“Are you saved?”
This question, often posed by evangelical or fundamentalist Christians, inquires about the meaning and certainty of one’s salvation.
As we continue our journey through the season of Lent, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon the meaning of Jesus Christ’s saving works and to recommit ourselves to accepting this gift of salvation.
The concept of “being saved” can be understood in a number of ways. A drowning person rescued by a quick-acting lifeguard knows the relief that comes with being brought safely to solid ground. A person who has received CPR undoubtedly feels gratitude for the person who breathed new life into him. A person who has received a reprieve on a defaulted loan knows the joy of being able to begin anew.
In a much more significant way, every human being is offered the gift of eternal salvation by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But what exactly is it that we need to be saved from?
Every human being needs to be saved from the effects of sin. When sin entered the world, so did mankind’s separation from the loving Father who created us. After the sin of Adam and Eve, “The Lord God therefore banished [man] from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23).
Mankind needs to be saved from this separation from God, yet no human being is capable of restoring this relationship. Only God himself is able to do so. Through his great love for us, God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about this salvation. We profess our belief in this reality when we pray in the Nicene Creed, “For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.”
Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and offers us the gift of new life with the Father. It is a gift offered to everyone but a gift which each person much choose to accept.
Using an analogy, we may receive a special gift from a loved one. We can graciously accept and use the gift. We can ignore it because we are distracted by other less-important gifts. Or we can even throw the gift away because we don’t think it is useful to us.
Accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation brings joy, peace, communion and fullness of life. “Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 1).
Jesus offers us everything that is good, but we can still choose to reject it. When Jesus was here on earth, there were many people who saw, heard and encountered him firsthand, yet even some of them chose not to follow him. “As a result of this, many [of] his followers returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66).
A mystic and doctor of the church, St. Catherine of Siena, describes the saving work of Jesus Christ as a “bridge” between heaven and earth.
Because of sin, the gates of heaven were closed. A chasm was created between heaven and earth, between God and man.
Yet God provided a way to bridge this chasm. A bridge has been created between heaven and earth, built on the cross of Jesus Christ and paved with his blood. No human being could build this bridge, only the Son of God.
Man can now cross over the chasm and enter into eternal life with our heavenly Father. But each person has to choose whether or not to unite himself to Jesus and cross the bridge.
When we open our hearts in love to Jesus, respond to his call to leave sin behind and cling to him, Jesus helps us safely navigate the bridge. He provides walls of virtue, a roof of mercy and his own body and blood to sustain us on our way (The Dialogue, p. 66).
St. Catherine also describes the attempt to reach heaven in a way other than by the bridge built by Jesus Christ. It is a fruitless endeavor. The sins and temptations of the world rush below the bridge in the fast-flowing waters. Trying to cross through the water, a person gets washed away and, thus, is unable to reach the other side.
Accepting the salvation offered by our Lord Jesus Christ requires both faith and action. It requires saying “yes” to Jesus and taking the steps to join him on the bridge.
At the heart of the Good News of our salvation is the message of conversion. Jesus proclaims, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Repentance and conversion mean turning away from sin and living a life in union with Jesus Christ. “Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple” (Redemptoris Missio 46).
Salvation begins by professing the lordship of Jesus Christ with our lips. “For, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) But this profession of faith must be followed by our actions. Jesus himself tells us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Our practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent can help us recall our need for a Savior, and they can lead us to say “yes” to our Lord in word and in action.
Liz Hoefferle is director of religious education for the Diocese of Duluth.