“Have You Been Saved?”

To oversimplify things a bit, Mormon notions of salvation are more consistent with Paul, while Evangelical notions of salvation are more consistent with deutero-Pauline ideas.  In essence, Mormons, like Paul, believe that salvation is a future event; while Evangelicals, like deutero-Pauline authors, believe that salvation is a present event.

The deutero-Pauline letter Ephesians claims, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5, NRSV).  The deutero-Pauline text Colossians agrees, and goes even further, explaining that you have died and have been raised already (Col 3:1-3).  Saved in the past tense?  Already raised?  Yes, these texts consider that it is at baptism or some other event that has already brought about salvation.

In the genuine Pauline letters, “salvation” and “save” are only used in the future tense.  If you asked Paul, “have you been saved,” he would say, “no.”  For Paul, salvation came either after death or with the (impending) coming of the Lord.  One could not claim to be saved yet, not because of an insecurity about one’s status before the Lord, but simply because salvation had not yet come.

The question of whether salvation was a present or future event was of great concern in early Christianity.  The same tension may be found in the sayings of Jesus concerning the coming of the Kingdom.  For some sayings, the Kingdom was a future event, either after death or precipitated by some cosmic occurrence.  For others, “the Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21).    Other deutero-Pauline epistles like 2 Thess try to warn against presentist understandings of the coming of the Lord, chastizing those who have quit their jobs, urging the readers “not to be quickly shaken in mind…that the day of the Lord is already here.” (2 Thess 2:2).

For what it’s worth, the Book of Mormon seems to be aware of this tension within the Pauline (including deutero-Pauline) corpus.  In fact, the most famous Book of Mormon text on grace and salvation is really a commentary on Eph 2:5: “by grace ye are saved.” (KJV).  2 Nephi 25:23 interprets this past tense notion of being saved as a conditional: “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”  The near quotation of Eph 2:5 in Nephi’s formulation suggests that this text is best understood as a commentary on Eph 2:5.  The main thrust of Nephi’s point is to reconcile the present-oriented understanding of salvation in the deutero-Pauline epistles with the future-oriented Pauline theology.  Mormon notions of salvation derive from this Pauline view.

9 Replies to ““Have You Been Saved?””

  1. TT: On this one I think I’ll take issue — though I like the recognition that there was a shift between Paul and subsequent letters attributed to Paul (Deutero Paul assumes that there was a single Pauline author or school, and I don’t believe that anyone believes that). There are different uses of “saved” in Mormon usage also. D&C 76 uses “saved” in a sense that it occurs when a person acknowledges Christ as such. Salvation is being saved from death, hell and the captivity of the devil. It is a present event. Judgment by works and receiving the reward in judgment by a designated degree of glory is the future event.

    The Book of Mormon generally uses “redeemed” and rarely if ever uses the term “saved.” Throughout the Book of Mormon redemption is a present event that occurs when one recognizes Christ as such. One is redeemed from death, hell and the captivity to the devil. Judgment by works and receiving promised covenant blessings is a future event that occurs after we die.

    The Lectures on Faith use “saved” in a decidedly different way. They use saved in the way D&C 76 and 132 uses the term “exalted.” One is “saved” by having all of the attributes of God and participating in the divine unity shared by the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in the Lectures. Such usage creates a confusion between salvation and exaltation and denies present salvation and recognizes only ultimate salvation in the future.

    Further, I don’t see 2 Ne. 25:23 parsing Ephesians. Setting aside the issues of historicity for this moment, still the contraposition between salvation by grace rather than by works that is present in Ephesians is missing in 2 Nephi. Instead, I see it as a further development of 2 Ne. 2 which emphasizes that we are free to choose only as a result of the atonement. Therefore, our very ability to choose is a result of grace. Therefore, it is as a result of grace that we are saved even though we must freely choose whether to accept it because the very ability to choose to is a matter of grace.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  2. Blake,
    Thanks for your clear thinking on this issue. I appreciate your attention to the details of LDS texts on that variety of ways in which LDSs understand salvation. Ultimately, however, I think I am making an argument that is not about LDS texts, but about common LDS views about salvation that tend to prefer a future-oriented view. (Similarly, I don’t think popular evangelical views can be explained simply by appeals to texts evangelicals take as authoritative.) I don’t doubt that LDS texts significantly complicate this picture, especially with the variety of terminology LDS texts employ, but would you disagree with my assessment that the idea of a present-oriented notion of salvation is largely absent from how LDS folks understand it?

    (On the issue of deutero-Paul, you’re right that my infelicitous phrasing suggested that there is one individual. A more accurate way of saying what I meant was “deutero-Pauline teachings.” In the next sentence when I speak of “deutero-Pauline authors” it represents more what I intended to say. I’ve updated the post to reflect this clearer meaning.)

    On the issue of Eph and 2 Ne, I don’t mean to suggest that 2 Ne is offering a close reading of Eph 2:5 or even dealing with the same issues. Rather, I’m suggesting that the passage in 2 Ne 25:23 is commenting on the formula in Eph 2:5. That is, the manner of reading and commentary is different from how we might go about it in the modern era, but the idea of offering quotations of authoritative, familiar phrases for commentary is quite common. For instance, we might discuss and comment upon “know thyself,” or “eat, drink, and be merry” without regard for the original context in which they are found. I think that the passage in 2 Ne is clearly citing the formula, “by grace ye are saved,” even to the degree that the homonymous “ye” is changed to “we” and offering comment on that formula.

  3. TT, since college days, I have read “Have you been saved?” as justification, ongoing sanctification, and future glorification.

    In fact, I have been during some of these recent mornings, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

    I think it is quite appropriate to ask of people in S.E. Idaho: have you been saved from the penalty of sin? are you being saved from the power of sin? will you be saved from the presence of sin?

