This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.
Q: Say you accept Christ as your Savior and you take communion and pray a little, but you don't have a personal relationship with Christ. You didn't "die to self" so Christ (Holy Spirit) could take over and guide your path. You continue on with your life as if acceptance was a mere bump in the road of your life. The question is: Are you really saved from day one? Or is being saved a lifelong transformation? And if death occurs before the relationship is solid with Christ, then what? --Debbie Reddehase
A: Debbie, your important question deals with two issues: 1) Is salvation a point in time or a process? and 2) If a person doesn't demonstrate life change, are they saved? The two are related, but let's look at them in turn.
First, the Bible describes salvation as a point in time transformation and a process. The moment we profess faith in Christ, we are justified--that is, declared righteous before God. Romans 5:1 affirms, "since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is a past tense, completed act. Some people cannot remember exactly when they made a profession of faith. But, make no mistake about it, our salvation is secured at a specific, conscious moment in time where God changed our heart and we moved from death to life.
While this eternal, legal transaction of justification took place instantaneously, the ongoing process of sanctification takes a lifetime. Sanctification is the cooperative work of God and people to make them what they already are. One writer said, "sanctification is simply getting used to our justification." Throughout life, God uses a variety of things to produce the life transformation made possible through the singular work of justification.
Paul described sanctification this way in Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Notice that this verse doesn't tell us to work for our salvation but work out our salvation. Because God is "at work" in us, we can work with God to become the people He wants us to be. This is the normal Christian life.
This brings us to your second question: Can a person who doesn't experience life transformation truly be saved? In a very important passage [James 2:14-26], the Apostle states quite plainly that "faith without works is dead." In a very detailed study of this passage in seminary, I summarized James' words this way: "Authentic faith is proved by the works that it produces." The genuineness of our faith is found in the evidence of life-change. Jesus said we would be able to tell a tree by its fruit [Luke 6:43-44]. So, saved people produced salvation fruit. People who have been changed [justification] produce fruit of present life-change [sanctification].
This leaves us with a final question: What do we conclude about a person who attends church, goes to communion and even prays a little, but doesn't exhibit any substantive life change? The answer, I believe, is ultimately between that individual and God. But, the Scriptures give such a person reason to be concerned about their eternal destiny. Without the fruit of transformation, no one can be confident that they are rooted in Christ, the Tree of Life.