Back to Basics Theology - Part 4
In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.
Glory be to the Father to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and to the ages of all ages, Amen.
As you may recall, a few weeks ago we started a series entitled “Back to Basics”. We are returning, we are going back to the basics of our faith, our doctrine. What do we believe in as Orthodox Christians? This is so essential for our eternal salvation, because The Holy Scriptures teach us that we as believers, we need to know what we believe in, and have the right doctrine, and have the correct faith. As we have mention before; faith and doctrine are not approximate. They have to be exact, right on. Any little deviation could be a heresy that could lead us astray and take us into a whole different direction. This is why we started from the very beginning concerning our faith and doctrine of God. Three weeks ago, roughly, we spoke about The Doctrine of God; why we believe that God exists. Then we spoke about The Holy Trinity; the doctrine of The Holy Trinity, and then last week we spoke about Christology, or who is Christ, who we believe Christ is, and of course if you have missed any of these sessions, you can always go back on the church’s website, and you can listen to them along with all the other sessions or lectures that are given in the church.
Our fourth topic in this series is entitled Soteriology, which is basically The Doctrine of Salvation, which comes sequentially or in order after who Christ is. The subject of Soteriology deals with, “What did Christ do? What is the significance of the presence of The Christ in the world?”.
We learned last week that he is God incarnate, that he is The Son of Man, that he is Messiah, that he existed ever since eternity, and will exist to eternity, from Glory to Glory.
But this significant “God becoming man”, what did he do for us? What did he do for us? What was his work? And this is what Soteriology deals with.
Let me give you a quick introduction about our topic for today, and the points that we are going to be discussing. God willing, we will be looking at giving first an introduction about the subject, with some definition, and then we cannot speak about Suteriology or salvation without understanding the concept of The Original Sin, or the sinful nature of human being, and we will try to clarify some of the misconceptions around this point. Then we will speak about salvation in the Orthodox perspective, because every Christian denomination has come up with their own sort of Soteriological belief. We will hear different things. We want to know first, what do we believe in as Orthodox Christians, then we will speak about what are the conditions for salvation. And then, we want to address some of the contemporary heresies or the wrongful teachings concerning salvation that some of some of our youth, or some of us adults or some of the children face in the perspective… in school, or in the communities that they may exist in, and then finally we will draw a conclusion to the subject.
Little bit more than possibly sixty years ago, a man lived by the name of Joseph Rosenbough (?). He became a survivor of The Holocaust. He refers to the events that happened during that horrible time in his life, and he thought back when he was nineteen years old, as he was being taken to a concentration camp with a large group of other Jewish. It was clear to him and all of his companions that they were all destined to be… to die or to go into these gas chambers. But suddenly, his mother stepped in and traded places with him. And he recalls by saying, even though it was more than fifty years ago by the time he wrote his memoirs, he will never forget her last words to him and the goodbye look. She told him “My son, I have lived long enough, but you must survive because you are young”. And he recalls by saying, every person is born once from his mother, but he was born twice, because his mother, on this day, redeemed his life, and exchanged her life with his.
In so many ways, this is the story of redemption, and the story of salvation of Christ who wanted to redeem us or to trade spaces or spots with us. We were the ones who were destined for condemnation, but died on our behalf as we mentioned in the Gregorian liturgy.
Let us look at a couple of definitions here: The word Soter or Sotereia in Greek could be translated basically three words. The first one is to save, to deliver or to preserve. That’s the study of Soteriology, basically it is Theology or the Doctrine which deals with Salvation as effected by Jesus Christ.
By the way, I just forgot to tell you that today we have nursery for our little children, so we can allow the moms to hear the sermon, so you are welcome if you have little children, maybe under six years old, and the servants are ready to speak to them (to take care of them for you?) if you prefer.
Therefore, Soteriology is basically the Theology or the Doctrine dealing with salvation as affected by Jesus Christ. So we are speaking here about Christian Soteriology, because every doctrine or every religion around the world could have its own conception of Soteriology, so we are speaking specifically here about the Christian doctrine pertaining to Salvation.
Before we can dive into The Doctrine of Salvation, we have to understand something about The Original Sin.
