“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)” II Corinthians 5:19-6:2
In various conversations I have come across people who say they hope to make it, to avoid being lost, but rather accepted by God for eternal life. They are sure that the true traditional doctrine of the Church is that we may never know in this life if we are saved or lost. Sometimes this is coupled with the hope that they may put off complete repentance, and hope for some way to pay it off in the mythical land of punitive Purgatory.
In trying to challenge this idea the reply has been, on occasion, that we cannot have complete confidence in a one time conversion event, or something like responding to an altarless “Altar Call” and saying “The Sinner’s Prayer,” or to a one time public confession of faith in Christ as a good work by which we are saved through faith (inherent contradiction? Obviously, yes). Indeed, this is true. It is a very dangerous error to believe that you were once saved by saying the right words, however sincerely and faith filled, and therefore always saved with what they call “Eternal Security.” That is, it is dangerous if you believe it was “fire insurance” purchased by one premium payment, involving no life of repentance and faith.
In the mind of St. Bede, as he wrote in several places in his History of the English Church and People, it was just as dangerous to put off repentance until one is at the point of death. He strongly discouraged some notion that one can rely on having a death bed conversion. Indeed, such may not be true repentance if one has gone a whole lifetime hardening the heart.
What, then, is the answer? Do we presume on the grace of God, trusting that we have nothing to fear because of something we once experienced? Or, do we put off repentance so as to enjoy some sin of pleasure or bitterness? Or, do we wait anxiously without any faith that God’s mercy will apply to anyone of us in particular?
I want to suggest that we treat the words of
as our guide. It is always today – “the day of salvation.” It is always now – “the
accepted time.” Indeed, why do we even have the General Confession with an
absolution that speaks of “hearty [sincere] repentance and true faith?” How do
any of us dare to receive “this sacrament to our comfort” unless we believe in
the forgiveness of sins? St. Paul
Simply put, without drawing an impossible line that
calls “a state of grace,” as if it was separated from day to day life, we need
to act “today,” and “now.” Not only do we have no guarantee of drawing another
breath; we have the certainty that “We shall all stand before the judgment seat
of Christ (Romans 14:10, II Corinthians 5:10),” and of a one hundred percent
death rate in this world. Apathy about your own soul is sinful and dangerous.
If there is any known sin in your life repent today and right now; “Be ye
reconciled to God.” Rome
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).”
For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised (Hebrews 10:14-23).”
The other side, therefore, of the equation is this: For those who repent and believe, we have God’s promise of forgiveness and acceptance, that we may enter His presence now through His Son. The same access by which we worship, pray and receive the sacraments, through Jesus Christ and by His grace, is the access that we have for all eternity. And, for all of it, the time is now.