This clip shows a wrong thinking in that salvation is about what “I” can do, what “I” must do, how “I” choose to follow Christ, when “all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Through no action of mine, a miserable sinner, can “I” save myself. The “me” and “I” attitude of this world comes out in all the new “contemporary” songs and worship styles.
I have been a lurker for quite a while and while not Orthodox, I am a conservative Christian. Our focus should be on Him, not on “me” or “my cooperation”…this concept is frightening. Only Christ saves.
You are absolutely right: only Christ saves, and salvation is His gift to humankind. But I think you mishear the message of this video. That salvation is the work of God doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play: we must receive the gift of salvation–we must say “yes” to Christ. God respects our freedom and will not force Himself upon us. Likewise, He will not stop us from rejecting His gift, and allows us the freedom to walk away, to refuse Him, at any time. And so we continue to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling,” knowing that our journey is not yet complete. We must continue to say yes to Him every day of our lives, running the race to the end, as St. Paul admonishes us to do. Our obedience to Christ in thought, word and deed, is part of how we say yes. But you’re right, it is still only Christ who saves. He is the beginning, the means and the end of our salvation, so that whatever we do to participate in our being saved is empowered by His grace as we open our hearts to receive it.
I’m sure someone else could explain this much better than I can. Hopefully they will fill in any gaps I have missed.
Also, you might considering watching the video Fr. Stephen has in the sidebar by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at the following link:
It also is good to bear in mind that Orthodoxy and Protestantism (specifically Evangelicalism) seem to mean two different things with the word “salvation.” I’m a former Evangelical who’s slowly journeying into Orthodoxy, and I’ve found that many times, when I thought about salvation before, it was relegated solely to a “moment” when I prayed a prayer and “accepted Christ” and “crossed over from death to life.” Largely what that meant was that someday I’d go to Heaven when I died, due to what Christ accomplished.
I think this is similar to the first part of the video, the “I was saved” section. I’ve come to believe now that salvation is BIGGER than that, and the video mentions this in the middle in talking about the little choices we make each day to live the life of Christ (the Kingdom of God, Paradise) now. Again, even those little choices are through God’s grace. Only through Christ is found our salvation.
I’m not Orthodox yet, but it’s this fuller understanding that is drawing me further into Orthodoxy–where Protestantism seems to have truncated it, Orthodoxy looks at the broader picture of salvation: God saving our individual souls [where Protestantism often stops], our whole selves, the community of His Church [we are being saved together], and even redeeming the cosmos.
Father Stephen (and other Orthodox), please forgive any misunderstandings I have in the above response, and correct where correction is needed.
Indeed, I would agree that there is a “mishearing.” Of course only Christ saves – grace is His alone. Orthodox use of the word “salvation” is a broad term, just as it is in the Scriptures. For us, it also refers to the life of grace at work in us day by day, including what we do with the gift of grace that has been given to us. Our “cooperation” with the grace of God adds nothing to our salvation nor does it add anything to grace. But saying yes to God day by day is an essential part of the Christian life – that we might come to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.
Read the Scriptures with this in mind, or do a word study on “salvation.” Orthodox use of the term is similar to that in the NT. It is later Evangelical theology that has narrowed the use of the term.
Yes, as a former evangelical, I found that the fully Scriptural understanding of salvation in this broader sense freed me finally to progress in my faith and deepen my intimacy with Christ because it corresponds to the reality of the life of genuine faith or trust in Christ faith as it is daily worked out. Ironically, if you put your faith in a formula or doctrine such as “once saved, always saved,” you have automatically removed it from being an actual active living personal trust in Christ Himself, which is Scripturally what saving faith is! Your “faith” has become rational assent to a doctrine, and this can never save anyone.
We went to our first Orthodox funeral service last night and it was interesting to see the elderly woman’s salvation still being “worked out” even AFTER “the end”. Not that what we were doing was making her entrance into heaven possible, right? Our priest said that a funeral is for the one who died, not for the living — which is the opposite of popular practice — which was very interesting to consider. Our 15yo son got home from the service just after midnight as they started reading the entire Psalter over her body at 8:00 p.m. and it took until then. It has been awesome to have our paradigm shifted in these days of our journey to Orthodoxy. I read this recently (discussing in part how salvation is a process, not a one-time event): http://www.antiochian.org/assets/asset_manager/da42e6049df1d08bff1865c1ac19e759.pdf …. very good. A jumble of thoughts here, sorry.
Thank you again, Father, for your blog.
Okay, I have to admit this clip is better than my typical reply: “I’m working on it.” (And yes, commenters above, I don’t mean me, but Christ in me.) But my reply takes three second while holding open the front door, not three minutes. And it’s an improvement over my reply from several years back: “How should I know?”
