Jesus is an ongoing Savior!
Friday December 8, 2017
News flash: Jesus is an ongoing Savior!
Instead of saying we are saved, it is better to say we are being saved.
Salvation does not refer to a one-time act of Jesus on the cross. Yes, being brought to life as divine is a
one time act—like being born. But being brought to life is just the beginning. Jesus came “to give “life to the full” (John 10:10). We have to grow into that.
Do parents “give life” just through conception? Is life completely given at birth? Or is giving birth just the beginning of a long process of giving life until the child is able to leave the home as a formed adult?
We may think being “saved” just means having our sins forgiven—or better, taken away. Then we may—unconsciously—think of Jesus as a lifeguard. Once he has pulled us out of the water and deposited us on the shore, we are saved. We have no more need of him.
This problem has two roots: our misunderstanding of Grace, and our misunderstanding of sin.
“Grace” is the favor of sharing in the divine life of God by “becoming Christ” (St. Augustine’s words, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 795). “In Christ,” as members of his body, we are sons and daughters of the Father “in the Son.”
But the Son is the “Word of God,” the “word” of self-knowledge the Father has been breathing out from all eternity as the expression of his true Self. Jesus was the word of that expression made flesh, the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… the exact imprint of God’s very being” (John 1:1ff., Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). For us, to be Christ the Son is to be, like him, the perfect expression of the Father, the “word” of his Truth and Goodness spoken in our time and place. It is to give the flesh to the Father’s Beauty in all our words and actions. This is what it means to “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As it was for Jesus, this is our first priority in life, the driving desire of our heart: “Hallowed be your name!”
But the truth is, we are all far from being “the perfect expression of the Father.” The mystery of divine life in each of us is the mystery of Christ growing to “full stature” in us. We are all “in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in us” (see Galatians 4:19). So salvation is an ongoing process. In the time-frame of this earth, we were not completely “saved” when Jesus died on the cross or when we died and rose again in him through Baptism. We need to keep interacting with Jesus as an ongoing Savior: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
If we are not growing into greater likeness to Christ, we are not living authentically the Christian life.
The second root of our problem is our misunderstanding of sin. We think of sin as “sins”—individual acts of free choice for which we are guilty. But the New Testament word for sin is hamartia, to “miss” or “fall short.” We can do that just by being what we are. Our choices just make it visible. A word we can use for this abiding state is “sinfulness.”
As we use the word here, sinfulness does not make us guilty. It is a root that can bear fruit in guilty choices, but we are judged by our fruits, not by the roots they come from (Matthew 3:8, 10; 7:17; 12:33). Frequently, we are not even aware of the roots of our sins. They were programmed into us by our culture as attitudes and values, fears and compulsions, priorities and practices we blindly take for granted without any conscious exercise of free choice. Jesus is constantly saying, as we nail the members of his body to the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
That is why, to live as Christ, we have to “lay the ax to the root of the tree” (see Matthew 3:10), and keep attacking the roots of our sinfulness until they are all laid bare and consciously rejected.
For this we need to keep interacting with Jesus as the ongoing Savior who guides us daily along his way, teaches us repeatedly his truth, and encourages us constantly to live his life to the full.
This means we have to be disciples—students of his mind and will and heart. We have to read and reflect on his words, discuss them with others, and use them to form our attitudes and values. We need to start evaluating our lives by how consciously we use the seven “Gifts of the Spirit” and by the visible evidence in us of the nine “Fruits of the Spirit” that make us the “aroma of Christ” in the world (2Corinthians 2:15). For the Fruits see Galatians 5:22. For the Gifts see Isaiah 11:1ff. The Septuagint and the Vulgate read “Piety” for “Fear of the Lord” in its first occurrence, from which we have the traditional seven gifts. See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 798 and 1830-1832).
(See Why Jesus?, chapter three: “Jesus is Deliverance from Sin”; and also Reaching Jesus: Five Steps To A Fuller Life, Step One: “The Choice To Be A Christian.” Available on the website book store).
Question: How can I involve Jesus in saving my life all day, every day, from veering off into destructiveness, distortion, mediocrity, and meaninglessness?