“The righteous cannot live by virtue of (his former righteousness), once he starts sinning. So if, after I tell the righteous person that he will surely live, he begins trusting in his own (former) righteousness and starts committing crimes; then none of his (former) righteous actions will be remembered; on the contrary, he will die for the evil deeds he has committed” (Ezk. 33:12c-13 CEB).
The question of whether one remains a believer all of their lives, regardless of their actions, is a topic with which many people struggle. For some faiths the answer is a no-brainer, if you confess and believe in a moment, you will be saved forever. Other religious traditions respond quite differently than their counterparts; that a “one and done” kind of commitment does not ensure anyone of a lifetime of pardon by the Almighty God. We must surrender our will over to the care of God, 24/7.
As a true Wesleyan, I believe that the grace offered to us by the Holy One, transforms and radically changes our lives. The Divine’s offering of grace is the only thing that can save us. If we could save ourselves, then why would we need Holy help? God and God alone liberates our souls from bondage. Our actions do not count when grace comes to live in us. Holy-hands fashioned our hearts to embrace the calling of the One, who created us in Divine likeness, without human help.
Our part comes when we have a profession of our faith, a realization that Christ is doing something for us that we cannot do ourselves. We embrace the gift of grace, and in so doing our entire life is changed. Paul talks about a “circumcision of the heart” (Rom. 2:25-29), a total conversion of faith. People discover the gospel (good news) within us by our actions, demonstrating a new way of life. What we say and do tells the world, “Hey, I am not the same person anymore. I live in the rich gift of God.”
And now to call back my Weslayan heritage, when one confesses, one is expected to live in a life that reflects a change of heart. Failure to show Christ’s love through our actions results in a turning away from our commitment to God, and our religious communities. Our works must reflect a new way of existing in the world. Wesley would challenge a person about the authenticity of their conversion experience if actions did not change after the commitment to Divine leadership.
I want to come back to the text from Ezekiel and hold up this very tough passage. We see many examples of a call to holy living throughout the entire New Testament. Perhaps our notions of salvation begin right here, in this passage from the Hebrew Bible. Grace is given by God, but it is up to humanity to reflect the change.
This is hard stuff because the underlying message is to think through your actions. If you are a true believer, you carry God’s love and message with you into a world that needs to witness the transformative power of the Holy-One. I hope that we all can embrace the idea that our confession is not the end of the story. Taking Jesus’ lead, we take the Gospel to the world by demonstrating the love of God and neighbors. We will show the way to the Father by our kindness and understanding.
Praise be to our Amazing God, who saves us and writes a new way of existing in the world onto our hearts and minds!