Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
Sacrifices and Sin
In the Old Testament, in the laws given to ancient Israel, animal sacrifices were required. But they were so that God would “wink at” sins, a purification of the flesh (Heb. 9:13).
They could not remove them from the conscience or transform the person (Heb. 10:4). They also did not cover everything; certain sins had no sacrifices, so the sinner had to beg God for forgiveness.
Since sins could not be removed from the conscience, even the righteous had to go down to Sheol/Hades, awaiting the day that Christ defeated death and led the souls of the believing dead out of Sheol. (Did anybody stay behind? I doubt anyone would want to, but nobody knows.)
Since all have sinned, no ordinary priest could be the sinless one who takes on the guilt of the sinner and atones for the sins of all mankind.
Angry God and Redemption
Our eternal salvation is not just about Christ willingly giving himself as the ultimate sacrifice. The Orthodox note at least three parts to redemption, while the Catholic and Protestant churches generally focus on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the atonement of our sins:
- Christ took on human nature so that we could again take on God’s nature.
- Christ atoned for our sins. He took the punishment and paid the price for them–like a fine or a price set for a slave’s redemption, or freedom–so we could be set free from them.
- When he was resurrected, he broke the bonds of Hell and defeated death so we can live forever.
Also note that Christ did this willingly, and that Christ is God himself. It wasn’t the Father beating up the Son to appease his wrath, nor was it God beating himself up to appease his wrath.
Basically, wrath was introduced into the world because of the Fall, and God’s self-sacrifice ended it.
I’ve read that the concept of the angry god who must be appeased by blood sacrifice is not from Judaism, but from paganism. That even when Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac, the word is “Elohim”–not “Yahweh”–because the order did not come from God at all. (I read this in a Web theology forum, so I don’t know if it’s correct or not.)
The Orthodox say that God did not have to use this way to save mankind from sin and death, but chose it because it was just and righteous. God is not at the mercy of some righteous law higher than he; he creates the laws according to his righteousness.
The plan of God for man’s salvation is called the plan of ‘divine economy,’ i.e. divine dispensation. God the Father conceives the plan, the Son executes it, the Holy Spirit fulfills it and leads it to perfection and finalization. –His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church
God could have redeemed us in another way, but wanted to demonstrate his love for us by giving up what meant the most to him: his only son.
So there is no reason for you to sacrifice an animal now: It won’t help you eternally, and you have a much better way to be redeemed.
One teaching, though by no means widespread in the modern age, is that unbaptized babies who die go to Hell. This teaching stems from the Western (European) idea that Original Sin means we all inherit Adam’s guilt.
Many Protestant Christians do seem to believe that babies are innocent, that Original Sin means an inborn tendency to (not guilt of) sin, and anyone who has not heard of or does not fully understand salvation is judged by conscience. There is support for this in Romans, that conscience condemns some and may perhaps save others.
The Eastern Orthodox church says that the Western concept of Original Sin is totally wrong: We do not inherit Adam’s sins. Since he became mortal, and we are born from his seed, we are also mortal and subject to mortal weaknesses (death, sin, etc.). Death is seen not so much as a punishment but as mercy, preventing us from sinning forever.
The Orthodox church insists that the concept of a God who must be appeased in the proper way or he will send you to everlasting punishment in a Hell he created, is a Western perversion.
Instead, God is loving. Even his wrath, justice and judgment are loving, not cruel or discriminating. Our eternal suffering comes from us (NOT God).
And we cannot say how he will judge those who are too young, mentally deficient, uninformed or misinformed, or of other religions. We must remember that his justice is “the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation”–full of mercy, compassion, love, fidelity, and truth.
The earth too had a beginning and man was created by God’s love. The creation of man and of the universe was not out of necessity. Creation is the work of the free and unconditional will of the Creator.
If He had so wished, He need not have created us; the absence of creation would not have been a privation for Him. The creature’s love is not one that gives Him satisfaction. God has no need to be satisfied. He needs nothing.
God’s love cannot be compared to human love, even as His other attributes such as paternity, justice, goodness cannot be compared to their human counterparts. God’s love is a love that constitutes a mystery unfathomable to man’s reason or intellect.
