When Christians say they are ‘saved’, what do they mean? Let us begin, as we should, with what Our Lord says. To be saved, we must believe:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Jesus goes on to say: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life”. So, as simple as that. If we have faith, we are saved. But Jesus does not stop there. One problem with the way we read the Gospel is that it tends to be in chunks, when, if you have ever seen early codices, you will see it was meant to be read in its entirety; chapters and verses are relatively novel; designed to help us, our fallen nature so often ensures it does no such thing.
Jesus told those who followed him asking for more bread: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world”, to which “They said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always’”. To clear up any doubt, Jesus told them: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” We are told, now, by some, that this is a sort of metaphor, that all food gives us life, or some other explanation, but Jesus is clear. Indeed, he was so clear that the Jews listening were shocked. How could the son of Joseph be the ‘bread’ come down from heaven, and how could a man give them his flesh and blood to drink?
This was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to reassure them that he was not speaking literally. Why should they have thought he was? In verses 54-58 Jesus uses the word ‘trogo’. This is a word found only five times in the New Testament, and these are four of those times. It means ‘to chew’ or to ‘gnaw’, and in Greek is often used to describe the feeding habits of cattle and pigs. Up to this point in the Gospel, Jesus had been using the more usual word, ‘esthio’ (verses 49-53 all use it), so in changing the word he uses, Jesus is emphasising the literal nature of what he was saying; that was why the Jews took fright. He was telling them that to be saved we must eat his body and his blood – the connotations of cannibalism and of non-kosher food horrified his listeners – as he knew it would. He had ample opportunity to reassure them he was not talking literally. Indeed, as some left him, he had every reason to do so. He could quite easily have stopped many leaving him, but he did not do so.
He asked the Apostles if they wished to go; they did not, even thought they did not understand. It was only when they came to the Last Supper that they understood. That is why from the beginning. Christians have met to worship and to consume his body and his blood. St Paul passed this on to the Corinthians, as he had received it from the Apostles. Paul is clear about the literal nature of what was passed on to him, as he tells the Corinthians:
For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
Jesus told us “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life”. So, yes, we must believe in Him as Lord, but we must also partake of His body and His blood. Dos that mean there is no other way to be saved? God alone decides who will be saved, and anyone who pronounces on that issue takes upon him or herself the power of God – and I suspect God will not be mocked in that way, He is a merciful and compassionate God, who alone knows the devices and desires of our hearts, and who, alone, can read what is written there. He is the only Just Judge, and we can leave such questions to Him. Our part is to serve obediently where we feel we have been called.