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"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor 5:17)

Changes. When someone is saved from a mortal danger or overcomes a serious infirmity, it is customary to say that this person "has been born again", a metaphor for a new person…, but in practice it is possible that only some of his habits might have changed. Par example, someone who through a hard struggle has overcome cancer, may continue living life with habits different from the previous ones, as far as diet, physical exercise are concerned, or if he has been a chain smoker he could have turned into an anti-tobacco activist, or could have become a vivacious person, one who appreciates the things that life offers and which had gone unnoticed before. But when our salvation refers to the eternal salvation, we do not become new in a metaphoric sense or because some of our habits have changed… but, truly, because we have been born again, because we have a new life within us!

A threesome job. This task of salvation involves three parties. The first and main one is the Holy Spirit, who now and here on the earth offers us, in the name of Christ Jesus, the redemption and the salvation attained for us on the Cross. The second party is me, the beneficiary of the salvation, and the third party is the Church, which is at the same time the assembly of those called for salvation and the channel for the work of the Holy Spirit — who uses human means— to proclaim the Word of God and to extend the salvation to all human beings: "I led them with cords of human kindness, with bonds of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them" (Hos 11:4).

A history with impact. Each human life is precious in God’s eyes, so that out of love he handed over his Son in our place. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ for our redemption is the most impressive event of history… and which even today has a continuation in each person that is redeemed in Christ. A most wonderful miracle takes place then. There is rejoicing in heaven! That person has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light , set free by Christ from the slavery to the devil and to the sin. And the angels rejoice. Perhaps the Television News does not speak of this, but in the heaven it occupies the front pages and the name of the person is written in the Book of Life.

First. In this history, the initiative is always God’s: "He loved us first" (1 Jn 4:19). God places a desire, a longing in the heart of men, a lacking in satisfaction, a need for him who has created us and who is our Supreme Good. Away from him, we are away from the true and eternal life and away from happiness. At the same time we cannot reach out to him on our own strength: let us remember that "So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy" (Rom 9:16).

The Church, through its members and its dependence on the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of its ministers, as well through the life and the witness of each faithful, called to be a light to the world, also spreads the Word of Salvation: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom 10:14-15). Through all these means, touched directly by the Holy Spirit or by the testimony and the word of the believers, men are challenged to give an answer to the redeeming and salvific love of God.

Our answer. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the Apostles, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, and the salvation through his Cross. The Word of Salvation touched the hearts of those listening. No one remained indifferent; in all of them there was some reaction. Some rejected the Word, implying that the witnesses for Christ were drunk, and mocking them. But others, a few thousands that day, reacted to the words of Peter and his companions in a totally different way:

"Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah this Jesus whom you crucified". Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:36-40).

Then how do we welcome the offer of salvation?

  • Welcome the Word: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). All begins with the Word that comes to us, a Word that can be rejected, but which when welcomed bears fruit in us.
  • Faith: As fruit of our welcoming of the Word comes the faith in the truth, faith of which God gives a certain measure that works for our salvation (2 Thes 2:13). This faith is a commitment, a radical giving of all our being to the Lord, a conscious surrender of our life to the one who gave himself for us first. It is only when we surrender our sin to him in response to his redeeming act, that he can take it. It is only when we surrender our life to him that he can change it.
  • Conversion: It is by faith in God, and in the salvific action of Christ and in his Word, that man becomes conscious of his sin and of his separation from God. At this time he may become motivated to change the course of his life, going in direction of the Cross, towards an encounter with Christ, our Savior, giving up his life of sin. Repentance is the beginning of the road of conversion to our Savior: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret" (2 Cor 7:10).
  • To confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Personal Savior is for us a necessary and logical declaration if our faith and our conversion are genuine: "Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. […] For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" (Rom 10:9,13-14).
  • Obedience: Conversion and faith are especially seen in our trust and obedience to the Word of God, in the new relationship with our Redeemer, through prayer and reflection on his Word, always with the help of the Holy Spirit, who enables us in our new life as believers and helps us in our communion with God: "All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them" (1 Jn 3:24).
  • Baptism: makes us God’s children and members of his Church. Baptism is a public confession of our faith and of our new belonging to Christ: "Therefore we have been buried with him in baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so that we too may walk in the newness of life" (Rom 6:4).

