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July 24, 2009

Salvation According to Saint Paul

By Fr. John Romanides

To paraphrase St Athanasius from the fourth century: "If one is to vigorously and consistently maintain that Jesus Christ is the unique Savior who has brought salvation to a world in need of salvation, one obviously must know what is the nature of the need which provoked this salvation." The failure to understand the exact nature of the human situation described by the Old and New Testaments implies a perverted understanding of what it is that Christ did and continues to do for us, and what our subsequent relation is to Christ and neighbor within the realm of salvation.

A basic presupposition of St. Paul's thought is that although the world was created by God and as such is good, yet now there rules in it the power of Satan. The devil, however, is by no means absolute, since God has never abandoned His creation (I Tim. 4:4; I Cor. 15:26, II Cor. 4:3; Rom. 1:20). Thus evil exists, at least temporarily, as a parasitic element alongside and inside of that which God created originally good. A good example of this is one who would do the good according to the "inner man," but finds it impossible because of the indwelling power of sin in the flesh (Rom. 7:15-25). For this reason all men have become sinners (Rom. 3:9-12; 5:19). Satan is no respecter of reasonable rules of good conduct ( II Cor. 4:3; 11:14; Eph. 6:11-17; II Thes. 2:8) and has under his influence all men born under the power of death and corruption (Rom. 8:21).

In regard to the power of Satan to introduce sin into the life of every man, Augustine in combating Pelagianism obviously misread St. Paul by relegating the power of Satan, death, and corruption to the background and pushing to the foreground of controversy the problem of personal guilt in the transmission of Original Sin. Augustine introduced a false moralistic philosophical approach which is foreign to the thinking of St. Paul (Col. 2:8) and which was not accepted by the patristic tradition of the East.

For St. Paul, Satan is active in a dynamic manner, ( Eph. 6:11-17; I Cor. 7:5; II Cor. 2:11; 11:3; Eph. 4:27; I Thes. 3:5; I Tim. 3:6; 3:7; 4:1; 5:14; II Cor. 11:14; 4:3; Eph 2:2; 6:11-17; I Thes. 2:18; 3:5; II Thes. 2:9; I Tim. 2:14; 3:7; II Tim. 2:25-26) fighting for the destruction of creation and not simply waiting passively in a restricted corner to accept those who happen to rationally decide not to follow God and the moral laws inherent in a natural universe. Satan is even capable of transforming himself into an angel of light ( II Cor. 11:15). He has at his disposal miraculous powers of perversion (II Thes. 2:9) and has as co-workers whole armies of invisible powers ( Eph 6:12; Col. 2:15). He is the "god of this age" (II Cor. 4:4), the one who deceived the first woman (II Cor. 11:3; I Tim. 2:14). It is he who led man and all of creation into the path of death and corruption (Rom. 8:19-22). For St. Paul, the destruction of death is parallel to the destruction of the devil and his forces. Salvation from the one is salvation from the other (Col. 2:13-15; I Cor. 15:24-27; 15:54-57).

It becomes obvious from St. Paul's expressions concerning fallen creation, Satan, and death, that there is no room in his thinking for any type of metaphysical dualism, of departmentalization which would make of this world an intermediary domain which for man is merely a stepping stone leading either into the presence of God or into the kingdom of Satan. The idea of a three story universe, whereby God and His company of saints and angels occupy the top floor, the devil the basement, and man in the flesh the middle, has no room in Pauline theology. For Paul, all three orders of existence interpenetrate. In reality, we choose either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of death and destruction in our daily lives. For this reason, the only true victory possible over the devil is the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:1). There is no escape from the battlefield. The only choice possible for every man is either to fight the devil by actively sharing in the victory of Christ, or to accept the deceptions of the devil by wanting to believe that all goes well and everything is normal (Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 2:12; 11:32; II Cor. 4:3; Col. 2:20; II Thess. 2:9; II Tim. 4:10; Col. 2:8; I Cor. 5:10).

