What Do Orthodox Christians Believe about Justification? A Response to Protestant Criticisms

The Harrowing of Hell, Fra Angelico (ca. 1437-1446) (From Wikimedia Commons)
The Harrowing of Hell, Fra Angelico (ca. 1437-1446)
(From Wikimedia Commons)

As Protestant Christians find their way to examining the Orthodox Christian faith, they very often remark about the inconsistency of Orthodox Christianity on the matter of justification by faith, or else they even say that Orthodoxy has no such doctrine of justification. Indeed, the term justification may be a bit curious to most Orthodox Christians who were not reared in Protestant homes, for one seldom encounters the term in Orthodox liturgy or theological discussion. It is perhaps most often encountered at the liturgical reading of the epistles of St. Paul or St. James, or perhaps one might recognize it from the service of baptism or chrismation. Yet these occurrences may pass notice and thus understanding.

But what of this notion of justification, and why should we pay heed to such criticisms made by Protestant observers of our Orthodox faith? A simple answer to this question might be that justification is a biblical doctrine, and it is one that has had a very significant impact in the history of Christianity. Nevertheless, the term justification has largely disappeared from Orthodox theological vocabulary, and this I would argue is for good reason.

A Changing Consensus

Critical scholarship over the last 50 years or so has begun to reassess the issue of justification in the epistles of St. Paul in conjunction with our ever-growing understanding of 1st century Judaism and its own understanding of what we could describe as “justification.” In the various sectarian theologies of Second Temple Judaism leading up to the time of Christ and the Apostles, Jews were very much concerned with who was in and who was out, i.e., who were the righteous before God and who were the wicked objects of His wrath. In order to maintain a position of being righteous before God, a pious Jew was expected to live in complete fidelity to Torah, the Law of Moses. The only question was, by whose interpretation of Torah should one live? The Jewish sect responsible for writing many of the Dead Sea Scrolls believed that they alone had received the correct interpretation of Torah, given to them by a man they called the Teacher of Righteousness, and all others were under the sway of the Wicked Priest or Man of the Lie, who had led them astray.

As the Gospel of Jesus Christ reached various Jewish communities throughout the Roman world, the question naturally rose as to what they should do about the Torah. Having believed in Messiah Jesus, should they still keep Torah? Furthermore, what should they do about Gentiles who came to believe in Messiah Jesus – should they become circumcised and follow Torah?

Paul and James, Two Valid Perspectives

St. Paul’s answer to this question was decisive as well as ingenious, for he categorically denied that Jews or Gentiles were obligated to keep Torah, for they had been justified by faith apart from the works of Torah, such as circumcision and kosher dietary regulations. Furthermore, all had been baptized into one body, the Body of Jesus the Messiah, and had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who would enable them to do what the Torah could not – to keep the righteous requirement of the Torah and live in obedience to God. To be baptized into the Messiah was to be baptized into His death and thus die to Torah to which they had previously been bound and to live unto Messiah Jesus by faith and the power of the Spirit.

St. James, on the other hand, likely felt that Paul had gone a bit too far in his jettisoning of the Torah, for he maintained that the Torah was still useful for instructing in righteousness, and that the works of Torah were to be understood simply as putting one’s faith into action. While Paul focused upon Torah as the means by which the Jews sought to establish their own imperfect righteousness before God, James saw the Torah as an efficient means by which one might live in obedience to God through faith. In spite of an apparent disagreement (which it was not in actuality, but only a difference in the use of terminology), it seems quite clear from both Paul and James that they agreed that both faith and obedience to God were necessary components of salvation, though they went about describing it in different ways.

The importance of all of this is to emphasize that justification is foremost an issue regarding the place of the Jewish Torah in the life of early Christian communities. For this reason, it is perhaps rightly de-emphasized in Orthodoxy, for we no longer have to deal with the same issues that the new Christian communities, composed of Jews and Gentiles seated at the same table, had to deal with.

Justification and Salvation

Justification is only one aspect of our salvation in Christ, which is manifold and comprehensive. Various aspects of this salvation have been emphasized in different eras or different geographic regions (i.e., East and West), but none can be exclusively claimed as the sole understanding of salvation. Let’s look at a few of these terms and ideas in order that we may parse out their connection and how they comprise a more comprehensive look at our salvation:

Justification – This term deals with how a person comes into and maintains a right relationship with God. Ultimately, this is made possible by the cross of Christ, by which He made expiation for our sins, granting us forgiveness and bringing us into a right relationship with God. Justification is accomplished at baptism and maintained through a life of obedience to God and confession of sins.

Sanctification – Sanctification is the process of separating a person or thing for exclusive use by God or for God. Holiness, the result of sanctification, is the state of being exclusively devoted to God. This ultimately requires purification from sin and detachment from the world and material things. This is usually seen as an ongoing process that one undergoes throughout one’s life. Sanctification is accomplished through ascetic struggle.

Glorification – The final state of Christians perfected in Christ after His Second Coming. While this term (as a participle) was used in Romans 8:29, Orthodoxy normally understands this idea to be the culmination of theosis (see below).

Adoption – The result of being engrafted into the Body of Christ through Baptism. We are adopted by God the Father as sons and co-heirs with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15-17). Adoption is the state by which we may partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) through theosis (c.f. the series on theosis and adoption by Fr. Matthew Baker).

Faith – This term can be understood biblically in two senses: (Paul) trust, fidelity, or loyalty to Christ that includes obedience and good works, or (James) simple cognitive belief (James 2:19) that must be complemented with good works.

Works – Also, this term is used biblically in two senses: (Paul) the “works of the Torah” such as circumcision, kosher regulations, and the myriad of other ordinances of the Law of Moses that are incapable of establishing one as righteous before God, or (James) good works (in an ethical sense) and obedience before God which accompany genuine faith.

Theosis/Deification – Both the result of being adopted as sons and daughters of God through baptism into Christ and the process of attaining to the fulness of the divine nature and conformity to the image of Christ. The concept of theosis has the potential to be wildly misunderstood when it is taken away from its moorings in the concept of adoption and the sacramental life of the Church. If it is understood in a “mystical” or gnostic way as a spiritualized state of elite initiates or recipients of some special grace withheld from other baptized members of Christ’s Church, then we err from Patristic teaching on the matter.

Christus Victor – Literally “Christ the Victor” (IC XC NIKA), this concept is perhaps the most common expression of our salvation in Orthodox Christianity. It is most aptly characterized by the Paschal apolytikion: “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” We are saved, because Christ has destroyed sin and death by His own death, and given life to us by His resurrection.


What to Take Away

  • All of the above concepts are woven together to form the complete tapestry that is our salvation in Christ, and none of them alone can be exclusively made to be real essence of salvation to the virtual exclusion of the others.
  • Justification is an important aspect of our salvation in Christ, though it is perhaps overemphasized in certain corners of Christianity. Justification is something that is inherently experienced and lived by every baptized Orthodox Christian, though it may be taken for granted.
  • We should not allow early Christian disputes about the Law of Moses to cause us to stumble by creating false dichotomies between faith and works that do not take into account the various nuances given to these terms by biblical writers.
  • Justification is wrongly set up as a singular touchstone of right doctrine, because it is only a part, not the whole of our salvation in Christ. As such, it cannot be considered the definitive aspect of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) to the exclusion of other aspects of it.
  • Justification is accomplished at baptism, the point where a person is granted forgiveness of sins and placed in a right relationship with God, and it is maintained through a life of obedience to God and confession of sins.

As such, Orthodoxy does have a doctrine of justification, though it may not be explicitly referred to as such or emphasized as much as it is in certain Protestant communions. Orthodox Christians can confidently state that Orthodoxy does properly regard the biblical teaching of justification as being by faith apart from the works of the Torah, though faith is rightly understood as a life lived in faithful obedience to God. It is accomplished at baptism, the sacramental instrument by which sins are forgiven, and is maintained by confession of sins. Justification is integral to the life of every Orthodox Christian, and while we may not use the term quite so prominently as Protestant Christians, we nevertheless take it very seriously.


  1. Eric,
    I would almost go so far as to say that Orthodoxy has no “doctrine of justification” because the “doctrine” is a Protestant invention. It isolates justification as though it was primary and able to be considered apart from everything else.

    In the Baptismal service, at the sprinkling (post Baptism and Chrismation), the priest says, “You are justified. You are illumined. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.” The text predates Protestant writings and clearly shows that justification, sanctification, illumination, etc. are all present in the font.

    I think it is worth our effort to resist the 500 year onslaught of the Protestant matrix of a new theology, in which justification is isolated and elevated to a place it does not hold in the Tradition. It is a word, a way of speaking about salvation, and salvation is one thing, not two or three. It is one thing, not a process. It is the gift of God in Holy Baptism, constantly ratified and nourished in the Sacraments. Salvation is union with God through Christ. These many false dichotomies of scholastic Protestantism have been detrimental to Christian thought.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article!

    1. I’m not sure I would go quite so far, myself. I don’t particularly like the rhetorical implications of your statement, as I generally prefer to be more irenic. Also, that many of the Fathers either deal with justification directly or comment upon biblical passages which deal with it means that we cannot say entirely that there is not doctrine, i.e. “teaching” in regard to justification. In fact, the ecumenical discussion about justification can be an opportunity for Orthodox Christians to help steer it in the direction of baptismal theology, as you indicate.