God has no ’emotions’ which might create passion, suffering, need or necessity in Him. Nevertheless, although the nature of divine love remains incomprehensible and inexplicable to human reason, this love is real and genuine and I confess, in agreement with Scripture, that God is love. —I Believe…: A Short Exposition of Orthodox Doctrine
Note that the Nazarene church (in which I was raised) agrees with the Orthodox church on the meaning of original sin:
We believe that sin came into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, and death by sin. We believe that sin is of two kinds: original sin or depravity, and actual or personal sin.
We believe that original sin, or depravity, is that corruption of the nature of all the offspring of Adam by reason of which everyone is very far gone from original righteousness or the pure state of our first parents at the time of their creation, is averse to God, is without spiritual life, and inclined to evil, and that continually….
We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected. We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person….
We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love; and that in relation to Christ sin may be defined as unbelief. –p. 27-28, Church of the Nazarene Manual, Nazarene Publishing House, c. 1997
The Nazarene church is not Calvinist. Traditional Calvinists believe, “Once saved, always saved,” and that because of “total depravity” or “original sin,” only God’s predestined chosen are enabled to believe in Christ.
The Nazarene church believes that saved persons can be lost if they turn away from the faith. It also believes that Christ’s atonement is full and sufficient for all human sin and all human beings, and that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed on everyone, allowing anyone to turn to faith and God.
The Orthodox believe that no one is totally depraved, that the image of God is still in everyone, that the Holy Spirit invites everyone to Christ.
You’re not just “saved from Hell,” as some might put it; you’re saved from “sin, death, and evil” (also more in keeping with the Nazarene and Lutheran definitions of salvation).
You receive the Holy Spirit and he begins to change you, make you more like Christ. Being like God and Christ (in heart though not in substance) is our ultimate goal. Another word for this is sanctification.
We must make a distinction between modern catchphrases and proper definitions: It’s not, “a believer knows he’s saved from Hell and a disciple knows he’s saved for glorifying God by loving God and people.”
(I’d never heard that definition before now. Is that another TULIP Calvinism-based doctrine? Based on my most recent research, it probably is. Apparently TULIP Calvinism says that were are saved from Hell for the glory of God. In my Nazarene tradition, being saved from Hell was part of it, but the most common thing I’ve always heard is, “saved from our sins.” As a Nazarene, I grew up Arminian, the opposite of Calvinist.)
A believer is anyone who believes in Christ, has repented of his sins, and is now reconciled to God. Many traditions include baptism in that.
Being saved from eternal torment (whatever exactly that means) is only part of it, and any conversion based merely on that is based on fear, therefore dubious: If you stop believing in Hell, you no longer have to believe in Christ to feel “safe.”
Another webpage which describes the Orthodox view of salvation and atonement: Why I Cannot in Good Conscience be a Protestant
Discipleship is a “life-long process of learning and living the faith” (Living as Apostles to America by Fr. Constantine L. Sitaras).
Here, we are said to be saved from “sin, death, and evil,” and redemption means “repossession by God”: Spirituality by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald
The Nazarene church defines discipleship as Christian maturity, a way of life, “the process of learning how God would have us live in the world,” with the ultimate goal of becoming like Christ in character (We Are a Missional People).
These are the definitions I keep finding as I search the Web for definitions of discipleship: lifelong learning, lifelong seeking to be like Christ, obedience to Christ. As for what you are saved for, Catholics believe it’s for union with Christ/God. Salvation–Are You Saved? by Katrina J. Zeno
This sounds much like the Orthodox belief as well, since reconciliation with God and taking on his character and eternal life to commune with him is seen as our primary purpose in salvation.
I do see several Protestant fundamentalist sites which say that we are “saved for service.”
It seems the newer traditions look at it as, you are saved to be a tool, while the oldest traditions say you are saved for union/communion with God.
Which one seems more loving and less manipulative to you? Which one seems like God saying, “Well, what’s in it for me?”
If you are in communion with God, service is something you naturally want to do. But it’s not the biggest thing God wants out of you.
One site says that we are saved for “a full and abundant life”; some others say we are saved for Heaven. So now it’s all about us? I think I’ll go with the ancients on this one.