    By the way, hi Blake.

  4. TT,

    Very interesting and provocative. I want to think more about some of the implications and the details but think you’re generally right about Paul vs. Deutero-Paul.

    But I want to raise a bit of trouble about the reading of 2 Nephi 25:23 you offer. I’m not in principle opposed to what you’re proposing (I’m constantly looking for these kinds of expansions/developments/”corrections” of the biblical text in the Book of Mormon), but your interpretation overlooks certain complications internal to the Book of Mormon.

    It couldn’t be clearer, I think, that 2 Nephi 25:23 is presented as Nephi’s adaptation of Jacob’s comment in 2 Nephi 10:24, the two of them serving as structural indicators (the one concluding Jacob’s sermon on the interpretation of Isaiah, the other opening Nephi’s sermon on the interpretation of Isaiah—and both coupled with lengthy discussions of what effect grace, anticipated in that unique Nephite way before the Christian era, has on the meaning of the Law and, derivatively, on the task of scriptural interpretation). The structure is remarkably tight, and it’s clear from other details that 2 Nephi 25:23 plays a role in an unfolding theological trajectory (from 2 Nephi 2 through 2 Nephi 9-10 and on into the remainder of the Nephite history).

    So what? 2 Nephi 10:24 doesn’t draw on the formula from Ephesians. It’s possible, of course, that 2 Nephi 25:23 is meant to do some work on 2 Nephi 10:24 precisely by saying something about the Deutero-Pauline formula, but I suppose I’d want to see some more evidence that the text in 2 Nephi 25 more generally is externally, rather than profoundly internally, focused. Considering that 2 Nephi 25:23 is the only passage in the whole of Nephi’s record that deals with atonement theology and is attributed directly to Nephi suggests that there’s not a great deal of theological work going on in that passage. It seems most likely that Nephi’s to be understood as simply reproducing, in a slightly altered form, Jacob’s deeply theological claim.

    Now, I’m worried that that wasn’t terribly clear, but I’m happy to clarify. 🙂

  5. Um, ditto what Blake #1 said.

    Also, ditto what Todd #4 said, though I would re-word him slightly, to read “as justification, sanctification and purification, with the prospect of fuure glorification.”

    I’d also add that being sanctified, justified and purified, which is salvation from the three-fold monster (death, hell and the devil), is not a doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” but requires diligence to always retain a remission of sins, per the instructions found in Mosiah 4:11-12, because “it is possible that a man may fall from grace,” which is why even the sanctified must take heed also and pray always, lest they fall into temptation (D&C 20:32-34.)

    The principle of “once saved, always saved,” is that salvation that comes when a man overcomes the world and has his calling and election made sure. It is not any different than the first kind, it just means that you have finally beaten the devil through your faith in Christ and have “passed the test” of your probation and are now beyond the captivating power of his temptations.

  6. Saved from what? Death? Ok, if I consider salvation along that line, I concede that it occurs in different spaces: the present and the future / the spiritual and the physical.

    To believe, hope for and possess faith in the resurrection is to acknowledge the salvation from physical death that is sure to fall upon all – at times which ultimately are yet to come.

    To thaw the icy grip of spiritual death that encapsulates faith, hope, belief and love within the cold chamber of a shelled heart, requires acceptance of an offered grace as tender and simple as a touch of sun’s light on a lily. The purposeful act of exposing oneself to the graces of God can happen in the present for any soul seeking the blessings of heaven – or it can be procrastinated and put off.

    Recall Alma 36 and Alma son of Alma (AII). When finally forced to confront the severe spiritual disassociation that existed between himself and God, he acknowledged that his pains were that of a “damned soul” (v. 16). Perhaps it’s good fortune that any of us who have ever suffered the unpleasant adversity of feeling dead from God might empathize with AII’s torment without actually being stricken down by an angry angel. While approaching the bitter brink of the “everlasting chains of death” (v. 18), AII remembered, realized and accepted the truth he had previously gone about suppressing: that in the end, the real power to overcome and atone rests in Christ alone – this is salvation. And in the instant AII cried out to Jesus for mercy he received the touch of that refreshing, restorative ray of light; his pains were harrowed and his heart was allowed to feel the warmth of joy and life. With the chains of death that once encircled his soul now broken, AII experienced (in real time) salvation, or, the grace of God to deliver the captive spirit from “prison, and from bonds and from death” (v. 27). But with an eye hopeful to the future, AII clarified further his notion of salvation by adding, “yea, I do put my trust in him and he will still deliver me. And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory” (v. 27-28).

    Really, Mormons should believe that salvation is an event that encompasses both the present and the future. Repentance brings about a salvation to the soul that is not delayed. I think that’s one reason why we are constantly admonished by scripture not to procrastinate the day of our salvation or repentance. With regard to your specific argument, I don’t think it’s so much that LDS dismiss a present-oriented notion of salvation as much as it is that when LDS talk of salvation, they usually do so comprehensively so as to blur the distinction between salvation and exaltation – which are not the same graces.

  7. I appreciate this article and the discussion.

    I believe the major difference between Evangelicals and LDS is in that the former call the state of feeling a spiritual connection as “being saved”. Which it is, in a way, but I would agree with the more authentic Pauline idea that we can talk about salvation in the past tense at some point after the Resurrection.

    I understand that spiritual and physical death are a good way to understand the difference. For me, the state that I’m in is not that I’m “saved”, but that I’m on the way of Salvation. I can stray from that straight and narrow.

    But we can understand almost all of the prophetic/doctrinal texts in at least two levels, often more than that. The Kingdom of God is among us, but it’s also a future event. I don’t think that’s too mystical. Context is important.

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