Dear Christ Church Family,
Some Bible words are a bit hard to grasp. When we see them in a Scripture passage, we can tend to gloss over them as words to “get through” rather than understand. In today’s lesson from I Thessalonians, we encounter one of those most commonly glossed-over words. So, I’m taking this devotional to explain it, because to understand it can change our relationship with God. Read on.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
AM Psalm 72
I Thessalonians 5:23: Two deep words, and a bit of theology. “Are you saved?” If you have any Evangelical Christian friends, then you’ve probably been asked that question. They were, of course, only looking for the one and only correct answer, namely, “Yes! I am saved!” Growing up an evangelical Presbyterian, I was taught that “only correct answer,” and, unfortunately, the prejudice that goes with it if someone gave the wrong response, which was anything remotely different. The worst possible answer to that was to hem and haw, and then say something akin to, “Well, I think so” or “I hope so.” This would lead to the certain and immediate conclusion that a person was “lost!” This was, also unfortunately, the usual response I would get from my Episcopal friends.
As you can safely surmise from my writing about this now, I no longer hold, and have not for many years held, that view about this question. There is, instead, a much more theologically correct, and emotionally satisfactory answer to this question that is much more appropriate for an Anglican/Episcopalian. And it’s based on our theology. (Which is, of course, much more nuanced and Biblical.) The better answer is, “I am being saved!”
Our answer is based on that deep word in verse 23 of our reading, “Sanctify,” which comes from Sanctification, which means to make Holy. It has a companion word in Scripture, Justification. Both have to do with our salvation. And the confusion about what they mean has everything to do with the difference in our answer to that question, “Are you saved?” Justification has to do with the state of our salvation, while Sanctification has to do with the process of growing into our salvation. Since both words are about our salvation, and both come as a gift from God as a result of our faith in Jesus, Evangelical theology does not recognize that the difference is significant. We, however, do recognize the difference.
So, here is why this matters. To be justified means that our lives, our existence, our taking up space in the world is justified by God personally. To be justified means that we have been “put right” with God; that our relationship with God has been rightly established. Think of it as an official “stamp of approval” from God. This justification has come about because of our faith in the sacrificial love of God demonstrated in Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. This is a one-time, good for life and beyond, act by God that makes us God’s own beloved children. It is an unconditional, irrevocable, guarantee of God’s love for us, given freely to us on the basis of faith. (see Romans 5:1-11) It is not given for anything we’ve done right, as opposed to what we’ve done wrong. There are no “merit badges” for this one. Eternal life, and God’s presence with us in this life, are pure gifts; no special qualifying conditions or warranty restrictions apply. It will not be taken away for faithless moments, or sinful acts, no matter how great or numerous. This is the part of Salvation about which Evangelicals are asking, and the only part of which they are thinking. If this was truly “ALL” there is to it, then we could easily answer “Yes! I am saved!” (Actually, we can truthfully answer that way, because we truly are saved according to that limited definition.)
OK. So, what about that Sanctification word, and how does it make our different answer more nuanced? Simply put, the application of our salvation in this life is the process of becoming more like Jesus. When we come to faith in God’s love in Jesus, God enters into a partnership with for the rest of our lives. This is a necessary part of salvation because even though we are justified in a moment, it takes a lifetime and beyond to become truly holy, that is, Godly or Christ-like. While “getting saved,” that is, gaining eternal life, is a one-and-done deal, becoming truly more like Jesus – being saved from being the persons we would be without him – takes all the time we have for this life. Now, the good news here is that how far we get in this process, or how successful we are in this process, will not affect the condition of Justification’s guarantee of eternal life with God. We will belong to God no matter what. The process of Sanctification is how we are “Being Saved.”
Now, someone could ask at this point (and they usually do!), “Why should I bother with all that hard work of changing to become a better person, if I’m already saved?” Well, to ignore this process of Sanctification will be seriously detrimental to our sense of joy and well-being in this life. The reason we do it is for the sheer joy and love of God. God, for love alone, has set us free from worrying about our salvation with the free gift of God’s own self for this life and the life to come. Now we, for love alone, can freely give ourselves back to God in this life and the life to come. Love, and joy of that love, is now our entire motivation in all that we do with God. Though we might sorrow when we fail to love, there is no fear of rejection from the One who loves us and has guaranteed our salvation by that love.
By this deep word, Sanctification, your relationship with God is now lived for joy, love, and gratitude, and every other ennobling emotion and thought. So, if you are ever asked that question, “Are you saved?” your joyful answer is, “I am being saved.”