In all the parts of the Early Church, salvation was “understood as union with God. This was the primary focus: union,” though this union was seen in different ways by the three main branches–Syriac, Greek and Latin–of the Early Church (Soteriology by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara Jr.).
In questions 1-4, 8, 16-19, and 21, see what the Presbyterian Study Catechism of 1998 says on the subject.
From Belonging to God: A First Catechism, Question 32: “Forgiveness and eternal life with God are what we mean by salvation.”
The Lutheran view is that we are redeemed “from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” For what are we saved? To be Christ’s own, righteous and blameless in God’s sight; to live under him in his kingdom, being freed from the slavery of sin and freed to serve God; to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, honoring him with our whole lives and rejoicing with him on Earth and in Heaven (p. 131 and 141-2, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House, c. 1986).
Redemption, Atonement, Salvation
I’ve been hearing traditional Calvinistic doctrines coming from my previous church’s leaders for a couple of years now, not just through sermons but through mailings we still get. [I wrote this webpage in 2005 or 2006. We had only just left the Evangelical Free Church in 2004, and were still in the PCUSA. I was researching the Orthodox Church.]
The doctrines probably came from the pastor reading Calvinist theologian John Piper.
Because of the absence of predestination and limited atonement doctrines, we didn’t know they were Calvinist doctrines until recently; we just knew they were totally foreign.
I’ve just discovered (from websites about or run by the Evangelical Free Church of America) that the EFCA does not hold an official stance on Arminianism or Calvinism–which means that pastors in the EFCA are free to be TULIP Calvinists–and many of them are!
And if the PCUSA ever abandons its modern Reformed, moderate theology to return to its strict Calvinist/Reformed roots, we will be right to leave it as well. As long as they’re only 2- or 3-point Calvinist, if that, we can stay.
It has been said that even Calvin focused quite a bit on mystical union with God, but in TULIP Calvinism, it’s practically absent.
The Orthodox church has a different take on salvation than Protestant denominations. I will soon describe again the three-step process which Christ took to save us, contrary to the Western view, which focuses on the atonement. For now, I will mention our part of salvation:
The Orthodox do not believe it happens at one particular time: the altar call, the time of decision, whatever. In this, they are more akin to Calvinists and Lutherans, who recognize the Spirit’s work in a person before he actually believes. That makes the altar call useless.
In Orthodoxy, salvation means you’ve been saved, “being joined to Christ in baptism”; you’re being saved, basically being sanctified; and you will be saved at the Last Judgment (p. 348, The Orthodox Study Bible).
Salvation, for Orthodox Christians, is seen as deliverance from the curse of sin and death, which makes it possible for us to enter into union with God through Christ the Savior.
Salvation includes a process of growth of the whole person whereby the sinner is transformed into the image and likeness of God.
One is saved by faith through grace, although saving faith involves more than belief. Faith must be active and living, manifested by works of righteousness, whereby we cooperate with God to do His will.
Hence, if one is ‘being saved,’ one is on the way to one’s ultimate goal: eternal union with God and participation in the divine nature, as Saint Paul writes. –OCA, Falling Away from the Faith
According to Dr. Daniel F. Stramara Jr.:
In the Early Church, the Syriac branch saw sin as rupture between God and man; salvation was universal restoration of all things, and between Creator and creation. It was union, communion, fellowship. All of creation is offered up to God; peace and Paradise are restored.
The Greek branch saw sin as alienation; salvation was reconciliation between God and man, an exchange which leads to transformation, regeneration. “Salvation is the establishment of a new creation.”
The Latin branch saw sin as disobedience; salvation was redemption and restitution. Note the legal emphasis.
To the Greeks, the “economy of grace” was “God’s taking care of the household of faith throughout history.” The word used for economy, oikonomia, meant a “steward dispensing money for the management of the household.” The stewards were the Apostles, proclaiming and explaining the Gospel. The means of salvation included Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection, not just the Cross.
The Latins, who did not have a word for oikonomia, made up their own word, oeconomia, which they “interpreted in financial terms, and not without warrant.”
Latin culture, since it was based in the ancient Roman Empire, focused on “law, order and justice.” God seems to have been given a position similar to a king or an emperor, that of supreme Lawgiver and Judge.
Paul’s letter to the Romans–using, as he commonly did, terms and understandings of the local culture in order to explain things–used this legal terminology.
