Sunday, September 14, 2014

Becoming holy

In my reflection on today's readings I mentioned the three-fold movement of salvation: redemption, justification, and sanctification. Today I was directed to a post on a blog I had not read in far too long: Glory to God for All Things, by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest. His post "Christianity in a Plain Brown Wrapper" is what drew my attention this afternoon. In this post Fr Stephen seeks to correct an imbalance that has persisted among Western and Westernized Christians for far too long, namely that in the threefold movement justification is what really matters, rendering sanctification optional. I very much agree with his assessment that it is never enough merely to believe.

Fr Stephen correctly points out that "Nineteenth century revival movements and theology emphasized a single experience that was associated with salvation. Those who concerned themselves with what came later, described growth in the Christian life as 'sanctification,' and tended to imply that it was optional." He is correct, sanctification is not "subsequent" to "salvation." I take him here use "salvation" to express the idea that once you've freely accepted Christ's redemptive sacrifice ("I believe"), which is freely offered (i.e., justification) then you are simply saved, it's a done deal. The epigraph he uses for the post is most fitting for expressing what needs to be conveyed: "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor 3:18).

He next notes "Being saved, in the pages of the New Testament, means the whole of our life with God. And the purpose of the whole of our life with God is to be transformed into the image of Christ from glory to glory. Anything else is simply not the Christian faith." In other words, being transformed into the image of Christ is what it means to be saved. This transformation is what connects the already to the not-yet. Anything short of this is not salvation. This deals effectively with the most prevalent view of salvation among those who claim the name "Evangelical" Christians, which Fr Stephen sums up: "Thus we live in this world as one-time, once-and-for-all conversionists, and hope to simply wake up as saints in the life to come."

It is easy to infer an honest and fair critique of an all-too prevalent Roman Catholic view of Purgatory from what Fr Stephen sees as defective in various views of salvation: "Many Christians recognize that a transformation is supposed to occur within a believer, but have adopted a model that postpones that change until after death." The inferred (and fair) criticism of this view, which does not accurately express the Catholic Church's teaching, is the view that we'll work it all out after we die, no need to strive in the present life.

"The fullness of the Christian gospel, as found within Scripture and the Orthodox tradition, is radically committed to the transformation in this life of the believer." To wit: sanctification is not optional and, while distinguishable from justification, it is inextricably bound up with it. Perhaps one way of expressing this is that justification is the beginning of sanctification. The way of sanctification is the way of grace. We are saved by grace! It is really here that Fr Stephen's article truly begins. I have merely touched on the preliminaries.

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