      1. This statement by Fr. Freeman confuses me a bit:

        “It is one thing, not a process. It is the gift of God in Holy Baptism, constantly ratified and nourished in the Sacraments.”

        I wonder if either he and/or Eric would comment more on the relationship of Holy Baptism and Justification? As a person in the process of converting to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, I am slightly confused over why the Orthodox do not require re-baptism in some cases. The more I am learning, the more I realize how important is the place Baptism holds in the Orthodox faith; it seems odd that the Church does not require all new converts to take part in that particular sacrament.

        1. Baptism is rightly understood as the sacramental entrance into the Church, whereby one is engrafted into the Body of Christ, and as such one is “justified,” i.e. placed in a right relationship with God at that point. Justification is not a process insofar as it can be had in degrees. It is not a matter of degrees of justification, rather one is either in a right relationship with God or not. Sin is a rupture in that relationship and is healed through confession.

          The matter of baptizing converts is poorly understood in contemporary Orthodoxy with varied practices (in fact, it is on the agenda at the upcoming Great and Holy Council in 2016). According to canonical practice, converts are usually not rebaptized, because baptism is not repeatable. Some explanations of this would state that the form of baptism from Protestantism is recognized as being legitimate, even though it was done in a heretical body, and by Chrismation in the Orthodox Church, it is completed and fulfilled. Now, there are some objections to this explanation, though I am not in the best position to explain all of that in detail. If you are brought into the Orthodox Church via Chrismation alone, the Church is merely recognizing that your prior baptism “counts,” so to speak, not that you are becoming Orthodox without being baptized.

        2. What Fr. Stephen means is by “process” is something akin to a 12-step program with each step dependent on the previous steps before it’s actualized.

          His broader point is that, a distinct doctrine of justification a la prototypical Protestantism is just not necessary for the Orthodox Christian. There’s no need for it.

          When Protestants come seeking the ancient apostolic faith they aren’t looking for re-baptized Protestant distinctives. They are by and large looking for the fullness of the faith, the NT in its full context.

          1. I fear many are confusing Paulinism with Protestantism and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You say they are looking for the “fullness of the faith” but they seem very ready and willing to ignore large swaths of Paul’s theology in order to adopt something shiny and new that they think is “Orthodox,” i.e. not what they used to be as a Protestant. Adopting Orthodoxy and the fullness of the faith doesn’t mean we can happily ignore Paul.

          2. Yes, it’s a fact that embracing the fullness of the faith in Orthodoxy is not ignoring St. Paul. We are both feet into Paul. We just handle that deposit differently from what they’re accustomed to.

      2. Eric,
        I appreciate you irenic rhetoric. The development of your ideas in this essay shows what a fullness of the faith may look like to someone who is not familiar. “Now that we have shared this glass of milk, let us now eat meat together, and perhaps later, a glass of wine.”

        1. > I appreciate you irenic rhetoric.

          As do I. I’m really sick of reading Orthodox articles in which is imbued a hostility towards anything Protestant. It’s a very similar attitude that many Protestants have with regards to Catholicism. Even similar negative phrasings are frequently used. Many articles just make me want to slap the author and shout “Stop being non-Protestant! Be Orthodox!”. This article was a breath of fresh air. It described the commonalities, and then progressed beyond that in describing the fullness of Orthodoxy. Well done!

    2. Fr. Stephen,
      Thank you for your thoughts.

      As someone who has recently left a Reformed protestant congregation, I can attest to your comment that how the “individual” is justified is THE focal point of the gospel. Moreover it is always presented in language that distinguishes itself from the RC church that it split from centuries ago. Essentially it’s language is that of negation, which is what Protestantism is, a negation, as Rene Guenon pointed out.

      I do also agree with you that we should refrain from creating “doctrine of…” treatises to compete with protestant ones. Part of the beauty of the Orthodox church is it’s lack of mechanical, linguistic assemblages that “explain” every jot and tittle. Endless rational deliberation over meanings and turns of phrases inflates ego’s and impoverishes the faith. Of course it is necessary and helpful to elucidate distinctions on how the orthodox tradition understands certain things, but this needs to be done by the right people, succinctly and briefly, lest we let our love of concept’s to undermine our need for unspeakable truths to work on the heart.

      We need scholarship to explicate the tradition clearly and coherently, absolutely. But when we engage other tradition’s, we need to make sure we’re not accepting their terms, loaded with centuries of baggage, and reading them back into the tradition that we have inherited.

      Thank you again.

  2. As a former Protestant who converted to Roman Catholicism, I really appreciate it when Catholics or Orthodox take the time to explain doctrines such as this. It may seem irrelevant to Catholics but it is very relevant to Protestants who are considering conversion. I plan to share this with some of my Protestant loved ones. Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for this article; it reminded me of something Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos said:

    “It is obvious, according to the Holy Fathers, that there are two kinds of auth. The first is rational faith, called faith from hearing, and is introductory faith, simple faith. The second is faith based on vision of God (theoria); it is the faith of the perfect and that which saves man. There is no antithesis between the two kids of faith. The former is introductory, and the latter, the result of the former. Thus, we accept the faith of the Holy Fathers of the Church in order to cleanse our hearts from passions and to successfully follow the stage of purification. And when this is achieved, we shall then reach illumination of the nous, which is the second faith, the so-called faith based on theoria. When Adam was created by God, he was at the illumination of the house. But after the Fall he was subjected to various passions. So, now we need the correct faith in order to reach the faith based on theoria, that is the illumination of the nous, and from there to the vision of God. The First faith opens unto us the way towards cure and the second faith is the fruit and result of man’s cure.

    James, the brother of God, speaks of the first faith, which, however, needs works to purify man. He says: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead, also” (James 2,26). Both the theoretical acceptance of faith through hearing and the works which it entails are necessary for us, so as to be purified and healed. The Apostle Paul speaks of perfect faith, faith based on the vision of God, when he says: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3,28). Many Christians think that the brother of God, James, contradicts the apostle Paul. Interpreting the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, Luther, in particular, reached the point of speaking only about faith without works; he was ignorant of the fact that the Apostle Paul means, therein, the faith from theoria—vision of God, which is beyond the works of the Law. He does not say that there is no need for the works of the Law.

    Both the first faith and the works are necessary for us to pass the stage of purification of the heart correctly and effectively. When this is accomplished, we reach the illumination of the nous, whose characteristic is unceasing noetic prayer. This is the faith from theoria, which is a surpassing and not an abolishment of the works of the Law.” (Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Illness and the Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition. Pages 31-33.)

    1. While I don’t disagree with his essential point here, as an exegesis of James and Paul, it is rather ad hoc. While this kind of ad hoc exegesis is rather common in Orthodoxy, it should not be the end of even the substance of our exegetical inquiry, for it is merely an exercise in confirming what we already believe and have established elsewhere. As such, it has a tendency to run rough-shot over the real substance of what the Apostles were talking about.

        1. What I’m saying is that, the scheme presented by +Hierotheos is fine and an apt description of Orthodox theology. As exegesis of Paul and James, it does not follow directly from the scriptures. It is attached (ad hoc = “to this”) to Paul and James, but neither Paul or James were thinking about beginner and advanced modes of faith when they wrote their epistles, nor were they thinking about the tripartite scheme of purification, illumination, and theosis/theoria, which didn’t come into Orthodox thought until a few centuries later.

        2. Though, the more I think about it, speaking about beginner and advanced modes of faith, imperfect faith and perfect faith, I fear that such thinking could lead to certain gnostic elements. A lot of neo-Palamite thought, exemplified by +Hierotheos, has certain gnostic tendencies, in my opinion. Faith is faith, whether of the neophyte or the saint – trust, loyalty, and fidelity to Christ. Neither the neophyte nor the saint is justified by works of Torah, but by belief in and fidelity to Christ from which issue forth works in obedience to Christ. Placing too much of a distinction between the beginner and the advanced can be dangerous.

          1. Phillippians 3:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

            15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

            Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

            Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

            1 Corinthians 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

            9 But as it is written:

            “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
            Nor have entered into the heart of man
            The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
            10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

            13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

            3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

          2. All the above Scriptures are addressed to the baptized members of Christ’s Body, all of whom share the commonality of connection and access to the work of the Spirit in building up Christ’s Body, but all of which also assume a need for growth in spiritual maturity and discernment in the individual members of the Church and disparities in relative “spirituality” or “carnality” between them. The Scriptures’ analogy of spiritual “milk” vs. “solid food” seems to imply a process of spiritual development and growth in the members of Christ’s Body, which may be imaged in human physical and neurological learning, growth and development. Christ’s Body apparently is like a family with members who all equally belong to the family, and yet who may be at very different levels of spiritual development and maturity, just as they may be at different levels of physical development and maturity.

          3. Sorry to confuse, Eric, but I hit reply to your comment to Ben and Mark about “gnostic tendencies” and was intending to respond to your expressed fear of potential gnostic heretical leanings in the “neo-Palamite” emphases of some Orthodox (if I’m reading your comment correctly). It is not a response to your post, but a comment on your comment, showing themes in Scripture analogous to the concept of relatively more “imperfect” or “perfect” faith on the part of different members of Christ’s Body. (I hope this is permissible.) My point is there is a fully Orthodox Christian and biblical, not gnostic, understanding to be had here. I also intended it to be an example of why just citing what one deems to be relevant Scriptures can fail to advance one’s point to the satisfaction of an interlocutor. 🙂 Some interpretation and explanation are also required, which is why I added the second comment. Again, sorry for any confusion this caused!

