What does being saved mean?
To understand what a Christian means when they say "being saved", you must first know what sin is.
Sin is defined by Miriam-Webster as an offense against religious or moral law, transgression of the law of God, or a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the last two definitions.
Transgression of the law of God
So what is a transgression of the law of God? Put quite simply, it means disobedience of the commands God sent. In this sense, sin can be broken down into two categories.
There is the sin of comission and the sin of omission. Comission is doing something God has commanded we shouldn't do. This would be something like murder or theft.
Sinning by omission, however, is not doing something that should be done. This would include failing to give to the needy or even helping a friend in need.
These are transgressions of the laws God has given to man.
Vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God
Huh? What does that mean? Definitions can sure get confusing, so let's break it down.
In Genesis 3, The Bible tells the story of Adam and Eve, who are thought to be Earth's first inhabitants. God created Adam, then seeing that he needed a helper, created Eve. They lived in a place called Eden, a paradise garden with plenty to eat and nothing to worry about.
God told Adam and Eve they could eat anything in the entire garden, except the fruit of one tree. God had created them with something called "free will", or the ability to make their own decisions about what they do with no intervention from God.
One day, a serpent asked Eve about the one tree God said not to eat from. She told the serpent that God said if they eat from that tree they would die. The serpent then told Eve that God only said that to ensure she and Adam do not become like God.
Long story short, Eve eats the fruit then tells Adam to eat it. Having disobeyed God, both of them were banned from Eden, having been cursed with a "sinful nature", or an inclination to disobeying God.
God and sin
God cannot be in the presence of sin. It goes against his character. It's like an asthmatic being around cigarette smoke, but worse. God loves his creation though. He does not want anyone to miss out on a relationship with Him.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23 (CSB)
So God sent His son, Jesus, to the world to command the world to once again obey God. Knowing that man could not obey God without help, Jesus also had another mission, one that would not be revealed to the world until it was complete. Jesus was to die to pay the price of death for all sin of all time.
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! - Romans 5:8 (CSB)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23 (CSB)
What must I do to be saved?
Growing up, I was taught in church that all that was required to be saved was to say a short prayer and I would go to Heaven and not Hell. While the people who taught this were well-meaning, they were oversimplifying a process that requires guidance and constant attention.
The people who taught me this pulled from Romans 10:9.
if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. - Romans 10:9 (CSB)
Being saved is not simply saying a little prayer. It is looking to and remembering the action Jesus took in sacrificing himself for all of mankind. It involves relying on God to transform you rather than anything you can do to earn salvation.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:23-26 (CSB)
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart!
Some of the most prominent preachers and evangelists boil salvation down to a pre-written prayer sometimes called the Sinner's Prayer. It was meant to simplify the process by adding acknowledgement of our sinful nature, recognizing the need for Jesus to atone for that sin, and committing your life to the mission Christ left His followers.
The problem with simplifying salvation to a prayer is that without following up and disciplining (mentoring) the person who prays it is people treat it like fire insurance. Too often, it's treated as a "get out of hell free" card or a license to sin.
The Sinner's Prayer isn't bad, and some people who pray it are saved. But the prayer itself doesn't provide salvation. It can't save you, only your posture toward Jesus can do that.
How Do I Know I've Been Saved?
There are two key ingredients to being saved. The first is repentance. Repentance is more than asking for forgiveness, it is turning away from sin. To be saved you have to forsake your sin. Leave it like a toxic relationship and never look back.
It doesn't mean you will never sin again, but you should never WANT to sin again. You shouldn't be actively seeking out sin.
The second ingredient is faith. Many people mistake faith for belief. I believe in a chair. I believe it exists and I believe that it has held other people who put their entire weight on it.
Until I place my trust in the chair by transferring all of my weight onto it, I am not placing my faith in it. This is the difference between belief and faith. Until you can rest your full weight of your eternal destiny squarely on Jesus, you are not practicing faith.
Take Up Your Cross
Following Christ requires a daily commitment to live according to His teachings and to love other people enough to continue a lifelong mission to introduce others to God.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? - Matthew 16:24-26 (CSB)