Salvation is a Journey, Not an Event

A huge problem with modern teachings of salvation is the notion that one can be saved apart from the visible reality of God’s Church. Over the last century or so a sort of you-can-get-saved-on-your-own theology has manifested its ugly head. It is really a cultish teaching when you begin to study its premise. Granted, God uses this type of teaching to further His kingdom, but remember, God will use a Donkey if he needs to…and has done so!

The Gospel, as described by Christ, begins as a small seed and grows into the largest plant in the garden. This means that the Gospel is an organic reality of heaven on earth that is actually growing from something to something. We, as people, begin to become grafted into this organic reality as St. Paul explains in Romans 11.

The Orthodox Church does not teach that salvation  has to have some sort of radical, one time, psychological experience attached to it. One does not have to break down in a moment of time and recite a “sinner’s prayer.” Salvation does involve repentance, of course, but the way this repentance unfolds in many people looks quite different from what the modern church movements are claiming. Salvation is not about a sudden magical experience and then waiting until the end of our days. Salvation is about becoming one with Christ’s movement within time and space! It is about turning from one kingdom to another and continuing to draw away from the one kingdom into the other. The time that this takes to actually happen is not as important as making sure that God’s Spirit of salvation is actually happening within the convert’s life.

A Movement of People

The Orthodox Church is a part of the Universal Church. This Universal Church is a tangible reality of what Christ first initiated in his sacrifice and resurrection. It is an actual movement that is taking place within God’s kingdom that we as Orthodox have found a part in. This movement is eschatological; it is a work of the Spirit that spans time itself (from the ancient to the future). And time itself is tantamount to its purpose. This means that the kingdom of God, as Christ says in the parable of the mustard seed, is growing from something very small to something very large. This growth will be founded on people and salvation has so much to do with how we convert to this movement of people. Salvation has everything to do with how Christ converts a person from following the path of destruction (what the world is eventually destined for) to following the path of Christ’s kingdom (what Christ is building on earth which will eventually and completely merge with paradise).

Christ explains in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13) that there is a process in which the “seeds” (you and your calling) take root. This takes time! And to rely on some sort of psychological transaction is extremely dangerous! I am of the belief that many of those that rely so heavily on this type of conversion are those that actually fall away and become the “bad seeds”!

Becoming a rooted part of a garden takes much watering and cultivation. A seed does not just instantaneously become rooted and begin to sprout. It takes much cultivation for this to happen. Likewise, we should not assume that because the Bible describes that people “believed” as a result of preaching, that they somehow became rooted in to God’s kingdom all at once, instantaneously.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

Christ, in the Gospels, as well as Paul, in Galatians, both use royal language to describe salvation. They are not creating a system to be saved, but rather they are pointing to the kingdom of Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is the pinnacle of our salvation; and it is from this that the kingdom is established. It is through this kingdom that we are saved. What does this kingdom look like? It looks like what Christ calls “the Church,” both heavenly and earthly; the Church and all that it has to offer, both ecclesiastically as well as spiritually.

When a person “believes in Jesus” they are not saved from everything; that is, they are not in heaven with Christ and merely waiting for this earthly body to ascend to our “saved” body in heaven. We have but one body and soul and both are here on earth. When the Scriptures say that people are “saved” we should understand this to mean that God has saved us from something to something. The modern notion of “being saved” seems to imply some sort of being frozen and preserved, but the Scriptures clearly speak of being saved in more of an existential form, notwithstanding salvation’s heavenly/eternal benefits. The people of the Old Covenant asked Jesus who would save them, not in a psychological sense but in an eschatological sense, (i.e. where are our people headed in the long run). They wanted to know who would bring them to the Promise Land. Other times in the Scriptures we see the term also being used in the more circumstantial sense but on a local and more cultural level. Luke says in Acts 2:39 and 40 that people are being saved from “an evil generation.”

What has happened within the modern movements is that Bible words have been abused and missused. Look at what the Gospel of Luke says in Luke 1:70-72

70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,

Salvation, according to the Bible is not so much as a one time psychological event as it is God doing something in your life: bringing you to and through His Church so that you can begin to live for him and escape the snares and overall culture and eternal punishment of the devil.

Comments

  1. Very simply, salvation is marriage to the Lord. One is a fool to think that their marriage is accomplished by saying “I do” and signing a marriage certificate; and anyone who go’s there and no further never intended to be married in the first place. Salvation (marriage) to the Lord is a life-long, and eternal, journey in a two-sided relationship of love. To be otherwise would be not only tomfoolery, but boring.