  4. Hi Eric,

    Have you read Michael Gorman’s work on justification? It’s excellent, in my view. I also think Wright and Hays are terrific- even though I ultimately disagree with them on some key points (I think that Wright restricts the meaning of the dikao word group arbitrarily). Gorman’s review of PFG was right on the mark.

    1. I haven’t yet, since my plate is full with dissertation material at the moment, but I do intend to get to it soon. I really want to do a full Orthodox engagement with the New Perspective at some point. I spoke with N.T. Wright about this at a conference, and he was very enthusiastic about it.

      1. That’s great! I’m just starting to look at grad schools now as I wrap up my undergrad, but my interest is in Paul and theosis as it relates to modern NT scholarship, and especially how intertextuality can unlock his understanding of theosis. In particular, I’m looking at Zechariah 3 in Romans 8:31-39. Good luck on your dissertation. When you get the chance, I’d also recommend checking out Ben Blackwell’s dissertation on theosis in Paul.

  5. As someone nominally raised in the Orthodox faith who currently worships in an evangelical congregation, it now seems odd to me to consider Baptism as conferring justification.

    Baptism to me, at least in my current understanding, does not in and of itself confer forgiveness of sins.

    Instead, Baptism is the outward statement of the prior action of the individual’s placing of his faith in Christ – an action that in and of itself has already conferred justification.

    1. That would be a typical Evangelical view, yes, but it is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But, let’s make some distinctions. Baptism does not in and of itself confer forgiveness of sins. God forgives sins on account of the cross of Christ. Baptism is a sacramental vehicle, an instrument, by which such forgiveness is appropriated. It is a way in which the grace of God is incarnated into our material world and life in the Church, the waters bearing the grace of the Spirit. It is, as such, bound to the unity of the Church, its ministers, and its credal statements.

    2. Since Evangelicals base their teachings on the Bible, I’m curious as to which passages are relied upon for this definition of baptism, that it is merely an “outward statement” that does not actually accomplish anything. I Peter 3:20-21 (“baptism doth also now save us”), for instance, doesn’t make any sense to me with that definition. You’d think Peter would have written something more like “baptism now stands for something that has already happened.”

      1. Fr. Andrew,

        I would say that the sense in which baptism saves is the same sense in which we are to work out our salvation. We are justified once for all by our conscious affirmation of Christ as our savior. Salvation is an ongoing process, of which baptism is a component.

        As Peter also says, Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience *through* the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our acceptance of Jesus sacrifice justifies us. Our salvation is our ongoing working out of that.

        Having said that, I wholly agree that in evangelical circles, the wrong emphasis is put on this singular event of affirming Christ as our savior whereby our sins are forgiven – creating what Dallas Willard, in an article titled, “Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation,” calls “Vampire Christians,” for whom “justification is taken to be the entirety of salvation.” http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=135

        The modern evangelical emphasis on individual salvation is an unfortunate consequence of the Reformation. Analytically, justification and salvation can be treated separately. As a practical matter, they form a continuous journey of the soul toward theosis.

        1. This still doesn’t make any sense of being “baptized into Christ,” which Paul identifies as putting on Christ, as being baptized into His death. Such language is nonsense if you’re already in Christ by means of willing assent. It also makes baptism into something done by man rather than an act of Christ in His priesthood.

      2. I realize I am a few weeks late on this post but I would like to comment on Andy and Fr Andrew’s discussion. First I should identify that the more I read comments by Orthodox Christians I get the feeling that, in their way of seeing the Christian world, there are basically three main types of Christians: The Orthodox (The only true Church), the Roman Catholic Church (A break away from the true church) and the Protestants (A break away from the break away). I get the impression by reading some Orthodox comments that being a Protestant is like having some unfortunate disease. I am not sure anymore what I am. I don’t consider myself a Protestant (I’m not anti Roman Catholic or anti Orthodox) in fact, as I told a Fr I was having coffee with, who told me I was not saved because I was not in the Orthodox Church, “I believe you are saved and I know I am because we have both put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”.
        Now to the issue of baptism. Here is how many, maybe we will call us “Evangelicals” (Whatever pigeon hole that puts me in), see baptism. I would compare baptism to circumcision. While not all people circumcised are Jews, all real Jews are circumcised. Circumcision was a covenant sign of being a son of Abraham and therefore a Jew in covenant with God. Yet the Apostle Paul clearly teaches in Romans four that Abraham was Justified and made Righteous prior to being circumcised though faith. And by the way, this was prior to the Law of Moses so being justified by faith is a discussion Paul had not only in light of the Law. In Col. 2:11-12 Paul compares baptism to circumcision. For the Christian, baptism replaces circumcision. Baptism is a Holy Sacrament (The latin word) or a Holy Mystery (Mysterion-Greek) that, using Paul’s lingo in Romans 4:11, is an outward sign and a “seal of righteousness”. But we are Justified and made Righteous prior to baptism (Christian circumcision) by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is very clear in Romans four that Abraham was justified by faith prior to circumcision. So then, yes, as the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21, baptism does save us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. So it is an outward seal of an inward faith in Jesus and in His resurrection. It is similar to the custom of the exchange of rings in a wedding, the rings don’t make you married, your covenant commitment to each other before God does, but the rings are a visible seal of that covenant. Baptism in of itself does not save you without a faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. That is why Roman Catholics and Orthodox require a confession of faith for a baptized infant once they get older. None of the Church Fathers, no true Orthodox Christian and no true Roman Catholic that understands and confesses the Christian faith would argue that we are not ultimately saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Sure we need to follow Jesus, sure we need to take on the Covenant seal of Holy Baptism, sure we need to do good works, but these are not done to save us, we do this because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ and follow His Way. That is how many of us see the Holy Sacrament/Mystery of Water Baptism: “An outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” (St. Augustine… Oops, bad quote I guess since many Orthodox consider St. Augustine a heretic! Sorry.)
        In my humble opinion, I think this whole reactive anti-Protestant attitude that I observe coming from many of the Orthodox comments are not helpful, create distance and destroys dialogue with those of us that are not Orthodox but are poking our nose around with interest. We also passionately love our Lord Jesus Christ and do serve Him with all of our hearts. Thank you Eric Jobe for a breath of fresh air in this and for not lumping all of us non-Orthodox Christians as unfortunate misguided “Protestants” and being so kind and patient!

        1. You have articulated a generally “Baptist” or Evangelical understanding of baptism. It is not, however, what Orthodoxy teaches in that regard. The issue here is the sequence that you put into the equation. Orthodoxy would confess that a person is justified by faith at baptism, meaning that baptism is the effective means by which faith is exercised and the material vehicle by which grace is conveyed to the person. There is no justification prior to baptism, because baptism, aside from justifying, also unites us to Christ and brings us into the covenant community of the Church. Baptism is more than an outward sign of an inward faith, rather it is the effective means by which faith is actualized and grace is bestowed. For infants, this faith is guaranteed (not in an absolute sense) by the parents and godparents, who raise the child in the faith. This is appropriate, because faith is so much more than a “decision,” being often what we are raised to believe and understand as a matter of identity. If you want to discuss the matter more fully, you have my email.

  6. Eric (and Fr. Stephen), surely the important context for 16th protestantism’s revival of interest in justification as a distinct issue was their reaction to doctrinal developments in Roman Catholicism in the late middle ages? I doubt if most protestants are as aware of the 1st century Jewish issues described here as they are of RC ones. If that is the case, then is it possible that many Protestants object to Orthodoxy’s lack of emphasis on justification because they assume that Orthodoxy is just an eastern version of RC?

    1. Yes, there is a lot of transference and caricature based upon Protestant historical narratives, I’m sure. Though, often criticisms do come after someone has thoroughly investigated Orthodoxy from the standard manuals, where indeed, justification is hardly if ever mentioned. This is partially a problem of presentation of Orthodoxy in an evangelistic mode for outside inquiry, and partially due to the estrangement of Eastern and Western theology. Orthodoxy, in my opinion, does need to acknowledge where it emphasizes or de-emphasizes certain theological elements in distinction to what it considers to be incorrect or heretical thinking. For example, Orthodox liturgy does not emphasize the substitutionary nature of the cross or the expiation of sins in sacrificial terms. In fact, in some cases, people have erroneously claimed that substitutionary atonement is not Orthodox, in spite of the fact that the Fathers routinely speak of the cross in those terms. But, just because these concepts are not emphasized in Eastern Orthodoxy does not mean that they are foreign to our faith, especially when the Latin Fathers and liturgy deal with them (insofar as they are Orthodox).

      1. Our Lord as a substitute on the cross for us, for as we are actual sinners, He stood in our place, as our champion, so that His blood will cleanse us of our sins; yes, the Church Fathers discuss this briefly in a few of their writings. This is distinct from Christ being “cut off” from the Father and that his sacrifice and blood was to appease the wrath of a bloodthirsty God.

        The first substitution position is orthodox and can be found in the some of the writings of the Church Fathers, the second substitution position (divine wrath/penal) creates an imbalance by taking the metaphor’s too far and doesn’t seem to be the conciliar position of the Patristic sources.

