you think

Post Comments:

    • Being as how I was at death’s door from alcoholism It was revealed to me in AA that being willing to be obedient to a simple program of recovery is all one needs in the first few days one realizes one’s addictions have stopped working. Following through on obedience, for me, came to be a natural existential reality in the flow of time, about three months, 90 meetings in 90 days, of not drinking or using and practicing my willingness to turn my life and will over to God on the third step and to remain in constant contact with him on a daily basis. my sobriety, obedience, changed behavior gets easier as I am willing to be connected to a recovering community, focusing on a mentor or a sponsor, being more obedient as the holy spirit opens it up to me to show me what I have never known. In my humble opinion the 12 steps are helpful and practical for someone who is addicted to anything including Americanized Christianity.

  • I was saved from being foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of empty passions and pleasures when washed in a rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3-8) at the age of 50. Life eternal would be icing on the cake but not as important to me than the relationship I have with and in God today as Their infant child in spirit.

    I gave very few sermons from the pulpit as an authority for the church regarding heaven or hell. When I did, each was prefaced with my honest heartfelt consideration that neither could possibly be understood from a carnal earth bound perspective. I am no longer an authority in the church for I now worship God from within; as an infant child, solely in spirit. I truly only have one Teacher, one Instructor and one Father to adore. I am finding many siblings in God today, who I did not recognize as a church official, because we each recognize the Spirit we are filled with.

    I ask any who ask if I am saved, “from what, for what and when?”

  • You seem to be mixing around the ideas of “salvation,” “Justification,” and “Sanctification.”

    Do you hold to the Catholic idea of continuing justification?

  • Acts 16:30: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. you and your household”
    Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest anyone boast” NKJV
    So, then we see that our salvation is a free gift from God. Jesus paid the price for our sins when He died on the cross for us.
    A person becomes a Christian when they start believing in Jesus and put their faith in Him. Good works do not get a person saved and into heaven. There are guides that are given out to people who want to know how to become a Christian. These summarize the concept of salvation and the Biblical explanation. So by simple deduction a Christian is a person who has been saved by faith in Jesus.
    And there is this subject of “universal salvation” being discussed now. There is no such thing: it is a complete heresy. Any pastor who teaches that is leading their flocks astray.

  • I’m rethinking my faith based on this premise: Jesus of Nazareth was not God. He was a man who had a deep and profound relationship with God. Jesus shows us who God is and what God is like. The goal is not to worship Jesus but to do the sorts of things Jesus did in order to become closer to God.

    I’m probably going to Hell.

  • How does the conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 fit into this?
    The night I became a Christian, something changed in me and from them on I saw the world differently.
    When you decide to follow Jesus (I saw people that had something I needed), something has to change.
    This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
    The result of this is not some verbal agreement.
    The result is a changed life, which means that every thing is new and you treat people differently because you now see them as they are.
    2Thessalonians 5 describes this.

    If you want examples from the Bible, there are many, the most striking and famous being Saul -> Paul.
    Paul after his encounter with Jesus was clearly a changed man.
    I would therefore say that unless there has been a noticeable change, then you have not yet met with Jesus.

    I recognise that for many this change* does not stick – they go back to old ways or choose things that are not appropriate with the life Jesus challenges and calls us to live.
    That said, it is easy to spot someone trying, but failing and those who have the right words but not the life that goes with it.

    *possibly a purely emotional response to an appeal, either from fear, shame or the quiet playing of “Oh lamb of God I come”.

  • Commenters so far, there are 33 at time of writing this are quoting bible verses about the need for personal salvation. So, for 15+ centuries AD, how did people know this? They did not have the bible in their own language, it, and the liturgy were in latin. Society was illiterate for many centuries. Church attendance was compulsory – hence in the UK, the Pilgrim Fathers seeking to escape – but I have yet to hear of any priest from those centuries bible-thumping John 3v16 in latin and and making altar calls. Heaven will be populated only by folk from, what, the 19thC onwards when they could read the bible for themselves and ‘accept Jesus as their personal Saviour’? Don’t forget everyone was a, shock horror, a Roman Catholic till 1517.

