Got Saved or Got Started?
Robert Wurtz II
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47 ESV)
It has been around a hundred years since Billy Sunday broke with the Biblical tradition of describing the significance of a person making a step towards Christ in conversion. Whereas the language of “hopefully converted” or something similar had been used, within thirty-nine years of his ministry the churches went from “X number of people were hopefully converted” to “X number of people got saved.” The significance of that change cannot possibly be over stated. Instead of thinking of salvation as a crisis event leading to a process and a future consummation; salvation was thought of from the word go as a consummation. In other words, “I got saved” suggests that the race is completed; when in reality, it has just gotten started.
I suggest we break with Billy Sundays language all together and begin referring to the experience of new converts as “got started” instead of “got saved.” But far be it from me to arrogate to myself the authority to make such a change; however, even great Biblical scholars such as the late John Lightfoot (1602–1675) would probably agree. In fact, in commenting on Acts 2:46-47 he wrote:
“Salvation is a thing of the present, as well as of the past and future. The verb is used in all these senses in the New Testament. Thus, we were saved (not are, as A.V.), Romans 8:24; shall or shalt be saved, Romans 10:9, 13; ye are being saved, 1 Corinthians 15:2. ‘Godliness, righteousness, is life, is salvation. And it is hardly necessary to say that the divorce of morality and religion must be fostered and encouraged by failing to note this, and so laying the whole stress either on the past or on the future — on the first call, or on the final change. It is, therefore, important that the idea of salvation as a rescue from sin, through the knowledge of God in Christ, and therefore a progressive condition, a present state, should not be obscured, and we can but regret such a translation as Acts 2:47, ‘The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,’ where the Greek implies a different idea” (Lightfoot, “on a Fresh Revision of the New Testament” quoted in Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament).
The great Greek scholar A.T. Robinson comments on this verse two significant things. First, “if the Lord only always “added” those who join our churches.” He is suggesting here that there are people who are added to the churches that God did not add. Second, “those that were being saved (tous soœzomenous) is better translated as ‘those saved from time to time.’ It was a continuous revival, day by day. Soœzoœ like soœteœria is used for “save” in three senses (beginning, process, conclusion), but here repetition is clearly the point of the present tense.” The great Greek commentators John Lightfoot, Marvin Vincent, and A.T. Robertson all agree that both Greek words for salvation are used in the sense of:
1. Beginning of salvation (crisis event or “was saved”)
2. Process (are being saved in the present tense)
3. Conclusion (will be saved finally)
Since the days of Billy Sunday when the concept of salvation and the language of “got saved” began being used — people now think of salvation as something that happened in the past. To most people, it is a completed action. The best way I could illustrate this is by Paul’s use of the running motif.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 KJV)
“I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26 KJV)
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7 KJV)
“Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Philippians 2:16 KJV)
The writer to the Hebrews adds this admonition:
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 KJV)
Every race has a beginning, process, and conclusion. If we lose sight of this or if we misrepresent what it means to be converted and regenerated then we falsely represent the nature of the race. To say, “X number of people got saved” is to imply that the race is completed. It sounds like something has been attained. When in fact, there has only been a beginning. In many cases, it is not even a Biblical beginning because Paul told the Galatians (who did run well), “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NKJV) Paul’s idea of a beginning is beginning in the Spirit to be followed by a process of being made perfect by the Spirit (as opposed to what the false teachers at Galatia had introduced — a process of being perfected by the flesh).
In modern times races often begin when the official fires a real or electronic starter pistol. Imagine how insane it would be for someone heard the shot and was then told that they “got raced.” In a figure that is what has been happening for multitudes. It’s like they heard the sot and went over and sat down on the bench as if the race is over. But it has just begun! You didn’t “get saved” you merely “got started.” Again, “wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us…”
For the last one hundred years people have been being told they “got saved.” How much more right would it be to say that they “got started.” What if for the next hundred years ministers and evangelists reported “X number of people got started!” It would leave the convert with an impression that there is now a race to be completed. You’re not done! You just started. Therefore so run, not as uncertainly. So run, that ye may obtain.