        1. Some of the Fathers even articulate a penal substitutionary atonement, though not in the rhetorical tones as you have. Take, for example, St. John Chrysostom in his homily on 2 Cor 5:21 –

          “What then is this? “Him that knew no sin,” he says, Him that was righteousness itself700, “He made sin,” that is suffered as a sinner to be condemned, as one cursed to die. “For cursed is he that hangeth on a tree.” (Gal. iii. 13.) For to die thus was far greater than to die; and this he also elsewhere implying, saith, “Becoming obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross.” (Philip. ii. 8.) For this thing carried with it not only punishment, but also disgrace. Reflect therefore how great things He bestowed on thee. For a great thing indeed it were for even a sinner to die for any one whatever; but when He who undergoes this both is righteous and dieth for sinners; and not dieth only, but even as one cursed; and not as cursed [dieth] only, but thereby freely bestoweth upon us those great goods which we never looked for; (for he says, that “we might become the righteousness of God in Him;”) what words, what thought shall be adequate to realize these things? ‘For the righteous,’ saith he, ‘He made a sinner; that He might make the sinners righteous.’ Yea rather, he said not even so, but what was greater far; for the word he employed is not the habit, but the quality itself. For he said not “made” [Him] a sinner, but “sin;” not, ‘Him that had not sinned’ only, but “that had not even known sin; that we” also “might become,” he did not say ‘righteous,’ but, “righteousness,” and, “the righteousness of God.” For this is [the righteousness] “of God” when we are justified not by works, (in which case it were necessary that not a spot even should be found,) but by grace, in which case all sin is done away. And this at the same time that it suffers us not to be lifted up, (seeing the whole is the free gift of God,) teaches us also the greatness of that which is given. For that which was before was a righteousness of the Law and of works, but this is “the righteousness of God.””

          There’s also some good stuff about justification in there.

          1. Thank you for this passage from St. John Chrysostom.

            His exegesis does affirm a type of punitive substitution, but this is not the same penal substitution theory developed by Calvin and his modern day exponents.

            Perhaps those orthodox that deny substitutionary atonement are thinking of the Reformational variety rather than the traditional understanding that is clearly present in some of the writings of the Fathers.

          2. Mason, I agree with your observations. Substitution is Orthodox and biblical, but Penal Substitution, as articulated by the Reformers and popularly understood within much of Evangelicalism, is not. I believe Orthodox only reject “substitution” insofar as they see it as a cipher for the latter. There is no intimation in Eric’s quote of St. John Chyrsostem here that the “punishment” Christ endured was needed because God was obligated to punish a victim for sin in order to uphold His “justice” (especially where “justice” is understood in the “eye for an eye” sense). No, rather the punishment (and “disgrace”) Christ endures is for our sake (expiation), that God might effectively render us righteous. St. John here seems to be emphasizing it because Christ’s bearing our sin to the point of becoming a “curse” for us is the measure and demonstration of the depth of God’s love and mercy toward sinners–not the extent of His “wrath” against sin.

            This is the issue that drove me out of Evangelicalism and into Orthodoxy, so I have given it a lot of thought.

          3. Of course, that’s all well and good until we read St. Paul saying “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). Our theology cannot ignore this idea, even if we don’t particularly like it or think that it conflicts with our concept of a merciful and loving God.

          4. Eric I think the confusion is because some of the Orthodox blogs and catechists do pickup on the Wrath part like in Romans five but it hand waves it away because (and this is where I’m going on what I’ve been told not what i actually know since I don’t know the greek language) is that the original Greek doesn’t say the Wrath is from God. Now I know some translations add “of God” after the word Wrath, but my understanding is if the words are italicized it was added there as an aid by the translator. And in the case of Romans five we are shown that “of God” after the word wrath is Italicized therefore it’s a protestant bias. As the Wrath that paul is referring to is better understood as Death so it would be better to add “of Death” then “of God”. They then go on to quote One of the fathers (if I remember correctly the quote can be found in Father Thomas Hopko’s Doctrine book from the multi colored 4 books series on the orthodox faith) that goes on a thought experiment about to whome the debt is paid, Satan, God or Death/Nature with the church father Declaring no to either Satan or God but rather Death/Nature (I wish I could remember the church fathers name but I can’t, and my books are packed away right now in a box as I recently moved).

          5. “of God” is not present in the text, true, but the context is quite clear, especially given Paul’s exposition of the wrath of God in Romans 1. Just because a word or phrase is added in doesn’t mean it is of a Protestant bias. I mean, come on, let’s be fair now. Let’s stop looking for “Protestant bias” in every nook and cranny. We are demonstrating a tendency, I believe, to define what is “Orthodox” more in terms of a distinction from what we perceive to be Protestant or “Western” than actually what is Orthodox as defined by the councils and the Fathers… and dare I say, the Scriptures. The idea that Paul is referring to the “wrath of Death” or whatnot is, forgive me, a bit silly, since there is no context that would indicate that is Paul’s meaning. Such an interpretation is very, very ad hoc, and frankly disrespectful of Paul as a 1st century author. There is here an “Orthodox” bias that is just as foreign tot he biblical text as any Protestant bias. Now, if we are talking about the ransom language in Paul and in other places, there is some wiggle room for interpretation, because there is contextual space for it. Seriously, though, what is so unorthodox about saying God is wrathful against sin? It could not be more plain and simple, since it is spelled out verbatim by Paul in Rom 1:18. God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men – therefore, God’s wrath is revealed against all, because all have sinned. If you have a problem with that, you don’t have a problem with me but with Paul.

        2. Eric, I agree we cannot ignore the language of Scripture, but what I’m not sure you understand is how far that language has been twisted out of context by a lot of Protestant (especially popular conservative and fundamentalist Protestant) preaching and teaching. What I understand by St. Paul’s statement as an Orthodox is worlds away from the confusion this language created for me as a conservative Protestant. It is abundantly clear to me as an Orthodox (especially courtesy of St. Isaac the Syrian) that God’s “wrath” is an expression of His love and not the absence or negation of it. If the reverse of this is not explicitly taught in conservative Protestant circles, it is often implied.

          1. Eric, I’m unsure, not because of anything you have said in your post, but because in some of your comments here you don’t appear to be acknowledging that Protestant Reformed “Penal Substitution” and “penal substitution” language in the Fathers are actually two different things. If you have never been immersed in a conservative Protestant context, I’m not sure you can fully appreciate how important it also is to make that difference clear, even while you may be able to affirm some sense in which this language is also Orthodox (which it obviously is, since it is found in the Scriptures). This is why I asked you about your religious background in my other comment. I think that is important context for this conversation.

            The problem with throwing out Scriptures (or quotes from the Fathers) that use the language of penal sacrifice, the wrath of God, and juridical terms like “justification” to prove the point that the concepts are not unOrthodox is that the Scriptures (and the Fathers) have to be interpreted. The problem which I see also needs to be addressed is they are not, many times, being interpreted by Protestants in a manner completely compatible with Orthodox faith (though, sometimes they are). Orthodox and Protestants often indeed use the same language and Scriptures, but in their different contexts, can end up meaning quite different things. This, it seems to me, is especially true of the Scripture’s language about the nature and meaning of the Cross.

          2. I’m really at a loss here, because I’m not sure how you are determining what is and is not Orthodox (or Protestant for that matter) and how you are holding me to it as if I have erred in some way. I’m not really sure there is much more we can say in this regard, and I would prefer to drop the matter before it gets too ugly.

          3. Forgive me, Eric, for pressing the issue and really no need to reply if you are at a loss and feel this is “getting ugly”. Please believe me, that was not my intention at all. My own context of what is “Orthodox” vs. “Protestant” is my experience of actually being a committed Christian in a variety of Protestant Evangelical contexts for over 40 years, getting my theology from Protestant books, preaching and Bible study, and now being a committed Christian in an Orthodox one for nearly eight years and getting my theology from the liturgy, Saints, and sacramental life of the Church. A lot of that is intuitive and experiential and apparently much more difficult to convey in a comments thread than I’d realized. That is why I was trying to find out what your background and experience was because I’ve found this (even more than what we study and learn academically) informs so much of what we perceive (or don’t perceive) in the Scriptures and in other traditions. There is no criticism or condemnation inherent in that–it’s just a reality we all have to try to take into account in our dealings with one another in order to interact with grace and understanding. Again, please forgive me, for apparently failing to convey that to you here.

          4. Forgive me, I also wanted to clarify I was not intending to say you have “erred” in any way either in your post or in any of your comments to me. I believe what you are saying in your comments about what the Scriptures say, etc., is quite correct as far as it goes. My only question (and it is just a question) is whether you realize how important it may be for some of us indoctrinated in certain strains of heretical Protestant thought to hear and understand how the meaning and/or implication of these Scriptures in an Orthodox context is also different in some important ways from what we were taught in our Protestant one.

          5. I Just caution you in regard to your perceptions of what is Orthodox and what is Protestant. Modern Orthodox thought has largely eschewed the forensic and sacrificial/priestly aspects of the cross as well as the notion of the wrath of God, which is abundantly present in the New Testament. This modern perception does not define what is Orthodox, since the forensic and sacrificial aspects of the cross are well documented in patristic sources as well as from a plain reading of the Scriptures. Even though the Eastern liturgy and modern Orthodox thought do not emphasize them, they are nevertheless there and perfectly “Orthodox.” Certainly, we are not depicting a Jonathan Edwards type “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” picture of the atonement or of an inter-trinitarian division between wrath and love. But, we cannot let our fears of these heterodox ideas obscure our understanding of the biblical text or of the broader history of interpretation on this issue. We do not have to posit a split between a wrathful Father and loving Son in order to acknowledge the biblical statement that the Wrath of God is revealed against sin. Nor does this obfuscate the love of God in Christ. Both wrath against sin and the love of God which sends His only-begotten Son to die for us are not in conflict.

