You may have had someone come up to you and ask, “Are you saved?” And they might have pressed a brochure into you hands. They meant well, but they usually never stick around for a patient, Christian discussion.
The correct answer to this question is “I was saved by the Cross. I am being saved by the Holy Spirit. I will be saved by Jesus coming back again on the Last Day.” No one who has approached me with this question was willing to stick around and hear a Biblical answer.
The question “Are you saved?” is an incomplete, insufficient question -- it needs more words to make it make sense. It is a lot like asking, “Do you walk to work or take your lunch?” or “What is orange, true or false?” These ridiculous questions are impossible to answer -- not because they are hard, but because they are ridiculous.
In the Epistle reading for today, St. Paul explains what “being saved” means. He says clearly that “you will be saved” if, and only if, “you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10.9).
This is good news. It means that we do not have to worry about successfully and perfectly obeying the Old Testament Law -- which is what the Jews tried to do and failed, over and over again. Jesus is the only One Who has ever perfectly obeyed, and perfectly lived. It is only by communing with Him that we can share in the benefits of that perfect obedience, and in His deathless Life of the Holy Spirit.
So, we must do two things, or rather, two “sides” of belief: outside and inside. On the “outside,” we must “confess with our mouth” -- this means that our speech and our actions must be made obviously Christian. Our conversation and behavior must be confidently Christian and bring honor to Jesus Christ.
And on the “inside” we must believe in our hearts. “Belief” is the acceptance of Orthodox teachings, and using these teachings to change our opinions and feelings. On the “inside” we have to struggle and fight against our passions -- because these passions (which St. Paul calls “the law of the flesh”) make the heart resistant to belief. Passion is like an allergic reaction to penicillin: penicillin is a life-saving drug, but the life-saving is prevented by the allergy. Anger, greed, self-centeredness, lust and pride are allergies to Christian belief: which is the knowledge that God has certainly raised Jesus from the dead, and has thus revealed Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity Who was born of the Virgin and died on the Cross.
So, what is “salvation”? What does it mean to be “saved”? Saved from what?
Those who believe in Christ, as the Apostles taught, are saved from death. “Death” is the refusal of God’s Life, and the turning away from Him into the void and darkness. That void -- which is an infinite, lonely regression toward (but never attaining) nothingness -- is a thousand times grimmer than the maudlin torture chambers of medieval scholasticism and the fetid imagination of Jack T. Chick & Co.
“Salvation” is communion with Christ, through a life of repentant prayer and the receiving the Eucharist -- and letting that Eucharist descend into your heart. Salvation is the Holy Spirit immersing you in the life of divinity -- the life of participation in the very nature of God, as St. Peter taught (in 2 Peter 1.4). Because of God’s outpouring Self-sacrifice, we are able to receive and be transformed by His uncreated energy, His Grace -- and that transformation is into His Divine Beauty that has no end.
So if someone comes to you and asks you, “Are you saved?”, you can ask them back -- “Do you want to commune with Jesus Christ? Do you want to know God forever, and to become more and more like Him forever? Then if you do, come with me to the Orthodox Church. Come and see.”
Answer a very inadequate question with a very real, and better, one.