Anyone who has ever had any exposure to Protestantism is probably fairly well acquainted with this question: “Are you saved?” At first glance this seems to be a pretty understandable question, being that all Christians believe that salvation is the ultimate goal of all mankind. If, as Christians, we believe that salvation is our ultimate end, then why shouldn’t we ask others, with the utmost of sincerity, “are you saved?” Well, as valid as the question may seem, it shows a profound flaw in understanding of Salvation. The concept behind the question treats salvation as if it is a singular act within the person’s life. While it is true that one can never come to salvation without a singular act, namely an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, that is not in and of itself salvation.
To be put metaphorically, it could be said that life is like crossing the English Channel. You have a goal, get to the other side (Heaven), however, you could instead not make it to the other side and instead drown and sink to the bottom (Hell). The Protestant question of “are you saved,” making salvation a singular act in ones life, would, in terms of crossing a great body of water, be as if salvation were a lifeboat. In this understanding, you get on, thereby making a singular choice in your life. With this belief, anyone who ever has an encounter with Jesus Christ is on a sure path to salvation. However, this simply isn’t the case.
A singular encounter, while perhaps life changing for an instant, can easily be forgotten, especially in our current age. You may have gotten in the lifeboat, but you can surely forget which way you were supposed to be going. The encounter with the person of Jesus may be, and indeed I would say is, the most important single moment in your life, however if it only happens once, you have failed.
If salvation is not a single act, then what exactly is it? Well, it’s a process. In the Eastern Christian tradition, this process is referred to as Theosis. That is, becoming godly. This process is not something which is done once, there is no single altar call, there is no three month period of Christian living, after which your salvation is assured. No. Theosis is a lifelong journey. It is not a single encounter with Christ, but a lifetime of encounters so intimate that you become like him. It isn’t just going to him once, and going about your life, it is radically changing your life to be like him. This is a terrifying thing to many of us, as indeed I believe it should be, as God has called us to be like him, not in a distant and uncaring way, but in a near and human way. However this is not the fear that we have. Instead of fearing the fact that this call comes from God, we fear that it is a call to absolute change. We are a people who like quick fixes, my head hurts, take some aspirin, etc etc. But this is not a quick fix. This is instead a complete reversal of livelihood. Almost everything about us is called to be changed, not just for a a brief moment when we go into the water, or up to the altar, but forever!
So, to return to our metaphor; there is no magic lifeboat that will take us to our destination, if only we get in that one time. Instead, we must swim it, the whole way. We have free will and therefore must make decisions, we must decide each stroke. We are not alone in this vast sea though, we have a guide, and He is never too far from us. His voice is not a booming one from the heavens, but a soft one that cares about us. This guide has put His life down for us, that we may make it to our destination, but he does not insist on His way, He will let us go where we please. He does not abandon us in our misdirection, and He will always be with us to guide us when we turn to Him. But if we truly decide to ignore him forever, we will surely sink, even if we did once follow his voice.