“Are you saved?”
If you ever want to shut down a conversation before it happens, that is a great leading question. Not unlike, “do you know the fate of your eternal soul?”
These questions that set many on edge are essential questions for our United Methodist identity.
Our response to questions like this do not merely speak to our assumptions about our future fates. When we say we are saved, we are not simply laying claim to the assurance that we will enter heaven in the future. Instead, we are making a declaration about our values and actions as we exist in the world today. In the Wesleyan view, salvation is not merely a future claim. It is a current reality.
A central theme
Salvation is a touchy subject. Even those comfortable with theological principles and language feel a little reserved when it comes to the notion of salvation. Because salvation is often bonded together with talk of judgement, in the interest of being non-judgmental, we refrain from conversations about salvation--and shut down conversations about being saved before they get going. We link salvation to sin.
After all, what are assuming we are saved from? Many of us make the immediate connection with judgement: we are being saved from God’s righteous judgement of our sins. And, honestly, what could be a touchier subject than judgement and sin?
But salvation is a big deal in our Methodist tradition. John Wesley wrote and preached a great deal on salvation. Salvation was the central point of belief for Wesley. He made this clear when providing instructions for the preachers and helpers he sent out to advance the Methodist movement:
You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.
There it is. John Wesley wanted to see people saved from their sins. But this salvation was not simply about saving people for a heaven-filled afterlife.
Salvation is delivered through God’s grace, which justifies us before God and reconciles us into right relationship with God.
God’s gift of salvation makes us holy. It is our entry into joining with God. In other words, when we are saved it becomes evident in our actions now.
From “saved from” to “saved for”
Second Corinthians 5:17 provides a beautiful reminder of God’s saving action through Christ. In faith we are made new. The old has gone. The new has come. The following verses teach that in faith we become Christ’s ambassadors, offering others the ministry of reconciliation.
Wesley carried this idea forward, noting that we are not just saved from our sins, but that we are saved for the holy work of offering God’s grace to others. Our salvation is not solely about a future condition, but is also about current reality. We are saved for the purpose of revealing God’s grace.
As such, some of the holiest people we know have some of the most colorful pasts. The recovering addict who now dedicates her work towards offering help and healing to others who struggle with addiction has been saved for grace. The recovering racist who invites others to consider the damaging effects of their actions has been saved for grace. A new work has begun.
What if salvation is about freedom?
Salvation represents a freedom from judgement and a freedom from our sinful nature. As Albert Outler noted, salvation’s “fullness was the recovery of our negative power not to sin and our positive power to love God supremely.” Our salvation delivers us from the urges to sin.
We are free not just from the judgmental effects of sin, but from the very will to sin. Instead, our faith aligns our thoughts and actions with God’s will.
For Wesley, faith is the agent of salvation. We encounter our salvation through our faith. But the marks of our salvation are not yet to be determined by the destination of our eternal souls. Nor is our salvation marked by a momentary decision. Instead, our salvation is marked by our fruit in good works. Faith produces love.
So we may still struggle for the words to respond to a question like “are you saved?” But the truth is that our actions will often speak for us.
Ryan Dunn is a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. He is an ordained deacon in the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This content was published June 14, 2021.