Salvation

                          Salvation
 
         Romans 5:1-11

Each and every person was created to live in intimate union with God sharing his eternal divine life. God said “Let us make man in Our image, after Our Likeness”. Orthodox Fathers explain that Man was created in the image of God, but was called to grow into the likeness of God by the use of his free will. 

The fall (sin) occurred when man succumbed to his desire to be God without God by choosing the fruit of knowledge of good and evil rather than the One who had created all things. Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote that the forbidden tree “is the image of the world loved for itself” i.e choosing the world to give life and fulfilment rather than God. This choice by Adam and Eve caused a separation from communion with God who is life, resulting in spiritual death. They could no longer bear to be in His presence, but sought to avoid Him. God sent them out of the garden so they would not have eternal life in the fallen state (by eating the from the Tree of Life). 

Through the Old Testament we see that God was not willing for His good creation to be destroyed so he created a covenant with them. Through the Law (Ten Commandments), prophets He guided Israel through tough times. No matter how hard Israel (His chosen people) tried, sooner or later they found themselves sinning in thought, word and deed because the essential nature of man had changed from being God centered to being self-centered. God instituted the sacrificial system where the blood of a guiltless animal was shed to cover one’s sin. This was foreshadowing of the promised flawless, pure and righteous Savior, who would die in our place, as our substitute, to pay the terrible penalty for all our sins, on our behalf, once for all. He lowered Himself to the lowest depth of human existence-death so that He may raise us to eternal life. 

Salvation however, is more than just appeasing a God who demands blood. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). God alone was able to renew the image of God in man. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor 5:18). Through his sacrificial death Jesus healed the sinful nature of man and reestablished the potential for man to achieve Theosis (becoming like God, receiving the fullness of God’s life). By assuming the human nature, He has united it with His divine nature. We accept this in our baptism, which begins our journey towards the final goal that we were created for “growing into the likeness of Him who created us”. 

So what would your response be if someone asked you “Are you saved?” An appropriate response as an Orthodox Christian would be “I have been saved, I am being saved; and I shall yet be saved” 

Salvation is a constant growth in the life of Christ, a dynamic movement towards Theosis. Romans 5:1-11 kept reminding me of the three parts of salvation. 

  • Salvation has to do with our past – Justification - we have been saved from sin and death through baptism to be united to God. Our union with God was possible because God took the initiative “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Vs 8-9). Belief or faith is the starting point of man’s salvation. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Vs 1-2(a)). For the Orthodox; faith is not a blind leap, but an act of trust based upon the Testimony of the Church. Orthodoxy literally means “right glory/worship”, a proper understanding and faith in Jesus Christ and the Godhead. Some however teach that we only need faith based on St Paul’s teachings that man is justified by faith alone (Romans 3:28). This along with the teaching that salvation is achieved through grace misleads one to believe that man has no role in his salvation. To this misunderstanding, St. James wrote ”Faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). Love and salvation cannot be forced. God has opened the gates but it is up to us to get in by doing our part- respond to His grace to produce spiritual fruits through Godly works. 
  • Salvation has to do with our present – Sanctification: We are being saved through our daily walk and grow in life of Christ and the Spirit. Early Christian called themselves “The Way” because it was more than just another religion. It was as way of living in Christ, a journey with a goal to be with God. That way of life involved tribulations and persecutions which brings us to “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Vs 3-5.). We are called to bring our self into subjection to God through humility and obedience. This does not mean however that man “earns” his salvation on his own merit; it only occurs by the grace of God. 
  • Salvation has to do with our future – Glorification- “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Vs 2(b)). “We shall one day be saved will have our final glory when Jesus comes again” (Col 3:4). Matthew 24:13 states “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved”. 
Let us all pray that God makes us worthy to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Questions for Reflection:

1. Can man be saved against his own will? 

2. Does the Orthodox approach of human cooperation with God (works) take away from the work of Christ for our salvation?