Question for the Formerly Protestant turned Orthodox.

I really struggle to understand the Orthodox teaching on salvation. It seems to me that the Orthodox Church teaches that Salvation comes by Faith, is a work of Grace by God through the work of His Son, Jesus, but that salvation is not complete. It requires a continual salvation, a continual “saving” if you will, in and through works. If I understand correctly a person may not know if they have a full salvation until death and that prior to that moment, salvation is up in the air.

Rather like a mortgage, I puzzle, where the bank guarantees the loan and the house is YOURS, you move in, you make all the repairs, you pay the taxes, you pay the insurance, you paint, landscape, water, mow…pay monthly payments for year after year after year, but you only THINK you own that house, as the bank can take that house from you even should you falter on the last payment.

If I can make this analogy, and I’m not sure it is completely accurate, Christ paid for our salvation, but we are required to make payments of our own through life, through feasts, fasts, prayers, good works, giving, faithfulness…but should we fail to make those payments…that salvation is foreclosed on.

Yes the analogy is weak, but I’m trying to understand this concept. I’m trying to wrap my mind around this.

In the Protestant mainline, the analogy would be that Christ buys you the house, all you must do is sign on the dotted line. That the signature is not about the house, but is an understanding of the price the Savior paid and an acknowledgement of his supremacy in this world and a pledge to follow him in love and obedience, but includes the “house” (Salvation) as a free gift upon signing is the point. That you are recognizing that you are in desperate need of this house (though even you do not understand how much you need this) is a given. It is part of the package you are signing. You are now the steward of this house, this salvation. It is your job to maintain and improve the place, but even in that, whenever you do the work, your Savior works with you, for you, through you. That He asks you to be kind to the poor homeless souls all around you, to help other homeowners with their repairs is, you figure, the least you can do in gratitude for this fine Salvation house. Should you falter, you still own the house. It is still yours to live in. Some Protestants would argue that you can abandon your house and walk away, but that no court, no person, could take this house FROM you, you have to give up what is yours.

Acknowledging the weakness of the analogy, I am still left puzzling about the Orthodox teaching on Salvation. For if the Holy Spirit in/by whom we are sealed (Eph. 1:13) is the deposit or guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14) how does He Seal and Guarantee that which we then must work toward obtaining?

*****

There is a verse that is running through my head, Matthew 7:7, where the translation (according to Greek scholars I have spoken to, listened to and whose writings I have read) is most often mis-translated as: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”  However, the verb forms are the active present tense, so it should be more literally translated “Ask and keep on asking, and it shall be given you; Seek and keep on seeking and ye shall find; Knock and keep on knocking and it shall be opened unto you:”  It has got me thinking…perhaps this may help with my understanding.  Perhaps salvation is active present–like Save and Keep on Saving, according to Orthodox understanding.  Or perhaps it is like when you hit the Save button on a large computer document.  You hit the button (Save), the bar is moving from left to right as it actively is being saved (Saving) and then the bar hits the far right, the file is 100% complete and you are done (Saved.)   ????

But this is puzzling. So I’m asking for help with this one. And I do moderate this blog, so rude and nasty will not be tolerated. Gentle, thoughtful and helpful commentators are gratefully acknowledged and welcomed. The rest will go to that delightful little place, the internet trash bin.

***3/4/14***Update***

I re-read this again and am surprised at how much my understanding has changed since I wrote this on September 24, 2011.  Salvation is a free gift of God, utterly unearned by mankind. That being said, the works, the feasts, prayers, fasting, confession, baptism, good works, giving, sacrifice, holy eucharist, etc., all are part of becoming more like God. Deified, I believe some people call it.  This does not mean I become God, not at all. It means that I partake of Him, who is our life and our being, the immutable, invisible, only-wise, all-loving, compassionate and merciful God, who alone is Holy. Yet we are to be holy as He is holy.  Ah, it is a marvel too much for the mind to comprehend.

Orthodoxy is not a dogma or a doctrinal statement. It is a way of life, and I am learning that way of life. Salvation is not earned, but we cooperate with God in becoming more like Him, and we remain faithful, yes, through our deeds, for faith without works is dead.