I’ve heard before the “I am saved, am being saved, and will be saved.” I think I heard all three pieces in the video. 🙂 Only a few extra words, but I like it. 🙂
The problem is see with the Orthodox point of view is that is mixes 2 separate works of God in your life namely: Salvation and Sanctification. Salvation, is a gift from God. It is basically a judicial declaration where God declares that we are saved and just, based not on our merits but based on the sacrifice of Christ. Once we accept and confess Christ we are saved and pass from death to life. It is the grace of God that declares us just and saved. We become God’s child and belong to Him. Once this is done the second process starts which is Sanctification. This is the work of the Holy Spirity in your life which follows your salvation. Sanctification means that the Holy Spirit works in our life to make us more holy continuously. This too is a separate gifrt of God. The problem with the Orthodox doctine of salvation is that they mix these 2 separate processes, so that more Sanctified means more Saved. Sanctification comes to mean Salvation in Orthodoxy, where as in the Evangelical faith sanctification is a process in which the Holy Spirity makes you holy and corrects your soul and instructs your soul, it is not making you saved, it is simply the gift of God making you holy. You are already saved based on your confession of Christ as a gift of God. True salvation is always followed by true sactification.
The post you have is almost a textbook outline of why Orthodoxy could never be reduced to a tract.
Salvation IS sanctification, and looking at it any other way is a characteristic of Western (mainly reform) hermeneutics and theology.
Salvation is more than just “fire insurance”. It’s preparation for meeting God face-to-face at death. The Grace of God provides the tools to prepare ourselves, and this preparation is what is termed “sanctification” and/or “deification”. In other words, sanctification PRODUCES salvation. God accepts our intent when we pray the “sinner’s prayer”, but it is still up to us to allow Him to work within us to “cure us” of our problem. God totally respects our free will and will not force himself on us.
We were created for union with God, and so we all will meet God at our death. It matters not who we are. How we are prepared for that meeting is what this life is for. Orthodoxy has preserved the way that Jesus Christ taught us to prepare, and thus is not just a collection of beliefs, but a process to be followed.
I agree with Bradley’s comments. The scheme of justification/sanctification is a man-made distinction. Scripture does not make such a clean division – because – as Brantley notes – sanctification is salvation. Any word-study of “saved” and its usage in the NT make it clear that it has a far broader meaning than the Protestant concept of justification.
Dear Father Stephen and Brantley. Thank you for your replies. If Sanctification is salvation, then what is the degree of sanctification which you need to be saved? How much should you be sanctified to be saved? You say Sanctification “produces” salvation, but my Biblical undrstanding is that Salvation “produces” or better said is followed by Sanctification.
Our Lord died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin, and satisfy God’s law. The payment of this penalty is a gift which is imputed to you as a believer. Your sins are forgiven and the price for your sin has been paid. Now when God adopts you as His son, then he will not leave you as you are, He will start a wonderful “process” of cleansing and soul correction for those that He adopted. This sanctification is a gift that follows our salvation. Its is God’s grace, to make us holy. If salvation is a “process” there is always uncertainty attached to the amount of that process which will be needed to be saved! This is why I say sanctification is THE process, and salvation is a gift given rightaway when you pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, and at that moment you will belong to Him, and in His lovingkindness He will start the most wonderful “process” in your life … namely sanctifying you to be confirmed to the image of His Son.
I think we have a vocabulary problem here.
Unlike most Western traditions, we don’t see salvation as a change in your legal status in the eyes of God.
Additionally, the idea of a legal-style blood atonement (i.e. an angry father God had to be appeased by the death of his innocent son God) is foreign to Orthodoxy. To whom was God paying a payment? He’s God. He has no necessities that drive Him to do such things.
I will post no further, because I think it may be pointless simply because of the semantic issues involved. Though the language is tough and somewhat confrontational, I would recommend reading either “The River of Fire” (linked to from one of the menus along the left of Fr. Stephen’s blog), or for a more scholarly type treatment, Fr. John Romanides’ excellent “The Ancestral Sin”.
With love in Christ,
..I admit that since my recovery from alcohol/drug addiction(3 years now) and subsequent interest in all things spiritual including Orthodoxy,my comphrehension and concept of “saved” has grown and evolved to encompass the wonderful ideas of deliverance/healing/recovery/..so now i understand when father stephen says sanctification is salvation ..the continual process underway in my life as i ‘die’ to the flesh a little each day IS my salvation in progress..but in slow motion…..i thank God for this blog.
Tony, the article which Brantley referenced might indeed be of interest. A couple of things I have written might be interesting as well. One is called Personal Issues, the second is called The Nature of Things and Our Salvation.
