In a conversation with a protestant who had some knowledge of Orthodoxy, he asked me if I was saved? In fact he wondered if anyone calling themselves Orthodox were really saved. Well, having lived many years in the Protestant faith, I knew what he meant. So, to avoid a long discussion, I replied that I was saved. He seemed suspicious about my quick answer so he asked me when I was saved. I responded that I was saved AD 33, when Jesus died and rose from the dead. Not impressed with my theological humor, he asked me where I had made a public profession of Christ. I responded that if my memory was correct, I was about three or four years old when with my fellow Sunday School students we sang “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” before the congregation. Of course, this answer was not satisfactory so he attempted to tell me how I had to be convicted of my sins and pray the sinner’s prayer. I was tempted to ask him where he found that particular behavioral model in the Scriptures, but I took another track.
I asked my friend to remember when Nicodemus came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do to be saved. Following the model of my protestant friend, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Go to the Temple and when a rabbi preaches a convicting sermon, being convicted of your sins, go to the front weeping and kneel and let the rabbi lead you in the sinners prayer. Then you will be saved.” No, that wasn’t how it went at all. Jesus informed Nicodemus that it was the work of the Holy Spirit and it was as mysterious as the direction of the wind.
We can ask many questions about salvation: when are we saved, how are we saved, where are we saved, what are we saved from, or just are we saved? It interests me that there is one question that is rarely asked and that is why are we saved? Why? This would seem to be a fairly simple question to answer. Many say that we are saved so that we can go to heaven and be with God. That’s not a bad answer, but it is, in a sense a vertical answer. There is also a horizontal answer that is given by St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy. He wrote “for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
St. Paul was saved for a horizontal reason. He was given mercy so that Jesus might be made manifest in Paul, not for his own benefit, but as a pattern that could be seen by others who needed to see Jesus for themselves and believe and obtain everlasting life. You know, I have never questioned why God showed me such mercy and why he brought me into the Holy Orthodox Faith. I always thought it was all about me, saving me, and taking me though the door of death to eternal life. Sure, I’m glad that all of this is a part of God’s mercy, but that is my vertical stuff. Like St. Paul, there is a horizontal reason why God saved me. He saved me in the hope that through me he might save others.
I’m fine with this, but what is the shape of this pattern? How does St. Paul explain how this is done? He uses a word that I don’t like -longsuffering. Longsuffering? I had something more dramatic in mind like raising the dead, healing the sick, or by powerfully demonstrating my mystical theological knowledge. Longsuffering! So, I demonstrate Christ to others by patiently enduring the faults of others. Oh brother, this is a problem. I am anything but longsuffering. I am quick to judge, quick to anger, and quick with a thoughtless comment. Maybe this is why so few who have hung around me have found their way to Christ. Why of all the things that made up the life of Christ did he choose this one?
We see the longsuffering of Christ during his entire ministry, but we see it most clearly in the account of his death. He stood silent before his accusers and even at the moment of his death on the Cross, he asked his Father to forgive us because we didn’t know what we were doing. Sometimes, I can be patient with people, but it depends on who much of what they do affects me personally. Small offenses I can overlook, but if they attack my pride or my reputation, then I am done with longsuffering.
Maybe the world has seen plenty of miracle workers, eloquent preachers, and mystical healers. The world largely remains unconvinced. What the world has rarely seen is a man or woman who demonstrated the longsuffering of Christ in themselves.
So, question your salvation. Why are you saved?