When Does Salvation Take Place?
I have always lead people to pray a prayer of salvation, but is that always when salvation takes place?
J. as a man I got to know in Belton, Texas in the middle 1980s. He told me that after years of fighting God and arguing with preachers and church people, he walked the aisle of the First Baptist Church and publicly “confessed Christ”. He signed the commitment card and was official. But he told me later that he wasn’t saved, he wasn’t in Christ.
You see, for years he had been the one that everyone prayed for in church. His wife and kids were in church and he made the occasional appearance but he wasn’t a follower of Christ. He didn’t embrace Christ as Lord. He was that guy who is in every church community in their radar.
J told me, as we talked one night 30 years ago, “Jim, I wasn’t truly ‘saved’, born again, not until I stepped into the Baptistry.” Wait, what? I’m a Southern Baptist, we believe in baptism, by immersion but it is a symbol of an inner reality. We do not believe that the act of baptism is slavific, or has saving efficacy. So, what did he mean? J went on to explain. He said that walking down the aisle wasn’t about surrender to and faith in Christ as Lord, but just about getting his wife and the church “off his back.” He thought that would be the end of it.
But then, of course, the pastor started coming over to talk about baptism and church membership. “Baptism, I walked the aisle, signed the card, prayed the prayer, leave me alone.” Some time went by, and he resisted not wanting to be baptized. He resisted because he wasn’t truly saved. He had done a work but not an act of faith. There was no surrender.
Finally J told me “when I truly ‘got saved’, when I was born again, was when stepped into the baptistry. It wasn’t the water. It wasn’t the aft of immersion. It was that at that moment he exercised faith and surrendered to God’s plan for salvation.
When the Israelites stood at the Jordan river before they entered Canaan, it was not a quiet river but a raging springtime river, perhaps a mile across. God told them he would stop the river. They believed he would but it still flowed until the priests at the front stepped into the river, then it was stopped far upstream and the walked across. So then the river of Judgment and separation between us and God is before the non-Christian. Christ had died for us, we know that we can be forgiven, reconciled to God, but until we truly surrender in faith and believe, receiving his Grace for ourselves, it isn’t ours.
Do I mean by this that baptism saves people? No.
Do I believe a simple prayer, words, even the right words save people? No.
But I do believe that it is an act of faith,understanding our sin, and surrendering to Jesus as Lord of our lives. That aft may require explanation, “what must I do to be saved?” Upon explanation they confess Christ and receive him by faith. Some may not come to that point until a later date as something else triggers it, like Mr. J Others may know and be resisting, yet the simple turn of the heart in a worship service, the act of stepping out is their moment of faith, before any prayer has ever been offered, or words said. Should we help them verbalize it in a prayer, definitely but, the simplicity of Romans 10 is still true though complex to in experience.
V8 – the word is near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart
V9 – that if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
V10 – for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
V11- … Anyone who trusts in him will never be out to shame
V13 – everyone who calls on the name of The Lord will be saved
Oh what a beautiful mystery and complete certainty is the salvation Of man by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
V14 – how can they call on one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching?
V15 – and how can they preach unless they are sent?