“Are you saved?” the street evangelist asked me. Raised in the church as the pastor’s son, I knew what he was asking, but in the moment it wasn’t a matter I was giving much thought to. In our tradition back then, one dipped in and out of salvation depending on how successfully they lived the “Christian” life. For us that meant thinking only holy thoughts, daily prayer and Bible reading, no bad words, no dirty jokes, no smoking, drinking or dancing, devout church participation and being always ready to talk others into getting saved, too. At that point in my late teens, I calculated that the longest I had been saved in any one stretch was about a week.
I retorted to this in-my-face stranger, “Saved from what?” and walked away with further resolve to not have that conversation. Now, those who have known me and how I made a sharp turn in direction from the psychedelic hedonist, university campus protester of the ‘60’s to the Pastoral Theology-degreed, licensed and ordained pastor, church planter, missionary and, more recently, golf course groundskeeper, might assume that if asked that question today I would readily answer, “Yes!” But, if the questioner means “saved” in the sense that I understood the question that day back then, my answer would be a more polite (I hope) “No, I’m found.”
As I see it now, one can never achieve “saved” status by simply repeating a so-called sinner’s prayer and getting religious. Old habits will still plague, lust, covetousness and pride will not just vanish. You will not, if you are being honest, live a sinless life as defined by church rules. And, as you have been led to believe, God will still be angry with you because you aren’t as good a Christian as those other people at church “appear” to be. Shame and condemnation will haunt your every quiet moment. Saved? Not that way.
As I think of my own spiritual journey, I see myself as the lost lamb who the good shepherd went to extraordinary lengths to find in my dead-end lostness, picked me up and, messed up as I was, carried me into his shelter of love and restoration. I was running as hard as I could to get away from that old religion and in the process ran right into the real, living Lord Jesus who made me feel like he was hugging me rather than standing there with arms folded, tapping his foot, sternly looking down waiting for me to get my stuff together. God graciously drew me into the realization of his love and enabled me to trust that he was really for me and not against me. As all this began to take hold of me, I found some of those old things I centered my life in before didn’t seem as interesting and fun now. The old me has been in a life-long process of becoming a new me. I guess I could say I got saved from my old self, but not by any religious self-improvement flops. Some who knew me back in the old days who meet me now can’t believe I’m the same guy. Born again? That’s a novel way to put it.
Oh, let me add that in my own way, I’m still a protester.