It is like the famous Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) who “learned to swim” from You Tube and has practiced on the floor of his apartment, having never donned a swimsuit and gotten wet! Can he swim?  Who knows?  Or like me, who, having read directions, watched how to videos and dream crocheted, did not actually crochet until I took a hook in one hand and yarn in the other and practiced it.  “Worked it out” as it were. This all makes sense to me, and yet it is more than I can comprehend or put into words.

I had been looking at this all wrong.  Salvation is not an accounting function or a judicial function, although it has aspects of that, or at least is explained as such, but it is so much more than that. We are BEING saved. It is an uncomfortable thing for this former Protestant, to weed out the beliefs of a lifetime and plant in what is taught by the One Holy and Apostolic Church, the holy Orthodox Church, but slowly and surely, this is what is happening. Some of this is by experience. We learn and then we practice and come to knowledge that cannot be learned by mere words or teaching. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

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3 thoughts on “Question for the Formerly Protestant turned Orthodox.

  1. I’ve got some initial thoughts that may be helpful. You mentioned Paul’s teaching that believers are sealed in Christ (the second person of the Trinity) by the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity). Ephesians 1 teaches that God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world, Jesus Christ redeemed us through His blood and the Holy Spirit dwells within us as a pledge of our inheritance (we are adopted sons and the Holy Spirit dwells within us as a constant reminder that God’s own possession — we adopted sons bought with the precious blood of Jesus — God’s own possession will be redeemed to the praise of His glory. We have redemption (present tense) through the blood of Christ — we look forward to redemption in the future. And we’ve done none of it — it is the work of the Holy Trinity.

    We shouldn’t miss the importance of adoption. An adopted son is a full member of the family. Jesus Himself calls us “brother.” God is my merciful, loving Father, who chose me to be His son before He made the world. He went to a lot of trouble to put me in the family — will he cast me out based on imperfect human action?

    Or, in Ephesians 2, we read that I was DEAD in transgressions. God the Father, being rich in mercy, made me alive together with Christ. I am alive in Christ. Does my new life depend on my performance? God forbid!

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  2. I wouldn’t use the payment analogy – salvation is not a deal. In the East, salvation means theosis, ontological union with God (for biblical references and explanation, see http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature). It also can be understood as a healing process. Christ is the Physician (see Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17 and Luke 5:31) and we are sick. He has everything we need to heal us, but He can’t force us to be healed. If we recognize that we need the Physician, we become His patients, but it takes not only His effort, but also our cooperation on the road to recovery. So it is not a matter of “earning” a status with some works, but of cooperation (in the New Testament called “synergy” 1 Cor 3:9) to come closer and closer to Him.

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  3. Hi Kim,

    I haven’t heard from you in a while. Hope you’re doing well.

    As Metropolitan Kallistos Wares points out in his lectures (see: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1088949815257678826), Orthodox Christians are comfortable with the use of many different analogies, metaphors, models, etc., for the mystery of salvation. But, as Maria mentions above, the simplest way to understand the Orthodox view on salvation is to think of salvation as a healing (or cleansing) process in which we are becoming more and more like God. Though we are made in the image and likeness of God, we have lost our likeness to Him due to our own sin and its destructive effects. Deification is the process by which we come to be like God: holy, righteous, pure, loving, humble, and glorious. That is what salvation amounts to in Orthodoxy: deification. And even in the afterlife, deification will still continue, since God is infinite. We cannot approach His essence. This is what Orthodoxy teaches. For more on this, I recommend a skinny book by Met. Kallistos Ware, “How Are We Saved?: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition” (found here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Are-Saved-Understanding-Salvation/dp/1880971224). Also, there are tons of resources on the question of salvation in Orthodoxy over at Ancient Faith Radio (ancientfaith.com). I would recommend the podcast, Pilgrims from Paradise, especially the series “Sola Scriptura And Philosophical Christianity” (see the archive going back to 2008 here: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/pilgrims). That series is excellent, clear, and does a splendid job at explaining in more depth what salvation is like from an Orthodox perspective. Finally, there’s that famous video floating out there on the Orthodox view of salvation, which I’m sure you’ve seen it! 🙂

    Many blessings! Christ is Risen!

    Я.

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