Not a Vending Machine!

John 8:31
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.”

Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” comic strip once featured tips on how to ace college classes.  One tip recommended taking careful note of professors who have a “one-size-fits-all” ideological theory to explain everything such as “The country that controls magnesium controls the universe!”  The great thing about such profs is that it is easy to give test answers pleasing to them (“Answer: Magnesium”).  The downside is that passing such a class does not really prepare you to face a world more complex than Magnesium Only ideology can fathom.  Similarly, in the world of the Christian faith, one common notion afoot at present is the ideological theory of “once saved, always saved” (i.e., that it is impossible for any person who has given his life to Jesus Christ to lose his salvation). The trick to supporting this curious idea (as in supporting all monomaniacal ideas) is to take bits of biblical revelation (such as “God can’t go back on his word” and “Salvation depends first on grace, not on our works”) and expand these bits insanely till all the rest of scriptural revelation is made the slave and subordinate of these scraps of truth.  The effect, in the case of this particular ideology, is to reduce God to a name on a legal contract, a vending machine or an abstraction. However, in the more complex world known as “real life” God remains what He is: a loving Father who seeks full and total relationship with us.  If we do not continue in that relationship, we do not continue as His disciples.  It’s that simple and real, and all the appeals in the world to some abstract “salvation” which ignores our relationship with God cannot change that.  On the other hand, even the attempt to “continue in My word” (however badly we fail) is a delight to the heart of God as a child’s faltering steps are a delight to a father’s.  At the judgement, it will be we – we ourselves in all our complexity – that we bring to Him, not abstractions, theories and legal contracts.  Today, continue in His word.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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