Salvation is truly the great mystery of human life. Essentially we are saying that the path from where we are now, in our sins, to where we shall be, conformed to the image of Christ, is as unknown to us as possible. We know the commandments of Christ, and our weakness both in keeping those commandments faithfully, as well as our weakness before temptation in almost any form. How do we get from here to there?
This is indeed the great mystery. The answer to the mystery is Christ Himself. In His death and resurrection His has made for all a path to salvation and there is no salvation outside of Him. That statement of doctrine may be more of a tautology than some casual readers realize, since salvation, in Christian terms, is, by definition, union with Christ. This is important for us to understand for our salvation is not an extrinsic reward – a ticket to heaven – but an inner transformation in which we are united with God, and through Him and the workings of His grace are changed into the fullness of what we are created to be.
The path of how we get from here to there is something like asking how do we go from one state of being to another? Again, the answer is Christ. But the answer is also, His Church. For in His Church, Christ has left us the vehicle of our salvation, the concrete means by which this transformation occurs in our lives.
Beginning with Baptism, we are plunged into the death of Christ and raised in the likeness of His resurrection – we are united to Him. The whole of our life in the Church is the living of this union with Christ. Every action we take within the Church, whether sacramental, or even casual and relational, is given to us for our salvation. I believe that even those members of the Body of Christ whom we find most annoying are also given to us for our salvation.
The path from here to there is a mystery. We do not know what is needed, on a moment by moment basis for our salvation other than to say that we need Christ. How we need Christ is the mystery. Sometimes I need Him as the one to whom I confess my sins. Sometimes I need Him as the one who comforts me in my sorrow. Sometimes I need Him as the one who brings me up short and causes me to see what I could not see before. Such a list is endless.
But most important in all of this is that it is a mystery: we do not know the answer to the question. We are not in charge of the process of our own salvation. God saves. By the same token, our own priest does not generally know what we need for our salvation. He knows the sacraments, the teachings of the Church, the commandments of Christ, but on a moment by moment basis, he knows no more than we do as to the details of the mystery.
And thus we all walk by faith, obeying Christ’s commandments as best we can – availing ourselves of the sacraments frequently, refraining from judging others for we do not know the path of their salvation either.
It is a life we live – and a life that we live by the grace of God.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Much of this is a statement of the obvious and of the simple. And yet, much of this seems to be forgotten by most on a daily basis. We either substitute some legal fiction for the reality of true salvation, or we mistakenly think that our salvation depends upon us, or we do not understand that everything in our life is given to us for our salvation (Romans 8:28). But, the mystery abides and remains, and is kind and generous enough to allow us to return to our senses from time to time.