At the heart of the Orthodox understanding is more or less the absence of a “forensic” or “legal” understanding of the human condition. The wages of sin is death, and it is death, in largest sense of the word, that is the problem. Christ came that we might have life. Forgiveness does not so much relieve us of a legal debt (indeed that kind of forgiveness is shallow), it heals us and restores to proper union with God – in which we grow day by day. The forensic account was not fully articulated until about 1000 A.D. It has been such a dominant image in the West that it is hard for believers not to see it everywhere (in the Bible) though it seems odd that the Fathers in the Eastern Church generally did not see it for all those centuries. Seems curious, to say the least.
Mike, I think the analogy to the process of recovery is spot on.
As a former Protestant, now Orthodox, I always wondered as Brantley mentioned, “to whom the debt was owed/paid.” Given the deep understanding of the Trinity, it’s like God allowed himself to get brutalized on the cross so he could pay (reimburse) himself for a payment he already owed to himself and I guess could have paid to himself. There is a good book on the topic entitled, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, by Joel Green and Mark Baker, a couple of Methodists fellows as I recall. Green did an interview on http://www.ancientfaith.com with Kevin Allen about his book which you might check out if you have interest.
I understand the language which you use to describe/separate salvation and sanctification quite well, having attended a Reformed church for nearly a decade. To understand the Orthodox faith in many ways is like learning a new language.
The teaching of Imputed Righteousness as modern day Protestants understand it has its beginnings in the Protestant Reformation. Such a legal transaction of salvation was not taught in the early church. The hallmark of Imputed Righteousness (IR) teaches that when God the Father looks at us He sees Jesus because in accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins an exchange took place. That exchange is said to be that we automatically receive the righteousness of Christ full and complete. The result of this is that God looks at us AS IF we have never sinned.
Such a view of salvation is foreign to the Orthodox Church. Rather, salvation is receiving the very life of Christ, participating in a real and actual communion with Him that changes our very nature – being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another. This is what we Orthodox call theosis or deification. We do not have to play hide and seek with God but rather, acknowledge that He sees us with all of our weaknesses and foibles, He sees our sin and desires that we live in continual repentance, turning away from that which is harmful to our souls and turning to the Most Merciful One.
Saying the Sinner’s Prayer is just the beginning of repentance. Jesus desires loyal disciples who follow Him in obedience, such as paying heed to the parables in which we use the talents given us and love our neighbor as ourself. Salvation is not a once and done deal in which we say a prayer of repentance and then are assured of Heaven. He who endures to the end will be saved.
Rather, we must live a life of repentance. This is why our Lord admonishes His hearers in Luke 6 saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord, and do not DO what I tell you?” Our salvation must be love in action, by doing works of mercy, loving our neighbor and our enemies, forgiving those who mistreat and offend us. We are not saved merely alone, but by participating in the life of the Church, which is His body. The holy mysteries (sacraments) impart grace to us, enabling us to continue faithful to Him.
We must cooperate with Him by exercising the free will that He has given us and this we can only do by the grace that He freely bestows upon us. Grace is not irresistible as the I in the TULIP paradigm. We do not subscribe to monergism and thus, we do not believe in Perseverance of the Saints as taught in the P of TULIP. Salvation requires that we actively choose to be obedient to Him which in turn gives glory to our Heavenly Father.
So it is that we were saved, we are being saved, and if we continue faithfu, bearing good fruit and remaining in the Vine (John 15) we will be saved.
Nevertheless, the words “lutron” and “antilutron”, both often translated as ransom, are used in Scripture in this context. (See Matt 20:28 and 1 Tim 2:5) Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life (“psyche”) as a ransom for many/all.
In the same way evangelicals overlook the resurrection – the atonement being the main event – you must give some account of the cross and how it overcame sin.
Agreed. That language is in fact there. To assume that this language describes a situation whereby God was subjected to a necessity such as “satisfaction”, “honor” or any other human passion would seem to be incorrect, however.
Galatian and Tony,
You will appreciate this book, “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross”, by Joel Green and Mark Baker. Also, if you’ve not read “On the Incarnation”, by St. Athanasius of the 4th century you owe to yourself to read that short book as well.