Only God can bestow life and this He does freely, according to his own will (Rom. 9:16), in His own way, and at the time of His own choosing (Rom. 3:26; Eph. 2:4-6; I Tim. 6:15). On the other hand, it is a grave mistake to make the justice of God responsible for death and corruption. Nowhere does Paul attribute the beginnings of death and corruption to God. On the contrary, nature was subjected to vanity and corruption by the devil ( II Cor. 11:13; I Tim 2:14), who through the sin and death of the first man managed to lodge himself parasitically within creation, of which he was already a part but at first not yet its tyrant. For Paul, the transgression of the first man opened the way for the entrance of death into the world (Rom. 5:12), but this enemy (I Cor. 15:26) is certainly not the finished product of God. Neither can the death of Adam, or even of each man, be considered the outcome of any decision of God to punish. St. Paul never suggests such an idea.

To get at the basic presuppositions of Biblical thinking, one must abandon any juridical scheme of human justice which demands punishment and rewards according to objective rules of morality. To approach the problem of original sin with the understanding that all share in the guilt of Adam, is to ignore the true nature of the justice of God and deny and real power to the devil. St. Paul's version of the devil is certainly not that of one who is simply obeying general rules of nature and carrying out the will of God by punishing souls in hell. Quite on the contrary, he is fighting God dynamically by means of all possible deception, trying by all his cunning and power to destroy the works of God (Rom. 8:20; I Cor. 10:10; II Cor. 2:11; 4:3; 11:3; 11:14; Eph. 2:1-3; 6:11-17; I Thes. 2:18; 3:5; II Thes. 2:9; I Tim. 2:14; 5:14; II Tim. 2:26). Thus salvation for man and creation cannot come by a simple act of forgiveness of any juridical imputation of sin, nor can it come by any payment of satisfaction to the devil (Origen) or to God (Rome). Salvation can come only by the destruction of the devil and his power (Col. 2:15; I Cor. 15:24-26; 15:53-57; Rom. 8:21).

Thus, according to St. Paul, it is God Himself Who has destroyed "principalities and powers" by nailing the handwriting in ordinances, which was against us, to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:14-15). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their offences" ( II Cor. 5:19). Although we were in sin, God did not hold this against us, but has declared His own justice to those who believe in Christ (Rom. 3:20-27). The justice of God is not according to that of men, which operates by the law of works (Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:8). For St. Paul, the justice of God and the love of God are not to be separated for the sake of any juridical doctrine of atonement. The justice of God and the love of God as revealed in Christ are the same thing. In Romans 3:21-26, for example, the expression, "love of God," could very easily be substituted for the "justice of God."

It is interesting to note that every time St. Paul speaks about the wrath of God it is always that which is revealed to those who have become hopelessly enslaved, by their own choosing, to the flesh and the devil (Rom. 1:18). Although creation is held captive in corruption, those without the law are without excuse in worshipping and living falsely, because "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead" (Rom. 1:20). "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the desires of their own hearts to dishonor their own bodies between themselves..." (Rom. 1:24) and again, "God gave them over to reprobate mind" ( Rom. 1:28). This does not mean that God caused them to become what they are, but rather that He gave them up as being completely lost to corruption and the power of the devil. One must also interpret other similar passages in like manner (e.g., Rom. 9:14-18; 11:8).

At the last judgment, all men, whether under the law or not, whether hearers of Christ or not, shall be judged by Christ according to the Gospel as preached by Paul (Rom. 2:16) and not according to any system of natural laws. Even though the invisible things of God "from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead," there is still no such thing as moral law inherent in the universe. The gentiles who "have not the law" but who "do by nature the things contained in the law" are not abiding by any natural system of moral laws in the universe. They rather "show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness." Here, again, one sees Paul's conception of personal relationships between God and man. "God hath showed it unto them (Rom. 1:19), and it is God Who is still speaking to fallen man outside of the law, through the conscience and in the heart, which for Paul is the center of man's thoughts (Rom. 1:21; I Cor. 4:5; 14-25; Eph. 1:17), and for members of the body of Christ the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (II Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6) and Christ (Eph. 3;17).

