The most important question any Christian asks himself is: “How am I saved?” With all these different views about salvation throughout Christianity, it becomes difficult to understand accurately the Church’s teaching. In this post, we explore the theology of salvation in the Orthodox Church. Along the way, we also address the Orthodox Church’s approach to the problematic Protestant doctrine of Eternal Security.
What is salvation?
Orthodox Tradition views salvation as theosis, or becoming more like God. Through the Grace of God (more on this in a bit), we have the opportunity to become what Jesus Christ is by nature. To the Orthodox, salvation isn’t just “making it to heaven.” It’s a lifelong process of striving to become like Christ and take on God’s attributes – a process that encompasses this life and the age to come. Throughout this process, we participate in the life of the Church. We go to Confession, receive the Eucharist, and strive to love God with our whole heart, strength, soul, and mind.
Note: In working toward salvation, we do take on the attributes of God. However, we do not merge with the Holy Trinity. We experience union without fusion, much like a sword held in the fire. The blade takes on the properties of the fire (heat and light) while still remaining a blade.
How are we saved?
In Orthodox theology, the doctrines concerning salvation intertwine with those concerning the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. As the God-Man, Christ unites our human nature to the Divine Nature in Himself. Through His life, death, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father, He reconciles us with God and provides us a beautiful way to enjoy communion with Him.
However, we do need God’s assistance in attaining salvation; we cannot save ourselves. This power of God that helps us, which He gives to us willingly, we call Grace. If we desire salvation, we must each accept this gift of our own free will and work in synergy (cooperation) with God. Here’s another way of putting it: nothing we do, say, or believe earns us salvation. We achieve salvation only through the Grace of God.
The Protestant doctrine of Eternal Security
You may have heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved,” if you’re at all familiar with Evangelicalism. Essentially, it means once we proclaim our faith in Christ, we’re good to go. God requires nothing else.
Eternal Security finds its roots in the teachings of John Calvin. It implies that salvation changes a person so much that apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) is impossible. The person is and will forever be saved, no matter the circumstances. However, we know apostasy is possible, even in the hearts of those who once said they believed. For example, Judas Iscariot, once saved, fell away to the point of damnation. If one of the Twelve could fall away, anyone can.
The doctrine of Eternal Security presents a danger to Christians, primarily because it provides them with a false sense of security. It leads Christians to believe they can live an unrepentant life abhorrent to God and still be saved, simply because they proclaimed Christ as their Savior. Such a doctrine oversimplifies our relationship with God and grossly misrepresents what it means to be Christian.
So, in short, the Orthodox Church does not believe in Eternal Security. Rather, she views salvation as an ongoing journey that gives us many opportunities to return to God for forgiveness and renewal by participating in the life of the Church. We receive true healing through the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. We become sanctified by it, purified of the stain of sin. And by the Grace of God, we continue along the path toward theosis.
Read More >> The Orthodox Church on Controversial Topics