Exactly what constitutes saving faith? How strong does that faith have to be? Does it have to be absolute, or is there some room for doubt? Common sense would tell you that faith is almost never an all-or-nothing proposition. Some believe strongly, while some believe weakly, with many doubts and reservations. Where does God draw the line? If acknowledging Jesus as Lord of one’s life is a necessary requirement, just exactly how submissive must one be to Jesus in order for it to be considered truly repentant? Must one repent of every single sin and completely change the course of one’s life, or is this something one grows into?
If you view salvation as an “either-or” proposition and view it as something that occurs at a single point in time, then you have the impossible task of determining the point at which an individual can say for sure that he or she is saved. It’s not as easy as you might think to “draw a line” between those who are saved and those who are not.
Let’s suppose you line up all the people who have ever lived. At one end of the line would be people who are obviously not saved. Those would be the Hitlers, mass murders and God-haters of the world. At the other end would be believers who have absolutely no doubts at all, who are absolutely 100% committed to Christ as Lord. Let’s assume there are several billion people in that line? On a scale of total saving faith at one end to no faith at all at the other end, where does God draw the line? Assuming your assumptions are true regarding people as being either saved or not saved, how much difference would there be between the two individuals who are standing in the place where God supposedly “draws the line?” One would logically assume that there would be virtually no measurable difference between the faith of the two individuals on either side of that line, yet, according to the above assumptions, one of them would be saved and spend eternity in Heaven, and the other would be condemned to everlasting torment in Hell. How would you reconcile this with your view of God as both loving and just? We view our salvation from only one point in time and are unable to see it from God’s vantage point as a completed process. If we view salvation as not limited to a single conversion event, but as a process or series of events, then we are better able to resolve the difficulty described above. If you believe in the doctrine of universal reconciliation, that eventually everyone will become fully reconciled to Christ, then you don’t have to worry about some line of demarcation that God supposedly draws between the “saved” and the “unsaved.”
Rather than agonize over whether you are genuinely “saved” or not, wouldn’t it be better to understand that everyone, including you, has already been “redeemed” by the blood of Christ, and Christ is in the process of seeking out those who have lost their way and will eventually bring them all to Himself. As far as God is concerned, everyone is saved already, because He exists outside the space-time boundaries of our universe and views our salvation as a completed process. From God’s point of view, everyone’s sins have been committed and repented of, down to the very last holdout. From our point of view, however, we see this as a process which occurs over time. There are several “steps” to this process. God has taken the first step and established His plan of redemption before time began. Our initial conversion experience is only one step in this process. For some, this is a single dramatic event. Others are completely unable to identify a conversion experience, but, instead, have gradually grown into their relationship with Christ. After our conversion, we begin to grow in our relationship with Christ, with many wrong turns along the way. Through a process we call sanctification, God’s Holy Spirit works in us to make us more and more like Christ. We will not be completely perfected in Christ until the final day of redemption of all mankind.
In order to truly experience “salvation” one must receive Christ Himself. Salvation is not a thing, but a person. It is not an all-or-nothing experience. It is not based on good works, or merit on our part. Christ freely offers Himself to us and is able to overlook our sins because they are covered by His blood at Calvary. He substitutes His righteousness for ours. We may only be considered “righteous” to the extent that we abide in Christ and share His life and righteousness. Everything is in Christ. Apart from Him, we can accomplish nothing worthwhile, and have no life at all (John 15:5). Salvation has nothing to do with the mere acceptance of prescribed doctrines or rules of behavior. It has everything to do with the closeness of our relationship with the person, Jesus Christ. It has little to do with the strength or weakness of our faith. It has everything to do with the strength and faithfulness of the person in whom we place our trust.
Many people, including me, have trouble understanding truths which have no clearly defined “edges.” When it comes to truths about God and our relationship with Him, most of us tend to think in black and white terms. We are not comfortable with shades of gray. We tend to think of Heaven and Hell as discrete and distinct places, and salvation as an either/or condition which occurs at a single point in time. We like to think that the moral choices we make in life are either right or wrong, and good or bad. We are more comfortable viewing Christian doctrine in absolute, rather than relative terms.
For me, it is helpful to distinguish between idealized truth and experiential truth. The ideals of Heaven and Hell may only be partially realized in our actual experience at any one point in time. In our earthly walk, we often find ourselves straddling the fence, so to speak, with regard to our relationship with God or with respect to the moral choices we make in life.
The individual who is looking for certainty regarding his or her relationship with God, is not going to find it by merely ascribing to a set of propositional truths or by relying upon a single conversion event in his or her life. Assurance of salvation results only from a continuous, on-going relationship with Jesus Christ.