As we track Scriptures back to their beginning, we see that God created human beings in his own image and his likeness. By the way, he created them male and female in his own image and likeness, so it’s not… we are not speaking about the maleness of the femaleness of God, because sometimes we get confused between He or She, this is not our concern. But the image that God created us upon is His image of Holiness and this pertains to both male and female.
This image was destructed and destroyed as sin entered into it. Some wrongful teachings about The Original Sin, they say that we inherited the sin of Adam, and this is not correct.
Some people say that sin was in the genes of humanity. “We were all in the loins of Adam when he fell in sin”, and they refer back to the discussion of St Paul of how … Aaron (?) was in the loins of Abraham while… and Aaron and Moses and they gave ties, you know, to Melchisedech. And St Paul has this beautiful discussion in Hebrew and he says well, in the same manner when Adam sinned, all of us were in his loins, sort of we were his descendents, and this is also not the correct teaching about The Original Sin. It is what we inherited, or what was transmitted to us, is Adam’s fallen human nature, and not his actual sin.
The nature. The nature itself was changed. Humanity became vulnerable to fallness and to sinful actions.
We have our own sins to contend with, because all of us have sinned and deserve punishment. Now, when all of us have into sin and there is no one righteous, no one is able to redeem him or herself, The Holy Scriptures thought that the wages of sin is death, and this was God’s judgment upon all of humanity.
Since all humanity had fallen, therefore, they were all destined to death.
(A question is asked from the audience).
Question: We have the same nature as Adam and he fell in sin, and we potentially can fall in sin, or not? But, our nature is sinful, but we did not inherit his sin? (9:51)
Answer: yes, so it is the nature that changed to become vulnerable for sin, it is not that we, since he disobeyed to God, so we are being punished, no, it was the whole nature that was transformed, and this is our doctrine concerning original sin. Thank you.
The Holy Scriptures teach afterwards, the significance of the shedding of blood. God gave in The Old Testament the symbol of remission of sins which will happen through the blood of Christ in due time. But as an (10:35) as a down payment, God gave them the concept that only forgiveness could happen through the shedding of blood, because death could occur through the shedding of blood, or would occur through the shedding of blood, therefore the only way that this sinful nature could be redeemed and we would be forgiven our sins is through the shedding of blood, and God gave the Hebrew children in The Old Testament many examples including Leviticus 17:11. He said “For the life of the flesh in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the souls”.
The Hebrew children were ready, getting ready to have the ultimate sacrifice, but the one that is much greater than the sacrifice of animals on the altar, but the blood of a pure lam who is without sin.
And this is The Doctrine of Atonement in The New Testament which was repeated over and over again. We find in The New Testament a lot of speeches or a lot of verses that would refer back to the blood of Christ as the only source of salvation.
In Acts 20:28 he says “Shepherd the church of God that he purchased with His own blood”.
“Having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him”-Romans 5:9.
“In him we have redemption through his blood”-Ephesians 1:7.
“In Christ Jesus you who were once far off, have been made near by the blood of Christ”-Ephesians 2:13.
“Having made peace through the blood of his cross”-Colossians 1:20, and the verses continue on.
Before, salvation had to occur through the blood. It is not only the Word of God will say, but God (12:40) these people that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness and The Lord came, having to die on the wood of the cross, in order to offer us this salvation.
Sin is an offence against God Himself. David the prophet said “Against You only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight”. Therefore even though we as human beings may have fouls or sins against one another, yet this offence is directed to God. Even Joseph himself said when he was being tempted “How can I commit this great offence and sin towards God?”, because every sin is a direct offence towards God’s commandments. Therefore if we have an understanding about atonement, it means the reconciliation of God and the human kind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. But this atonement, because it was towards God himself, in His might and majesty, it was an unlimited sin, therefore it needed an unlimited individual for to preserve this salvation and atonement.
It needed someone who is without sin, because how can someone who is sinful redeem or atone someone who is with sin as well? He needed to be without sin. He needed to be a human being, because nor, not an angel will come to redeem humanity. Many of the church fathers including St Gregory have said, he needed to assume what was ours in order to redeem it, thus he became a full human being. Also, this individual who will preserve us and offer this atonement and sacrifice, had to be mortal, so that he will become a full human being in everything, save sin alone. These characteristics could only be adapted in God becoming human being, and this is the mystery of incarnation that we speak about. Therefore, salvation is only in Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Holy Scriptures also speak about salvation as Ransom.
