What does it mean to be saved? What is salvation, and how do we get it? My journey to understand these concepts began from childhood. I grew up in a Catholic background, believing in and loving God and Jesus with all my young heart. I loved learning more about God and Jesus and my faith, and I was one of those kids who knew all the answers in Sunday school.
Salvation is the deliverance from sin (wrongdoing and the guilt that comes from it) and its consequences.
In the Catholic faith, the seven sacraments are very foundational to the faith and lead us toward salvation. Sacraments include being baptized as an infant, receiving holy communion, confession of our sins to the priest, etc. In 8th grade we went through rigorous study to prepare ourselves for the sacrament of confirmation. Confirmation is when we decide for ourselves that we accept the Catholic faith and share our dedication to it in front of friends and family and the church members. The Bishop comes and asks each of us 8th graders a question about our faith (hence the studying) and then anoints our heads with oil. It is believed that this is when the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. I looked forward to this day of confirmation. I wanted to experience the Holy Spirit's power in my life. I was eager to publicly share my faith before others. I believed something holy and powerful would happen. On confirmation day, I answered the Bishop's question, was anointed with the holy oil and nothing happened. I went back to my seat disappointed. Why did God not feel any closer? Did I do something wrong? Was I not holy enough?
I began to get a little disillusioned with the Catholic faith though not with God or Jesus, who I still loved and loved learning more about. I had several friends who were Protestant and invited me to attend their youth group and I went with my parents' permission. I loved it. Much more fun than studying and answering questions about the faith. And then I heard a message from the youth pastor that said that all you have to do to be saved is believe. Nothing we did would ever be enough, all we have to do is declare we believe that He is Lord and He died for our sins.
The jailer rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved..." Acts 16:29-31
It can't be that simple, I thought. I already believe that and don't feel any different.
A few weeks later I was invited to attend a retreat with the youth group at a retreat center up in the mountains. I went because A) my friends were going and B) I wanted to learn more about faith and C) the boy I had a huge crush on would be there (just being honest). I learned a few things, had a lot of fun with my friends, laughed a lot, and plotted how to sit next to my crush during every session. It was a teenager's dream Christian retreat.
One night during the retreat we were all sitting around after dinner in the cafeteria when the smoke detectors went off. We were hesitant to go outside into the snowy mountains on a December evening, but the retreat leaders insisted and when we got outside we realized to our horror that there was indeed a real fire. The chapel that we had been having our sessions in was on fire! One of the retreat leaders told us to get into a circle and we prayed together. We shivered and prayed and huddled together for warmth as we waited for the fire department to arrive. The fire was put out before it affected any other buildings, but the chapel was destroyed. We packed up our things, got on the bus, and solemnly drove back to our church. The retreat would sadly be ending a day early.
As we were heading back to the church where our worried parents were waiting to pick us up, one of the retreat leaders stood up. "Oh my goodness, you guys, my watch stopped!" she said.
We wondered why that mattered in light of everything that had happened. Then she explained "I checked my watch a few times during dinner because I knew we needed to head to the chapel for our final meeting of the night. I didn't realize my watch had stopped. If it hadn't, we could have been in that chapel when the fire started." I think it hit us all at the same time. We had been protected from the fire. Saved from it by something as simple as a watch being stopped. And whether it was the God of the universe stopping that watch, or just the watch's natural time to stop, we will never know. But what I did know at that moment was that I had been saved from a fire. And I could be saved from an eternal fire in hell by doing something as simple as believing.
The thing I had been missing my entire religious upbringing was grace. I had been taught about God's love, but also about working for our salvation, earning it through our works and the sacraments. But grace is an undeserved gift. God gives us the gift of salvation, of being saved though we did nothing to deserve it. Jesus was without sin and yet died for ours. That is grace.
I did believe. I wanted that grace, that undeserved gift. I just needed to make it official. And so right then and there on the bus, myself and two others accepted the Lord as our Savior. We confessed that we were sinful and needed forgiveness. That it came from the blood of Jesus on a cross. That He died for our sins so that we could be saved.
If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10
I got off that bus a changed person. One who experienced a lot more joy and confidence, knowing that my salvation rested in the hands of my Savior and not in my works. One who was eager to love God and live for Him because He had saved me not only from a fire but from my sins and an eternal fire in hell. We would never be able to earn it, no matter how hard we tried or how "good" we were.
Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If not, and you believe that Jesus died for your sins so that you could be saved, then confess it with your mouth. There's no official prayer to pray, use your own words. But if you need help, here's a prayer you can pray:
Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin. Please forgive me. Come into my life. I receive You as my Lord and Savior. Now, help me to live for you the rest of this life. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
I'm sharing my testimony with you because it is my spiritual birthday! On this day two decades ago I accepted Christ as my Savior and became a Christian. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I pray that my story encourages you. That it helps you see the beauty of grace and salvation. And to see how easy it is. It really is undeserved. Let me know if you've prayed this prayer for the first time, I'd love to celebrate with you and pray for you. :)