Posted by: New in Every Way | September 24, 2012

Saved, But Not Saved


My church once had a dynamic mime team. One of their pieces involved a passionate preacher asking a newcomer to his church, “Brother, are you saved?”

It’s an interesting question—as interesting as it is important. It’s interesting because being “saved” is understood one way by one stream of Christians and another way by another group. The various notions about salvation are all probably right, but only partially so. If Christians were to unite, speak with one another, and put their pieces of the salvation puzzle together, maybe we could all finally enjoy a full understanding of this great gift of God.

Here’s a bible verse I was unable to make sense of, back in the days when my theology of salvation was quite limited:

My dear brothers and sisters . . . get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (James 1:19, 21 NLT).

Here’s what puzzled me: it is addressed to “saved” people (the “brothers and sisters” in the church) but it tells them what to do to save their souls! Okay, so were they saved . . . or not?

Hebrews 4:12 contains a huge clue: 

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit . . . (NLT). 

There’s a difference between soul and spirit?? Aren’t they two names for the same thing—for a person’s internal, eternal self?

According to Kevin J. Conner (on p. 126-127 of The Foundations of Christian Doctrine) the Bible uses the word “soul” a lot of ways. Sometimes the words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably [probably because they are both eternal aspects of a person’s being]. However, the Bible also lists—in places such as 1 Thessalonians 5:23—three unique parts to a person’s consciousness: the spirit, the soul, and the body.

  • The spirit is the God-conscious part of a human being, capable of knowing God.
  • The soul is the self-conscious part of a person, capable of knowing one’s self. It includes the mind, will, and emotions.
  • The body is the world-conscious part of a person, capable of knowing the world around him through the five senses.

So, now back to the question Were the believers James wrote to saved . . . or not?

The short answer, as I see it now, is that their spirits were thoroughly saved, but their souls had some catching up to do.

When I believed on Jesus, turned from sin, and accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, my spirit was completely, instantaneously brought back to life and united with the Spirit of God. When this fundamental shift took place in my spirit, my soul—mind, will, and emotions—was deeply affected. The world looked fresh and new. I loved everyone. I had a heighted sense of right and wrong—and I actually wanted to do what was right. It was amazing. But soon some of my old attitudes and behaviors returned. What was wrong? Nothing! My soul (my thinking, choices, and feelings) wasn’t completely saved yet—but it was on its way.

It’s like this: When an organization comes under new management, it’s a whole new day. There are new faces, a new spirit, and a new purpose. But that’s just the beginning. The sign in front of the building will be replaced, the staff must be retrained, and so on. It’s a brand new organization, but the existing infrastructure and practices need a major overhaul before they can support the new agenda.

Jesus hinted at this process of becoming completely saved when he found Peter, James, and John sleeping instead of supporting him in his time of agony before his arrest and crucifixion. He said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

For many years, I felt stymied by the weak flesh situation. I didn’t realize that I just needed to:

Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (James 1:21 NLT). 

What does it mean to humbly accept the word of God? Well, James goes on to say: 

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. (James 1:22-24 NLT). 

Take God’s word seriously, and the pieces of your personal puzzle will begin to match up. Your soul and your spirit will both be saved and working in harmony.

Making It Personal

  • Do you get discouraged with yourself? Did you know that the word of God has the power to save you from yourself—if you take it to heart?
  • Does the Bible seem like an impossible set of standards? It is!—when you try to obey it with your own understanding and your own will power. It is a picture of what God wants to make you. What God can make you. The key is to cooperate with him: Love him. Trust him. Do what he says (in the Bible and by his Spirit in your heart). Your soul will become better and better at carrying out the desires of your spirit.

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  1. […] huge amount of restoration did happen instantly, but there’s still more to be done. Monday’s post is all about […]

  2. […] huge amount of restoration did happen instantly, but there’s still more to be done. Monday’s post is all about […]

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