So to the Latins, the “economy of grace” was Christ paying the debt of sinners who broke God’s laws and deserved punishment. Salvation is “legal and economic redemption.” Christ’s death is the means of salvation and the center of Latin theology–and, by extension, Protestant theology.
Though the Orthodox and the Catholic/Protestant branches all include the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Cross, and though they all include reconciliation, redemption, restitution, and regeneration, the emphases are different because of the differences between the Eastern and Latin branches of the Early Church. –Dr. Daniel F. Stramara Jr., Soteriology
The Orthodox do not believe in the TULIP Calvinist or even Lutheran forms of predestination, or that grace is irresistible. Instead, God knows what will happen, what choices we will make, and predestines based on that–not based on some mysterious or arbitrary choice of his own for his glory or any other reason.
The Orthodox say that the early church did not believe in irresistible grace.
Double predestination, the Calvinist version in which many are predestined to damnation, is pinned on Augustine–not the view of the Early Church or the Church Fathers. Though St. Augustine is considered a saint by both East and West, he is also acknowledged to have erred in certain writings. –Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou, St. Augustine in the Greek Orthodox Tradition
The atonement is not limited, because God wants to save everyone. Because of his love, God gives us the freedom to choose or reject him. He will not force anyone.
This is the same teaching used by Arminians, so can it truly be called “Arminianism”–as if it were a recent heresy? Shouldn’t we instead reject Pelagianism, with which Arminianism is often confused?
Pelagianism makes salvation purely man’s decision; Arminianism (and Orthodoxy) says that the Holy Spirit brings a person to faith. The Orthodox and Lutherans alike reject Pelagianism.
(I would suspect that the Orthodox also reject the idea that God plans out for us what spouse, career, etc. we will have.)
For us it is sufficient to know these two clear, understandable, basic precepts:
first, God desires that we be saved, for He loves mankind.
Second, we can be saved, for we are free.
Thus, the will of God and the desire of man make up predestination. God desires, and if man desires also, then he or she is already predestined.
Yes, God, the Lover of mankind, desires that we all be saved. This is confirmed by His three non-contradictory attributes: divine justice, divine mercy, and divine providence. . . .
Even the slightest suffering of Christ had potential to expiate the universal sin. One drop of His most pure blood could extinguish all the flames of eternal torment. His death alone, had it been natural, without sickness, could have saved the entire human race.
Yet when He suffered, He suffered as no one has. When He shed His blood to the last drop, when He died on the cross, enduring such torment and shame, can we possibly think that He did all this to save only part of the human race, leaving the remainder to be damned?
He could so easily have saved everyone. Yet, after such an effort, would He desire to save only a few? Did He expend such a priceless treasure in paying for such a small purchase, did He pour forth all the wealth of His divine mercy just to be benevolent to a numbered few?
NO! The Divine gift is for all! The wounds of Jesus Christ are healing for all. The blood of Jesus Christ is the miraculous ladder by which we all can ascend to paradise.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as ransom for all, says Paul (I Tim. 2:5). One died for all (2 Cor. 5:14).
If He died for all, then He wants all to be saved. “The Son of Righteousness,” we are told by St. Gregory the Theologian, “shown forth for all, lived for all and died and is risen for all.” –Bishop Elias Minatios, On Predestination
Also see: Elder Cleopa of Romania, On the Presuppositions of Our Personal Salvation
Works vs. Faith Salvation
First of all, God does the saving, based on our faith. We are saved by grace through faith.
Second, we are inspired to do good works as the Holy Spirit works within us to make us righteous.
If we don’t do good works, if we don’t love anyone but ourselves, if we care nothing for obedience to God or following Christ, if we do not repent for sins we still commit, then how can we say we have faith? The issue is not works vs. faith, but works and faith. –OCA, Grace and Salvation
The works don’t cause our salvation, but are the proof of it. The Orthodox and the Nazarenes agree that “once saved, always saved” is unbiblical: You can be saved but still turn away and lose your salvation.
But can you be a good Christian, then lose your salvation by stubbing your toe and letting out a string of obscenities? Or do you have to turn away from Christ and the church to lose your salvation?
