Every summer as a college student I would see him standing somewhere on the streets at the Riverbend Festival. He was a large man dressed to look like Christ, standing next to a life-sized cross on which large red letters were written, This Blood’s For You. I’m sure he thought this was a clever slogan to use in his street evangelization, especially at a music festival where beer flowed freely and people listened to all kinds of “sinful” music. And even though as a committed Christian I would agree with his assertion that the Blood of Christ has set me free from sin, I always had to disagree with the underlying message in his presentation that all of us gathered for this festival were somehow engaged in sin simply by being there. I also never really believed that his display would have been very compelling to those who have not yet heard or accepted the message of Jesus Christ. In fact, I would have to say that most were turned off by having the message shoved in their face or they simply took it as an opportunity to ridicule the Christian faith, using it as just one more example of Christians acting like lunatics.
There is a certain segment of Christianity that spends a great deal of time trying to “save souls”. “Have you been saved?” is a question I heard frequently growing up in the South. Whether it was at school, or in the workplace, or from the endless stream of Christians knocking at the door hoping to gain more souls for Christ, the question was asked again and again. It was my brother who, in my mind, had the perfect answer to that question. “Yes,” he would say, “I was saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross, the same time as everyone else.” Not surprisingly, that answer never seemed to satisfy the person asking the question, but I still think it is the best answer anyone could give. Growing up as a Catholic in the South, I was accused many times of adhering to a faith that was based upon works righteousness. My non-Catholic friends tried to convince me that I could not earn my way to heaven, that works were not a substitution for the free grace offered by Christ. The problem they faced was that I didn’t then, and don’t today need to be convinced of the fact that I cannot earn my way into heaven. This is exactly why the whole idea of “being saved” in the way they describe it doesn’t make sense to me. You see, if salvation is a free gift, then why would I need to do anything, including making an altar call or publicly inviting Jesus into my heart, etc.? Christ has completed the work of salvation already and the works we do as Christians which include prayer, service to our neighbor and personal sacrifice are simply expressions of gratitude for what God has done for us. To be a Christian is to be a person who continually gives thanks.
I firmly believe that we are called as Christians to spread the good news to the world, but I’m not sure that asking the question, “Have you been saved?” is the best way to go about it. Perhaps a better initial question is, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”. If the answer is no, then we should try our best to tell others about his life and our relationship with him. If the answer is yes, then maybe there is the opportunity to find out more about how their relationship with Christ is going and to see if there are ways we can support a fellow believer in deepening that relationship. And then again, maybe the person standing before us is further along in their journey than we are and has wisdom of their own to share.
Finally, I think the question that all Christians have to continually ask ourselves is whether we are succeeding in loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbor as ourself. To the extent that we are not, well that’s when we rely on the Blood of Christ to make up what is lacking in our own feeble attempts of love.