Ransom is in our terminology, an amount of money that is paid for someone to let them go if they are in bondage for example.
It is the consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity. We have many verses that speak about salvation as paying a ransom.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many”-Mark 10:48.
Also St Paul says “There is One God and One Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all”.
Some of the early church fathers expanded on this concept of the atonement or the blood of Christ for our salvation as a ransom, including St Agustin who said the following:
“The Devil jumped for joy when Christ died, and by the very death of Christ, the devil was overcome. He took as it will, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at Christ’s death, believing himself to be the commander of death. But that which caused his joy, (16:30). The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap. The bait which caught him was the death of The Lord.
It is amazing to think about this ransom. As Christ died in order to take us back from the bondage of the evil one, and he said that he had conquered him as well. He was going to lay captive of the soul even of The Christ. But this was bait to him, just like St Agustin was telling us, because through this bait as… the devil thought that he could go and capture the soul of Christ himself, he captured him and he overcame him, and (in this) sense, he paid the ransom on our behalf.
Some of us have seen the movie “The Lion The Witch and The Warlord(?)” (17:21). Like (17:32) who is the lion, and this kid who makes a big mistake, and you know, his soul is captured or given to this witch, right, and then the lion goes and says, No I will be ransom to him, I will redeem him, I will take him back; he can live and I can die, but death itself cannot hold him captive, and this is why he rose from dead victoriously.
Salvation could also be seen as deliverance. So it is redemption, it is atonement, it is ransom, it is deliverance.
The theme deliverance is very significant and important, beginning in The Old Testament. Because the Israelites were captive in Egypt, they didn’t have their own freedom, but Moses was sent to them from God, and when God was speaking to Moses, in Exodus 3:8, He said “So I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out from the land, to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Also in The New Testament this theme is very important of deliverance, because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, in to the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Some of us will hear the words that, Salvation is a matter of saying the word “I believe”. And quite often we are asked, “Do you believe, my brother, or my sister?” But this question is theologically incorrect, because we have to take The Scripture in its totality, not just in bits and poems and pieces. The Orthodox view of salvation is very holistic, and this is the beauty of our church, is that we have to look at scripture in all of its teaching. We are not going to take just one verse (even though every single verse is true). We will not say well, if you confess, believe in your heart, and confess in your mouth, you are saved! Yes, this is important, but this is not the only verse that speaks about salvation! We have to look at the scripture in its entirety. And when we look at The Word of God in its totality, we can come up with The Doctrine of Salvation.
This is why The Scriptures say that Christ shed his blood for many, as in Mathew 26:28. Yet he also says that “Narrow is the gate, and few who will find it”. Therefore, you know, salvation is available to all, and it is at everyone’s grasp, and it is a free gift. Yet it is important to have our share in receiving this salvation, and in accepting it.
The conditions that the scriptures set for us are as follows:
· Faith in The Lord Jesus Christ: Therefore, we do not believe in the universal salvation, because there are some contemporary heresies that say “Everyone is going to be saved, and we are going to deal with this in a minute.” We have to have faith in Jesus Christ. We have to understand that he is the only atonement, and he for our souls… he is our only deliverer. He is our only redeemer, and there is no other name by which anyone could be saved, except in the name of Jesus Christ.
· Once we have this faith, we have to practice the holy sacrament; we have to be baptized, because Marc 16:16 will say “If anyone believes and is baptized will be saved”. Therefore, faith is important, baptism is important. The life-giving sacraments: confirmation and then repentance, because even though our nature has been returned back to the image of God, we still fall. But now we do not need a whole new change or transformation again, we just need a mere repentance, as The Lord said to St peter “If you have been washed once, you’re not going to be washed again, you just need to wash, your feet”, representing repentance, and that is the life-saving sacrament.
· And then we have the Eucharist of course, which we have spoken about before “Anyone and everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood have eternal life”, it is part of our salvation.
