From its beginnings some 2000 years ago, Christianity has
claimed that it provides something for its believers not available in any other
religion. That something is salvation, a new condition for believers that has
been defined in a wide variety of ways across the centuries and the continents
where Christianity has grown. Usually, salvation involves a resurrection after
one’s death into an eternal, heavenly existence, but how one attains salvation and
the other benefits it includes has been defined in many different ways.
evangelical Christianity, achieving salvation is called “getting saved,” often
referred to as being “born again” through a spiritual awakening likened to a
second birth. Becoming saved can be long process that takes place over months,
even years, or it can be a sharp, sudden experience that happens in an instant.
In either case, the conversion comprises a life-changing experience in which
the convert’s new character differs significantly from the old, at least in
their own mind.
common to say that being saved “transforms your life,” but what does that mean specifically?
On the one hand, it is clear that salvation changes “you,” the individual who
becomes saved. On the other hand, it is also clear that it does not alter
“life” in any significant way. Life is a series of joys and tribulations, of
enjoyment and boredom, of heath and sickness. Those events continue in their
unpredictable way and salvation does nothing to alter it.
effects center on the individual. First, there is a spiritual transformation
within oneself, described in a variety of ways: a feeling of peace, inner
security, or gaining a new spiritual perspective. This inner peace may improve
a person’s confidence, give them an ability to persevere in a difficult task or
circumstance, or enable them to shed damaging behaviors such as substance abuse.
develops a new relationship with God. Since God is “saving” an individual,
prayer to God takes on a new meaning. Some boldly claim to “talk to God,”
others humbly say they feel someone is listening. For some, the relationship
carries an emotional component (they “feel” their contact with God), but others
claim such experiences only rarely, if at all.
saved individuals often join a church. This provides a social benefit, a
welcoming community whose members include the saved individual in their
activities, become concerned with the individual, and provide a social arena
for them to express their talents.
In contrast to an individual’s personal
transformation, life’s travails continue as they will. Christian believers are
plagued by illness and accidents just like non-Christians. Although occasional announcements
of a miraculous healing occur, especially in the Christian press, these are
news because of their rarity value. They are not everyday occurrences.
illness, depression and suicide plague believers as well just like
non-believers. The former head of the Texas Baptist Convention, Phil
Lineberger, took his life after battling depression for years. The well-known
Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church had a son stricken with mental
illness from his youth who finally shot himself at age 27.
churches provide social support for marriage, being a Christian does not ensure
that one will avoid adultery or divorce. Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian
Tchividjian resigned his pastorship at a Florida megachurch after both he and
his wife admitted to affairs, even though they had been married some 20 years.
Divorce followed. Sexual abuse can happen within evangelical churches and
religious organizations, just as they do in Catholic and other churches.
does not prevent the sudden calamities of life. Christians are just a likely to
die, be injured or lose their property in auto wrecks, armed robberies,
shootings, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
is not that Christians are particularly bad off or that being saved makes one
vulnerable. Rather, salvation does not alter the random events of life, whether
positive or negative. Believing in Jesus is not magical; the “living Christ,”
as he is often termed, does not miraculously protect his followers from bad
things happening to them. Salvation affects the saved individual and perhaps makes
them more prepared to deal with such events, but it does not change the events