          6. Thank you, Eric. Having been Protestant and immersed in the Scriptures in question (regarding the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death for our sin and the forensic aspect of this), I think I take for granted their essential Orthodoxy in a way perhaps some modern Orthodox may not (no expert here on what some modern Orthodox think, I have to defer to your opinion on this, but I have seen web sites that go completely over the top in their criticism of St. Augustine and the West in a way I would warn–and actually have warned–inquirers and Orthodox alike off of as not at all truly Orthodox either in spirit or actual factual assertions). On the other hand, I’ve also seen the wreckage close up and personal of what the likes of even a soft-sell of the excess doctrinal baggage attached to these Scriptures in the vein of Jonathan Edwards’ famous (or infamous, depending on one’s vantage point) sermon can do, and so this really motivates me to want to see the full and beautiful Orthodox truth of our salvation in Christ (and God’s singular motivation and energy toward us of love) be clearly taught.

      2. Thank you for your excellent article.

        Orthodox liturgy does not emphasize the substitutionary nature of the cross or the expiation of sins in sacrificial terms.

        I understand you are referring to the Eastern Rites of the Church but I would point out that the “Orthodox” Rites of the West do in fact; “emphasize the substitutionary nature of the cross”. Fr. Reardon gave a talk a few years ago at a conference with this as his theme. This is just one of the very important gifts the Western Rite has to offer Orthodoxy today.

        I fear some are blinded by all the sparks flying from the ax they are constantly grinding.

          1. Hi Gabe,

            Can you give a link to Fr. Reardons talk you and Fr. Patrick are talking about. I am now reading Fr. Reardon’s book, Christ in the Psalms and am interested in anything he has to say on any theological subject. If possible, please send it to my email.



  7. I am a little confused at your definition of justification. It sounds a great deal like what I would hear from Protestant theology. As a converting evangelical, I still struggle to clearly see the difference. When you say, “[justification] deals with how a person comes into and maintains a right relationship with God. Ultimately, this is made possible by the cross of Christ, by which He made expiation for our sins, granting us forgiveness and bringing us into a right relationship with God,” how does this differ from the forensic view by which Jesus absorbs God’s wrath for our sins and imputes his righteousness to us so we can be forgiven and acceptable to him?

    1. David, there’s nothing distinctly Protestant about it, and even the Fathers used some forensic language. The idea that all forensic language to describe the cross is unorthodox is simply not true. But, I would not call this forensic, per se. It is, rather using sacrificial language of expiation (Rom 3:20ff), and terms of relationship. To be justified is to be in a right relationship with God, i.e. as an adopted son, not in enmity. This kind of language is all over Scripture.

      1. You are correct. The Protestant twist on this is that justification is a change in God’s disposition toward us, so that he becomes willing/justly able to forgive us instead of having wrath towards us. I think this is where the Orthodox understanding of justification diverges–God is always ready and willing to forgive us, but we are not ready to be forgiven.

        1. I doubt very much that many Protestants (especially Reformed) would articulate an actual change within the deity, given as they are to inherent the Latin doctrine of divine simplicity (if I recall my Reformed dogmatics correctly). But, perhaps you are correct on this matter, since I have not cornered any Protestants to answer this particular question. And yes, you rightly point out that this is where Orthodoxy diverges. I would add, however, that God’s wrath is directed toward removal of sin through its destruction. The great miracle of substitutionary atonement is that God destroyed sin without destroying the sinners! Why? Because of his great love toward us “even while we were yet sinners.”

          1. Eric, I’m curious about your experience with Protestantism. Were you raised in the Orthodox Church?

            Personally, I was taught in a class at my conservative Evangelical college that the Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic teaching that we needed to be shielded by God the Son, from the “wrath” of God, the Father (thus appearing to divide the Members of the Trinity against each other–a heresy), but they then proceeded to present God’s “justice” in such a way that the Divine nature seemed to be divided within itself with opposing sets of “attributes” (shared by both Father and Son) which are in tension with each other–i.e., God’s “wrath” and “justice” vs. His “grace”, “mercy,” and “love.” At least, this is the impression given in typical modern Evangelical presentations of Penal Substitution. I was Evangelical for more than 30 years, and this was always the very strong impression I got. It tends to be most strongly emphasized in certain strains of Reformed Protestantism, but it is by no means exclusive to more Reformed-leaning Protestants. I was raised and stayed in churches that leaned more toward Arminianism, and this was the predominant understanding of the nature of the “gospel.” If you have never been a conservative “Bible-believing” sort of Protestant, I think it would be difficult to imagine the relief of the transformation from Protestant confusion about the nature of God and His motivation in the economy of our salvation in Christ to the beautiful consistency and coherence of the Orthodox understanding.

            Fr. Stephen is quite right in his comment above: salvation in Orthodoxy is one beautiful coherent thing. If you think Fr. Stephen wasn’t being “irenic” enough in his comment here, you might find it interesting it was Dr. Alexander Kalomiros’ address, “The River of Fire,” which confirmed for me when I was still Protestant, but searching, that the Orthodox Church was my true spiritual home! It’s not that I didn’t see what Dr. Kalomiros describes as the view of “the West” in the beginning of that address for the rather heavy negative caricature it is, but even that didn’t dissuade me from recognizing in the Orthodox understanding of the nature of hell presented in “The River of Fire” the profound resolution to the seeming contradictions I’d encountered in the version of the “gospel” I’d been taught. I could also recognize the grain of truth in Dr. Kalomiros’ caricature because it was those very notions (even in their more nuanced and muted versions) which had become a real and growing obstacle between me and the “God” I’d been taught I needed to trust in order to be saved. I’ve encountered several former Protestants who would similarly cite “The River of Fire” as pivotal in their conversion to Orthodoxy. I’d wager a guess that this is less of an issue for those Protestants coming from more mainline and liberal Protestant traditions.

            Perhaps in more scholarly and academic contexts, irenicism in the sense of focussing on commonalities is a fruitful approach. On the other hand, there are many pastoral contexts in which the kind of speaking the truth in love which Fr. Stephen has done here is much more salutary. I know this has been the case for me, and I’m not the sort of person who enjoys conflict or argument for argument’s sake. I’ve simply found that some ideas are so deadly in their spiritual effect, they must be strongly challenged in order for those who have been enslaved to them to be truly set free.

          2. Karen, I was merely stating that we cannot say so categorically that the notion of penal substitution is unorthodox, for the Fathers and more importantly the Scriptures articulate the idea that in Christ we are saved from the wrath of God. Now, I did not articulate just how this happens or that there is some inter-trinitarian conflict between wrath and love or the Father and the Son. Far be it! Nevertheless, this is something we have to acknowledge in order to be true to the Fathers and the Bible. I am amazed at how certain theological narratives become so entrenched in Orthodoxy, that very plain patristic and biblical statements to the contrary can be completely ignored. We need to nuance our theology in order to uphold what is written. Certainly there is no conflict within the godhead, for Paul states “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Yet the wrath of God upon sin is a very real thing, for “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, against those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). Because Christ has “become sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) we are saved from that wrath, because our sins have been destroyed or expiated by Christ through his death.

            “Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
            Smitten by God, and afflicted.
            But He was wounded for our transgressions,
            He was bruised for our iniquities;
            The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
            And by His stripes we are healed.
            All we like sheep have gone astray;
            We have turned, every one, to his own way;
            And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

            Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
            He has put Him to grief” (Is 53:4b-10).
            Clearly the Scripture presents Christ as receiving the wrath of God upon sin, as “He became sin,” not that he became “a sinner”. This is St. John Chrysostom’s point. As Christ died, so sin died, because Christ “became sin.” As Christ “became” sin, so the wrath of God upon sin was swallowed by the destruction of sin which was borne by Christ. There is no inter-trinitarian conflict. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” God’s wrath is justly poured out against sin, but Christ, becoming sin for us and dying, sin also dies, and the wrath of God is no longer poured out against us, because we have “become the righteousness of God.”

  8. Thanks for the thoughtful article. It points to some helpful things in both the Scripture and the wider tradition that, as an outsider, I would be wonderfully pleased to see recovered in Orthodoxy (or, if you like, made more prominent). I am especially please to see the harmonization between Paul and James pointed out, as there really is no conflict there once one realizes that just like in English, the word faith has multiple meanings and layers of meaning in Greek. And as an Anglican, I would whole heartedly agree that justification happens at Holy Baptism. I think the more important question though, from a Reformation perspective, is not so much “When does justification happen” as it is “Who is doing the justifying.” Somewhere once upon a time, I saw Metropolitan Kallistos give a talk about this. He danced around the issue a bit, but it was still illumining to hear an Orthodox cleric admit that the Orthodox had some work to do in this area. Very gracious and humble man.

    1. Well, I think the scripture is fairly clear in regards to who is justifying, as Paul states throughout Romans and Galatians that God demonstrates his righteousness, both by raising Christ from the dead and by justifying the ungodly, for he says that “God demonstrates his own righteousness in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” That is to say, that the righteous suffered for the unrighteous thereby proving or demonstrating God’s righteousness giving him the “right” to forgive sins and justify the ungodly. Moreover, the contrast between justification by faith and justification by works is that the latter is an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness, which was the chief fault of the Jews according to Paul in Romans 9-11. Yet to be justified by God is also to be given the Spirit live according to the righteous requirement by the Spirit, which is the opposite of works, as Paul says in Rom 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” That is to say, not only does God justify by forgiving transgressions, but he himself makes righteousness possible by the Spirit. Therefore, as he says in Philippians, “It is God who works in you to will and to do for his good pleasure.” This happens to the degree that we walk in the spirit, which is a function of faith. One might say then, that Paul’s teaching of walking in the Spirit is the exact theological equivalent of what James means by “works,” it is just that James does not articulate such a refined pneumatology.

