Cheap Grace is the message of my “cradle” church, the one I grew up in, the Evangelical Christian Church. Back then it only took one prayer. One little “sinner’s” prayer and I was assured I was going to heaven. I was told, and I believed, that I was, “once saved always saved.” I rested on my laurels.
Spiritual growth did not come easy. I longed to be closer to God. For over thirty years I struggled with vague answers regarding Biblical questions on sin and my own personal propensities and prejudices. I had so many questions.
- Why did others have confession and we did not?
- Why were some parts of the Bible glossed over?
- Why did some people believe that confession to a priest was necessary?
- Why would they believe that, when I knew all it took to enter the kingdom of heaven was one little prayer?
- This was so easy. Why didn’t others believe what I believed?
Nothing made much sense to me, back then. Never the less, my desire to be “saved” was strong. So was my tendency to be very prideful, selfish and self-seeking. Therefore, it was simply easier to believe I was saved than to work on my salvation. I realize now, that even though this may have been Cheap Grace, my simple act of accepting Jesus into my heart was not the end, but the beginning. The sinner’s prayer for me was a tiny step toward a great beginning. God helped me through over 40 years of searching. Then, I began to find the answers through personal experience and in Church History.
In more recent years, I became Roman Catholic. This is where the real transformation began. It also began when my husband died. Seated firmly in his death, and the painful process of grieving, God opened my eyes to new life.
During this time I met an Orthodox woman of strength and wisdom. She taught me about the spiritual world and the reality of life and how to draw closer to God, but she didn’t evangelize. Simply by her behaviors and actions I learned the things of God. In her I saw a deep spirituality. In her I saw less emotional fluff, turmoil and flip flops. In her I saw the reality of life and death, and the answers I had been seeking all my life. This was so different. My friend’s Orthodox life was the spiritual life I craved. Full of rational thinking, experience and discipline, I wanted to learn more about the Orthodox Church. So I spoke to a local priest. A little more than a year ago I learned about the great Schism and more about Apostolic Succession. I discovered the Eastern Orthodox Church is the one true Church, remaining virtually unchanged since it was founded by the original Apostles of Jesus Christ. I discovered that my Roman Catholic experience was not the end, but an introduction.
More importantly, I learned (and am still learning) discipline and the process of reconciliation. Granted, I am still prideful and selfish. However, the Orthodox Church is teaching me that salvation requires more than just one “sinner’s prayer” or a meaningless “sorry” usually followed by prideful justification. Salvation requires more than fulfilling a requirement to attend Catechism class or Mass once a week. Salvation requires an ongoing deep and meaningful experience, fully grounded in reality and the hardship of life. Through Orthodoxy, I have learned that transformation indeed requires obedience to the teachings of the Church and community.
Orthodoxy is my transforming Church. We may often think Orthodoxy is static. In some ways it is. But Orthodoxy is also very dynamic. Dynamic, in the sense that the Orthodox Church goes way beyond something we learn in a sermon or attend on a Sunday. Orthodoxy is a way of life. Through the Orthodox Church, I am always experiencing God’s mysteries. Salvation is not a moment in time. Salvation is not a way of thinking. Salvation is a way of life. As such, my spiritual Father helps me to understand that there are many ways of doing things. Then there is God’s way. My spiritual Father helps me to root out prejudices and issues I have inside, that keep me from God’s way. This is not easy. These issues often impair my judgment. They impair my ability to be transformed and to be reconciled with Jesus Christ. Through my Church and my Church Community, God works to transform me daily. My cradle church didn’t do this.
My cradle church was founded on intellectualism and emotionally charged music and seminars, not Church teaching, spiritual reality and how to find joy in the hardship of life. The Orthodox Church doesn’t feed on the energy of people. The Orthodox Church just is. Virtually unchanged since 33 AD, I am learning that going to “heaven” is a daily process, of which I fall far short. The process of continually seeking reconciliation and change for the better is my salvation. Of course I fail. But this is OK. When I fail, hopefully I learn to do better next time. I no longer feel the heaviness of guilt and shame. This is so different than my youth.
There’s a big contrast between the church of my past and the Orthodox Church. In many ways, I wish others could see it. But I can’t focus on that. For now, I must focus on me, working on my own salvation. God will work in others, in His own time, in His own way, transforming those who are willing to become reconciled to Him.
Orthodoxy is not Cheap Grace. Orthodoxy shows us the way to the dynamic Grace my heart has longed for, ever since I was a kid, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and was “saved” over 40 years ago.
Now, I realize, I’m not saved. I’m being saved every day. This is extraordinary joy!
Accepting His Grace is never the end. It’s only the beginning.