The power of one

Have you been saved? I remember the last time someone asked me that question. It was during my undergraduate years when I was working at a funeral home – an oddly appropriate place to ask the question, don’t you think – and someone whom I vaguely knew came up to me and asked with all seriousness, “Have you been saved?”

I was young, my faith was undeveloped, and I was completely unprepared for the question. I didn’t know how to answer honestly, but I knew I felt violated and defensive, and I knew he had assumptions about the question, and about the answer he expected, that were very different from mine.

One of his assumptions was that Christian faith is a private matter. He wanted to know if I was saved, if I knew Jesus as my Lord and Savior, if I knew where I was going after death, never mind where anyone else might be going. When the rapture comes, he wanted to know, would I be among those taken up to heaven, or would I be left behind with the others for all eternity?

I believe every Christian must take seriously the question, “Have you been saved?” It reveals whether you’ve heard and trust the good news that the reign of God on earth has begun – not in another realm or age but here and now (Mark 1:14-15). I believe our faith is always personal; it shapes life for each one of us. And it is never private; it is concerned with shaping life for everyone and everything in creation. The encounter between Jesus and one nameless, demon-possessed man – two men of different faiths, one a Jew, the other a gentile – shows us what it means to be “saved” (Luke 8:26-39).

Being saved is not about what I believe and do, whether I pass muster to get into a place (“heaven”) where others won’t go. It’s about what God has done. It’s about trusting the good news that God was “reconciling the world to himself,” forgiving everyone and leaving no one out (2 Cor. 5:19), and then living accordingly (Mark 1:15 again).

Being saved is not getting your ticket punched for admission to the good life in heaven later. It’s recognizing the good news that the good life is here today, that you’re free of everything that inhibits the abundant life Jesus offers. The man possessed by demons and consigned to live among the dead, among the past, was free to live an abundant life among the living.

For us, salvation is the condition of life in which we are free from our demons – demons of addiction or codependency, demons of self-doubt or fear or insecurity. Salvation is a life free from beliefs, habits, and behaviors that keep us chained to the past or to the limits we live with and think we always will. Salvation is healing, it’s being made whole, it’s having today “more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message).

What are your demons? What constrains your freedom and diminishes your life? What would life be like for you if you were free of those things? What would your relationships with others be like?

Such freedom, such healing, such wholeness doesn’t come cheaply. For the man in the story, healing changed the life of the whole community around him. It upset the status quo; people who had grown accustomed to him being afflicted had to find new ways to relate to him, and so they had to change their behaviors toward him. His healing destabilized a local economic system. The business that depended on those pigs was destroyed. The part of the economy built on practices abhorrent to God trembled and collapsed.

It’s no wonder they wanted Jesus to go away. It’s no wonder they were seized with great fear and wanted Jesus to leave them alone with the way things were before. A life of wholeness in one person will disrupt lives of brokenness in an entire community, the entire system of relationships that surrounds that person. The good news is always personal and never private. It always has implications for the world around us. The healing of one can begin the healing of many.

Maybe that’s why Jesus told the man to stay behind and declare how much God had done for him. I can understand why the man might have wanted to follow his healer, and I can understand why Jesus wanted him to stay behind. The man’s healing wasn’t really about the man. It wasn’t a healing to benefit him. It was a healing for the benefit of the whole community.

We’re not healed so that we will be whole; we’re healed so that we will be agents of healing for those around us. That’s how the transformation of the world begins, with one person who steps into abundant life and invites others to follow.

One tree can start a forest;
One smile can begin a friendship;
One hand can lift a soul;
One candle can wipe out darkness;
One laugh can conquer gloom;
One hope can raise your spirits;
One touch can show you care;
One life can make the difference:
Be that one today.
—Contemplative Monk


Questions for reflection

  1. The man in the story was possessed by many demons. What personal, inner behaviors, habits, beliefs, or other limitations keep you from living the full life you want to live? Be specific
  2. If these limitations were removed (i.e., if you were to be healed), what changes would you expect in your life? In your relationships with others? Be specific.
  3. What pushback might you expect from others as a result? Why might they resist changes in their relationship with you as a result of your healing?
  4. How might you effectively participate with God in your healing? What inner and outer resources would be of help to you?
  5. How might you share your experience of healing constructively with others who experience similar limitations, so that they might benefit?

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