    2. To be honest, I don’t see how justification is in any sense missing or buried in Orthodoxy. Such a claim almost feels as though we’re being accused of having cut bits out of the Bible or perhaps that we don’t regard the Bible as a statement of Orthodox doctrine.

      Anyway, Eric isn’t saying anything particularly innovative here, though I do find his explanation quite fresh and helpful. But justifucation is part of the same teachings we’ve been reading out loud in church and preaching on for two millennia.

      1. Well, as I noted in the post, justification, while not “missing or buried” does go under different terms in Orthodoxy that can make it appear so. I think we are really just dealing with manners of speaking.

  9. Wonderful post. This was the biggest thing for me coming into the Church to come to terms with. The Protestant and Orthodox gospels are 2 different gospels. I think there are 2 main issues here – the meaning of justification and the nature of faith. First what does justification really mean? Is it as you say an initial entrance into the faith through baptism (how we get in) or is it a final and legal verdict before the Judgement Seat of Christ? I would lean to the former, as Paul distinguishes but links the concepts of justification, sanctification and glorification.

    Secondly, what is the nature of faith? It seems to me Evangelicals view faith as a knowledge that something is true or believing a set of doctrines. If you believe John 3:16 to be true fact then you have faith. Biblically, I think faith includes that but surpasses that. Faith is a lifestyle (Heb 12). It is inseparably linked with faithfulness. Paul said the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (Rom 1:17). So rather than faith simply being correct doctrine or believing a set of theological propositions about Christ, it is a dynamic response to the person of Christ.

    I think as long as faith is defined in this way most Orthodox wouldn’t have a problem saying we are justified by faith alone. Thoughts??

    1. (This is a very long comment, and I plan on turning this and other things I have said in the comments into a Part II post very soon.) Well, Romans 10:9-10 is striking in its simplicity – “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Nevertheless, the midrashic example that both Paul and James give of the justified person is Abraham. What is interesting is to see which events in the life of Abraham each Apostle focuses upon. Paul focuses upon the initial promise that he will have a son by Sarah. Abraham believes God, trusts that God will fulfill his promises – and there’s very little “working” to be done here. James focuses upon the akedah, the binding of Isaac, where Abraham most obviously puts his faith into action through obedience to God. Now, lets see how this scenario plays out in the life of a Christian: At baptism one (or one’s sponsors) make a confession of faith, and then the baptism and chrismation proceed. There is no “working” to be done. Paul’s conditions in Romans 10:9 are the only ones met, i.e. the belief with the heart and confession with the mouth. This newly baptized Christian is justified, washed, sanctified, and for all intents and purposes “saved” having been placed within the safe haven of the Kingdom of God and rescued from the evil kingdom of this age. Yet after the baptism, the new Christian is tasked with living in righteousness and keeping from sin, which can be very difficult indeed. This is perhaps the root of Luther’s quandary and subsequent declaration of “simul justus et peccator” (“at the same time righteous/just and sinner”), for herein we discover that the Pauline conditions of justification are easily satisfied, yet the practice of “walking in the Spirit” to the keeping of the righteous requirement of the Law, as Paul declares is the consequence of justification by faith (Romans 8:4), is another matter entirely. In fact, we may find that our post-baptismal ability to “walk after the Spirit” is rather poor, in spite of the promises and encouragement of our pastors. There is, if I may be so bold to say, a rather underdeveloped doctrine of repentance in the New Testament. There is a tendency toward rigorism, especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and elsewhere in James and perhaps in Paul as well. 1 John gives us the only definitive teaching on confession, and I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head that expects Christians to be so much in a constant state of sin while seeking repentance. Rather I get the impression that, for the most part, New Testament writers expect Christians to live in a virtual state of perfection. The most pressing matter at hand for the Biblical writers was endurance under persecution (which occupies Peter’s mind), the avoidance of Judaizing (Paul), or proper conduct in communal and interpersonal relationships (James). While some epistles acknowledge the presence of sin in the lives of Christians, there is little by way of explaining how justification extends throughout the constant struggle against sin, confession, and repentance. And yet we find in almost everyone we meet, most especially in ourselves, the constant presence of sin. Even Orthodox societies are given toward alcoholism, domestic abuse, hatred of others, racial prejudice, etc., that make us wonder if such a state of pristine justification is possible to maintain save the very few who abscond themselves to a monastery. The point of all of this is to say that there is a danger of extending the role of works in Justification to rigidly to the point at which we lose sight of the mercy of God. We perhaps tend toward a scholastic definition of justification, then scramble to pick up the pieces when we discover than few if any can actually attain it, all the while forgetting that God is merciful. This is why, at least in my own life, I have tended toward the Pauline definition of justification rather than the Jakobian insistence upon works. As one commenter asked, “Who is doing the justifying?” Of course there is an obvious answer to this question – it is God who justifies! But, when we insist upon works (in James’s sense) we then might reconsider our answer, for we very easily move from being justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ, allowing God to demonstrate his own righteousness working in us by the operation of the Spirit to attempting to establish our own righteousness by our own efforts to attain to state of justified perfection. I’m not sure there is any real resolution to this problem or a way of reconciling Paul and James that satisfies entirely. Paul remains (at least in my mind) as the ideal, while James represents the practicality of the situation. While we are justified by faith apart from works, nevertheless, our conduct does matter. But then, “If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?” Justification is not entirely dependent upon our efforts, for God is merciful and strong to save to the uttermost those who put their trust in him.

  10. All Paul ever meant by “justification by faith and not by works” (he never actually says “alone”) is that one is justified as a proper candidate for baptism by faith (or the profession of faith) alone.

    That is, Paul never teaches that we don’t have to be baptized. Quite the contrary, Paul says “we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus because as many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27)

    His thing with faith vs works is that no works, especially ceremonial works from the Law, can be placed in front of baptism as a test of your “justification” as a proper candidate for baptism.

    Now, I posted a blogpost yesterday (called More on 9marks “church membership” nonsense) about http://9marks.org/interview/church-membership-in-theory-and-practice-with-ligon-duncan/ where two 9marks gurus (Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever) discuss their views on “church membership.” One thing their strange views are heavily based on is the idea that baptism must be preceded by a “long period of catechization.” Well, what is that? That’s a precise rejection of what Paul means by “justification by faith and not by works” because he is talking about what justifies us as a candidate for baptism, which is faith alone (or profession of faith alone), but these guys are putting some test, some works, something you have to do to prove yourself worthy of baptism, in front of baptism. This is precisely what Paul was against, and all he was against so far as the phrase “justification by faith and not by works” goes. (Otherwise, he would be contradicting himself. Of course if anyone wants to press the point, I’ll allow him to contradict himself, and summarily dismiss the epistles. But if you want to consider Paul a valid apostle, this has to be all he meant.)

  11. Mr. Jobe,

    I find your post extremely refreshing as a traditional Anglican who agrees whole-heartedly with your post. I dare say the Magisterial Reformers, even Calvin (whom I am no disciple of) would be completely in agreement with everything you wrote.

    I went through a three year search that involved attending Orthodox services and reading about the Orthodox faith. I learned much and greatly enjoy the depth of the services, but ultimately, I was shocked to constantly hear from clergy and laity alike denying exactly what you have discussed in this blog post. Sadly, after much prayer, I felt that my current calling is to remain Anglican. Please continue being a voice in the wilderness in Orthodoxy. I pray earnestly that traditional Anglicans and Orthodoxy will see reunion, as in my humble opinion, we need each other terribly.

    Lord have mercy, and God bless.

  12. Hello, friends! This is a great discussion, and very heartening for me as I am about, beginning in June 2015, to embark on a close study of justification/righteousness (all the dikaios roots) in St. Paul’s letters, reading them through the eyes of some select fathers–beginning with St. John Chrysostom. One thing that I missed, Eric, in your helpful treatment of this topic, is the emphasis in our liturgy upon sacrifice. Though Christus Victor is the strongest theme in hymnody and preaching, the emphasis upon sacrifice (Christ’s on the cross; our unbloody one at Liturgy) is very strong in liturgy, and needs to be part of our understanding of salvation, along with all the other elements that you bring out. Seraphim Hamilton recommends Gorman, a friend of mine, and I can see why Mike G. is congenial to Orthodox, because he stresses theosis: Hays and Wright are helpful for other reasons. One of the important things to note is the different function that “justification” performs in the “classical” Protestant camp over against various members of the new Perspective. Though Seraphim is uncomfortable with Tom Wright’s restriction of the dikaios language (when used by the apostle) to the juridical model, I would like to comment that this model is in fact strong in St. Paul, and needs to be accounted for. It is not arbitrary, then, but exaggerated–yet it is helpful as a way through the arguments between Lutherans and Calvinists regarding our being simply “declared” innocent or “made righteous”. (I find Tom Wright’s insistence upon the difference between God’s righteousness as Judge vs. our being declared innocent helpful as a way of continuing the distinction between God and his creation, and not muddying things up. It is helpful in the way that God used the context of the monotheistic Jews in order to effect the Incarnation, for they would see the wonder of it in the way that pantheists or polytheists would not! HOwever, the way that +Tom treats 2 Cor 5:21 is an indication, that he goes too far, for he insists that Paul couldn’t have meant we become God’s righteousness ( which is God’s very own, he says, not ours), and has to explain away the stupendous statement ‘that we might become the righteousness of God’–a declaration that leaves St. John Chrysostom in complete wonder, and that is a first step, I think, towards the articulation of theosis in the NT). As for substitution, it may be helpful to say that Orthodox believe in substitution-as representation, rather than to completely dismiss the idea of anything penal. Consider, for example, the very strong language of St. John Chrysostom in his (not yet published in translation) sermon on the Ascension of Jesus, which speaks clearly of God’s wrath, punishment due, what we owe, and how Jesus paid this:

    So that you may learn that he did not hate our nature, but that he was turning away evil….[Remember that] we who appeared to be unworthy of the earth, were this day [through his Ascension] brought up to the heavens. For we, who from the beginning were not even worthy of what was below, have come up to the kingdom on high; we have gone beyond the heavens; we have grasped hold of the royal throne.

