by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Did you know that you can get closer to salvation? Conversely, did you know that you can also get further from salvation?
Saint Paul offers us some urgent counsel about salvation in this Sunday’s Epistle ReadingThere, in Romans 13:11, he says, “Brothers and sisters, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.” He wants us to wake-up to the consequences of having a lackadaisical approach our salvation.
So, first of all, it’s important to come to grips with what we Orthodox mean by that word, salvation. Salvation from what? If we’re talking about salvation from something, then we must be in danger of something. For us Orthodox Christians, it’s salvation from the very same thing through which Adam & Eve encountered death. For us Orthodox Christians, it’s salvation from trying to follow our own will instead of God’s. For us Orthodox Christians, it’s salvation from literally trying to be gods apart from God. And so, Saint Paul asks us to sober up to the importance of this salvation.
Jesus is pretty clear in showing us that our salvation is in having a life that’s focused on being one with His & His Father’s will. In Matthew 7:21-23, He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name and drive out demons in Your name and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers.” Whew! Can you imagine performing miracles in Christ’s name and yet coming to the realization that you weren’t doing the Father’s will?
And what we have to realize is that every last one of us is in danger of this very same thing for lesser things than miracles that we do in His name. Jesus could just as easily be saying, ‘Many will say to Me, Lord, Lord, didn’t we go to Church on Sunday in Your name, and bring food to coffee hour in Your name, and baptize our children in Your name?’ These are us folks who, when we say we want to serve God, it’s mostly to serve Him in the capacity of Advisor. Oh sure, we might do a few superficial things that make us look like Christians, but really, it’s only to check off a couple of boxes so that God will serve our needs. In other words, it’s being Christians (in name only) for what it can get us. It’s never making the time to really get to know Christ and find out His Father’s will so that we can obey it. And in failing to obey God’s will, then God’s way of Love never really penetrates and rules over our hearts the way He intends. That’s when Jesus looks over to us and says, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you as one of My disciples. Maybe you thought you were Christian…but it had nothing to do with My will. Depart from Me because your version of Christianity is actually the practice of lawlessness.’
Now, some folks have a rather miniscule perspective of salvation, that it’s just…someday…getting to go to heaven. But God wants us to know that if we’re not experiencing His salvation here and now (becoming more and more unified with God’s will), neither will we experience it on that last day. So, in the Epistle Reading for this Sunday, Saint Paul rings us up in a wake-up call about what’s going on here. He says, “It is time to wake-up from sleep, because salvation is closer to us now than when we became believers” (Romans 13:11).
When we entered the Church in our spiritual birth, through baptism, that was only the beginning of maturing toward Christ’s will. But if we believe that the sum of our spirituality is our having once been born into it, then that’s a problem. Can you imagine if 40 years after your physical birth, someone asked you how you were doing…and you showed them a photo of yourself right after you were born, and you said, “I’m doing great. See?” The person who asked you this would call for the guys in the white coats to haul you off to a padded room in some institution somewhere. Everyone would realize that you weren’t in your right mind. We all know that it’s a problem for a man who’s fifty-five years old to have refused to mature beyond the level of a seventeen-year-old. Similarly, no one in their right mind would point to their birth as the sum of how they were doing now.
But for some reason, people who call themselves Christians are often just fine with regarding their baptism as being the sum total of their Christian life. For some reason, other Christians are just fine with regarding their Sunday school education in the Orthodox faith as the final depth to which they need to mature. Just consider for a moment how disturbingly creepy such an approach to our faith is, because of the consequences it has on our lives It drastically limits us in the depth to which we could be in relationship with God. So, we need to wake up!
As Saint Paul alerts, when we were baptized, salvation (unity with Christ’s will) was far away, but with each day of our life in Christ…with each day of our life following Christ’s great commandment to love God with ALL of our heart, soul, strength and mind…and to love our neighbors as ourselves…salvation is closer and closer. “I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed” (Isaiah 46:13). “My righteousness draws near, My salvation is on the way” (Isaiah 51:5). God is always pouring out His grace upon us…always bringing His salvation nearer and nearer. But we’re also reminded to, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). So, our nearness to our salvation is always in direct proportion to our desire to unify ourselves with Christ’s will.
It’s like the old story of married farm couple. They’d begun to experience some difficulties in their marriage. The wife had been complaining for some time that whenever they drove anywhere together in their pickup, they didn’t sit close together like they used to when they were young and dating. This good-ol’-boy would just sit, quietly driving, while his wife complained over and over again that he didn’t sit close to her any more. One day, he got fed up with all the complaining. He looked over at her and said, “Darlin,’ I wish you’d just take a gander at what you’re talking about. You’re the one that’s moved all the way across to the other side of the pickup. In all these years of driving us places, I’m still sitting in the same spot I’ve always been.”
So, think about scooting back across the seat towards God’s will for your life. Have you been a Christian in name only because of what you think you can get out of it? Or are you here because you really love God and you want to fulfil his will? If so, what time to you show up to Church to spend time with Him on Sundays? How much of each day do you spend talking with Him in prayer? Have you ever gone to the Wednesday night WHYs of Orthodox Christianity classes to mature in your understanding of God’s will? How are you getting closer?