It would be nonsense to try to read into Paul's theology a conception of human destiny which accepts the aspirations and desires of what one would call "natural man" as normal. It is normal for natural man to seek security and happiness in the acquisition and possession of objective goods. The scholastic theologians of the West have often used these aspirations of natural man as proof that he is instinctively seeking after the Absolute, the possession of which is the only possible state of complete happiness, that is, a state wherein it is impossible to desire anything more because nothing better exists. This hedonistic type of approach to human destiny is, of course, possible only for those who accept death and corruption either as normal or, at most, as the outcome of a decision of God to punish. If those who accept God as the ultimate source of death were to really attribute sin to the powers of corruption, they would in effect be making God Himself the source of sin and evil.

For St. Paul, Christians are called to die to this world and the body of sin (Rom. 8:10; 8:13; II Cor. 4:10-11; 6:4-10; Col. 2:11-12; 2:20; 3:3; II Thess. 1:4-5), and even to suffer in the Gospel, according to the power of God (II Tim. 1:8; 2:3-6; 4:5). Paul claims that "all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted" ( II Tim. 3:12). This is hardly the language of one who is seeking security and happiness (I Tim 6:7-9).

St. Paul claims that "we are co-workers of God" (I Cor. 3:9). Our relationship of love with God is such that in Christ there is now no longer need for law. "If ye be led by the Spirit ye are not under the law" ( Gal. 5:18). The members of the Body of Christ are not called on to live on the level of impersonal ordinances, but are now expected to live according to the love of God as revealed in Christ, which needs no laws because it seeks not its own (I Cor. 13:4), but strives to empty itself for others in the image of the love of Christ (Phil. 2:5-8).

The love and justice of God have been revealed once and for all in Christ (Rom. 3:21-28) by the destruction of the devil (Col. 2:15) and the deliverance of man from the body of death and sin (Rom. 8:24; 66), so that man may actually become an imitator of God Himself (Eph. 5:1), who has predestined His elect to become "conformed to the image of His Son"(Rom. 8:29), who did nothing to please Himself but suffered for others (Rom. 15:1-3). Christ died so that the living should no longer live unto themselves (II Cor. 5:15), but should become perfect men, even "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Christians are no longer to live according to the rudiments of this world, as though living in this world (Col. 2:20), but are to have the same mind as Christ (I Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5-8), so that in Christ they may become perfect (Col. 1:28). Men are no longer to love their wives according to the world, but must love their wives exactly "as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). The destiny of man is not happiness and self-satisfaction (Phil. 2:20), but rather perfection in Christ. Man must become perfect, as God (Eph. 5:1) and Christ are perfect (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 10:33; 15:49; II Cor. 3:13; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13; 5:25; Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 1:28; 3:10; 4:12; I Thes. 1:6). Such perfection can come only through the personalistic power of divine and selfless love (I Cor. 13:2-3) "which is the bond of perfection" (Col. 3:14). This love is not to be confused with the love of fallen man who seeks his own (Phil. 2:20). Love in Christ does not seek its own, but that of the other (Rom. 14:7; 15:1-3; I Cor. 10:24; 10:29-11:1; 12:25-26; 13:1 ff; II Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 5:13; 6:1 Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:4; I Thes. 5:11).

"The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6). Those who live according to the flesh shall die. Those who mortify the deeds of the flesh (through asceticism) by the spirit shall live (Rom. 8:13). The spirit of man, however, deprived of union with the vivifying Spirit of God, is hopelessly weak against the flesh dominated by death and corruption (Rom. 8:9) -"Who shall deliver me from the body of this death" (Rom. 7:24). And, "the law of the pneumatos tes zoes (Spirit of Life) in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). Only those whose spirit has been renewed (Rom. 7:6) by union with the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9) can fight the desires of the flesh. Only those who are given the Spirit of God and hear His voice in the life of the Body of Christ are able to fight against sin (through asceticism). "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16).

