Thursday, January 15, 2009

To be Helpless is Not to be Conformed to the Image of the Son

Earlier this week, I spent some time (nearly half an hour) listening to an on-line sermon by a Lutheran minister in which he espoused the idea that we cannot do a single thing toward our own salvation.

The trouble with this idea is that, like the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, it immediately runs into a couple of logical contradictions, absurdities, impossibilities that render the doctrine meaningless. Because unless the person holding this idea also believes in Irresistible Grace, he will admit that to be saved, it is necessary that we not resist Grace. But non-resistance, admitted to be an essential factor in salvation, turns out to be something very active, because Grace is constantly seeking to accomplish good things in and through and by us. Faith turns out to be a way of life, the modus operandi for everything we do. Without deeds, faith is the mode of operation for no operation to be the modus of, and what's that but meaningless?

Of course, as I've pointed out before, this idea that we cannot do a single thing toward our salvation also runs into another huge problem (unless one is a Calvinist), and that is that if God alone is entirely responsible for our salvation and there was never anything at all we could do about it, then no matter how one tries to wriggle out of it with slick words, God still ends up being entirely responsible, too, if we are damned. We are admittedly full of grievous faults, but if we have absolutely no choice in the matter or power to correct anything, how can any fair morality count those faults against us?

We aren't saved by our works (lest we should boast), but we are saved through them so it still means no salvation without good works. There is indeed a lot we can and must do, from the moment we repent until the moment we die.


123 said...

From Logismoi:

‘Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition the Holy Spirit of God.’ (St. Seraphim of Sarov)

The necessity of discerning between what God does and when and what I do and when has always seemed to me to be argumentation conforming itself to philosophical or logical categories, rather than to the reality of the experience of salvation. That is, the form that the Lutheran doctrine of justification takes is necessitated by their philosophical assumptions. It's all just so much secret code language.

If faith is dead without works, then good works are necessary and faith is not alone.

Claire said...

Hmmm, Orrologoian, I'm a little confused by the St. Seraphim quote--sounds as though he's saying that we earn the Holy Spirit through good works--how can that be?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

St. Seraphim does sometimes sound that way, even more so in other places. But then so does Jesus, if we read His words a certain way. Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven. Invest the money entrusted to you - or else!

But earning salvation is not a category that enters into Eastern thought (not even to be very much preached against).

Instead, it's a case of, if we act according to the Grace (Holy Spirit) given us, it has results far beyond what we had any right to expect, and then the more Grace (Himself) God gives us. To him who is faithful in little things, more will be given.

Or, same experience put a different way, the more we live God's Life, the more in communion with Him we are, a simple tautology. And the more than communion grows, deepens, strengthens, and is more firmly established.

123 said...

The idea that we literally earn anything in things divine is something, I think, we tend to read into both Scripture and religion. A godson of mine mentioned once that a professor of his at Yale Divinity noted how difficult, if not impossible, it is for post-Reformation minds to read the Bible apart from the lens of Luther. I think this is a similar case - a case I empathize with and can often struggle with, too.

The question I asked myself after reading your comment is: when an athlete lifts weights, who builds the muscle? God or the athlete? I think the answer is both or either, depending on the context and perspective. Of course the athlete would not have been able to do anything at all apart from God and God could have simply bulked him up all on His own - but he didn't. He chose to bless the athlete's own efforts without which God has chosen not to work, normally. So, too, with ascetic effort.