I remember, as a child in my particular sect, wondering why I would still sin and struggle after I was “saved.” There were times when my ponderings brought me to the conclusion I might not be saved, that the various sins I was challenged by were an indication I was without grace. That can be a terrifying thought and I think more than a few us secretly kept asking Jesus into our hearts on multiple occasions, always seeking a fresh start after we had fallen. Certainly these issues were a driving force behind many, even long term church members, coming down for the “Altar Calls” that would often close our services when I was a Baptist pastor.
In coming to Orthodox Faith, though, among the gifts given to me, interestingly enough, was the gift of being a sinner. I should explain.
It’s not that being a sinner or committing sin is a good thing in and of itself. In truth Orthodoxy has a very high standard for conduct and while, unfortunately, many Christian communities have officially redefined or even sanctioned certain kinds of sin, Orthodoxy still has the basic original list.
Even while unambiguously maintaining that list, though, Orthodoxy understands sin and struggle are part of the Christian’s life here on Earth and it freely admits it with no illusions that it could, would, or should be any different. You will fall, you will rise, and you will do it over and over again through all your life. By admitting this freely the Orthodox Faith also doesn’t require us to lie about what we face and who we sometimes are in order to belong and it has no need to redefine sin as a way to soothe a guilty soul. You also need not struggle and spiritually torture yourself trying to maintain an illusion of righteousness while hiding the burden of sin.
You are a sinner, saved, and being saved, by God’s grace. You are a traveler on a journey towards God and the path will sometimes not be as direct as it should. Despite your highest aspirations you will sometimes, or often, fall short and we’re not about to change the rules to make that challenge any less. Yet, it’s also in realizing this that we can begin the path to becoming better just like knowing what an illness is can often be the first step to recovery. This is Orthodox Faith.
Along that journey towards God, towards wholeness, towards authenticity the Church, in Christ, has provided us with gifts, sacraments, graces, and methods of healing that assist us not just in the realization of our status as sinners and strugglers, but also in the healing process. This isn’t a license, of course, to sin but rather a hope that our sins and struggles will not be the final definition of who we are and the realization of being a sinner, far from being a sign that we are without grace, is actually the place where grace comes into our lives with all of its benefits.
And therein lies the gift.