A couple years ago I was the guest preacher at an evangelical church in Northern Virginia. I arrived early to get a sense of the sanctuary and the congregation’s expectations. Before the service began, as people entered the lobby area and came and went, I loitered around the hallways looking at the church’s flyers, posters and bulletin boards.
While I was milling around, a lay woman came up to me and introduced herself. She asked for my name. The second piece of information she asked for-with a smile- was:
‘When were you saved?’
Before proceeding, I should offer the caveat that, though I’ve no doubt about the sincerity of her question, I hate such questions.
I think its unavoidable for them to lead to reductionistic, overly individualistic takes on the Gospel.
Now, I could have told her about the first time, as a teenager, I felt the presence of God in prayer or the pull of the Spirit. I could’ve told her about the first time the cross made ‘sense’ to me and in response, like an altar call, I walked forward to receive the eucharist.
‘When were you saved?’
Because I don’t like those questions, and because I didn’t expect to ever meet his woman again, I was feeling surly.
‘Oh, I was saved the same time as you’ I said.
She frowned, probably noting the difference in our ages and how unlikely the simultaneity.
‘I got saved on Good Friday,’ I said, ’33 AD.’
She frowned again, like in her evangelical church she wasn’t used to having people misunderstand her question.
‘Well, I guess Easter saves too,’ I said, ‘so I guess I got saved that whole weekend.’
‘But when did you first believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior and get saved?’
The reason I hate questions like hers (even though I wish more Methodists were sufficiently bold even to ask such questions) is because I think too often they make my personal ‘belief’ more determinative than Christ’s cross- as though Jesus doesn’t really accomplish anything in 33 AD until I invite him into my heart in 20111.
Just imagine that first week Good Friday in the first century- what if no disciples were netted after it. Would we then say nothing had happened?
While the New Testament does not decide upon only one way of expressing what Christ’s work accomplishes, the New Testament is unambiguous that what happens on the cross happens for all time and all people.
Without settling on any single way of explaining the Christ’s work on the cross, the New Testament is clear that Jesus’s cross is efficacious by itself. Jesus accomplishes something separate from and regardless of my own individual belief.
Salvation is something God does.
It’s not something I do.