    Even that very [human] nature, on account of which the Cherubim had to guard Paradise, this day is seated above the Cherubim! But how has this great wonder happened? How did we who were stricken— who appeared unworthy of the earth and were banished below from the earliest ages— how did we come up to such a height? How was the battle destroyed and how was the wrath lifted? How?

    For this is the wonderful thing: that it wasn’t we who had grown unjustly angry with God who made the appeal, but that One who was justly vexed, who called us to his side, who entreated us, so that there was peace. “For on Christ’s behalf we are ambassadors, as though God were entreating you through us.”

    What is this? Is the One who is himself abused the very same One who encourages? Indeed, yes! For he is God and, because of this, our philanthropic Father entreats us. And look what happened! The Son of the One who is making the appeal is the mediator— not a human, nor an angel, nor an archangel, nor anyone of the household slaves.

    And what did this mediator do? The work of a mediator! For it is as if two had been turned away from each other and since they were not willing to talk together, another one comes, and, placing himself in the middle, loosened the hostility of each of the two. And this is also what Christ did. God was angry with us, for we were turning away from God, our human-loving Master. Christ, by putting himself in the middle, exchanged and reconciled each nature to the other. And how did he put himself in the middle? He himself took on the punishment that was due to us from the Father and endured both the punishment from there and the reproaches from here.

    Do you want to know how he welcomed each? Christ, Paul says, “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” You have seen how he received from on high the punishment that had to be borne! Look how also from below he received the insults that had to be borne: “The reproaches of those who reproached you,” Scripture says, “have fallen upon me.” Haven’t you seen how he dissolved the enmity, how he did not depart before doing all, both suffering and completing the whole business, until he brought up the one who was both hostile and at war—brought that one up to God himself, and he made him a friend?

    And of these good things, this very day is the foundation. Receiving, as it were, the first fruits of our nature, he bore it up in this way to the Master. And indeed just as it happens in the case of plains that bear ears of corn, it happens here. Somebody takes a few ears, and making a little handful, offers it to God, so that because of the little amount, he blesses the whole land. Christ also did this: through that one flesh and “first-fruits” he made to be blessed our [whole] race. … … Therefore he offered up the first-fruits of our nature to the Father, and the Father was so amazed with the offering, both because of the worthiness of the One who offered and because of the blamelessness of the offering, that he received the gift with his hands that belonged, as it were, to the same household as the Son. And he placed the Offering close to himself, saying, ‘Sit at my right hand!’”
    (S in Ascensionem D.N.J.C., Migne 50.444-446, original translation.)

    The difference between this and some (many?) descriptions of penal substitution in Western theology is that the paradox between God, the One who loves humankind and the righteous judge is completely maintained throughout, the Father and the Son are never played off against each other, and the WHOLE view of representative atonement, from death through resurrection THROUGH ascension (i.e. theosis impled for us) is maintained. It is not merely a contract paid in full, but a miracle! But there is no doubt about it that Jesus is seen as the one who bears our punishment and is sacrificed on the cross.

    Would love to talk further with you on this! I appreciate your fair and irenic treatment of the West, and think that it is not enough for us to say, “we use the Christus Victor model” when dikaiosyne is throughout the NT, and continues to be a theme in the fathers. The question is, what does it MEAN in the fathers? How do they differ from the Reformation model? From the New Perspective? etc. This will take a lot of thought, and reading in context and in the original, because to read in English translation is to be captive to Protestant interpretation of what, for example, St. John Chrystostom MUST have meant.

    Edith M. Humphrey

    1. Thank you, Prof. Humphrey, for your generous comment and contribution to the discussion. I was searching for a “like” button, but couldn’t find one. Yes, the mediator idea is often eclipsed in Eastern theology. Most references to a mediator are in regard to the Theotokos (which often sounds rather scandalous to Protestant ears). Fr. Pat Reardon, in a 2011 presentation on the Orthodox Western Rite, mentioned that this idea of mediation, derived from the Chalcedonian notion of Christ’s consubstantiality with our human nature as well as with the divine, is preserved in the Roman Rite liturgy, though it is not present in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

      I am very pleasantly bumfuzzled by Paul’s use of δικαἰωμα in Romans, especially ch 5, where he seems to switch between two different senses of the word. Within Romans, there are possibly three different ways it is used, but they all seem to fit together to paint a more comprehensive picture. It is both the righteous requirement (2:26, 8:4) or standard which God requires and by which he judges (1:26) as well as justification itself (5:16, he seems to use it as a synonym for δικαἰωσις in 5:18) proceeding from a δικαἰωμα “righteous act” (5:18). At any rate, the forensic language is clearly present and central to Paul’s formulation of Christ as the New Adam and thus a new representative for the human race.

    2. This is an awesome contribution to the discussion, Prof. Humphrey. Thank you! My comment to Eric January 24 at 1:27 pm really summarizes where I am coming from. I had to admit after I made that comment, it occurred to me that the whole Divine Liturgy, as you mention here, continually represents the whole sacrificial economy of our salvation in Christ very clearly. As an Orthodox, in this sense I enter into the fullness of this Mystery far more deeply than I ever did as a Protestant (especially since I was as about a “low-church” Protestant as you can go), but I also understand the nature of biblical sacrifice somewhat differently than I did as a Protestant, where I had rather “magical” notions of the meaning and “power” of the blood, for one example. So then I wondered if I could really agree with Eric’s insistence Orthodoxy today downplays this, but it also occurred to me, he is probably not talking specifically so much about the Liturgy itself (which, as you point out, does also include these readings from Scripture) as about some of modern Orthodox preaching, teaching and popular opinion.

      As I’ve mentioned here, for pastoral reasons in the modern era and American culture in which we live (framed as it has been by the likes of Jonathan Edwards and its strongly Protestant, Reformed and Puritan spiritual underpinnings), I believe it is critical to be very careful to reframe the Scripture’s sacrificial imagery and language of the meaning of God’s “wrath”, so that it may be understood in a fully Orthodox sense and context. This is as important for those who have exited Christian faith altogether because their perception of what this means was informed to a great degree by American Protestant culture (and they reject that meaning) as it is for those Protestants who accept a distorted (and in some ways “magical”) interpretation of Scripture, thinking it is the truth. Eric’s quoting the Romans passage and Isaiah 53 passages simply to affirm the “Orthodoxy” of this language is not enough it seems to me. He may need to do that for the Orthodox (and, in his defense, I think that is largely the context into which he intends to speak here), but if he does that for Protestants to validate for them the “orthodoxy” of Orthodoxy, those who believe the Reformed version of Penal Substitution they have received is THE gospel (rather than “another gospel”, which, frankly, I believe it is) will just say “Wow! Great! Maybe the Orthodox will finally wake up to the truth of the Bible and will repent and finally actually be saved! Now, let’s see them trash their “idols” (icons), too!”

      Now, even considering pastoral (not the academic) concerns, I understand it is not only modern Protestants who have inherited distortions of the Tradition, but also modern Orthodox who need to more fully understand the gospel and the nature of faith and grace (along the lines of what Eric talks about in his “very long comment” January 23 at 11:33 am). Fr. Stephen Freeman has been doing a series at his blog of which his post “Saved in Weakness” is a part, which I believes speaks in part to this issue. Fr. Alvin Kimel also had a very thought-provoking series last year, one of which posts is here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/preaching-the-gospel-as-gospel-the-good-news-of-the-resurrection/

      which seems relevant to that aspect of this discussion and may be of interest to some.

      Again, thanks for your contribution!

      1. Folks, this has been a great discussion. Thank you for the most helpful comments.

        Karen, your comment that “quoting the Romans passage and Isaiah 53 passages simply to affirm the “Orthodoxy” of this language is not enough it seems to me” describes my sentiments as well. The sense of our Lord’s actions as our substitute is simply different than the sense derived in other Traditions.

        We must make the effort to frame particular “concepts” if you will, in this case penal substitution, as one important stream within the wider current. By locating the Pauline substitution/wrath metaphors within the larger current of the incarnation, teaching, substitution/sacrifice, resurrection, and finally the glorious ascension, the sense, and thus our personal psychology, is held in its proper balance.

        Thank you Eric, Karen, and Professor Humphrey for helping me think through this matter.

