September 25, 2009

Protestant Views on Justification, Eternal Security and Salvation Outside the Church: An Orthodox Biblical Response

Unlike Martin Luther who was offended by the New Testament Book of James because it "contradicted" his Sola Fidei (faith alone) doctrine - an apostolic book which dared not to separate the faith of a believer from the manifestation of one's faith, which is "works" - the Orthodox Church has been faithful to the apostolic tradition for 2000 years. It never took part in the vain debate of the Reformers of the 16th century who over-reacted against the abuses of Papal Rome by separating faith and works because it never had to. Biblical and Patristic faith comprehends all of life and always is dynamically manifested through the way we live, talk, walk and think. Only by our thoughts and our deeds can we be separated from Satan, whose faith in Jesus surpasses our own. The mind of the Church has always been that those who seek to separate faith from works only reveal their own wickedness, who do not want to manifest their faith with their deeds. And it is for this reason that Jesus says repeatedly that it is by our deeds, which manifest our faith, that we will be judged (Lk. 3:7-14; Mt. 7:21-23; Matt. 25:31-46; etc). And though our faith justifies us (Rom. 3:28), what Paul describes is a living faith that is manifestated by a righteous life, defeat of Satan's power over our lives, growth in the virtues, and a progress through the purification of the heart unto an illumination of the Holy Spirit which is perfection in Christ (Matt. 5:20; Rev. 14:12; Heb. 11:4,8; Is. 58:5-7).

Furthermore, justification is not a legal acquital before God, but part of a covenant relationship with Him Who having fulfilled the requirements of the Law and defeated death by His death has raised us to new life through "water (baptism) and the Spirit" (Rom. 6:4; Jn. 3:5). Christ came to establish a visible Church (Matt. 16:18) to gather all those destined for condemnation, like Noah did in the Ark. He did not come to give us the Scriptures, but to write the law of God within our hearts through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:33; Jn 8:7). It is the Holy Spirit which unites the visible Church into a living and organic Body of Christ of diverse spiritual gifts. We are initiated into the Body of Christ through baptism and the eucharist, since without the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ we can have no part in Christ (Jn. 6:53-58). Through the purification of one's heart and mind and the reception of the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church the Lord through His Holy Spirit heals us wounded by our passions and sins (all this is revealed in Lk. 10:34), and we become a temple of the Holy Spirit by God's grace and mercy, unworthy though we be.

Orthodox Christians simply leave all judgement to God and dare not judge someone's salvation lest they also be judged (Matt. 7:1), and they by no means judge themselves either (to hell or heaven). All judgement is left to the Lord, and it is up to us to always be ready and be watchful, lest we be "cut off" (Rom 11:22; Matt. 25:13) - we are to be always faithful in a dynamic way and be concerned with this alone. Our love for God is proved in how we keep His commandments (John 14:21). If the Apostle Paul considered himself the greatest of sinners in his great humility (1 Tim. 1:15; Phil. 3:12-14; Rom 7:15-19), even though he had attained great spiritual heights by the grace of God and was a visionary of the uncreated glory of God in the third heaven, then we also ought to imitate him (1 Cor. 11:1) and dare not condemn anyone but ourselves. God alone knows the heart and He has made clear that "My ways are not your ways" (Is. 55:8). A true Christian tries to imitate the selfless love of Christ who condemned Himself to death to save us wretches, as did the Prophet Moses who preferred to lose his own salvation so that the people of Israel would be saved (Ex. 32:30-33), and its for Moses' humility (Ex. 4:10; Num 12:3) that God chose him and exalted him. This was also repeated by the Apostle Paul (Rom 9:1-5). Like the Prophet Isaiah, the nearer we come to the glory of God the more we feel the need to condemn ourselves rather than others (Is. 6:5). Therefore, we repeat with the Apostle Paul: "It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God." (1 Cor. 4:3-5). And again: "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31-32).