The Nazarene church says you have to turn away from Christ, though I have heard of a school of thought which says you have to repent every time you do something or you’ll be condemned.
This school of thought never seemed to predominate in my church, however. Salvation was seen to happen at a moment in time, but you had to reject Christ to lose your salvation.
With the Orthodox, since salvation is a process rather than a moment in time, it comes out the same: You don’t “apostasize,” or lose your salvation, unless you totally reject Christ.
While some Protestants would say that once a person is saved, he or she is always saved, and other Protestants would say that once a person is saved, he or she can lose his or her salvation,
Orthodoxy, by virtue of its understanding of salvation as an ongoing process of spiritual growth,
would say that one can indeed jeopardize one’s salvation, but that it is not realistic to say that one has ‘lost’ something that one has yet to experience or possess in its fullness. –OCA, Falling Away from the Faith
So, I don’t think they’re saying that you will go to Hell if you are a faithful Christian but cut somebody off in traffic and die.
It is important to continually pray for forgiveness; this is a discipline I started in my childhood, so it is totally familiar to me, even as a Protestant. Public confession is also included in the liturgies of various denominations, such as Presbyterian and Lutheran.
Continual repentance shows that you are truly interested in following God, and allows God the opportunity to forgive you.
You don’t repent for a lifetime of sins over and over again after your first repentance, but for new sins. You don’t lose your salvation if you do something, but it does hurt your standing with God.
If you forget something, you won’t stand before God at Judgment and hear, “But you never repented for hitting the cat when you were five years old, so you are now condemned to burn for all eternity.”
Or, “You were a faithful Christian, but you really should have eaten less, held your tongue, and worked at a soup kitchen, so you will now burn in Hell for all eternity. How could you have been imperfect? Didn’t you understand what I told you to do?”
The Orthodox Church teaches that we are saved only on the basis of God’s grace. However, God himself has established conditions for us to receive this grace, namely faith and works–the first of which must be repentance.
These conditions do not earn our salvation, but God nonetheless requires them of us, and this is what the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers through every century have taught. In fact, it is also what many Protestants teach.” –Fr. John Whiteford and Patrick Barnes, Miles from the Truth: A Response to “Thema: Eastern Heterodoxy”
This article goes on to say that the aim of Christian life is not works–fasting, vigils, almsgiving, etc.–but to acquire the Spirit, which is done through these works. Also see OCA, Faith and Works.
As we find in Salvation by Christ: A Response to the Credenda/Agenda by Carmen Fragapane, we do these works out of free will, but even our free will is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the doctrine of synergy, or cooperation with God in our salvation, we do our part because of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Even our initial faith is from the work of the Spirit. Justification and sanctification, “accompanied as it is” by good works, is “totally grace driven” because only God can give us the strength to keep doing them.
As seen above, the Orthodox insist that, though we must work for our salvation, we do not earn it: a contrast with the Roman Catholic teaching of merit, which Luther disputed.
How do they reconcile Paul’s words–“we are justified by faith, not by works”–with James’–“we are justified by works and not by faith alone”? (Luther did not like the book of James, which contradicted the theology he had built up.)
The answer is quite simple: According to the Orthodox Study Bible, they were talking about two different kinds of “works”:
Paul fought self-righteousness and Christians who demanded that Gentiles follow Jewish laws. He meant the works of “formal, legalistic obedience,” such as circumcision, observing festivals, etc.
James fought “dead, legalistic Christianity” and faith which merely agrees to Christian doctrine, without living it. By works, James meant “willed actions flowing from belief, as the life of faith,” such as the Ten Commandments, giving to the poor, etc. Works and faith are not separated from each other (p. 539, The Orthodox Study Bible).
I see no indication in Orthodox doctrine that we are expected to be perfect in this life. After all, salvation is seen as a lifelong process.
Neither do I see that we are holier than others because we follow a set of dos and don’ts. Rather, it’s about discipline, learning obedience to Christ.
The “good works” lists tend to include fasting, repentance, vigils, almsgiving, works of charity–rather than legalistic rules such as, wear your hair a certain way, wear certain clothes, don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, tithe ten percent gross and give it all to your local church, etc.
