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Salvation is a Person

Double-side icon with Crucifixion and Hodegetria (14th century, Byzantine museum) By Anonymous icon painter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.

We came back to that point a few times at Bible study recently.

In our study on Luke 2:29-32, Father pointed out that Simeon says he has seen the salvation of Lord. Not only has he seen that salvation with his own eyes but he also held that salvation in his own arms as he blessed God with the following:

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Our Bible study is very diverse in that we have people from basically all the different Protestant denominations present. When the topic of salvation comes up Father said he likes to kinda "hang out" on the topic for a while because he knows many are processing the differences between their former Protestant view on the question and the Orthodox view.

I know I'm certainly passionate about this topic. As I've written before, a problem that developed for me is that the juridical or legal motif for salvation predominates in the Lutheran Church, indeed it is the only motif that is essential in the view of salvation required by the Solas of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone.

There is juridical language in the Bible and in the history of theology. After all, the Nicene Creed does say: "And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead." The problem is not so much that there is legal language, the problem as I see it, is with an over emphasis to the exclusion of the other motifs present in Scripture. It is used as the primary view. Everything else gets filtered through the legal motif, creating quite an unbalance.

Our salvation is a duet between us and God. It is a relationship. And while God is perfectly faithful to us and has done everything for the salvation of man, we are not perfectly faithful to God. Some people do not want a relationship with him and repeatedly say no. Just as a parent cannot force a relationship with their child, neither does God force Himself on us.

Salvation is a process. It involves that we have been saved, are being saved, and hope to be saved. We are confident in God, in His love for us and that He never changes in His desire for our salvation. We are not so confident in ourselves, however. We are fickle human beings. Just as marriage is more than the wedding day, so faith is more than baptism or the sinner's prayer. We must be vigilant and intentional in our relationship to God and not take Him for granted.

Salvation isn't a legal contract, which is the impression one might get from some Protestant theologies. Salvation is a relationship with a person: Jesus Christ. As Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos says, salvation "is a life-time engagement with God. It has ups and downs, twists and turns, with opportunities to grow in the love of God, knowing that we can turn to Him again and again and receive forgiveness and a new birth."

Orthodoxy believes that what we do, meaning our works, matter in salvation. What we do matters in human relationships. Salvation is a relationship with a person: Jesus Christ and what we do in our relationship with Him matters. However, works don't matter in the sense of "merit". The relationship between faith and works is seen as symbiotic rather than antagonistic. Salvation is synergistic, requiring a cooperation between God and man.

When St. Paul condemns the "works of the Law" in some of his epistles he is condemning the Ceremonial or Mosaic Law. Think of circumcision, dietary laws, etc - the stuff that was fulfilled by Christ. This is CRUCIAL to understand. I was recently re-reading Luther's famous Lectures on Galatians and he rejects this distinction entirely. Rather he asserts that Paul is opposing everything we do, all "works". This misreading of Paul also plays a role in why Luther has such a difficult time with the book of James.

But if you read Paul rightly, there is no conflict between Paul and James or Paul and Jesus for that matter. The Church that discerned the books of the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in her did not discern a canon of contradiction and confusion. The negative view of the book of James by Luther is unwarranted.

The atonement, what God has done for our salvation in the cross of Christ, is not limited in the way that certain branches of Calvinism might say. While Orthodoxy believes salvation is for all and hopes for the salvation of all, it also knows that there is no promise that all must or will be saved. Again, God doesn't force a relationship with Him. The video below is short, a little over three minutes, but it does a nice job of going over the Orthodox view on this aspect of salvation.

Orthodoxy knows God as good and as the one who loves mankind. Luther wanted certainty of salvation because he wanted to know that he had a loving God. He thought he finally had that by understanding the cross of Christ as the catalyst that changed the Father from being wrathful to merciful towards him.

Coming from the framework he had been given, the best he could do was to say that the Father is pleased when He sees Christ's righteousness covering you. But being pleased by seeing Jesus covering you is not the same thing as actually being pleased with you. You haven't changed at all. God has been changed, or tricked, into loving you because you are hidden in Christ.

In Orthodoxy I found that God doesn't need to be changed at all. He is love and mercy. The cross is not about Jesus taking my punishment so that the Father can finally love me and forgive me. That doesn't even really make sense! The Father doesn't need to be changed in Orthodoxy - He already loves me. I am the one who needs to be changed, not God. I am the target of the cross, not the Father.

At first the Orthodox understanding of salvation was different and disconcerting, but the more I read the more I began to understand that Orthodoxy has what Luther himself was in search of: a God who is good and loves mankind.

What I was taught as a child about God matches what Orthodoxy believes more than it does the Lutheran dogmatic theology I learned in order to become a pastor. I make a distinction in my mind and heart between the people I know who are Lutheran and the formal theology of the Lutheran Church. In my opinion your typical, devoted Lutheran believes in a God who is much more like the Orthodox presentation of Him.

God is good and He loves mankind. Our works matter. They are either opening us up and moving us closer to God who heals us and makes us truly human. Or they are closing us off and moving us farther away from God Who is the source of our life.

Our salvation is about a relationship with Him who created usee. Our salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.

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