· Finally, we have to live a righteous life in good deed, serve and minister to one another.
Many of us are often faced with this question: “Are you saved? Do you have your assurance of salvation? Are you assured of your salvation?” and we are confused! Am I saved, or am I not saved? It is a question that everyone at some point go through.
While His Holiness Pope Shenouda responded in a very beautiful holistic manner, again, this is the beautiful view of The Orthodox Church; we are not going to say we are not saved, and we are not going to say we are saved! Theologically, this is the most appropriate one that corresponds to The Holy Scriptures in its holistically and in its totality. “I can say that I have been saved. I can say that I am being saved, and I can say that I will be saved.”
How does that say?
Well, historically or in the past tense it means that I believe that Jesus Christ is the only savior, and he has died for my sins and for the sins of the world and anyone who believe in him. I have been baptized or I will be baptized at some point. Again, Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”, so this takes care for the historical aspect: I believe that Jesus came, he died for my sins, he rose from the dead on the third and he is... and he is sitting now in his glory in heaven, and he will come back to judge the living and the dead”, so the historical aspect of it; if I believe in it and confirm it by my baptism, I say, I have been saved.
But this is not the end of my salvation. It is a continuous, renewal, and action. Even St Paul says the following:”For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God”.
“To us who are being saved”, it is a continuous action, that is still going on through my repentance, and through the sacraments, and through my righteous life. And finally, I can say that I will be saved, which is the fulfillment of The End of Times, in the Escator, in the end of things, in the second coming of heavens, when I actually receive my prize and I have the medal saying “Well done, now you can have The Kingdom of Heaven”. This is future promise that we all believe in, that we will receive one day.
Therefore, the question “Are you saved”, I can say “ I have been saved” but I have to add to it “I am being saved, and I will be saved”, because Christ is true in His promises.
The second question that we are asked is the assurance of the salvation. “Are you assured of your salvation?”
Again, this is basically a contemporary teaching that says “Individuals have no free will in their salvation”. Basically God already chose some people who will be saved, and the grace of God grows them to salvation. They don’t have any input in it. You can be walking outside of the church and phew! you are sucked into the church, and this is the grace of God, and you are saved!
And there are a few people who have been chosen already for salvation. Therefore, if you say that “I am one of these people”, then it is settled and done; you are assured of your salvation, and nothing could change.
It is the doctrine that salvation happens only through grace.
Again, there are some verses that we can refer to, especially in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith”, and that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. As we have mentioned before in our discussion about faith and works, we said that, the verse right next to it afterwards it says: “For we are his creation created for good works”. Therefore we have to look at the scripture in its totality.
God will never work in us without our own free-will!
Again, “are we assured of our salvation?” Theologically, this question is incorrect. I will give you an analogy. Again I have to say, any analogy has its holes, I mean, we can have like, you know, refutation, why this is not true, etc…
But let’s say, there are many of us who go on vacations, to the islands of Bahamas or Caribbean, anywhere, we like to go on vacations. So, you know, we have the vacation booked, okay, someone came and gave us a vacation as a gift. And some people will say, well, we have the assurance that the vacation is booked, it is ready for us, the ticket is paid, and this is what we have for salvation. Now, the question comes: yes, the vacation is booked, and the place is waiting for us. We believe in God’s promises, He said, I will go to prepare for you a place, therefore the place of salvation is ready for us! I am assured that I am going to this vacation, but am I there yet? Have I reached the destination yet? This is what we are discussing here. Yes, we are sure of God’s promises, and this is what we have to confirm: We are sure of God’s promises, because, if we have any doubts that this is the way that will lead us to the everlasting life, we would be all wasting our time today, we can just might as well go home and sit home, but we are here, not because of confidence in myself, but confidence in God’s promises, and this is the assurance that we have, we have the assurance of God’s salvation, we have trust in God’s promises, and we have the hope of salvation. But to say do I have the assurance of salvation, let’s correct this phrase by saying, we have assurance in God’s promises, because He promised, and He is always right.
If it was only a matter of Grace, then why did he say “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”? It means that we are still working on our salvation. The price has been paid yes, but we are still on our way, we haven’t reached there yet.