As a Protestant from a Holiness background, I don’t understand the “vigils” or “fasting” part, but even Protestants know about repentance, giving to the poor, and works of charity. We know they are expected of us.
Other Orthodox “good works” lists I have seen are simply based on Christ’s question at the Judgment, in which he asks how we treated our fellow man: the poor, the sick, the hungry, etc.
The Orthodox say there is no quota of good works which we must fill. What is important is that we show our faith through our lives and how we treat others. Our salvation depends on our willingness to do this.
You’ll note that, at the Judgment, Christ divides us based not on how we worshipped or what we wore or what we put into our bodies or how many church programs we headed or whether or not we went on Work and Witness teams, but on how we treated each other. –OCA, Grace and Salvation
Every Christian is called to holiness and throughout the Church’s history there have been true saints; however, saints who have managed to transcend sin and the passions are very few.
The majority of Christians are sinners who are members of the Church not by virtue of a holiness attained, but by virtue of their striving for this holiness and their repentance.
The Church’s task is to sanctify them and lead them to God. In this sense it is said of Christians that they are in patria et in via–in the homeland and on the way, that is, simultaneously within the Church and yet on the way towards her. –Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, The Attributes of the Church
A good explanation of the Orthodox doctrine of synergy and faith vs. works is here.
Also see On the Presuppositions of Our Personal Salvation.
The meaning of justification and sanctification
The understanding of “justification” and “sanctification” is different from the Protestant understanding, as well:
Justification means “make righteous” (which the original Greek supports), rather than just a legal term meaning “declared righteous.”
Sanctification means “make holy.” They’re basically two sides of the same coin: being made righteous and holy, a continuous process.
The moral law–the part of the Mosaic Law that did not pass away, as opposed to the civil (legal) or ceremonial Mosaic Laws–was given for our benefit, not to make us sinners deserving of wrath. Through following the law, we receive blessings.
God requires us to be holy because that’s what we’re created for, not so he can have something to hold over our heads. We also do not have to be perfect to be forgiven.
As you can see under the heading “Justification vs. Theosis?” in Salvation by Christ: A Response to the Credenda/Agenda, Lutheran and Orthodox scholars have discussed justification and discovered their teachings are much the same. Check out this article if you want a full understanding of the Orthodox view of justification.
If we look at the beliefs of the Early Church for a guide, we find that they looked at the whole of the teachings by Paul, Peter, and James. And if we read “justification” as “make righteous,” then it has to include acts of charity, prayer, and the like–especially if you want to strengthen your faith.
After all, we wouldn’t consider Ebenezer Scrooge to be saved, even if he were to say he had faith in God. Christ Himself railed against those who cared nothing for the poor and needy, culminating this teaching in a parable which showed a rich man in suffering, while the poor man he neglected, Lazarus, experienced bliss.
(Both were in Hades, where all souls went. But their experiences differed because of, and were separated by, the spiritual gulf of their different choices, as St. Gregory of Nyssa explains in On the Soul and the Resurrection.)
The danger is getting faith and deeds out of balance. Just as we wouldn’t believe Scrooge if he called himself a Christian, we also should not concentrate on good deeds over faith, as if they will somehow get God to love us more. In the late Middle Ages, the Catholic church overemphasized works, which led Martin Luther to say that salvation is by faith alone.
In the final analysis, faith holds primacy, and that is why the Early Church (both East and West) consciously said one is saved by faith and good works, not by good works and faith.
Just as meaningful doing should naturally flow from authentic being; life-giving good works should spontaneously arise from a living faith. –Dr. Daniel F. Stramara Jr., Faith and Good Works
Orthodox view of redemption, again
First of all, the reason for the Cross is a bit different.
God is seen as impassive; that is, he’s not stirred to strong passions for evil in the same way we humans are, passions which drive us to defend ourselves or our good name at the expense of rational thinking or love or justice.
He does not hate sinners, as demonstrated when Christ spent so much time with sinners. He hates sinful deeds–those are what condemn a soul.
And when the Bible speaks of his wrath, that “wrath” is actually the way sinners experience his love and sense of justice–you know, just as with a parent and child.
A good parent loves the child, protects him, and tells him not to do things because they will hurt him, make things difficult for the parent changing his diaper, or will hurt someone else.