The union of man's spirit with the Spirit of God in baptism (Jn. 3) is no magical guarantee against the possibility of their separation. To become again enslaved to the works of the flesh may very well lead to exclusion from the Body of Christ (Rom. 11:21; I Cor. 5:1-13; II Thes. 3:6; 3:14; II Tim. 3:5). The Spirit of God is given to man that Christ may dwell in the heart (II Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 3:16-17). "Now if any have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His" ( Rom. 8:9). To have the Spirit of God dwelling in the body is to be, also, a member of the body of Christ. To be deprived of the one is to be cut off from the other.

It is clear that, for St. Paul, the union of man's spirit with the Spirit of God in the life of love within the Body of Christ is life and salvation. On the other hand, to live according tot he desires of the flesh, dominated by the powers of death and corruption, means death whether one has verbally accepted Christ or not -- "For the mind of the flesh is death" (Rom. 8:6). St. Paul is dealing throughout his epistles with the categories of life and death. God is life. The devil holds the reins of death and corruption. Unity with God in the Spirit, through the Body of Christ in the life of love, is life and brings salvation and perfection. Separation of man's spirit from the divine life in the Body of Christ is slavery to the powers of death and corruption used by the devil to destroy the works of God. The life of the spirit is unity and love. The life according to the flesh is disunity and dissolution in death and corruption.

The importance that St. Paul attributes to dying to the rudiments of this world in order to live according to the "spirit of life" cannot be exaggerated. To try to pass off his insistence on complete self-denial for salvation as a product of eschatological enthusiasts is to miss completely the very basis of the New Testament message. If the destruction of the devil, death and corruption is salvation and the only condition for life according to man's original destiny, then the means of passing from the realm of death and its consequences to the realm of life, in the victory of Christ over death, must be taken very seriously. For Paul, the way from death to life is communion with the death and life of Christ in baptism and a continuous life of love within the body of Christ. This new life of love within the body of Christ, however, must be accompanied by a continuous death to the ways of this world, which is dominated by the law of death and corruption in the hands of the devil. Participation in the victory over death does not come simply by having a magical faith and a general sentiment of vague love for humanity (Luther). Full membership in the Body of Christ can come only by dying in the waters of baptism with Christ, and living according to the law of the "spirit of life." Catechumens and penitents certainly had faith, but they either had not yet passed through death, in baptism, to the new life, or else, once having died to the flesh in baptism, they failed to remain steadfast and allowed the power of death and corruption to regain its dominance over the "spirit of life."

St. Paul does not say anywhere that the whole human race has been accounted guilty of the sin of Adam and is therefore punished by God with death. Death is an evil force which made its way into the world through sin, lodged itself in the world, and, in the person of Satan, is reigning both in man and creation. For this reason, although man can know the good through the law written in his heart and may wish to do what is good, he cannot because of the sin which is dwelling in his flesh. Therefore, it is not he who does the evil, but sin that dwelleth in him. Because of this sin, he cannot find the means to do good. He must be saved from "the body of this death" ( Rom. 7:13-25). Only then can he do good. What can Paul mean by such statements? A proper answer is to be found only when St. Paul's doctrine of human destiny is taken into account.