Receiving the gift. To summarize, salvation of a person begins with and is truly attained by a miracle, through which this person opens herself to the redeeming grace of the Cross and the latter transforms the person’s life. The response of the "good thief" to the cross of Christ was: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). The Savior said to him: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43). Salvation is something free and unmerited, that Christ won for us, but which like any other gift we can accept or refuse, open and enjoy or discard.

New birth. In his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus assured him: "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above […]. Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn 3:3,5-6). In this way Jesus Christ stated that there is a life in the Spirit, the one which we attain through a new birth, in which intervene with the capability of begetting this life, the Holy Spirit from "above" and the "water" which in the Bible represents the Word of God: "You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pet 1:23). The Master further taught that without this birth in the Life in the Spirit we cannot know, nor enter the Kingdom of God and the life eternal.

Personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As in the story of Nicodemus or of that of the "good thief", the key for this new birth and to salvation is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Salvation is a person, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who holds our hand and introduces us to Jesus Christ. And this personal, face to face, encounter with our Savior, is sufficient to transform our present life and for us to receive eternal life. Paul, having such an experience says: "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8). As long as we are unable to "regard all things as rubbish" when compared with Christ, we can doubt the quality of our response to the gift of salvation, and as such of our welcome to the same. Are we truly born again? Did we unwrap this gift, not wanting to exchange it for anything else?

Consequences. Since knowledge always stimulates and helps us, let us have a look at some of the treasures that the git of salvation contains and which the believers are called to taste:

  • A new mind: not the "debased mind" (Rom 1:28) that leads to error and to do what is not right.
  • A new will: to seek and to do the will of God, over and above our own will and the desires of the flesh —the lusts of the heart of the old self (cf Rom 1:24)— as well above and over the seductions of our enemies. God works "the will and the work" (Phil 2:13) in those who submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ and who confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11).
  • A new righteousness: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).
  • New strength: The Holy Spirit enables us with a new strength: "for whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).
  • A new relationship: In Christ and through the Holy Spirit we are reconciled and have communion with God, we are enabled to pray and as such to receive life for our spirit, and to grow in the love of God: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (Gal 4:4-6).
  • A new hope: As ones possessing the gift of eternal life, Paul desires "that with the eyes of the heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints" (Eph 1:18).
  • A new destiny: a particular assignment or plan of God for our present life and an eternal destiny: " What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).
  • Freedom from slavery: we are no more captives of Satan, or debtors of sin, or of its consequences. In practice, together with the gift of salvation, many have received the "entire parcel", and have become free from all demoniac oppression and are healthy of body, soul and mind, free from pain and infirmities. Paul exhorts us to know "what is the immensurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power" (Eph 1:19).

To summarize: like the one who after having overcome cancer is conscious of his new opportunity and who do not live as he lived before, the one who has received the free salvation of Christ, does not live as he lived before, for a greater reason; we owe our life to such a precious Redeemer who shed his blood for us, so that we no more live for ourselves but for him "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Because of this we have received a new life to be lived as God’s children: "But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as the one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all" (Rom 5:15-18).

Let us go together! The Lord saves us one by one, but he wants us to gather a new people made up of "saints from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9). More ever, in the Church God has established channels of grace, like the sacraments and the ministries like those of intercession and of evangelization to have his abundant salvation reach all human beings. As our individual responsibility at the time of welcoming or of rejecting salvation is real, so we who form the Church —all of us— have too a greater responsibility of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to extend salvation and its new life to all who need it, to all human beings, whom God wants to be saved.

Questions for sharing:

  • Can we "attain" salvation or better "welcome it"? What is the use of our wisdom and of human efforts in relation to the salvation?
  • What does it mean to be born from above or to be born again?
  • What is our role? What is our correct response to the free gift of salvation?

     

 

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