There is only one way to reach salvation and life eternal
Are we taking our salvation for granted? Do we believe that we are saved or that salvation is easily achieved? Do we think that “worrying” about our salvation is a temptation, which we should rid ourselves from? Do we rely on God’s mercy, love and compassion, that surely He won’t let us go to Hell? (after all, we are not the world’s worst sinners...) Do we hope that we will “make it” to Paradise? That we will enjoy life eternal with the righteous? In order to answer these and other such questions let us examine briefly if our hope is well founded and what is life eternal. Let us start by examining what life eternal is.
What is life eternal?
What is life eternal? If you ask the question you are likely to hear: “And who came back from the other life to tell us what is like?” How we forget... Didn’t Somebody come back from death? Isn’t our faith based on this fact? But the point we want to make is that we are asking the wrong question, when we ask “What is life eternal?” We make the same mistake Pontius Pilate did, when he asked the Lord “What is truth?” In either case the question is not, What, but, Who. Because both truth and life are not abstract concepts, notions and ideas we invented and created by and for ourselves, but are embodied in the very person of Jesus Christ, Who is the Truth, the Way, the Life and Justice and Righteousness and Love. Eternal life is to know the One True God and His Only Begotten Son: “This is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Knowledge of the One True God is life eternal. To know, in biblical language, means to have a profound and intimate relationship. Therefore when we say knowledge of God, we mean the union of man with Christ. Knowing Christ means to be in communion with Christ, which means to participate in the very life of Christ, Who is Himself the true life: “This (Jesus Christ, the Son of God) is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). This knowledge of the true God begins in this life. Writes St. Nicholas Cavasilas:
“The life in Christ originates in this life and arises from it. It is perfected, however, in the life to come, when we shall have reached the last day. It cannot attain perfection in men’s souls in this life, nor even in that which is to come without already having begun here” (The Life in Christ, 1,1, p. 43).
What must I do to attain life eternal?
As we have pointed out, the knowledge the Lord speaks of, does not consist of being informed about God, of becoming familiar with facts relating to God, of becoming aware of what God is like. This knowledge is not intellectual, grasped by the mind alone, a comprehension reached through the application of our mental faculties; it is not our achievement, our accomplishment; it is not the knowledge which “puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:3). One does not “know” God through the intellect, but through love. Or, to be more precise, “if one loves God, he is known by Him” (1 Cor. 8:3). Notice he doesn’t say: “If one loves God, he knows God”, but “If one loves God, he is known by Him,” that is, God comes to his life and through the Holy Spirit infuses in him every knowledge by divine revelation: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5), says St Paul. And St. John writes: “You have no need that any one should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 John 2:27). God, through His Holy Spirit, grants to loving hearts “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19), responding to a heart which responds to His love, filling it “with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19), as no human knowledge can ever accomplish. Let us also remember St. Paul’s words: even to have all “knowledge,” without love is not worth anything (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2).
To the extent, then, that we love God, God reveals Himself to us and communicates His divine energies to us, and thus we are known by Him. Conversely, he who does not love God, is not known by Him, and therefore, without God’s grace, he is utterly incapable to reach any true knowledge of God. That is why God will say to those who truly loved Him (as shown by their genuine love for their brothers and sisters): “Come”; but to those who did not truly love Him (as shown by their lack of genuine love for their brothers and sisters): “Depart.” The former will inherit eternal life; the latter eternal suffering.
Let’s not deceive ourselves, my brothers and sisters: To confess God with our mouth is a God-given gift: “No one can profess Jesus to be Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). But, unlike what many would have us believe, such confession is not a panacea. Confessing the Lord is only a beginning, not an end, despite any scriptural evidence adduced to the contrary (Mt.10:32 - Lk. 12:8, Rom. 10:9, 1 John 4:15, etc.). What if the lips confess the Lord, but the deeds don’t show it? St. Paul speaks of such men who “profess to know God, but deny him by their deeds” (Tit. 1:16. Cf. also Hos. 5:4). The Lord Himself declared in no unclear terms: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 7:21). Loving God is not demonstrated in words, but in actions: “For He will render to every man according to his works” (Rom. 2:6). And the beloved disciple confirms: “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). And God reveals: “I will give to each of you as your works deserve” (Rev. 2:23).
Is our hope to attain life eternal founded?
Our hope is based on our not having committed murder, extortion, rape, incest, robbery or any such terrible crime. Or perhaps on not having lied and cheated, spoken evil, and generally not having committed a sin. In today’s gospel passage the Lord makes it clear that our judgement will not be based upon what sins we did not commit, but to what extent we have demonstrated our love for God by imitating Him and by pouring out this love all around us.
But don’t be deceived. No works save man. The Pharisee not only did not commit any evil deeds, but to the contrary he tithed his total income. The older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the “good guy” who followed all the commandments and obeyed God’s will, never having left his father’s House (the Church), was probably not saved because he displayed no signs of repentance and love. What about us? Are we better? Do we have perhaps what they lack? What is that? It’s called by a strange name: Humility; which is the state of someone who is humble, meek, unpretentious, lowly — before God!
Correct me if I’m wrong: Doesn’t the world, our society, our teachers, the psychologists tell us to be assertive and aggressive and self-confident and persistent and self-reliant and proud of ourselves, and having self-esteem — all in a “good” sense, of course? Don’t we strive for first place, for honors, for recognition, for gratification, for excellence, for self-respect — again, not in an arrogant or haughty way, but in an altogether “positive” way? It just shows you how God’s ways differ from the world’s ways...
There is only one way for us to reach salvation and life eternal: to repent, to humble ourselves, to declare our sinfulness, to cry Kyrie eleison, weeping over our sins. Then to come to Church, to let Christ’s blood circulate in our veins. For as long as we believe that we are “OK”, a “decent” person, a well-to-do individual, a “good” Christian, God’s grace is not with us! Have you ever heard a sermon and said to yourself: “Too bad those who should hear it are not around”? That means that you are comparing yourself to those you consider to be worse off than you. How then do you differ from the Pharisee of the Parable? “God, if You only knew how good I am... I give to Your Church money, labor, time... I’m not like the “others” who do not contribute much... God, I only wish everyone would be like me.” Thus we set ourselves as measures, as exemplars, as role-models, appropriating Christ, in whose image we were created and whose likeness we strive to achieve. The self-proclaimed righteous, all of the “good” Christians out there, are nothing less than idolaters! Their idol being their self.
Sometimes we are presumptuous. We think “God is great, God is merciful. He would not condemn us to hell. He wants everyone to be saved. We confess His Name, we try our best to do His will.” Listen to what St. Paul has to say to us: “Do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). Thus we have come full circle, and from love we were lead back to repentance, because before putting on the roof we should lay the foundation. God is merciful, forgiving, good and loving. But He is also Just. If repentance did not get through to us from the parables of the Publican and the Pharisee and of the Prodigal Son, may it at least come through fear of the terrible Judgment that awaits us all. Remember: Contrary to common belief, life eternal does not start after death. Life eternal is not a condition beyond time. The life of the age to come begins here, from this life.
Let us ready ourselves for it, shall we?