If man was created for a life of complete selfless love, whereby his actions would always be directed outward, toward God and neighbor, and never toward himself -- whereby he would be the perfect image and likeness of God -- then it is obvious that the power of death and corruption has now made it impossible to live such a life of perfection. The power of death in the universe has brought with it the will for self-preservation, fear, and anxiety (Heb. 2:14-15), which in turn are the root causes of self-assertion, egoism, hatred, envy and the like. Because man is afraid of becoming meaningless, he is constantly endeavoring to prove, to himself and others, that he is worth something. He thirsts after compliments and is afraid of insults. He seeks his own and is jealous of the successes of others. He likes those who like him, and hates those who hate him. He either seeks security and happiness in wealth, glory and bodily pleasures, or imagines that this destiny is to be happy in the possession of the presence of God by an introverted and individualistic sense and inclined to mistake his desires for self-satisfaction and happiness for his normal destiny. On the other hand, he can become zealous over vague ideological principles of love for humanity and yet hate or turn away from his closest neighbors. These are the works of the flesh of which St. Paul speaks (Gal. 5:19-21). Underlying every movement of what the world has come to regard as normal man, is the quest for security and happiness. But such desires are not normal. They are the consequences of perversion by death and corruption, through which the devil pervades all of creation, dividing and destroying. This power is so great that even if man wishes to live according to his original destiny it is impossible because of the sin which is dwelling in the flesh (Rom. 7) --"Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24).

To share in the love of God, without any concern for one's self, is also to share in the life and truth of God. Love, life and truth in God are one and can be found only in God. The turning away of love from God and neighbor toward the self is breaking of communion with the life and truth of God, which cannot be separated from His love. The breaking of this communion with God can be consummated only in death, because nothing created can continue indefinitely to exist of itself (St. Athanasius). Thus, by the transgression of the first man, the principle of "sin (the devil) entered into the world and through sin death, and so death passed upon all men..." (Rom. 5:12). Not only humanity, but all of creation has become subjected to death and corruption by the devil (Rom. 8:20-22). Because man is inseparably a part of, and in constant communion with, creation and is linked through procreation to the whole historical process of humanity, the fall of creation through one man automatically involves the fall and corruption of all men. It is through death and corruption that all of humanity and creation is held captive to the devil and involved in sin, because it is by death that man falls short of his original destiny, which was to love God and neighbor without concern for the self. Man does not die because he is guilty for the sin of Adam (St. John Chrysostom). He becomes a sinner because he is yoked to the power of the devil through death and its consequences (St. Cyril of Alexandria).

St. Paul clearly says that "the sting of death is sin" (I Cor. 15:56), that "sin reigned in death" (Rom. 5:21), and that death is "the last enemy that shall be destroyed" (I Cor. 15:26). In his epistles, he is especially inspired when he is speaking about the victory of Christ over death and corruption. It would be highly illogical to try to interpret Pauline thought with the presuppositions (1) that death is normal or (2) that at most, it is the outcome of a juridical decision of God to punish the whole human race for one sin, (3) that happiness is the ultimate destiny of man, and (4) that the soul is immaterial, naturally immortal and directly created by God at conception and is therefore normal and pure of defects (Papal scholasticism). The Pauline doctrine of man's inability to do the good which he is capable of acknowledging according to the "inner man" can be understood only if one takes seriously the power of death and corruption in the flesh, which makes it impossible for man to live according to his original destiny.

The moralistic problem raised by Augustine concerning the transmission of death to the descendants of Adam as punishment for the one original transgression is foreign to Paul's thoughts. The death of each man cannot be considered the outcome of personal guilt. St. Paul is not thinking as a philosophical moralist looking for the cause of the fall of humanity and creation in the breaking of objective rules of good behavior (moralism), which demands punishment from a God whose justice is in the image of the justice of this world. Paul is clearly thinking of the fall in terms of a personalistic warfare between God and Satan, in which Satan is not obliged to follow any sort of moral rules if he can help it. It is for this reason that St. Paul can say that the serpent "deceived Eve" (II Cor. 11:3) and that "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (I Tim. 2:14). Man was not punished by God, but taken captive by the devil.

This interpretation is further made clear by the fact that Paul is insisting that "until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression" (Rom. 5:13-14). It is clear that Paul here is denying anything like a general personal guilt for the sin of Adam. Sin was, however, in the world, since death reigned even over them who had not sinned as Adam sinned. Sin here is obviously the person of Satan, who ruled the world through death even before the coming of the law. This is the only possible interpretation of this statement, because it is clearly supported elsewhere by Paul's teachings concerning the extraordinary powers of the devil, especially in Romans 8:19-21. St. Paul's statements should be taken very literally when he says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death ( I Cor. 15:26) and that "the sting of death is sin" (I Cor. 15:56).

