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Salvation is the process by which God saves us from death and damnation. Traditional Christian orthodoxy hold that we inherit salvation through belief in Jesus. Alternately, people may pray to accept Jesus into their heart, or establish a personal relationship with Jesus in order to receive salvation. People who receive salvation are promised eternity in Heaven. This metaphysical state of bliss is characterized by perfect intimacy with God.

The Bible, even Jesus himself, is dodgy and confusing about what is actually required for salvation. First Jesus says all who “believe in me shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Then he says it’s those who look after “the least of these.” Then another guy says it’s all who “confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead.” Yet again, it’s “by grace,” wait, no, “through faith,” but definitely “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Then later, it’s “by what he does, and not by faith alone.”

Since there is no clear answer that remains consistent throughout the whole of scripture, we came up with simple, obscure answer that it’s through belief in Jesus. But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? If I say to a friend, “I believe in you,” what I am telling them is that I feel secure in their character and capabilities. It doesn’t make sense to me that the standard for eternal damnation or salvation is based on the our acceptance of a specific perspective on the character of a historical figure. Often, when Christians say that we are saved by “believing in Jesus,” what they really mean is, “adherence to a large set of doctrinal points, including the literal historicity of the Bible.” And while elements of many of these points may be found within the Bible (as evidenced in the paragraph above), no one point is exclusively essential, and there is wide disagreement over the inclusion of some points (such as the roles of faith versus works). Furthermore, one’s belief may wax and wane over time. We all have doubts of varying degree. Can belief or doubt be quantified? How much belief is enough? How much doubt is too much? While some would argue that it’s up to God to make such decisions, we must still wrestle with such questions in order to more clearly define our own belief and doubt.

Another way that the process of salvation is described is through a personal relationship with Jesus. This framework makes more sense to me than “believing in Jesus.” This view holds that one develops a personal relationship with Jesus, much as one would a friend. One talks to him, spends time with him, learns about him, and even listens to him. In addition to saving on from one’s sin, Jesus comes into one’s heart–an act of incarnation, so to speak–and begins to direct, control and change one’s life.

Parts of this view make sense to me. I agree with the importance of seeking God, since God’s image is within all of us. This perspective reinforces the practice of introspection and pursuit of emotional well-being. As one connects with the divine mystery within oneself, one is able to recognize the God’s image within oneself and others more clearly. One’s life may change as their actions shift from sin to righteousness.

However, this process is often described in a binary sense. At one moment a person may be unsaved. In the next they are saved. Jesus incarnates himself in their life and washes away their sin. This explanation seems too simplified. I believe that salvation is more of a process than a moment in time. It’s a process that we work out for the duration of our lives, not a choice made in an instant. By committing sin, we distance others from us. Salvation is the process by which we reconcile ourselves to those against whom we have sinned.

If we want salvation to manifest itself in our lives, reconciliation must by our goal. I would argue that the degree to which we are repulsed and distanced from anyone is the degree to which we are repulsed and distanced from God. If we take Jesus’ command to love our enemies seriously, then our enemies become the embodiment of Christ to us. Thus, our reconciliation with our enemies becomes the process of sanctification and salvation in our lives.