Theology

Moving Beyond Transactional Salvation

“Have you made a decision for Christ yet?”

This is “Christianese” for asking if you’ve been “saved,” “accepted Christ into your heart,” or whatever the preferred vernacular is. For me, it’s a question that asked if I’d converted yet: from Reform Judaism to Christianity (Anglican, specifically). A handful of friends knew I’d been thinking about it for some time, after years of quietly admiring Jesus from afar. But I couldn’t bring myself to make the leap just yet.

Theologian G.K. Chesterton says, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” I see my own story in that quote. I held off longer than I should have to “make a decision” for Christ because I wasn’t prepared for the family and friends I might lose. Wasn’t ready to stop pushing physical boundaries with my boyfriend. I was falling in love with Jesus but also very attached to my sins and knew that being a Christian would require uprooting them.

Salvation Is Not Transactional

The problem with making salvation a “one and done” step is that it becomes purely transactional: I say this prayer in exchange for eternal life. The reality of the Christian life looks nothing like that. Salvation isn’t transactional, but formational. Too often, evangelists passing out tracts or approaching strangers to discuss faith don’t do justice to just how long the sanctification process can be. If only it were as simple as accepting Christ one day, and no longer experiencing the temptation to hook up or get drunk or watch porn every day after that. 

Sure, someone can pray the Sinner’s Prayer, as I did – admit her need for a savior and ask Christ into her life. But if there’s no inner transformation that leads to noticeable outward changes, what was the point?

Becoming Like Christ, One Day At A Time

Fortunately, God is patient. I “made that decision” but didn’t change my life in one day. Sanctification took years, and is still ongoing. My habits couldn’t change until my mindset did: until I truly understood that God is better than dating, better than alcohol, better than – gasp – sex. Why? Because those things were an attempt to fill a void that only God can.

In the end, I didn’t begrudgingly give up certain habits because I “had” to; I genuinely lost interest as my heart changed. Only after years – yes, years – of Bible reading, engaging in a spiritual community, and regular prayer did I start to understand God’s design for humanity: from who we sleep with, to our entertainment choices, and more. Not as a means to ruin our fun, but for our flourishing. It’s the spiritual equivalent of choosing a well-balanced meal over fast food. 

Embrace The Weirdness

There will be people who think you’re strange or even offensive for choosing this narrow path to life. But you can have “old-fashioned” values without being self-righteous and overly critical of others. The Christians who helped lead me to Christ were like that: honest about what they believed, but never forceful or preachy. They lived in a way that made me want to learn more, and that’s exactly what I did.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

Photo by Thomas Vitali on Unsplash

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