But the child does not like being told no, and will act up. The parent punishes, but not to upset the child or be a tyrant, though the child thinks so. Assuming the parent is not abusive, this is corrective discipline and loving.
“Wrath” was not meant to be literal, but so the writers and readers of the Bible could understand. It basically means “consequences.” Redemption redeems us from sin’s consequences; it heals our spiritually diseased condition.
The way I understand it, though some disagree, the Orthodox do not reject the idea that the Cross redeemed us from our sins. Make no mistake, it has great importance. But it is only a part of what Christ accomplished:
Again, Original Sin, as the Orthodox and Nazarenes agree, is not inherited guilt, but inherited weakness. Babies are not guilty of any sin. Our own sins make us guilty.
When Adam fell spiritually and became mortal, he passed on his mortality to us. Three things now separated us from God: our nature, sin, and death.
When Christ was born, he took on human nature so that we can take on God’s nature, or character (not abilities).
When Christ died, he broke through the barrier of sin which prevented the Holy Spirit from dwelling inside humans.
He became sin so sinners could become holy. Since Christ was innocent, he paid the debt for us and redeemed us, like a slave or someone who owes a fine to a court. We no longer have to be slaves to sin.
(The Eastern view is that it satisfies God’s righteousness and justice, that it is propitiation, or reconciliation. The atonement is not just Christ’s death, it is his offering of himself.
(The way I understand it, the Orthodox church accuses the Catholic church of taking the figurative terms of the Apostles and, in the Middle Ages, making them overly literal terms fitting with the Latin view of Original Sin.
(The Latin view of Original Sin is that Adam infinitely offended God, the guilt has been passed to all of Adam’s descendants, and only Christ’s sacrifice could appease this angry God.)
And, most importantly, Christ defeated death by dying, which he had to do so he could resurrect. When he rose again, he made it possible for us to also rise again and live eternally in new bodies.
(The Latin view is that Christ came to Earth so he could be the sacrifice for our sins, and that the Resurrection shows his glory.)
We are saved not because we say a magical prayer, but because we repent, are baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and begin the process of becoming like Christ.
Being just like God and Christ is a goal to strive for, though not a goal we’ll reach until the Resurrection. This is done not just for God’s glory, but so that we may have communion with God. This is his desire, and inside every one of us is this desire.
So why don’t the translators of our English Bibles bring us such understandings? The Orthodox claim to have a better understanding of Greek (since they have always spoken it in the Greek branch), and that they have faithfully held to the interpretations of the Early Church.
To Greek and some Syriac Early Church Fathers, the Incarnation had nothing to do with Adam and Eve sinning. Its purpose was union between God and mankind, a union expressed in marital terms.
To the Latin Fathers, the Incarnation only happened because of the sin of Adam and Eve. This offended the Eastern church and even some Latin Popes, but after the Schism in the 11th century, it became the official doctrine of the Roman church. As explained by Stramara in Soteriology,
From the Eastern perspective, God’s desire and reason for the Incarnation was loving intimacy, not punishment for sin. The Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, while foreknown by God, was not the primary motivation for the Incarnation.
The East accentuates God’s mercy over God’s justice; the West is vice versa.
According to an Orthodox catechism by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, some Western Medieval theologians came up with the idea that the redemption, or ransom of humanity, was paid to God the Father, that the Fall
aroused God’s anger and that divine justice necessarily required satisfaction: as no human sacrifice could suffice, the Son of God Himself became the ransom in order to satisfy divine justice….
This theory, which rose at the heart of Latin scholastic theology, bears a juridicial stamp and reflects the medieval concept of an offended honour that demands satisfaction.
The Bishop continues that the Eastern Orthodox Church stated in 1157 that the sacrifice was not just to the Father, but to the whole Trinity.
Christ voluntarily offered Himself as a sacrifice, offered Himself in His humanity and Himself accepted the sacrifice as God with the Father and the Spirit….
