Growing up, my understanding of Christianity went something like this: God created humanity perfect, but with freewill. In the Garden, God told Adam and Eve they could eat anything they wanted except the fruit from a certain tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve was tempted by Satan, fell for it, and all of mankind fell along with her.
Our sin now separates us from God and will ultimately result in us going to Hell. However, God loves us so much that he sent his son to die in our place and make the atonement for our sin. All we have to do to avoid the worst fate imaginable (for eternity) is, a) admit you have sinned, b) believe Jesus died for your sins, and c) confess your belief. Then, you are good! You are promised eternal life in heaven.
After that there are a few things you’ve got to do to maintain your status as “saved.” First, you’ve got to work on not sinning. It is understood that everyone will mess up, but you have to try. Also, make sure you ask for forgiveness when you do mess up. Second, you need to share your faith with everyone else. What kind of terrible person would you be if you had the cure to someone’s illness but did not give it to them? They can refuse it, but at least you tried. And finally, even though it is not required (“saved by grace” and all), you should try to be a good person and follow Jesus’ lead.
Obviously that’s all a little simplistic, but it’s designed to be easy for kids and potential Christians to understand. Those are the basic and then you learn more by going to church, praying and reading your Bible. As we grow in our Christian maturity, we learn about more rules that we need to follow, more specific sins to avoid and which sins are the worst to commit (most of the time unspoken). We are also encouraged to spread our faith with more and more people, even maybe going on a short-term missions trip or two.
But I have to ask, is that really all there is to being a Christian?
I am currently reading Greg Boyd’s book Benefit of the Doubt. In it, he talks about the dangers of seeing salvation as merely a “shallow postmortem acquittal.” He put it like this:
“…people are inclined to think that the most significant thing about their past pledge to Christ is that it is legally binding, as if they had entered into a deal with Jesus when they prayed the sinners’ prayer or some such thing. And so…they are inclined to feel secure in their ‘salvation’ because of the sheer fact that they made this pledge, and entered into this ‘deal’ at some point in the past rather than the fact that they are actually living out their pledge by surrendering their life to Christ in the present.”
I was guilty of this growing up. I believed I was saved because I said a prayer once and as long as I didn’t “walk away from the faith” I was safe. But I want more than that now. I want to actually live in the fullness of a covenantal relationship with God, not just know that I will go to heaven when I die.
So what then? If there is more to being saved than just saying a prayer, what is the more? Boyd reminds us that in the Bible our relationship with God is compared to a marriage covenant. When we say our vows on our wedding day, we are not just legally binding ourselves to that person. We are also pledging to live our life with that person. As Boyd says, “life is always lived in the present.” Christianity is not just about asking for forgiveness for our sins and going to heaven when we die. Being a Christian is about being saved, in the present.