  • Lets not forget that many people from every faith in the world live in the “Kingdom”. They live in the Kingdom in the here and now in spite of their birth imposed religious doctrines.

  • So could we also say that people may feed the poor, care for the homeless, welcome the immigrant and still not be saved? Based only on what you said we have morally good people. Let’s not leave out repentance and surrender.

  • This is a fantastic post! Your writing has a heart-to-heart quality that really causes you to get introspective. I’ve started a Christian blog too and am just looking forward to building a community around God like you’re doing, and educating people about the authentic salvation through Jesus Christ.

    Thanks for being here,
    Sam Valladares
    @WordsToThePower

  • The problem is with Americanized Christianity that has dominated the narrative on what Christianity is.
    It is a flawed and deceptive view , heavily influenced by politics and American Constitutionality.
    But I am reminded of the following that should caused us to reassess our relationship with Jesus Christ:
    Matthew 22:14 ” For many are called, but few are chosen.”
    Philippians 2 :12 ” …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
    Luke 13 : 27 “…. depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity”
    and so many verses that should caused us to take God seriously.

  • “In fact, when Jesus uses the term “eternal life” in the NT, he often uses this term in the present tense.” That’s because, as you are pointing out, it is (mostly, or perhaps entirely) the present tense to which he is referring. The word(s) that have been translated ‘eternal’ don’t actually mean eternal in the modern English sense, unless (possibly) it is modified by the referent as something that clearly is “eternal”. Aion and its derivatives are by definition temporal. Aionios/ aionion is also often used qualitatively rather than quantitatively, such as when Jesus gives us the definition of eternal life (Which is knowing himself and the Father).

    “It is also why he said that many who are thrown into the lake of fire on judgement day will be Christians who did not care for the poor and needy, and thus never actually entered the Kingdom (Matthew 5:31-46).”

    Is it the lake of fire that is being referred to in Matthew though? If so, what exactly is the lake of fire and what does it represent? (Whether here or at least in Revelation). It’s certainly not a literal lake of literal fire. I think understanding this point is very critical.

  • Accepting the immigrant…recognizing that the Kingdom of God is not of this world, and Jesus is explicit in stating this truth, the principles of Christianity are not absolute in matters of government; especially secular government. Additionally, welcoming the immigrant and flinging the doors wide open to undocumented migrants are quite different matters. We see the violent, deadly consequences of such sentiments in the very heart of Europe, where the doors were flung open to people of an alien culture, with an aggressive religion, and disdain for western cultural values, whether they are right or wrong. Their method of assimilation has been to demand that their host countries assimilate and conform to their alien culture, which is barbaric, medieval, and antagonistic to Christians, whether they are devout or cultural Christians. The theologian, Martin Luther, saw the confluence between the needs of stability within the state, and the spiritual needs of the people. This is the “Two-Kingdoms Theory”, and it is practical. Without the safety of a stable society that is not bombarded by the internal chaos created by unfettered movement of undocumented migrants, the very lives of Christians and non-Christians would be threatened. I do not believe, for one second, that Jesus would be so rigid as to judge a nation based upon its immigration policies, which serve to protect the state and the people within that state. Indeed, I disbelieve the whole notion of collective divine punishment. So, when Zionist Christians push the notion that unwavering support of Israel is a mandatory requirement to obtain the blessings of God upon our country, I believe that it is a huge pile of manure. Welcoming the immigrant merely means to be welcoming, hospitable, and charitable towards strangers. Jesus did not advocate that we should place our families and ourselves in danger to be so. It is just not scriptural. The spirit of the law must apply here. I am welcoming and warm to people who come my way. I do not count it as righteousness unto myself. It is just part of my nature. However, I will not be welcoming to a people who threaten my family’s or my existence. I do not believe this stance is sinful. Indeed, I think it is immoral.

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