What does it mean to be saved and why do you believe in the death and resurrection of Christ? What makes you think it’s true and what difference does it make?
Saying that you were, “…brought up in a Christian home,” doesn’t really answer the question. Nor does it mean much when you say that you’re “Catholic.” You’re not explaining anything as much as you’re just labeling yourself with a generic sticker and perhaps hoping that no one asks you any more questions.
Here’s the thing… 1 Peter 3:15 says:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)
In other words, be ready to sound intelligent if someone asks you what you believe and why you believe it.
So, what does it mean to be saved?
In order to ensure we’ve got something we can easily remember when we’re done, let’s break this down into three segments:
You’ve been changed. The thing that drives the way you think, act and feel has been fundamentally altered. A relationship with Christ is not an add-on or a plugin. It’s an entirely new Operating System. This is what Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)
It’s a gift (Rom 6:23). You don’t earn it (Eph 2:8-9). You simply accept the Reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and His Identity as the Son of God (Lk 23:41-43).
You see that in Romans 10:9-10:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
It’s important to realize, though, that the “belief” the Bible is referring to is the kind that goes beyond just forming the words on your tongue. It’s the difference between saying you’re in love and actually being in love. When you believe something in your heart, it affects your behavior (Lk 6:43-45) and the way you think. So, in this instance, the kind of belief that’s being referred to here is that the empty tomb isn’t just a historical event, it’s a personal reality.
When you cross that line and you believe that Christ’s tomb is empty, God takes all of the intangibles that constitute Who and What He is (the Holy Spirit) and integrates them into your character.
That’s what happens when you believe:
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14 [see also Ezekiel 36:26-27; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19])
And that’s what it means to saved.
Now let’s do a little deep dive into all this!
Here we go…
I) What Does it Mean?
The bottom line is that you’ve been changed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)
Everything that drives the way you think, act and feel has been fundamentally and permanently changed by God having integrated His Character into yours. While there’s a lot of practical theology that can be unpacked in order to fully appreciate just how amazing and transformational God’s grace truly is, that’s the bottom line. You have been changed, you are not the same person. Whereas before you processed yourself and the world around you according to your personal experiences and life lessons, now you have access to the same Perspective and Strength that raised Christ from the grave (Eph 1:17-21).
But how do you get there? How can you experience this change?
-II) How Do You Get it Done?
The best place to go looking for the answer is the Word of God. Otherwise, you risk being told something that may be in line with someone’s tradition, but not necessarily consistent with the Truth. So, let’s start with Romans 10:9-10:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rom 10:9-10)
The first part seems almost too easy. “If you declare with your mouth…” How many times have you heard someone claim to be a Christian by simply saying, “I was brought up in a Christian home,” or “I’m a member of the Baptist church down the road.” While being a part of a church is certainly a part of an active relationship with Christ (Heb 10:24-25), simply forming an affirmative disposition when it comes to your regard for Christ’s death and resurrection is only a part of what’s involved.
Consider what it says in James:
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (Jas 2:19)
Now why is that important?
Because if the demons believe in the death and resurrection of Christ – and they’re obviously not going to heaven (Rev 20:7-10) – paying lip service to the first Easter morning as a historical event doesn’t qualify you as being a Christ follower in that the foot soldiers of Satan believe that Christ rose from the grave as well.
It has to show up in your actions and your mindset which is represented in the second part of Romans 10:9-10. You need to believe it in your heart.
However you want to envision that part of you that drives the way you think, act and feel – whether you want to think of it as your, “personality,” or your “soul” – the important thing that needs to be established is that it’s more than just a mindset or a mood. It’s what makes you the person that you are. The Bible calls that your, “heart.”
When you believe something in your heart, you are not just agreeing with a particular truism. It impacts the way you spend your time and your resources. It’s kind of like being in love. Saying that you love someone and actually being in love with them illustrates the difference between merely forming the words on your tongue and being passionately committed to the welfare and happiness of the one you adore.
When you acknowledge the death and resurrection of Christ in that way, it’s no longer just a historical event as much as it’s a personal reality. He’s not just the “King of kings.” He’s your King. Nor is He just the Savior of the world as much as He’s your Savior. You’re not just seeing Him as a distant deity, you’re like Thomas when he took a knee and said, “My lord and my God.” At that point, God responds by installing His Character into your heart.
