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Homily for 12/12/04 - What must I do to be saved?

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  • David Moser
    Luke 18:18-27 What must I do to be saved? We hear this question over and over again in the Gospels and later in the Acts of the Apostles. The answer to this
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2004
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      Luke 18:18-27



      What must I do to be saved? We hear this question over and over again in
      the Gospels and later in the Acts of the Apostles. The answer to this
      question always comes back to Jesus Christ, and His impact on us. It also
      touches on the question of what is our salvation, what are we actually
      looking for. For some, salvation is driven by fear, some kind of escape
      from hell-fire. For others salvation is some kind of ultimate justice where
      they will finally get all the good things they think they deserve.
      Salvation is considered by some as entry into a garden of never-ending
      pleasure and happiness. These are but a few of the ideas of what we are
      seeking in salvation. But in order to discover what salvation is, we must
      look not at what we want, but what God offers to us. Our wants and our
      imaginations are limited to the things of this world and so when we imagine
      eternity, we cannot but help to imagine it in terms of another version of
      earthly life. This is because earthly images are the only ones we know.
      But salvation is not another version of earthly life, but it is entry into a
      whole new life, a life of a different order than our life in the world.
      What then does God offer to us, what is salvation?



      Our salvation is actually nothing as mundane as living in a new improved
      better version of the world. Our salvation is more than that, God does not
      offer us a "relocation plan"; rather He offers us union with Himself. Our
      Lord, when praying for the Church, asked of the Father, "That they may be
      one as We are." Our salvation is to enter into a different life, the
      corporate life of the Church, being united to one another, and more
      importantly all together being united to Christ. Salvation means nothing
      less that union with God, sharing His life. To be saved means to
      participate in the life of the Trinity. There are no words or even concepts
      to describe this as long as we live in the world. It is like a caterpillar
      trying to conceive of its life as a butterfly, flitting around through the
      air free from the confines of the branches and leaves of the trees which are
      the fullness of its present life. Our situation is similar, for life in
      eternity is so different from our life here and now in this world that we
      cannot even begin to comprehend it. And yet, we are given this life to
      prepare for it. And we come back to the question, what must I do to be
      saved?



      This question itself is flawed and our Lord points up this flaw in His
      answer. When the young man comes asking, What must I do to be saved, the
      first thing that Jesus tells him is to follow all the commandments, to keep
      the law as it has been given him. Many people assume that salvation is
      somehow about "keeping the law" that if we do everything "right" then
      somehow we will receive the prize of "salvation" or that somehow if the good
      we do outweighs the bad then we will be saved. But this is not the case,
      the law cannot save, in fact it was never meant to be the means of
      salvation, and so when the young man responds that he has indeed kept the
      law "from his youth", in other words he has done everything he can to be
      worthy of salvation, then Jesus points out the deficit in the law. Our Lord
      tells him then to "go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and
      come and follow Me." Salvation requires not only external conformity to a
      code of behavior, but also an internal transformation and love of God. This
      young man had conformed to the external code, but had not yet experienced an
      internal transformation. That internal transformation is accomplished only
      by the love of God - to love God with all the heart and soul and mind. In
      response to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" Jesus gave the
      young man an impossible task, pointing out that salvation was beyond the
      ability of any man.



      Salvation is indeed beyond our grasp because it is accomplished not by what
      we do, but rather by the grace of God. We could never "do" anything on our
      own that would unite us with God for we are limited by our fallen state and
      our worldly existence. Our salvation is to be changed, to transcend this
      worldly life and to become like God. No man can accomplish this by his own
      efforts, not by keeping the law, not by meditating, not by emptying himself,
      not even by self denial alone. In order to become like God we must be
      changed, a new nature must be born within us. This change is accomplished
      by God's grace and power. Our salvation is not an act of man, but an act of
      God.



      Salvation is beyond our grasp. St Theophan the Recluse writes, "union with
      God is not in our power, and the conditions and form of its accomplishment,
      and everything relating to it from this end, are out of our hands." How
      then can we accomplish this union? "Thanks be to God to lover of mankind!
      Everything for union has already been accomplished, established and
      explained. Accept it and use it." He then goes on to explain how this
      happens: "For the restoration of our spirit and its reunion with God, it is
      necessary that the Divine Spirit descend to it and revive it. In order to
      open the way to the descent of the Divine Spirit the Only-Begotten Son of
      God came to earth, was incarnate, suffered, died on the cross, was
      resurrected and ascended into heaven (and) turned His work over to the Holy
      Spirit. ...The Holy Spirit, Who may be received by those who believe in the
      Son, abides with them and carries out in them that about which the Son
      prayed: 'As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be
      one in Us'... All those who believe in the Son of God are combined in
      spirit, which, being revived is reunited with God. This is the new birth
      from God, which makes believers the children of God through grace. " Do you
      see how God loves all of us so much that even though it is impossible for a
      man to be saved by his own effort, God does the impossible, He makes that
      which is beyond our grasp a reality in us.



      What benefit then is the law? Why do we even bother with it. If the law
      does not save, is there any reason at all to keep it? Of course there is,
      for God gives to us nothing useless. The law describes a way of life that
      aligns us with God. By keeping the law, we establish ourselves in a
      position, in a way of life, to which the grace of God can most easily
      descend and having obtained this grace, our lives can then begin using it
      and living according to it immediately. The law provides for us a means to
      minimize the damage of sin in our lives so that we are ready to receive the
      grace that God gives with fewer distractions and fewer barriers to its
      action in us. So keeping the law is only a preparation, but an important
      preparation to receive and use God's grace. Once we have received the grace
      of God, and have been transformed, the law helps us to understand how best
      to use that grace, to nurture it that it might grow and multiply and more
      thoroughly affect our souls. The law remains an "external mold" but once
      our dry soul has been moistened and made pliable by God's grace, that
      external mold has something to shape. So even when we have already received
      God's grace, the law is good for it helps us to know how to use that grace
      to shape the soul in order to become like God. The law is not the means of
      our salvation, but it is important all the same.



      We come to God asking "What must I do to be saved?" The flaw in that
      question are the two words "I do". I can do nothing to be saved, it is
      beyond my power. If I am trying to do something to be saved, then I am only
      hindering the work of God, getting in the way, preventing the flow of grace.
      I must stop *doing* and allow God to do everything. My salvation is
      impossible for me, it is possible only for God, and out of His great love
      for us, He has done everything. The question, however, then remains, "What
      should I do then?" St Theophan writes to one of his spiritual children who
      asked the same question and says: "You ask, 'Shouldn't I be doing something?
      ' Of course that is necessary. Do whatever falls to your hands, in your
      circle and in your situation - and believe that this is and will be your
      true work: nothing more from you is required. It is a great error to think
      that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or
      as the progressives think, in order to make one's contribution to humanity.
      That is not necessary at all. It is necessary only to do everything in
      accordance with the Lord's commandments. Just exactly what is to be done?
      Nothing in particular, just that which presents itself to each one according
      to the circumstances of his life, and which is demanded by the individual
      events with which each of us meets. That is all. God arranges the lot of
      each person and the entire course of the life of each one, each moment and
      each meeting. ... It is necessary only to do what God wants us to do. As
      to what He wants, we certainly know from the commandments He has given us."



      Our salvation is to be united with God. This is accomplished not by our own
      effort but by the grace of God. Our part is simply to use that grace which
      is given to us in whatever circumstance and events that come our way. in
      this way our soul is molded and shaped by God's grace that we may become
      like Him - taking the image and likeness of Christ and be one with Him and
      so share in His life. This is our salvation.
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