Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Saved by Faith

My congregation, Saint Peter’s (, an ELCA affiliate in Manhattan, New York, is sending daily Advent devotionals to its email list this year. Today’s devotional starts out: “When we have something major coming up, we take inventory of where we are and what we need to do to get there. The coming of Christ invites us to the same kind of reflection. Of course, we don't need to worry about saving ourselves - we're saved by virtue of our faith.” This last idea, it seems to me, encourages us, as so many other devotionals do, to “just believe.” That is, we should exert an act of will to somehow accept a series of propositions necessary for our salvation. This, of course, places us in the center of the action; we are dependant on ourselves for our salvation. God demands that we believe, and we struggle to comply.
I think what this devotional should have said is: We are baptized. We don’t need to worry about saving ourselves because we’ve been baptized. Baptism is done for us; we don’t do it ourselves. It’s a gift.
But what is salvation? I bet most people immediately have the mental picture of getting into heaven after we die. That’s not wrong, but it’s hardly right either, because it’s about saving me, and, by implication, what I have to do to save myself to get into heaven. I have to be good. Not bloody likely. I know what I’m like.
Baptism’s gift, the salvation given, is freedom from fear. We have nothing to fear, because God loves us and is with us always. Freedom from fear can give us strength to do what is right. The fact that we so often do wrong is a sign of how fearful we remain, even while God remains with us and loves us. God always calls us to accept the gift of baptism: to live without fear. As we accept and live fearlessly, we are saved. Living fearlessly requires that we become conscious of our fear and let go of it. Our consciousness is our great ally. Pray to be granted the gift of consciousness.
But what about the unbaptized? Are they saved? Lots of ink (and blood) has been shed over this question, and the answer is of course. Of course, they are saved if, like the baptized, they live without fear. They just haven’t received the sign of baptism as Christians have, but the opportunity to live without fear is available to all.