Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not a Full Exposition, Just a Hint

If/when you ever hear an Orthodox Christian speaking of the role works play in salvation, there are three things (at least) you need to understand about what we do and do not mean.

First, we are not speaking of works done “on our own” or “apart from Christ” or apart from faith in Christ. We are speaking precisely of the works of faith. These are responses to the Word, are what we do with the gift of faith. In fact, they are faith in action, faith made visible, faith as it is in the real world (as opposed to imaginary faith, which it is if it exists only in our heads). We're speaking of the works God Himself accomplishes in us, although not without our effort. (They don't just blossom forth from us while we sit around waiting.)

Secondly, the works of faith aren’t the cause of our salvation, either!

  • The cause of our salvation, if we mean the why of it, (Why is a person saved?) is God’s Will alone.

  • The cause of our salvation, if we mean the what of it (What saves a person?) is God’s Grace alone.

But if we mean the how of it (How does Grace save me?), the instrument through which God’s Grace works our salvation is faith. “By grace,” yes, but “through faith.”

Thirdly, when we speak of how active faith serves as the “through which” of salvation, we do not mean it earns us what faithless works cannot, as if salvation were a deal instead of a gift. No, salvation is a gift, a gift, a gift! It’s not for sale or exchange; it’s free. (Even if it weren’t, such pathetic, impure attempts at good works as we manage, even by grace, would never earn us anything.)

Rather, faith that works through love is more like a surgical instrument in the Healer’s hand. The very attempt to allow God to work in us, as us, serves as an antidote to sloth. Insofar as we struggle, we exercise our spiritual muscle, strengthening it for the next time. Insofar as we fail, we learn more clearly of our own pitiable condition, we repent, we cast ourselves more and more upon Him, begging for His mercy and His strength and His Image. Insofar as we succeed, that very success is already a rescue from failure and a building and strengthening in us of the Image of the Son, conformity to which is our destiny (Romans 8:29) and our salvation.

That, grossly oversimplified, is the role the works of faith play in our salvation.