Before-and-After: Christian Salvation Is about Transformation

There are several passages in the New Testament that describe Christian salvation in terms of before-and-after. One such text, Titus 3:4–7, was featured in the Common Lectionary reading for Christmas Eve and Day. The contrasts in these texts are perhaps a bit overdrawn, but they are nevertheless real, and they highlight what the early Christians primarily meant when they spoke of God’s salvation. 

Christian salvation means, according to these before-and-after texts, that in Christ and through Christ, we Christians are liberated from negative attitudes and behaviors that are destructive to relationships, communities, and our own souls, as we learn new ways of relating to one another in grace, kindness, and love patterned after Christ. This process of transformation is Christian salvation, not just the result of it. 

Christian salvation is not something separate from Christian discipleship. It’s all one piece. Incorrectly, Christian discipleship has been understood by many American Christians as the consequence of salvation, or something in addition to salvation. This is usually expressed as: We are first saved, and then we are called to a live a Christian life. No. Such a distinction would have been inconceivable to the early Christians. 

God calls us to a life of devotion and service in partnership with the Spirit of Christ, and God enables us to realize this calling by delivering us from all those destructive and alienating attitudes and behaviors that diminish and destroy relationships and community. Our living out this calling through the power of the Holy Spirit is what the New Testament calls salvation. When Christian preachers and teachers make salvation primarily about “going to heaven” they do the church a great disservice. 

Christian salvation (this process of transformation) is a gift, but like any gift, to be of any use it must be appropriated. According to the text in Titus 3, it is appropriated through the renewing, regenerating, cleansing power of the Holy Spirit that has been generously given to disciples. 

The experience of Christian salvation comes about, then, as we are able to surrender to the wooing, speaking, and leading of the Holy Spirit through courageous trust. It’s largely about letting go of control, and the courage to become what God wants us to be

Author Sue Monk Kid tells about the time she volunteered at a shelter for abused children. One day she met Billy, a boy with spiky brown hair and pale eyebrows to match his pale face. The only life in him, says Kidd, was a thirsty look in the half-moons of his eyes. He’d been horribly wounded and was reluctant to go beyond the security he’d found in his room. The day of the Christmas party he shrank against the pillow on his bed and refused to leave the room. Kid pleaded, “Aren’t you coming to the party?” He shook his head. 

But then the volunteer beside her spoke up: “Sure you are, Billy. All you need to do is put on your courage skin.” His pale eyebrows went up. The thirsty look in his eyes, says Kidd, seemed to drink in the possibility. “Okay,” he finally said. The volunteer helped him put on an imaginary suit of “courage skin” and off he went to the party, willing to trust and risk beyond his secure places. 

Christian salvation is rooted in surrender to and trust in the Christ Spirit, who beckons us to join his party. Christ is the lure, calling us forward. We needed a witness. We needed to see the love of God embodied in flesh and blood. With the advent of Christ, “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,” showing us the way.


  1. Nice post! I was thinking through the same concept and came up with salvation being transformation and liberation, pretty much what you said here. We can make the right decisions when guided by truth, which comes from the Holy Spirit.

  2. Awesome summative of the transformative lives we as Christians should strive to achieve.

  3. How many steps did you complete to receive the "free gift" of Salvation?

    Is this a "free" gift?

    I tell my child that I have an incredible gift for him. However, in order for the gift to be his, he must:

    1. apologize for his bad behavior and sincerely mean it.
    2. he must commit to change his ways and follow MY ways for the rest of his life.
    3. he must make a decision that he WANTS my gift.
    4. he must then approach me, hold out his hands, ask me for the gift, and cooperate with me, as I place the gift into his hands.

    If he does all this, he will receive his gift. But...if he chooses to reject my gift, I will damn him to HELL!

    Now is this "gift" really a gift...or a REWARD for making the right decision?

    No, that is NOT a gift.
    This is a gift: "Dear Son, I have a gift for you. Here it is. I love you more than words can describe", and then I place the gift in my son's lap. No strings attached. The gift is his. He did nothing to receive it. I did everything.

    THAT is a gift!

    So what is God's free gift? It is the whole salvation package: faith, belief, repentence, forgiveness of sins, atonement, and eternal life. It is ALL free... to those whom God has predestined, before the world existed, for reasons we do not know, to be his children.

    1. Have you considered taking a look at this issue not from a grace vs. works paradigm, but instead from a paradigm of earning vs. effort? Of course grace cannot be earned. It is eternally free! (earning)

      Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Cor. 15:10, 2 Peter 1:5-11, Titus 2:11-15, 2 Peter 1:3-11 are good passages to consider when looking about what the scriptures teach about the place that "effort" has in our salvation.


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