I grew up in the Deep South, an area heavily influenced by the evangelical Christian faith. For many of us southern believers, the best articulation of our theology of salvation was the phrase, “Once saved, always saved.” The idea basically boils down to this: Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and once you say the “sinner’s prayer,” you are forever saved, and it can’t be undone, no matter what you do.
Growing up, I loved that idea. It was neat, clean, easy-to-explain — and most importantly, it was final. Except it wasn’t. As I got older, I noticed that many “saved” people later claimed they needed to redo the whole procedure, including baptism, because they didn’t really mean it the first time. Plus, preachers often stoked my own doubts when they said things like, “If you can't remember the exact moment you were saved, then you probably weren't.” Yikes.
That “exact moment” thing really threw me off. I mean, when I was five, I asked Jesus into my heart, but truth be told, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what I was doing. Not only that, a lot of my motivation came from the desire to get the oyster cracker and grape juice offered during communion. So maybe that wasn’t the exact day for me. Maybe I wasn’t even saved.
Naturally, I began living with anxiety and uncertainty over whether I had done the right combination of things to ensure my eternal security. But eventually, that anxiety pushed me to search the Bible to see what it actually said about being saved. What I saw there stunned me.
It said that when Jesus was on the cross, He actually “became” sin itself (2 Corinthians 5:21). Did you get that? Jesus literally became our sin. And when Jesus died, our sin died — all of it, past, present, and future.
That time you committed adultery? It died on the cross.
All that gossip you’ve shared about your boss? When Jesus’ heart stopped beating, it evaporated forever.
That damaging word you spoke to your child? Though some of the consequences remain in this life, as an eternal matter, it’s in the grave.
All of our sin is dead and gone forever, and it died with Christ. And according to Jesus, if you believe in Him, you’ve been “born again” (John 3:3). Now I don’t remember the day I was physically born any more than you do, nor am I certain about the day I believed and was spiritually reborn. But that’s not the focus of our salvation anyway.
Regardless of when we said “the sinner’s prayer” or got baptized, the focus of our salvation is on what Jesus did, not what we’ve done. With that perspective, it’s easy to pinpoint the exact moment of our salvation: It was late one afternoon 2,000 years ago on a hill called Calvary. And if that isn’t enough to convince you of your salvation, nothing will.