Over the years, a number of traditions have surfaced that attempt to give form to the exchange between the repenting sinner and his Messiah that translates to being saved.
Whether it’s the idea of, “asking Jesus into your heart” (Rev 3:20) or being publicly baptized (Acts 19:1-7), the only thing the Bible specifies is a fully engaged belief in Who Jesus Christ truly is.
That’s not to suggest that the various evangelism techniques or the countless Billy Graham Crusades that played, “Just As I Am” as thousands of people came forward to give their life to Christ represents something fundamentally flawed.
Not at all.
But the thief on the cross did not ask Jesus to, “come into his heart,” nor was he baptized (Lk 23:38-43). When the jailer asked Paul how to be saved, Paul responded by saying, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-34) Again, no ceremony or scripted prayer – just a heartfelt belief in Christ and the rightful place He therefore occupies as Savior and King.
It’s not a specific phrase or a special ceremony. It’s just like Thomas where you take a knee, either literally or figuratively, and accept the Lordship of Christ as the magnificent Reality that it is.
III) What Actually Happens?
A moment ago, we talked about how God responds to someone who embraces the cross and the empty tomb as a personal reality by installing His Character into their heart (Eph 1:13-14). That “Character” is the Mind of Christ, the Joy of the Lord and the Power of God. Again, there’s a great deal of theological substance that needs to be unpacked in order to fully appreciate the Holy Spirit – what we’re calling the “Character of God” – but the bottom line is that it’s more than just an incremental coat of “godliness” applied to your personality.
The Holy Spirit is the intangible dimension of God Himself that gives you access to His Attitude and Ability.
- It’s Power (Acts 1:8).
- It’s Perspective (Rom 12:1-2).
- It’s Purpose (Phil 2:13).
But it’s also the defining characteristic of someone who’s born again…
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. (Rom 8:9)
“If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ…”
That’s what James was getting at when he talked about how the demons believe “…and shudder.” The change that God accomplishes in you manifests itself in observable actions that are consistent with God’s Agenda and Preferences. In other words, a valid salvation experience shows up in what you do as well as what you say. If your belief is nothing more than a verbal exercise, your status before God is no different than that of a demon. If, on the other hand, it’s a true belief, you’ve got the True Muscle of Christ living in and through you and your faith will manifest itself in deeds and not just declarations (Jas 2:17).
Once you flip the switch and embrace the empty tomb, not as a general piece of non-fiction, but as a defining moment where you embrace both the Substance of Who Christ is and your need for His Grace, the mindset and the Strength of God become what inspires your mind (1 Cor 2:16), your behavior (Ezra 1:5; 1 Cor 12:6) and your emotions (Gal 5:22-23).
You’re a new person.
And it’s in the context of becoming, “new” that your whole philosophical paradigm is now enthusiastic about following Christ’s lead. You’re not just making an appearance anymore, you’re making a difference because you’re now working in concert with God’s Activity (Col 1:29) and as an enthusiastic subordinate to His Authority (Col 3:4).
In short, you’re enjoying and participating in the “kingdom of God.” Jesus makes mention of this throughout His Ministry in ways that refer to the Second Coming as well as what’s happening presently. Bottom line: It’s God’s Activity and Authority.
Nelson’s, “Illustrated Bible Dictionary” defines it as:
God’s rule of grace in the world, a future period foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament and identified by Jesus as beginning with His ministry.1
The point, here, is that while spending eternity in Heaven with Christ is obviously a part of the Salvation package (Jn 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:50–54), your relationship with Christ is to be deployed here and now in every nuance of the human experience (Col 3:17). To process your Redemption as something that only comes to bear after your funeral ceremony is to ignore the way Christ presented the practical mechanics of a relationship with Him. It’s not merely a “pass” to get to Heaven as much as it’s the Government and the Moral Perfection that exists in Heaven personified in you right now.
It’s now, it’s here and it’s Real!
Your wrongs have been permanently forgiven, you are utterly transformed and the Purpose, Peace and Power of God is now working in and through you.
That’s what it means to be saved.
1. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1986, p616-617