The story that was said by St Macarius as the devil came tempting him, “Did you reach heaven yet, Macarius?” he said “not yet”. Even until his soul was on the gates of heaven, he said “Now I reached Heaven, by the grace of God. I am not there yet, but I am on my way, this is what I can say”.
“Be sober; be vigilant, because your adversary walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”.
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”-Acts 4:12, therefore we have assurance in God’s promises, and we have hope in eternal life.
Very quickly, this will just take us a minute. These heresies could take a very long time, I am merely just giving you a quick introduction about the subject, but we need go back and look some of the resources. His Holiness Pope Shenouda has a beautiful book entitled “Salvation in The Orthodox Concept”, also “Heresy of Salvation In a Moment”, also (29:59) had a lot of wonderful articles that we can refer to about this subjects, suscopts.org (?) (30:05).
Very quickly, Universalism refers to the salvation of all believers. They think that there are two kingdoms; there is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil. We have two kingdoms that are continuously against one another, but eventually, God will save all the believers. It doesn’t matter the differences between the denominations, it doesn’t matter about, you know, what people believe or don’t believe, God will save everyone, including the devil himself. Eventually he (the devil) will be saved.
Of course, opposites cannot come out to prove the exact same thing. This will prove God’s injustice.
Of course, the church does not believe in this particular heresy, because what will be the use of struggle here on earth? Why would we stick by the faith, why would we choose Christ, etc…It is not Christian teaching at all.
The second heresy is what is called Limited atonement. Only the elect will be saved and a belief in pre-destination or it is only by grace. We quickly went over this heresy: “that God shared with us. Apollos and I”, St Paul said, “ are co-workers with God”.
Yet it his His grace that dragged us, we believe in this, but we have to put in some faith also! Faith is some kind of work, or it is a kind of our own free-will into our salvation. Acceptance of this salvation and admission that Christ is God incarnate, and is able to redeem us to the end.
Pluralism: All religions have equal access to Salvation. It doesn’t matter what is the teaching of salvation. Again, the scripture is very clear, that “it is only… there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. And salvation in a moment also in another teaching, when some people say, you just say the word. Say “My Lord Jesus Christ, and say the confession of a sinner, and that you are saved, and again we mentioned that it is a lifetime of salvation. Yes Christ paid already the price, but I am not there. I am on my way there, to heaven, and that is how I will attain my eternal salvation.
My favourite words: In conclusion!
The Holy Scriptures tell us, St Paul who had the right to boast about his own salvation. He had the faith. Christ Himself appeared to him. He was called by The Holy Trinity. He served the most in the whole world, and he spread the word with the teaching for the glory of God. Yet he came towards the end of his life and he said “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinner of whom I am chief”.
This is the beautiful humble spirit that we would like to teach and practice concerning salvation: “to save sinners of whom I am chief”.
In the holy week we cry out tens of times saying “Jesus Christ my good savior”.
Won’t we take him today to be our savior and to live and to abide in him all the days of our lives?
My beloved, someone asks God one day to show him a picture of heaven: what was it like in heaven, and what was it like in hell? So, God took him on a journey first to hell, and when he went in he found people who were very skinny and hungry, and they were all shouting against one another. And he asked, what’s wrong? They have plenty of food, big balls of stew, and they had access to this (34:08) so that they could eat! And he found a huge spoon, very big spoon in the hands of each one of them, and then he asked what was wrong? And he said, everyone cannot eat from the stew because the spoon is huge.
He had a vision of heaven. The same thing, everyone was happy and rejoicing and well nourished and fed, and everyone was getting along. Same ball of stew, same spoon. So he asked God what is the difference. What is the difference between these two places? He said, in heaven, people learned to feed one another with the huge spoon, because they cannot hold the spoon to feed themselves, so everyone fed the person who was across the table from him or herself, but in hell, everyone was trying to feed himself or herself, and this is why everyone was getting skinny and tired.
This is the difference between heaven and hell. This is our Good Savior who taught us to live in His name, and to believe in his name, and to live not only for ourselves, but for one another, and for each other, and for the salvation of each others.
Therefore we should help one another to attain this salvation, which is only in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, and Glory Be to Him forever and ever.