Mere forgiveness or real change?

Father Stephen posted Wednesday one of his best blogs in weeks, by my lights.

This one captured eloquently a big factor in my embrace of Orthodoxy: salvation as ontological change more than forensic transaction.

There is no denying that grace is a free gift and that it is the true means of our salvation. But what if our problem is not to be primarily understood in legal terms? What if that which needs saving about us is not our guilt before the law of God, but the ravages worked within our heart and life from the presence of sin and death? This is probably the point where many discussions about salvation fall apart. If one person has in mind primarily a forensic salvation (I go to heaven, I don’t go to hell), while the other is thinking primarily in terms of an ontological change (I am corrupted and dying and were I to go to heaven I’d still be corrupted and dying). The debate comes down to a question of whether we need a change of status (forensic) or a change within our very heart.

The italicized parts are Father Stephen’s eloquent expression of what hit me early on the road to Orthodoxy. It’s a lot of what kept me on that road, in fact.

When I was in my Christian boarding school, I was taught that salvation could be broken down into justification, sanctification and glorification – a dim and dumb reflection of the more glorious truth. I now tend to think that justification – in the stark forensic sense of God pronouncing me righteous – is all but meaningless if I don’t cooperate with Him in beginning to become righteous in fact, not in legal fiction. And remarkably enough, it doesn’t feel like some sort of living martyrdom. There’s real, deep joy in the journey.

Unless I do get to work on becoming conformed to His image, becoming a “partaker of the divine nature,” I’d probably storm out of heaven, breaking a few plates or punching a hole in the wall on my way out, after spending my threescore and ten living entirely for myself and then finding out that heaven isn’t about me.

As Father Stephen puts it, “were I to go to heaven I’d still be corrupted and dying.” And I’ll make life a bit more nasty, and Christianity of my sort more distasteful, as I experience corruption and dying here, as poor Antsy McClain experienced one day:

Don’t miss his second (of three) potent points:

The life of grace is central to our existence as Christians and must not become secularized. In a secular understanding, the Church has a role to play in a larger scheme of things (the secular world).

No, the secular world is passing away. The Church is “the larger scheme of things.”

Can you identify the third major point? It’s the one I’ve been slowest making habitual to my thought patterns. I get about half of it, and I’m starting to get the other half. Maybe other people grasp it more readily.