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Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation #3

Handout #5  10/12/14

I. Review
A. This is week 3 and I really don’t want to extend it to a 4th week, so I won’t take time for review.
II. What salvation is in Eastern Orthodoxy (EO)
A. In some ways it seems like very familiar territory and in some ways it feels very strange.
1. The words are different: e.g. theosis, deification.
2. But when you hear them explain what they mean, you realize that they’re basically talking about what we refer to as sanctification, growing in grace, being filled with God, abiding in Christ, being transformed into the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. But there’s an important disagreement: the EO think of this as the essence of salvation, while Reformed Christians think of sanctification as the outworking of salvation.
4. EO doesn’t make the clear distinction between what happens at conversion and what happens during the rest of the Christian life. We say that justification occurs at the beginning, at the point of faith. And then sanctification — showing the validity of justification — continues through the rest of life.
B. The EO view of salvation isn’t as much about human guilt and divine wrath, the threat of condemnation and the need for justification. It’s about estrangement and reconciliation, but without the judicial/justice dimension.
1. To me, it’s like a marriage in which the wife had an affair, even though she was married to an outstanding husband. Or like a friendship where one party betrayed the other and they’re trying to make amends.
a. Forgiveness is different in the context of marriage or friendship than in the context of a court of law.
2. Michael Horton: “The reigning paradigm is relational and transformative. Humanity is on a pilgrimage — from innocence to mortality to immortality. It’s a movement from image to likeness, from natural goodness to moral goodness.”
3. It’s a journey of coming back to God and becoming like God by being filled with God.
4. Corresponding to a sickness view of sin, it is a medicinal view of saving grace.
C. Our big objection is not what they believe about salvation, but what’s missing in how they describe salvation.
1. There’s a debt to be paid. There’s a penalty that must be born. There is justice which must be upheld. There’s a Lamb that must be slain.
2. But the cross doesn’t play such a central role in their thinking.
3. Ever since the early Eastern church fathers, the emphasis has been more on the incarnation of Christ to unite God and man and the resurrection of Christ to overcome death than it is on the death of Christ to overcome sin.
4. “The strong focus has been on Christ by His incarnation sharing our humanity and healing it from within.” (Letham, p. 246)
5. Let me give you an example from a well-known contemporary spokesman, Timothy Ware: “Where Orthodoxy sees chiefly Christ the Victor, the late medieval and post-medieval west sees chiefly Christ the Victim. While Orthodoxy interprets the Crucifixion primarily as an act of triumphant victory over the powers of evil, the west — particularly since the time of Anselm of Canterbury (?1033-1109) — has tended rather to think of the Cross in penal and juridical terms, as an act of satisfaction or substitution designed to propitiate the wrath of an angry Father.”
a. This doesn’t mean that the eastern church denies any validity of the penal/sacrificial view of the cross — and some of the early eastern church fathers acknowledge it clearly — but their critiques of Reformation theology’s supposed preoccupation with the atoning work of Christ upon the cross to redeem us from sin, and the fact that they speak so little of this in their discussions of salvation, are very telling.
6. Christ’s atonement on the cross is such a central feature of what His coming was all about! Isaiah 53:5 “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is.53:10 “an offering for guilt”)
a. But EO hardly gives it a mention. And let me ask you a question: How is Christ triumphant at the cross except for by atoning for the sin of man? How is He a victor without being a victim?
D. So in the end, salvation is not by Christ’s atoning work on the cross as much as it is by the godliness wrought in me, wrought in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
1. Father Palachovsky: “Our salvation will be the outcome of a virtuous life permeated and sealed by the inestimable blood of the Only-begotten Son of God.”
2. We commend their concern about works. This is an important aspect of the OT and NT. It’s just not the basis of salvation.
3. We understand the view that making salvation completely free of man’s works seems to open the door to lawlessness. This is why they accused Paul of the same thing in Romans 6, which just confirms that he was preaching free saving grace.

III. Falling away from salvation
A. But their view of free will means that salvation is not matter of choosing Christ once, but of choosing Him over and over again for one’s whole life.
1. And if you’re faithful to the end, you’ll make it.
B. We agree that it is he who endures to the end who is saved. (Matt.10:22; 24:13)
C. We agree that there are verses which talk about falling away from salvation.
1. Here’s what we think is going on:
a. We believe that there are two levels of our relationship with Christ:
(1) the level of personal faith, and
(2) the level of legal covenant
b. Think about Israel in the OT: there was the people as a whole: God’s chosen people, but then among them there was a remnant of true believers.
(1) They were all in covenant with God, but not all of them had personal faith.
c. Then there is the case of those outside of Israel, like Cornelius, who seemed to have personal faith and yet was outside of the covenant of Israel.
d. We believe those who fall away are those who are in covenant with God and yet never true heart-believers in the first place: like Judas.
2. There are verses which seem to indicate just this: that those who fall away were never truly saved in the first place.
a. 1John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
b. Matthew 7:22–23 “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ”
IV. Free will
A. The last step belongs to you. God, by His grace, has prepared you to choose Him. He allows you to choose Him but He doesn’t move you to choose Him.
B. Father Palachovsky: “We have been made in His image through creation, but we must become like Him by ourselves, through our own free will. To be in the image of God belongs to us by our primordial destination, but to become like God depends upon our will...” (with Vogel in Sin in the Orthodox Church and in the Protestant Churches)
C. Free will also means that you are free to choose to fall away from Christ.
V. Both RC and EO consider Reformation Christianity antinomian (anti-law).
A. If being persuaded that salvation is not based on our own obedience to the law is anti-law, then we are antinomian.
B. But the obligation of believers to work out their salvation by obeying the law of Christ and doing the good works He has prepared for us has always been an emphasis in Reformed theology. But it’s not only our obligation, it is the fruit of the changes the Holy Spirit works in our lives.