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by Estee in

Martin Luther King Jr. once said "Salvation is being on the right road, not having reached a destination."

I read this quote for the first time this week and have been pondering it ever since. Many people think of salvation as something that happens just once, an experience of "being saved." There are some people that I know that can tell me when and where they were saved -- and it is a profound experience for these people.

A well-kept secret of United Methodists, however, is that we don't believe that salvation is a one-time event. The language of saved and not-saved is not a part of United Methodist vocabulary.

The Methodist understanding of salvation is analogous to MLK's -- salvation is a journey. John Wesley called it the "via salutis" or "the way of salvation." Salvation is something that we have to keep working at, and it's something that primarily happens in this life, not the next. For Wesley, the way of salvation is the story of God's grace flowing into our lives in different forms for different reasons and our subsequent response to this grace.

Sometimes, we need prevenient grace, the kind that goes before our awareness of God, the kind that is always pulling at us to open our eyes to a wider picture. Sometimes we need justifying grace, that helps us line our lives up with the person that God is calling us to be. And eventually, we need perfecting grace, which sounds bad but isn't. Being "perfect" means to reach a point when the love of God that we experience fills us up to the brimming point and then starts to spill over into other people's lives. My favorite professor, Dr. Elaine Robinson, said that this is like what happens to the Grinch in the Christmas movie. "And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then - the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!"

So, I've been thinking, if salvation is more a journey than a one-time event, more about love spilling out of my life than a one-way street between me and God, then that makes a big difference in what Christianity means to me. Being Christian is less about what God does for me, and more about what I do for others. The focus is not inward, but outward. And its less about the rewards of another life, and more about how we act in this life. And that should change a lot of things -- like how we see ourselves in relationship not only to each other, but to the earth, the environment, the good creation.
So, how's your heart? Is it shriveled up and barely pumping, or is it expanding?


Michael said...

Coolest and best explanation of Wesley's 3 types/stages of graces I have heard in a long time. I love the Dr. Seuss reference.

It is true, and sad, that the UM understanding of salvation is well-kept secret (even among members of our churches).

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