For if when we enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is where the Protestant Reformation received much of its ammunition to protest the Roman Catholic view of salvation and its indulgences, with passages such as . . .
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith … .” (Romans 3:23-25a)
Back in my Protestant days I once left a Church because the Sunday School superintendent minimized the centrality of the substitutionary atonement. The Protestant world understands it as central; the Reformers considered justification by faith by means of the substitutionary atonement the keystone of the Faith.
St. Paul was explaining the New Covenant in legal terminology, as his opponents were insisting on the continuance of Old Testament legal strictures. And while the force of these legal retorts by St. Paul indeed hold true, how so? Consider these texts:
“. . . the law brings about wrath . . . . Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 4:15b, 5:9).
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
Does St. Paul really mean the wrath of the angry Father inflicted on His only begotten Son instead of us? The early Church father St. Gregory of Nazanzius taught that it is highly unworthy of God the Father to hold that the crucifixion of Christ is an appeasement of His anger; He loves us. (St. John 3:16) The law served as a tutor to the people of God before Christ came; fear of the consequences of disobedience is but an initial stage, though one most of us hardheads need to experience for an extended period time! When one comes to understand the depths of God’s love in Christ, His adoption of us as His beloved children, one is motivated to press on in faith toward union with Him; the limits of the legal salvation metaphors become apparent.
Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love
Him. For love casts out fear.”
And so I came to recognize that my faith is not in merely a legal transaction, but in the love of God the Father, in Christ, communicated to me through the Holy Spirit. The removal of the Law’s demand is just the first act in the great drama of my salvation. Protestant evangelicals use the phrase “personal relationship with Christ.” As long as this phrase doesn’t mean a merely individual relationship (just me and Jesus), it can serve as a basis for common ground with the Orthodox Christian understanding of salvation as “life in Christ.” For we (together!) are “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18) by His Life.
For more detailed explications of the Orthodox Christian understanding of these matters, see:
Orthodox “Justification by Faith” http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/2013/11/chrysostom-on-justification/
The Cross in My Life, by His Grace Bishop Joseph http://www.antiochian.org/node/16716
The Orthodox View of Salvation Video, Steven Robinson http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/2011/02/orthodox-view-of-salvation-video.html
as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you many be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
When I began to seriously explore the Orthodox Christian faith, I read a book, Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue, by the late Father John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias. Augsberg, Minneapolis, 1992. I found myself favoring the Orthodox Christian chapters, and I thought, “Oh my, now I’m in trouble.” I realized that I would probably be making big changes in my life because of what I just read.
I “rooted” for the Orthodox views of salvation because they were showing me what I was being saved for rather what I was simply being saved from: the consequences of sin (hell). I was discovering how I was on an amazing, endless journey into deeper and deeper participation in divine life, for Jesus came to share fully in our human predicament (without sinning Himself), a sharing that culminated in suffering and death and descent into hell, so that I could share in His divine life, and “ύξηθήτε είς σωτηρίαν” (Greek) “grow up to salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2) a journey of growth into Divine love (self-giving), joy, and peace that is endless. Orthodox Christians don’t see Jesus as simply taking our place, taking the punishment for us; rather, He, the only begotten Son, shares in our fallen predicament that we may share, together, in God’s Life as adopted children. We share in His sufferings, that we may also share in His glory.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
. . . . And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 3:26-27, 4:6)
In the Orthodox Church this is alternately called, in English, ”deification,” or “theosis.” Though made in His image, we fell. We retain this image, but it is obscured; we no longer show forth His likeness. He came to restore us, that we may increasingly, throughout endless ages, or rather, His eternal, divine now, shine forth in His likeness. This restoration does involve suffering and relinquishment, but the goal, the outcome, is eternal glory. This is what I am being saved for. What a journey!
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)
See also Spirituality: The Meaning of Theosis As the Goal of Christian Life by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald
Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature, by Mark Shuttleworth http://www.antiochian.org/node/16916
Also pertinent in terms of the contrast between the view of fallen human nature between Western and Eastern Christianity (different diagnosis, different cure!):
Ancestral Versus Original Sin: Implications for Psychotherapy, by the Very Reverend Anthony Hughes, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/2004-hughes-sin.php
Scriptures taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.