None of the Eastern Fathers accepts the teaching that all men are made guilty for the sin of Adam. The theory of the transmission of original sin and guilt is certainly not found in St. Paul, who can be interpreted neither in terms of juridicism nor in terms of any dualism which distinguishes between the material and the allegedly pure, spiritual, and intellectual parts of man. It is no wonder that some Biblical scholars are at a loss when they cannot find in the Old Testament any clear-cut support for what they take to be the Pauline doctrine of original sin in terms of moral guilt and punishment (Col. 3:3).

It is only when one understands the meaning of death and its consequences that one can understand the life of the ancient Church, and especially its attitude toward martyrdom. Being already dead to the world in baptism, and having their life hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), Christians could not falter in the face of death. They were already dead, and yet living in Christ. To be afraid of death was to be still under the power of the devil--II Timothy 1:7: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sound mind." In trying to convince the Roman Christians not to hinder his martyrdom, St. Ignatius wrote: "The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition toward God. Let none of you therefore, who are in Rome, help him." It is in this spirit as well that monasticism began.

The greatest power of the devil is death, which is destroyed only within the body of Christ, where the faithful are continuously engaged in the struggle against Satan by striving for selfless love (through asceticism and good works). This combat against the devil and striving for selfless love is centered in the corporate Eucharistic life of the local community -- "For when you assemble frequently epi to auto (in the same place) the powers of Satan are destroyed and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith" (St. Ignatius). Anyone, therefore, who does not hear the Spirit within him calling him to the Eucharistic assembly for the corporate life of selfless love is obviously under the sway of the devil. "He, therefore, who does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride and condemned himself..." (St. Ignatius). The world outside of the corporate life of love, in the Sacraments, is still under the power of the consequences of death and therefore a slave to the devil. The devil is already defeated only because his power has been destroyed by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ; and this defeat is perpetuated only in the remnant of those saved before Christ and after Christ. Both those saved before Christ and after Him are saved by His death and resurrection, and make up the New Jerusalem. Against this Church the devil cannot prevail, and by this fact he is already defeated. But his power outside of those who are saved remains the same (Eph. 2:12; 6:11-12; II Thes. 2:8-12). Satan is still "the god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4), and it is for this reason that Christians must live as if not living in this world (Col. 2:20-23).

It is clear that for St. Paul the bodily resurrection of Christ is the destruction of the devil, death, and corruption. Christ is the first fruits from the dead ( I Cor. 15:23). If there is no resurrection there can be no salvation (I Cor. 15:12-19). Since death is a consequence of the discontinuation of communion with the life and love of God, and thereby a captivity of man and creation by the devil, then only a real resurrection can destroy the power of the devil. Christ died so that he could defeat death and be the first fruits of the resurrection whereby he raises others to newness of life both in the present spiritually and in the future physically. This understanding is diametrically opposed to the understanding of the West where Christ died to satisfy God's justice against sin which was the inherited guilt of Adam upon all of humanity.

Salvation is only the union of man with the life of God in the body of Christ, where the devil is being ontologically and really destroyed in the life of love. Outside of the life of unity with each other and Christ in the Sacramental life of corporate love there is no salvation, because the devil is still ruling the world through the consequences of death and corruption. The enemy of life and love can be destroyed only when Christians can confidently say, "we are not ignorant of his thoughts" (II Cor. 2:11). Any theology which cannot define with exactitude the methods and deceptions of the devil is clearly heretical, because such a theology is already deceived by the devil. It is for this reason that the Fathers could assert that heresy is the work of the devil.

[Extracted from Original Sin According to St. Paul by John S. Romanides found here.]