Are You Being Saved?

Are You Being Saved?
Photo by Stephen Isaiah / Unsplash

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was a high-profile Greek Orthodox bishop in England. He told a story in the course of a lecture once about a conversation on a train platform that made him think in a new way about his salvation. I will paraphrase this story here, to the best of my flawed memory:

Ware often took public transit in his travels around England and, while waiting for a train home after a public speaking engagement, he was approached by someone on the train platform who asked him, “Are you saved? Do you know Jesus Christ?” Ware had long white hair, tied in the back and always wore his black cassock and a rather large and obvious pectoral cross around his neck. He looked, for all the world, like an icon of some Orthodox bishop-saint.

Ware was not surprised at a stranger starting a conversation with him. His appearance often prompted that and many of the conversations were about religious and spiritual matters. But he had never before been asked by someone if he knew Jesus Christ or if he had been saved. His appearance was enough for most people to deduce that he was some species of Christian, even if they didn’t realize what the robe and cross meant. He was not upset about the question, but it did put him off balance a little bit. How does one answer a question about a fundamental spiritual issue that, in his own tradition, is never asked in that way? Ware thought for a few moments and then replied, “Yes, I am being saved.”

Our salvation, our transformation into ever more Christlike people—theosis, if you like the Greek for it—is a process, not a singular magic moment. There are many important moments and milestones in the process and there is no doubt that God will see us safely to the ultimate destination. But how we get from where we are today to that glorious, eternal beatific vision, is full of surprises and it’s a process we are all called to participate in with our whole selves, warts, flaws, and all.

In Mark’s telling of the Gospel, Jesus has a tough part to play. He is concerned about keeping his true identity a secret until it is the right time, but Mark’s Jesus is also a revealer of secrets. Jesus keeps dropping hints about what is to come, including about the impending crucifixion and Passion. Three times Jesus makes predictions about the Passion to the disciples. And three times, the disciples completely fail to understand what Jesus is really trying to share with him.

In today’s passage, Peter panics and tells him that death cannot possibly be a part of this plan! The next time it comes up, the disciples are unconcerned about their friend and teacher dying, but begin to argue about who will have the greatest reward in heaven. They seem unable to imagine the role that Jesus is describing for himself, or the consequences that it might hold for them as his followers.

The disciples know about the predictions of a Messiah who will be the saviour of their people. They are full of anticipation for freedom from Roman occupation, for the restoration of the past glory of their kingdoms, and to see the might and power of their God made clear to all the world. They are also convinced that these things will come to pass in the way that their imaginations conjure. The Messiah will be a great leader. A king or a military general. There will be wars and fighting and bloodshed and great displays of power and might and they will tread under their boots the people who have harmed and oppressed their nation in the past. And every time that Jesus reveals to them another part of the plan, they are disappointed.

Jesus’s plan—which they have committed to following—keeps sounding like serving others. Healing. Preaching. Encouraging with good news. Casting out demons. Demonstrating love of neighbour, even to the loveless. Self-sacrifice. Dying for the sake of others. These are not the hallmarks of effective, powerful leaders. Neither in the world of the disciples nor in ours, I am sorry to say. The disciples consistently ask for the kind of leader they are used to seeing. The kind of leader that has been present and shaped the world that they are so dissatisfied with. It’s a rather close parallel to the familiar close-to-home refrain of “We’ve always done things this way. We’d like to change everything about our circumstances without changing anything about how we live.”

The disciples, like Bishop Ware and like you and me, are being saved. And, like any process, they don’t get it right every time. Neither do we. In this scene, poor Peter is the stand-in for the rest of the disciples and for all of us. I suspect he’s been put up to it, as the other disciples are watching his conversation with Jesus very closely. When Jesus reveals that he will suffer and die as a part of this journey, Peter takes him aside and tries to correct him, saying that this cannot be real. For his concern, he is rebuked with the famous, “Get behind me, Satan!” from his friend and teacher.

Just a few verses earlier, Peter acclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed one. Now Peter presumes to tell the Christ how he should and should not live out that role. Peter has quickly forgotten that he is here to learn and to follow, not to direct. Jesus’s rebuke and comparison of Peter to Satan isn’t quite as awful as it might sound to our ears. Satan as the personification of all that is evil is not how these people would hear the term. Satan is an adversary or a tempter. Not someone you enjoy encountering, but not the epitome of all that is wicked. This rebuke of Peter is more like when a friend offers well-intentioned but utterly foolish health advice and we roll our eyes and say, “Sure thing, Doc.” It’s not especially kind, but it is an effective reminder to someone who’s stepped outside of their lane in an unhelpful way. The command to “get behind” is a reminder to Peter that his role here is to learn and follow, not to give directions or ignore what he is being told.

The disciples’ paths toward salvation are full of mountaintop moments and great spiritual awakenings, but they’re also full of stumbles and falls, corrections and rebukes. The same is true for us. Like Bishop Ware said, we are all being saved. The destination is certain, but getting from here to there is quite the journey, including some wild moments. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle, to skate, to play the piano, to preach, to chair a meeting, or so many other pursuits in this life. We will make mistakes, we will forget that we are always learning, we will achieve exciting milestones and become overconfident. Our teachers will correct us and, sometimes, even rebuke us. Especially if we’re in danger of hurting ourselves or others.

In our saving journey with Jesus, those corrections and rebukes are never violent, never hurtful, never destructive. They may be hard to hear sometimes, but God’s persistent correction is always for our own good. It is always meant to help us take the next step on the path. It is always a reminder that even a small step toward God puts us closer to God than when we started. Jesus’s guidance on this journey to salvation, even when it’s a hard lesson, is always spoken in love and for love’s sake.

How are you being saved?

Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

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