Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Are we saved through faith alone?

The Gospel passage, consisting of the man asking Christ what good deed we must must do in order to have eternal life, immediately comes to mind. Jesus does not reply by saying 'you are asking the wrong question; you need only to believe in me and you will obtain salvation.' Instead, the Lord says to keep the commandments..love your neighbour as yourself. This passage shows Christ emphasising the importance of both faith, and works in our spiritual lives.  The Sermon on the Mount contains a vast amount of teaching that the Lord expects His followers to live by and adhere to. Love your enemies...Judge not, that you be not judged.. Christ sets down these teachings, as necessary standards of moral righteousness - or rather the way of love. Love itself is not simply something that we say and think - rather something that we do and act out of. At the end of this passage, Christ clearly states that those who rely solely on faith , risk the loss of eternal salvation. I never knew you; depart from me , you evildoers. (Matthew 7:21-23 ) 

Many argue that as soon as we embrace and accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour, salvation is automatically granted to us - and after this life changing experience, we will begin to make the right moral decisions. This however, contradicts Scripture and the Ancient Church's holy teaching. Apart from anything else it is rather unrealistic. Christians do not suddenly change into saintly and radiant human beings from the moment they accept Christ and believe in Him. Just as the Sermon on the Mount highlights, salvation is not only centred on faith,  but is also connected and united with our attempt and humble struggle to keep the holy commandments of love. Throughout history, the Saints, Martyrs and Elders of the Church show that repentance is key, and through this way of life we begin to experience our very salvation here on earth. Salvation is not a 'once in a lifetime' experience or confession of faith, but a continual struggle - with the goal being a full communion with the source of life and salvation - Christ.

Justification by Faith is a clear and authentic teaching of the New Testament - and therefore central to Orthodox teaching. However, we must not forget the importance of a spiritual life consisting of forgiveness, penitent prayer and continual repentance, as well as our constant invitation and paraclesis to God, for His presence in our wounded hearts. Let us take a look at other passages that tell us about the mystery of salvation:

- Your faith has made you well ( Mark 5:34 ) - Christ emphasising the importance of faith to the bleeding woman. Furthermore, the Lord says the exact same to the blind beggar, who He met on the street in Jericho.

- 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 ( John 11:25-26 )

- Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe ( John 20:29 )

There are several examples from the Holy Gospel, that show the importance of our faith and trust in the Lord. However, it is at the same time interesting that through His compassion, Christ heals people without asking for faith - but rather humility, repentance and submission. The role of faith is of course significant, but secondary to divine grace. It is not the faith of an individual that saves - rather Christ's divine power. Power had gone forth from Him ( Mark 5:30 )

To conclude, it would be wrong to discuss the mystery of salvation without highlighting that God's grace and love is at hand here - however it is for us as humble Christians to attain a full and loving communion with our Lord, in order to live eternally with Him.  Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me ( Matthew 25:40 ) All our fellow human beings are created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father, and so by loving them, helping them and forgiving them, we grow closer to the full image of Christ and gradually unite with Him in communion. Fr Theodore Stylianopoulos beautifully writes that 'the most pleasing work to God is the continuous exercise of faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord throughout our lives.' Notice the unbreakable connection between faith, and our practice of this faith ( known as works ) They both go hand in hand, on our road and struggle to the mystery of salvation with our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

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