Any law whether divine or civil has 2 demands. First that it be obeyed 100%, and second if not obeyed the correspoding penalty has to be paid. You can see this pattern in the OT where the tabernacle served as a possibility to fulfil the penal (sanctions) demands of the law. The tabernacle was a shadow and prophecy of the Great sacrifice of Christ in the future. The Israelites were supposed to keep the law all 613, and if they for any reason broke the law, they had to bring a blood offer to the priest. This was the principle of the substitutionary death where the animal would die in place of the believer. We see this pattern of substitutionary sacrifice first when God killed the first animals after Adam and Eve sinned, to cover their nakedness, and we see the substitutionary death in the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, where God gave an animal to die instead of Isaac. It is difficult to understand the sacrifice of Christ if we do not understand the typology in the sacrificial system of the OT. Jesus did not die to satisfy an “angry God”, but Jesus died to satisfy the righteous demands of the Holy Law of God Almighty. God’s righteousness had to be satisfied and the penalty for sin had to be paid. God in His Holiness could not compromise with sin. The beautiful part is that God himself is the offended party and God Himself provides the substitutionary sacrfice by dying on the cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. This sacrifice opens the gates of heaven to us and makes it possible for God to adopt us as His own. Once he pulls us out of the gutter and adopts us which is called SALVATION ……..He then proceeds with cleaning us and washing us from our filth which is called SANCTIFICATION. God takes us in and gives us salvation …He pays the price of our sin, and then proceeds with our soul correction and preparing us to be glorified. In Orthodox theology it seems that God pulls us out of the gutter and we are covered by filth, but does not really accept us until we are 100% clean. His acceptance depends on the amount of washing. IN Evangelical thought the washing comes as a result of Him having accepted us as His children already, and the washing that follows is the result of His love for us after He adopts us.
James the Brother:
Thanks for the recommendations.
It is all too easy to let theory drive translation. Orthodox indeed address the atonement – there could be no preaching of the gospel without the proclamation of the Cross of Christ. Indeed, compared to the liturgical texts of Good Friday (as well of those of Pascha) other forms of Christianity are almost silent on the matter. Be that as it may (and forgive my contentiousness), but it is not true that the Orthodox overlook the atonement and jump to the resurrection (that is a false canard suggested by some who are unfamiliar with the fullness of Orthodoxy). Interestingly, the Orthodox icon used for Pascha is Christ’s descent into Hades – which is obviously inherent part of the Cross as well. Generally, Orthodoxy does not separate Incarnation, Cross, Descent into Hades, Resurrection, etc. It is all one reality – the assumption and union with our humanity, including taking our sin upon Himself, following all of that into Hades and triumphantly raising us to life and righteousness.
St. Gregory Nazianzus described the idea of a “payment” to Satan “abhorrent.”
Interestingly, St. Basil, in his Eucharistic prayer uses the word “ransom.” He refers to it as a ransom to death:
Ransom does not require the juridical theory. Indeed, the juridical theory does not account for passages such as Phil. 2:5-11 (the kenosis). The great weakness of the juridical account is placing the problem within God Himself. The change occurs in God (in some accounts) in a manner that would seem problematic.
If I may, here is an article I read early on in our conversion that really helped me understand original vs. ancestral sin. It’s about 18 pages and is called View of Sin in the Early Church.
I understand the logic of the substitionary account and that it seems obvious to you.
Thank you for your gracious reply. I had not meant to be contentious either not to suggest Orthodoxy had overlooked the cross. I fully accept your opening point about not letting theory drive the translation: it is very easy to read into texts meanings which are not necessarily there. For example, I have always read Romans 5:6-11 with my protestant (usually Zwingli-ist) hat on:
1) I was a sinner
2) Christ died for me
3) I am justified by his blood
4) I am saved from the wrath of God
5) I was God’s enemy
6) By the death of the Son I am reconciled
The juridical interpretation is not difficult to assume, here. However, I have always found this reading tries to squeeze the words into a box which they do not quite fit the model of salvation put forward these days in the west.
I agree with your observation. I was reading last night in Leviticus (actually searching for something else) and was struck by the detail and diversity described in the system of sacrifice. Many modern juridical accounts reduce the sacrificial complexity of the OT to a single idea, and, I think, wrongly interpret that single idea.
My preferred way of reading (following a patristic approach) is to begin with Christ and His Pascha (which includes the Cross) and interpret other things in the light of that. The disciples did not understand the OT until after the resurrection. Thus I think we have to begin there as well. Christ is the meaning of the whole of the OT (not to dismiss its history – but to say that He is the meaning of it all).
Thank you again for your blog. I am continually challenged and encouraged through your words. I love the video above.
I thought i would add to this discussion that one of the most helpful books for me on my journey from evangelical protestantism towards Orthodoxy has been Fr. James Bernstein’s “Surprised by Christ: My Journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity”.
He was an evangelical for a number of years, and he answered many of my questions. He discusses many things including the OT sacrificial system and the atonement, which were discussed in comments above.
One of the most powerful ideas for me personally was that as a protestant, salvation essentially meant changing God from wrathful to loving. In Orthodoxy, (i think) salvation means (in part) changing/healing me.