Are They Saved?
Are They Saved?
By Stacey Tuttle
Almost as long as I can remember, people have been asking me, “Is so and so saved?” or “Do you know if they are a Christian?” Having been raised in a very evangelical world, (including parents, Christian school, church, etc.), I am well acquainted with the “diagnostic” questions such as: “If you were to die tonight, how sure are you that you would go to heaven, on a scale of 1-100%?” and “If Christ were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell him?” And while these questions can be very insightful, while in college I began to feel that maybe they were insufficient. I also began to wonder about things like, where is the “sinner’s prayer” in the Bible? Not that there isn’t evidence for it (see Rom 10:9) but that I don’t see accounts of people coming to faith being led in “the prayer” in the Bible.
Now please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discredit or diminish one bit the value that some of the questions, formulas and prayers have brought to our faith. For my own parents in fact, both of whom were raised in church and sincere in their desire to be “Christian,” those questions were revolutionary. They were shocked and astounded to hear they could be 100% certain of their salvation, and that their certainty came because of Christ’s work on the cross and not through any works of their own. The clarity that this brought to them was life-changing.
So, as I said, do not want to take away from this – but, coming from a world that tends to let these questions and procedures determine and/or define Christians, I would like to possibly broaden the scope just a little. I think sometimes we get too narrow in our focus – trying to simply define who is and who is not Christian. I think we have a much bigger, broader job as believers…but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Here’s why I have some concerns with our focus on the diagnostics: First, in trying to diagnose, (or even help a person clarify for themselves) I often found people were offended. Now, it’s not that I feel we should never offend anyone. I think the Bible is pretty clear that Christ himself was going to be a stumbling block, a “Rock of Offense” (Rom. 9:33) to many. But, there is a difference between a person being offended by the truth and a person being offended by us. It was one of my prayers, especially in college, that I would be willing to let the truth offend, but that God would keep me from offending people before the truth had a chance to! I have found that people, even though sincere in their religious devotion, don’t always have ready, clearly defined answers for what they believe. Therefore they took great offense to the implication that they weren’t saved, despite their strong “faith”. Some actually believed it was through faith in Jesus they were saved, but hadn’t really been taught how to articulate that. The diagnostic process can really shed light for some, but for others, it may lead to criticism for not having been taught the same vocabulary. God judges the heart, not the ability to answer. I think it is possible a person can love God truly even if what they have been taught, or what they are able to articulate, is not as fully-developed as it should be. It is true that we are to love God with our hearts and our minds, but it is also true that both are not necessarily always in the same place of maturity and understanding. Our “diagnostic” process can sometimes fail to recognize this reality.
The second reason I think the scope needs broadening a little is that the diagnostic questions aren’t always enough to diagnose. I have watched as people come to faith and seen that is has been, for most, a process. For some, I’ll grant you, it is instantaneous and obvious. They are led to “say the prayer” and they know they are saved. There is such transformation in their hearts, they have no doubt something has happened that is radically different inside of them. But, I have seen several others for whom it was a process – a long one. In the case of one dear friend, at the beginning of the semester, I would have confidently said that no, he was not a Christian – without any hesitation. But, by Christmas, with equal confidence, I would have said that yes, he was a Christian, knowing that he had come to love and depend on Christ. But, I still do not know at which point that changed. Actually, it had been changing for months – I had watched it. As he came to Bible study and heard, he accepted and believed what he heard, little by little. My question is: at which point had he believed enough to be “saved”? I think every Christian who knows him would now agree that, “Yes! He is a believer!” Yet I am pretty sure that he never actually “said the prayer.” I think he just kept believing as it was given to him.
The third concern I have with diagnosing people as “Christian” and “not” is that we tend to focus on bringing the “nots” to Christ (important, of course!), but forget our duty to the Christians. This concerns me most with new or immature Christians. Just because they are Christian by our definition, (i.e. can pass our diagnostic tests), doesn’t mean they really get it. And similarly, a fourth concern is that we become focused on results – “Did John, Sue and Jim convert?” If not, we feel we failed. When really, salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8).
Here’s the point. The thing I am becoming increasingly convinced of is that our job as Christians is to bring others closer to Christ. This seems obvious and not so revolutionary perhaps, but let me explain. I spend far less time diagnosing (or judging) whether others are “Christians” or not. I trust that God knows their hearts and realize that my diagnoses are, at best, flawed…helpful maybe, but limited. I instead simply focus on helping that person, wherever they are in their journey, to move closer to Christ. This means I have as much obligation to believers as I do unbelievers. This means that I am freed from “results” – whether or not a person “converts”, I am successful if God used me to draw them nearer. It means I focus more on the direction of a person’s heart no matter how articulate their answers. What I mean is, there are people who have been taught that Jesus saves, have said the prayer, and are walking in rebellion. Their answers are right, their hearts are wrong. The reverse is true too: there are people whose hearts are inclined toward God though they may not really understand how to articulate their salvation. I find that people are far more open to being helped in their journey than they are in being “classified” or told their particular brand of or approach to religion hasn’t saved them. (Although, there are definitely times when that is the right message and should not be avoided.)
There is a difficult balance that we, as believers, are to walk. On the one side we need to be willing to get in the way and be a stumbling block, an offense even, to someone who is headed in the wrong direction (be they Christian or not). On the other side we need to be able to show those who are headed in the right direction a relationship with Christ that is deeper and more fun and more wonderful than they currently experience so that they are encouraged to keep coming. This requires a lot of discernment – it requires the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is, diagnostics have a very important place in bringing others closer to Christ. But, diagnostics are a tool, not the point. I fear too often the focus in evangelical Christianity has been diagnosing who is and is not a believer. (Although, the emergent movement seems to be swinging the pendulum the other direction, such that diagnostics are losing their place altogether – which is also a mistake.) I think the point needs to be bringing all mankind closer to Christ, and to that end diagnostics can be both useful and revelatory. The great commission was to make disciples of all the earth. Discipleship is a journey, a process. Salvation is a part of that process – often a process in and of itself. The truth is, we may never know where a person’s heart truly is in this process, this journey, but we can, but God’s grace, be a part of bringing them further along the path.