The God-man of the Word offered His redemptive sacrifice to the Father, to Himself as God, and to the Spirit. —Redemption
For more detailed information, describing not only redemption in detail but also how the Orthodox view the Western view of atonement, see:
What Christ Accomplished on the Cross
Miles from the Truth: A Response to “Thema: Eastern Heterodoxy”
Salvation by Christ: A Response to the Credenda/Agenda
The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament: Reflections on the Critique of the Theology of the Reformation
The Symbol of Faith: Redemption
(I used to include a link to a thread in Theology Web forums, in which Orthodox and Protestant posters debated the meaning of the atonement. One of the posters was so good at this that I wished I could clip and paste everything he wrote, with phrases such as, “God is not some boiling rage-pot” who needs to vent on somebody, that somebody being Christ. He also went into the meaning of the Hebrews passages about sacrifices. However, that forum thread no longer exists, not even in the Internet Wayback Machine. 🙁 )
Links on Orthodoxy and original sin:
St. Augustine and Original Sin (A)
St. Augustine and Original Sin (B)
Here is a brief, easy-to-understand article by Fr. John Breck, “God’s ‘Righteousness,'” on the Orthodox views on righteousness, works vs. faith, justification, deification/sanctification/theosis, and original sin.
It says we are saved from death, not as a “forensic liberation from guilt through imputed or imparted righteousness.” Rather, salvation is “incorporation, by baptism, into Christ’s death and resurrection, such that we ‘die and rise’ with Him.”
Also, “Good works should thus be understood to be a response rather than a means to salvation. And God’s righteousness should be seen as a gift of loving, merciful, saving grace, rather than as a forensic tool, wielded in the service of divine judgment.” —God’s “Righteousness”
The Orthodox do not say that other Christians are not saved, and they do accept previous baptisms by converts as long as they were done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (No “Parent, Child and Spirit” baptisms are considered valid, for example. I heard of such things in the PCUSA.)
But they do say they have the fullness of truth, just as many Christians say that other religions have elements of truth but Christianity has the fullness of truth.
Many Protestants hold some teachings similar to Orthodoxy. I think that Luther and Calvin had many good things to say as well.
But I also think that the West has,
- at one extreme, made God into a monster so horrid that it’s easy to see why so many people run to alternate religions,
- and at the other extreme, made God into a loving but overly indulgent Father who cares more about making you happy than about saving the world (the “Buddy Christ” image).
One extreme is too strict; the other uses snappy catchphrases and McPraise & McWorship music that often talks about feeling good.
One extreme has a neo-Gnostic view that everything of the world is evil, including holidays and rock music; the other extreme has another neo-Gnostic view that we should do whatever we want, even if it means bringing in Pagan rituals and beliefs.
(See Paganism in Our Churches. You see, there were different kinds of Gnostics in the Early Church: One denied the flesh, the other embraced it.)
The Orthodox church’s insights can help bring us all back into line with true Gospel. One thing on which they and the liberals agree is that God has been sorely misrepresented for centuries, and his love should be emphasized.
Individual interpretation is the way to confusion; we need to have the church examine theologies and bring them into line with truth. But finding a church which can be trusted to do this, is another matter.
One abandons all tradition and won’t even recite the Apostle’s Creed; another does not want to change any traditions, no matter if the traditions are from God or manmade. (This also makes it hard for me to take quotes from the writings of just one denomination.)
The Catholic and Orthodox churches are right that just abandoning tradition has led to our current atmosphere of thousands of denominations arguing with each other.
It’s funny that many of the spiritually abusive cults claim to resurrect the Early Church’s practices. Many of the mainstream, non-abusive churches also claim this. Yet these are fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant churches with little resemblance to the Early Church.
The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has practices and beliefs which have been carried down intact through 2000 years.
Written between 2005 and 2006
Index to my theology/church opinion pages:
–End Times and Christian Zionism
–God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine
–Cat and Dog Theology
–Raising One’s Hands in Worship
–On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
–On church buildings
–The Message Bible
–The Purpose-Driven Life
–The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers
–The idea that God has someone in mind for you
–Literalism in Biblical interpretation
–Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology, Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
–More about Pat Robertson
–Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
–Women in Marriage/the Church
–Why do bad things happen?
–Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts? Or, how should we evangelize, then?
–Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
–Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
–Hell and the Nature of God
–Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday?
–Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
–How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?
–What about predestination?
–Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
–An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God
–Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go?
–Are Spiritual Marriages “real”? (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated)
–Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
–What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
–Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
–What is Worship?
–Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
–Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge
–Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
–Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week