How Are We Saved?

Hieromarytr Mocius the Presbyter of Amphipolis in Macedonia

Hieromarytr Mocius the Presbyter of Amphipolis in Macedonia

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

HOW ARE WE SAVED?
by Father Theodore Stylianopoulos

Twenty First Sunday

Epistle Reading: Galatians 2:16-20

"Knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law shall no one be justified...For through the Law I have died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:16-17, 19-20).

A large segment of Protestant Christians in the United States are known as Evangelicals. Evangelicals take the Bible seriously. They center their lives on the Evangelion (the Gospel)--the good news of salvation. They often talk about personal salvation, about "how you get saved," and the familiar answer is: Accept Christ as your personal Savior in sincere prayer, ask Him to come into your heart and forgive your sins, and you are saved. You are then put right before God and enjoy a personal relationship with Christ. This event is called "justification by faith" or more generally "salvation by faith," apart from good works. This teaching is based on texts especially from the letters of Saint Paul, such as the above (Galatians 2:16-20). Many Evangelicals recall the exact date and time of being "born again" and celebrate it as the foremost event in their lives.

We do not judge the sincere convictions of other Christians, lest we be judged, according to the words of the Lord (St. Matthew 7:1). Justification by faith is an authentic teaching of the New Testament, it is also a part of Orthodox teaching because whatever the New Testament teaches as essential, the Orthodox Church teaches as well. Equally, the acts of penitent's prayer, asking God for forgiveness and inviting Christ and the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts--these acts, too, are indispensable to Orthodox Christian life. But we must ask: is salvation a one-time event in life? What is does Saint Paul say? What do we teach about these issues as Orthodox Christians?

Let's take a few examples from the life of Christ. We know that Jesus emphasized faith. To the woman with the issue of blood whom He healed, He said: "Your faith had made you well" (St. Mark 5:34). To the blind beggar He met on a street in Jericho and also healed, He said: "Your faith has made you well" (St. Mark 10:52). Jesus tied personal faith in Him to the efficacy of healings. But was faith the most critical factor behind these cures? Jesus perceived "power had gone forth from Him" to heal the woman with the issue of blood (St. Mark 1:34; 3:5). And so with all the acts of healing, it was above all Christ's divine power that cured the sick, the lame and the blind. The role of faith was significant but secondary to Divine Grace. God provided the grace, faith received the gift.

Jesus connected personal faith in Him to our eternal salvation. He declared: "Every one who acknowledges Me before people, I also will acknowledge them before My Father in heaven; but whoever denies Me before people, I also will deny them before My Father in heaven" (St. Matthew 10:32-33). The Gospel of Saint John frequently connects faith in Christ to each person's eternal destiny. We read: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (St. John 3:16). And again: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (St. John 11:25-26). Christ further declared to Thomas: "Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (St. John 20:29). Jesus Himself is the supreme example of faith. In the garden of Gethsemane, as He confronted the prospect of death by crucifixion, Christ prayed to God: "Not My will, by Thy will be done" (St. Matthew 26:39). Without doubt, faith had a primary place in the life and teaching of Jesus.

But Jesus also demanded good works to go along with faith. A man came up to Him with a question about eternal salvation. "Teacher," he asked, "what good deed (ti agathon) must I do, to have eternal life?" Jesus did not send him away or correct him. He didn't say: "You are asking the wrong question; you need only to believe in Me and you will be saved." Rather Jesus said to him: "Keep the commandments...You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself" (St. Matthew 19:16-19). Rather than separate faith and works, Jesus closely united the two as being definitive to Christian life. That's the undeniable implication of His great discourse we call "Sermon on the Mount." The Sermon contains a vast amount of teachings and exhortations Christ expected his followers to learn and live by (St. Matthew 5-7). "Do not bear false witness...Love your enemies...Seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness...Judge not, that you be not judged" ( St. Matthew 5:33, 44; 6:33; 7:1). Jesus set down these teachings as the necessary standards of moral righteousness. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount He denounced the kind of faith that is only a lip service. He said those who relied only on faith risked the loss of eternal salvation. He warned: "On that day many will call out to Me 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast our demons in Your name?' And then I will declare to them: "I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers" (St. Matthew 7:21-23).

Let us also recall the Parable about the Last Judgment (St. Matthew 25:31-46). When Christ comes in His glory with all the Angels, He will gather all the nations before Him for universal judgment. Everyone will be divided into two groups--the sheep on the right and the goats on the left--before Christ the King. The ones on the right will be blessed and given the inheritance of the eternal kingdom. The ones on the left will be cursed and sent off to eternal fire. What will make the difference? What will be the criterion of judgment? Works of mercy? Feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner. Jesus declared: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (St. Matthew 25:40).

On another occasion Jesus referred to faith as lifetime work. He urged a crowd not to "labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life." They asked: "What must we do to be doing the works of God (Ti poiomen ina ergasometha ta erga tou Theou?" He replied: "This is the work of God (to ergon tou Theou): that you believe in Him Whom God has sent" (St. John 6:27-29). The most pleasing work to God is the continuous exercise of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord throughout our lives. Christ promised us a continuous personal communion with Him, a continuous Paschal (Easter) experience, based on love, faith, and the keeping of His Commandments. He said: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments...If a person loves Me, He will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (St. John 14:15-17,23). Our "new birth" is given to us in Baptism according to the words of the Lord: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (St. John 3:5). And if we lose our way, heartfelt prayer, repentance, Holy Confession and Holy Communion provide personal occasions for spiritual renewal throughout our lives. How important for salvation is the Holy Eucharist is, we know from the words of Christ: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (St. John 6:54). In these many ways, according to Christ, Orthodox Christians throughout their lives receive salvation and renewal through faith, works, and the Sacraments of the Church.

(To be continued)

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Please note: The above information is absolutely necessary for every Orthodox Christian to know. It is important, not only to be able to answer Christians of other beliefs and traditions, but also, to have a clear understanding of how to work out our own salvation. 

The Orthodox Christian must always be confident, knowledgeable, and be able to defend his Christian faith at every place and every time.

The purpose of emailing all of you, on a daily basis, is to teach you the Orthodox Christian faith. I realize that most of you may not have the time to read a book on the Orthodox Church, to attend the Adult Bible Study or an Adult Catechism Class, and for that reason, I have taken the time, for years, to spoon feed you day after day. I have no other reason than that. Therefore, do yourself a favor, and take five minutes and read what I send you. Also, send it to your sons and daughters at the various universities and colleges. They know absolutely nothing about our Christian Faith.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in Christ's Holy Resurrection,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George