If you are a Christian, you have probably referred to yourself at some time as having been “saved”, or having received “salvation”. One of the interesting points to have arisen from the debate surrounding the publication of Rob Bell’s latest book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” is that Christians may not all see their salvation in the same way as each other. You may not see yourself as having been saved from the same thing as the person in the next pew. You may not even consider your salvation to have been from anything much at all.
This struck me as I read a report about the response of some evangelical leaders to the book, and also as I trawled various blogs. A lot of the arguments against the book’s hypothesis were from Christians who stated (sometimes very angrily) that if there were no eternal damnation in the fires of hell, then their salvation was worthless. The blood of Jesus had been spilt for nothing. Indeed, to believe there is no fiery hell is to make a mockery of their whole Christian experience and belief.
I have to say that I grew increasingly puzzled as I read. What on earth had the fires of hell got to do with my salvation? It was then that I had a moment of revelation, as I understood for the first time that there are Christians in the world whose understanding of their salvation is centred on the belief that they have been saved from the fires of hell whereas the person next to them on the train has not.
As I understood that I began to feel shock. Shock that in all my time as a Christian, in a variety of churches and congregations, I never really realised this. Shock also (and sadness) at the understanding that for many, what they have been saved from is more important than what they have been saved to.
I was brought up in a non-believing household. I never went to church until I was about eighteen, and when I accepted my need for Christ and asked him into my life it was not because I believed in any sort of hell but because I had an overwhelming conviction that my life without God was missing the point, that only with God could I be the complete and whole person that was always intended, only with God could I understand and see the world in the full widescreen HD 3D Technicolor that was intended all along by my creator. Christ had died to save me from a shadowy half-life and to give me instead life in abundance. This is what I accepted. That is what has motivated me ever since.
Of course I was told about the hell thing too, and (as I mentioned in my previous post on this subject) I was willing when pushed to tell people the party line. But (and I am admitting this now as much to myself as to anybody) I was without conviction on this. I simply could not conceive of a God who was going to let people burn eternally in the fires of hell simply because they had not heard the message of Christ, or who heard it and thought it to be just another old tale, or who simply couldn’t see its significance. The God who is all loving and the God who is totally just couldn’t do that. I think that all along I have seen the hell of the Bible as metaphorical, referring perhaps to the burning loss in the hearts of those who are separated from God. I haven’t thought that one through yet. Have you?
So I accepted fully salvation by Christ, but never saw it as salvation from burning in hell. It was salvation from the shadows, from the life I was leading, from life without God. It was salvation to a complete life with God. What is only just striking me is that other Christians see their salvation in a very different way. They believe they were saved from something very different and can’t envisage life without the certainty of that.
I don’t know if I ever actually use the phrase “I’ve been saved” in real life. I’m not one to use other people’s words or phrases; I tend to put things in my own way. I would say that when I accepted the love of Christ God gave me full life, life in abundance. What about you? If you see yourself as being a Christian would you tell people you have been saved? And if so, what were you saved from? What were you saved to? Have you ever thought about what you believe your salvation is about, and why you believe that, and if others who you mix with every Sunday may see it differently?
I think this debate matters to the church as well as at a personal level. There was a time when the population at large believed almost without question in hell, but those days are long gone. If we as a church are trying to sell the idea of salvation from a hell that most of this generation don’t believe in, then we are going to have little success without first convincing people of the reality of the fires of hell. We are going to have to preach eternal damnation first. Is that the message we believe should be preached?
Please leave your comments; they are as good as those of the person on the next pew! Only you know how you see the life God has given you.
Here is that video again to remind you of the debate.
Main page image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net