  2. This is something I have struggled with from childhood (as a Baptist) to adulthood (as a Lutheran). I never had an emotional conversion, spoke in tongues, broke out in a Holy Ghost shuffle, or parted a sea…I just knew that He was there with me and was holding out His hand for me to take. The problem was that no one ever told me that I had to go somewhere with Him. The way people talked, I had already arrived. Before you know it you let go of His hand and forget that He is waiting for you. Spiritual life becomes a series of emotional highs and lows as you slip in and out of relationship with Jesus. Marriage in the protestant world has become just like this. Your wedding day is your day of “salvation” and as long as both are Christians the rest should mystically fall into place. Marriage cannot withstand the emotional highs and lows and soon cracks and shatters, just like the faith of the people involved and the churches they belong to. I can’t help but look back at my protestant life with regret. The curtains to the outside world were almost opaque and even if you did get a peek outside there was the Roman beast blocking the way to the true Church of Christ. I am not taking a swipe at the Roman Catholics. I am just coming at this the way an evangelical sees things.

    The closer I get to having an Orthodox heart and mind, the more alien my past seems. I’m almost at the point that I feel like I need to be baptized again. It is really becoming that alien to me. Is this something that anybody else has experienced?

  3. Toby, your experience I think is a common one. Good reflection on the further analogies with marriage, btw.

    Most Orthodox Churches will not rebaptize a Christian who has already had a Trinitarian water baptism, but for awhile I felt the same as you (even though I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist tradition and later as an adult in order to join an Assemblies of God church!). Now that I have been Orthodox for four years (received by Chrismation), it is not an issue anymore. I’m grateful for the Sacraments of Confession/Repentance and Eucharist whereby I can renew my commitment and relationship with Christ on a regular basis. When I lamented to my Priest that I did not get to renounce the devil and spit upon him (as is customary preceding the Orthodox Baptismal rite), my Priest responded that we should renounce the devil and spit on him every day!

  4. Toby, I think your experience is fairly common. I remember when in my early 20’s I had a horrible crisis of faith. Was I “really” saved?! I was a Baptist and all I was told was to be sure of my salvation by asking Jesus again to forgive and save me. Well, I did….many, many times over several months. I remember determining what exactly it was that I needed to do, so I read through the book of Acts where we know folks were “truly” getting saved and what they did to get that way. While I had read Acts plenty before it was never w/ this intent in mind. I came away more fearful than ever. There was nothing here in the experiences of these people that resembled what the Baptists say you need to do to get saved. Years later after being involved in the ‘net battles between Arminians and Calvinists I came away w/ the understanding that both groups had truth and both were also missing the boat. I was missing the boat and I didn’t know where to go. My Christian life became a big question mark and I had no idea where to go for the answers. Then I went to a Greek Festival listened to the priest give a little talk and I was on my way. Took a while, was frustrating and terrifying at times but in the end I realized that the Orthodox were the answer I had been looking for. Still have struggles but am definitely home now.

  5. I agree with the above comments though I came to the same answers via studying the Desert Fathers and the Celtic Church teachings. John Eldredge of Ransomed Heart Ministries has a lot of great teachings to help us on the journey to salvation and the recovery of broken hearts. In the journey towards salvation we also seek the place of our resurrection that moves us daily step by step into the kingdom of Christ. Blessings to all who read this on your journeys towards salvation.
    Brother Dan Turner

  6. You must be born again…Jesus says to Nicodemus….this means you must surrender your life…plain and simple…and when you do…there is a change…a supernatural change…from the inside out…it’s real! and not of ourselves…if you have not been born again…you are still on your journey…which could end tomorrow. Give your life to Christ…wholeheartedly…and watch Him to things in your life…that are not of this world : ) I know…I am living it! It’s not about what you can do…salvation is a gift…when we surrender our lives that belong to Him anyway…if you have not experienced His power…the power that raised Christ from the grave from within you personally…it is possible that you have not been born again…there must be change…from the inside out…it is God who changes our lives…through faith. It is a gift from God. All you have to do is believe and receive it…you do not gain it…you do not save yourself…except through submission to Christ….as in Lazarus…give up your life…and allow Him to work.

  7. While I agree with many points in the article I think its missing something. Salvation is a process, yes. But is is also moment. What I mean is that this is a both/and matter…not an either/or matter. Objective Salvation (being redeemed by grace through faith) is a moment, while Subjective salvation is based on a process like the article deliniates.

    The same is true with marriage. It has its objective and momentary aspect (the actual marriage ritual) and also the subjective aspect (married life) which is a process.

    I think the problem is that most Protestants (I’m a protestant by the way) put too much emphasis on the objective aspect to the detriment of the subjective aspect. While Orthodxy as far as I understand while recognizing both aspects tends to emphasize the subjective aspect.

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