Walk into any Christian bookstore in America and you will discover whole shelves of books about money: how to make money based on biblical principles, how to give money, how to save money, and how to invest money for the future. All these books are answering questions about money from a biblical viewpoint, but are these answers to the right questions? Are they even asking the right questions?
If we focus on the amount of money we have or don’t have, we will miss one of the most significant lessons Jesus wants to teach us. He confronts us with a choice – to serve Him with our money, or to be enslaved by our money. This choice challenges our attitudes about possessions and even the very meaning of life itself. This choice is between faith and doubt, between authentic trust and a lip service to the faith.
In other words, Jesus confronts us with the challenge to convert.
Unfortunately today Christian conversion has been reduced to a once-in-a-lifetime event or, worse yet, to nothing more than “joining” a club.But authentic Christian conversion, especially as understood in our Orthodox faith, calls us to a difficult task – confronting ourselves. This confrontation is terrifying to most of us because we don’t like looking at ourselves. King David came to this uncomfortable place when he asked, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Before we can talk about the Christian use of money, we have to be willing to ask if we have really converted to the faith of Christ. Once that question has been dealt with, the mastery of our possessions, our attitude toward our resources, and our use of our possessions as Christian stewards of God’s good gifts will all become clearer to us.
Here are three insights into an Orthodox understanding of conversion that will radically change the way we look not only at our money and how we give, but how we view our entire lives.
First, Conversion begins with Honesty. Remember when you were a kid and you were caught in a lie. My mother always told me I’d feel better once I came clean with the truth, and she was right. Conversion starts that way. It begins when I honestly take spiritual inventory of my life. The great Good News about our faith is that Orthodoxy continually assures us that God will not reject us. Being honest with Him and (sometimes more difficultly) with ourselves is “safe.” We will truly be converted to a more spiritual way of life as we are honest about our own needs.
Second, Conversion leads to Visibility. One of the traps of our modern popular view of religion is that we can simply pay lip service to our belief in Christ and the faith and still call ourselves faithful believers. An old saying comes to mind: “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.” St. Paul told the Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) An authentic confrontation with myself and a true conversion to faith shows up in the way I live and the choices I make. An invisible faith may be real, but how can anyone tell?
Finally, Conversion lasts a Lifetime. One thing I have come to love about my Orthodox faith is that I am continually confronted with an invitation to convert. Orthodoxy avoids the notion of a once-for-all event in my life to mark my faithfulness to Christ. No, this wise and timeless theology confronts me with the reality that spiritual growth occurs throughout my life. There are places in my life where I truly live out the principles of my faith and there are places in my life where I do not. A continual conversion is necessary if I am going to honestly confront myself with the need to allow the Holy Spirit to actually change me and my attitudes about my possessions and my life.
Some may say “well, I was born Orthodox” and that is a wonderful thing, that means you have a spiritual head start. But it also means that you have a rich spiritual treasure house to grow in. Just like the stewards who were given talents by the Master, you will give an account for that spiritual head start.
Being converted is not the exclusive domain of the TV preachers. We Orthodox are continually confronted with the challenge to actually put into practice the truths we say we believe each Sunday at Divine Liturgy. We are lovingly invited each day, every moment, to choose to believe not just with our heads but with our lives.