        1. I should have stated “personal and communal” psychology, as it not only affect ourselves but just as importantly the wider body at large.

          Thanks again.

  13. Also, I am really sorry I did not read further down through the comments, because although Eric did not mention sacrifice specifically in his post, he addresses it (much as I would) in his comments. I think it is to Karen that perhaps some of this is directed, because she is nervous about penal substitution and the wrath of God. We do not have to frame these in Anselmian or exaggerated Western terms, but honesty and continuity with Scriptures/the fathers mean that we need to retain them. It is true that God’s character and being are the issue, and what is experienced as love by those prepared for Him will be experienced as wrath by those not so prepared. Hence, as one wise father has pointed out, it is perhaps a mercy that we do not all “see” him yet with the hesychasts. However, it is a mistake, I think, to subjectivize all of this as though God is not the great Agent, as though the tradition does not speak of him as the Judge, and as though he is simply Responder and never Initiator.

    1. Expiation is a technical term for the eradication of sin by virtue of the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Think of sin as germs on a countertop which are sprayed with Lysol. The blood of Christ, like Lysol, eradicates or expiates sin and sanctifies and purifies those who are sprinkled with it (1 Pet 1:2, Heb 9:13-21, 10:22, 12:24). Paul says that the Father established Jesus as a place of atonement (hilasterion), in fulfillment of the mercy seat on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, where, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the red heifer (Romans 3:25).

      1. Years ago, Protestant missionary physician, Paul Brandt, wrote a book with Philip Yancey entitled, In His Image. In it, he looks at the systems of the body from a medical and biological perspective and reflects on what is implied in the biological realities for how the Scriptures employ these images to communicate spiritual truth. What does it mean that Christ is the Head of the Body, His Church? What does it mean that His blood “cleanses” us from all sin and that the “life” is in the blood? I found it was a very illuminating and fruitful reflection. It’s still one of my favorite books. Its reflections about the nature and characteristics of blood as it works in our bodies is also a great complement to the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist. Together with that, it has gone a long way toward expunging more “magical” ideas I had about the meaning of “blood” sacrifice, and it fits much better with the wholistic way Orthodoxy understands the economy of our salvation in Christ, where the forensic aspect is just one way among many of speaking about what is actually an ontological reality.

  14. Are the terms expiation and propitiation interchangeable and secondly; is the presentation mentioned by Fr. Patrick Reardon available anywhere?

    Thanks for an insightful article and the continued exchanges.

    1. They have been used interchangeable, but they are distinct. Phenomenologically, they represent two different aspects of the whole event and relationship of a sacrifice. Propitiation refers to the worshipper or priestly mediator beseeching the deity for forgiveness of sins. Expiation refers to the deity wiping away the sin rendering it null and void.

      Fr. Reardon’s talk is here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/aoc_2011/western_rite
      See two of my prior posts on the issue:

  15. Hi Eric,

    I don’t want to get too far off topic, but would you agree or disagree that most Protestants read the gospel through Paul instead if reading Paul through the 4 gospels? I believe that many to most of todays Protestants are so concerned with being opposed to Roman Catholicism and picking out from Pauls epistles the verses most favorable to Justification by Faith Alone to the exclusion of verses that point out that works have nerit one you are In Christ. As a Catholic and I assume this applies to the Orthodox as well, we take into account the entire Canonical scriptures as a whole in order to understand and live out our faith in the fulness if truth.

    I belong to a nondenominational church, which is the new code word for Southern Baptist. This is a very vibrant congregation with a love for God that just impressed me so much and forced me to question the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    We decided to stay with the Catholic Church because of our understanding of John 6 concerning the Eucharist. We didnt want to be the disciples who walked with him no more.

    Just my 2 cenrs,


    1. It’s hard to say for Protestantism across the board (which is quite diverse), but I think there is more of an emphasis on Paul than the Gospels, which is reversed in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. But there is a lot of complex factors at work in comparing the Gospels and Paul, and I can’t get into all of them here. Though I will say that the opposite can also occur, where Paul is neglected for the Gospels or James. I think this happens in anti-Protestant theologies that are found more recently in Orthodoxy.

  16. This is very little far too late in the extensive discussion above, but as Orthodox Christians, would we not also want to say that Christ’s resurrection – and not merely His crucifixion – also has something to do with our justification?

    “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Romans 4:25

  17. I agree with you but not on the idea that baptism makes up our initial salvation.
    I think it makes part of our “being saved” after conversion (“initial salvation”).

  18. I came upon this conversation today. I’m in the Reformed camp questioning a lot of things right now. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Federal Vision theology and how similar it is to E.O. and they make arguments that are compelling. I think more than anything Reformed people want to hold on to assurance which they believe is lost in any other system. My hurdle with E.O. really has to do with your view of sin, at least what I assume it to be. I really think Reformed and E.O. have a lot in common. In studying Presuppositional Apologetics which isn’t fully embraced by all Reformed people it seems that Van Til lines up with a lot of E.O. thinking. Anyway, back to my point, how can someone who is Reformed, who believes Total Depravity (and by that I qualify that T.D. doesn’t mean someone is a bad as they could be but is totally unable to have the desire to choose God since their preference is always for sin at the core of their being) – come to believe that E.O. takes sin seriously. Now, of course Reformed people don’t think that anyone else takes sin that seriously and is closer to Catholicism via Augustine that E.O. I guess we’d get accused of being to Pauline centered but that is unfair in my opinion. Paul was inspired as you believe as well. E.O. have a similar view of Scripture to Reformed folk correct? Any help on this would be appreciated.

    1. At first glance, I’m skeptical about how well EO and Reformed theology “line up,” especially Federal Vision. What little I know of them I would say they are quite a ways of from Orthodoxy. At any rate, your notion of “taking sin seriously” is rhetorically obscure, as if to say that Orthodoxy is not serious about it. Well, that’s certainly not the case – if you look at ANY classic Orthodox literature from its patristic tradition, and you will see sin dealt with in quite a serious manner. However, it may be that Orthodoxy uses a different ontological and anthropological paradigm to describe what sin is and what its effects are upon mankind. If you wish to investigate further how Orthodoxy deals with sin, your task then is to discover what that paradigm is, and avoid trying to shoehorn Orthodox terms and concepts within a purely Reformed paradigm.

  19. But Jacob Apostle say “show me your faith made from acts” (like icon alive of your friendly personnality). Else it’s not precise interpretation of Paul (Paul in controversy against “acts of law” by pharisees and not against acts of good Samaritan men) if it’s not in accord with Jacob. Paul and Jacob in One Church.

  20. Hi Eric. I’m looking into Orthodoxy at present and am extremely interested in some of the far-reaching, core values. Such as the incomprehensibility of God, the knowability of God as He exists in His energies. The Trinity. Deification. All brilliant stuff, and frankly things that are downplayed to a disappointing degree in the Reformed/Protestant/Evangelical world, of which I am a part. I have benefitted a lot from Orthodox theology, which is incredibly rich. I liked your article, thank you, and it seems there is less disagreement between the Orthodox and Protestants on this subject of justification than I’d been led to believe.

    But I have to ask the following, because I honestly believe it is a central concern to Protestants. Please forgive me if someone else has asked this question, and if you have already answered it. There are far too many responses on this page for me to read them all! In short, the essence of my question is this: what would the Orthodox world say to a man or woman or child who is not part of Christ’s church (they are an unbeliever), and is on their death-bed and has very little time left to live? What is the Orthodox response if they were to ask: ‘How can I be saved? How can I get to heaven following my death in a few moments?’ I really think that’s the essence of the Protestant/Evangelical concern on the question of justification.

    If the Orthodox world responds, ‘Believe upon Christ and rest upon His finished work on the cross, and that is all’, then I don’t see how there is a serious disagreement between us. This – and this alone (as far as I can tell) – is the very sense in which Protestants insist upon faith alone being enough to save somebody and get them into heaven, without any works at all.

    However, if the Orthodox world responds in anyway which implies that that individual has basically had it – because they now have no opportunity (because they’re on their death-bed) to join the Church, be baptised, receive Charismation, and everything else one needs to do in order to become Orthodox – then I can faithfully pass on that that truly is far from a small matter, and the Protestant/Evangelical/Reformed Church would take that extremely seriously.

    A response would be appreciated. Thank you.

  21. There is a reason why Protestants emphasize justification.

    If you don’t, you run the risk of Pelagianism, which essentially teaches that one is saved by works. I’m not Orthodox, but I would hope that the Orthodox church does not embrace the idea that one is saved by obedience (Romans 3:19-20)

  22. What I find interesting about justification in terms of (Lutheran) protestantism, it somehow feels as if they grab hold of the scriptures with an attempt to make them conform to their own lives, its almost as if they hijack Christ’s self sacrifice in an effort to make themselves feel self justified. That in contrast of being conformed their ownselves to the bible and its true teachings courtesy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is when we have this deposit of Gods own pledge through the Holy Spirit indwelling within us that we are born again and established in Christ., And by God’s grace we’re under grace if we abide in Him and Him in us, therefore if we do sin when satan accuses us before God, we have an advocate Christ Jesus who willingly makes intercession on our behalf. We’re told in the scriptures do not grieve the Holy Spirit! Jesus is not ignorant to know who’s heart is sincere! Its easily justified by our fondness for Him through pure devotion, repentance, obedience, love and good works all of which are His desire for the believers who share in the same communion of His Holy Spirit.

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