Salvation is the deliverance from sin and its consequences. In our previous instalment, we discussed how the Christ’s blood is both necessary and sufficient for us to saved, and without the blood of Christ, there is no salvation. Christ died for all of humanity in order that we all be saved (I John 2:2; I Timothy 2:4). Despite this, some will perish (Luke 13:22-27).

But how can this be if the blood of Christ is sufficient? It is because there are conditions to salvation which must be met. God will never impose salvation upon us but gives us every opportunity to exercise our free will and choose life over death (Deuteronomy 30:19).

How do we choose salvation? With His grace, we strive to meet the following conditions: faith, sacraments and good works.  

 

Faith

The first condition on the journey to salvation is faith as ‘….whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’. (John 3:16). This condition is accepted by all denominations of Christianity and there many biblical verses which link salvation with faith (John 8:24; Romans 5:1 & 10:9-10 etc.)

The Orthodox understanding asserts that faith is necessary but not sufficient for salvation as even those who believe can perish. In Matthew 7:21, Christ said, not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven”. Who else would call Christ ‘Lord’ but those who have faith?

Indeed, ‘…even the demons believe – and tremble!’ (James 2:19) and certainly the demons will not attain salvation. Instead, faith is considered the prerequisite for all other conditions (H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 1976) as it is written ‘without faith it is impossible to please him’ (Hebrews 11:6), and ‘though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (I Corinthians 13:9) and ‘what does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?(James 2:14).

Building on top of faith, the other conditions which are also necessary for salvation are partaking of the saving sacraments and good works.

 

Sacraments

Instituted by Christ during his ministry, a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace [1]. From the seven sacraments of the Orthodox church, four are necessary for salvation: baptism, chrismation (confirmation) eucharist, repentance & confession [2]

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Baptism & Chrismation

The first of these sacraments is baptism – ‘he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16), and ‘most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God’ (John 3:5).

The necessity of baptism after faith was illustrated through the life of the Philippian jailor who. After he and his household believed in Christ, they were immediately baptised and rejoiced (Acts 16:30-34)

Although separate sacraments, chrismation is often performed immediately after the baptism in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Through chrismation, we receive the Holy Spirit and our body becomes a temple for Him to dwell in (I Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit is the Helper who teaches us all things (John 14:26).

The value of chrismation in salvation is seen in Acts 8:14-17 ‘Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’.

If faith and baptism was sufficient for salvation, Sts. Peter & John would not have embarked on the arduous 104km journey from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on the people that they may receive the Holy Spirit.

 

Repentance & Confession

Sin is incongruous with salvation as the apostle Paul writes, ‘now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21)

But ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:18) and therefore falling into sin is inevitable, how can we be saved?

We can be saved through repentance as Christ said, ‘….unless you repent you will all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3&5).  The apostles reiterated the necessity or repentance ‘for godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted’ (II Corinthians 7:10) and ‘the Lord is not slack concerning His Promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (II Peter 3:9).

Repentance is not something we do ourselves but through the ‘riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering […] of God leads you to repentance’ (Romans 2:4).

In the Orthodox church, the sacrament of repentance and confession cannot be separated as ‘he who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13)

 

Eucharist

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Partaking of the eucharist is another necessary sacrament for salvation:

“Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).

The eucharist is central to the communal worship life of the church and is considered the crown of all sacraments. Its role in salvation is confessed throughout the liturgy. For instance, when pointing towards the Holy Body and Precious Blood during the liturgy of St Basil, the priest will pray inaudibly “and may they [the Holy Body and Precious Blood] become for all of us partaking a healing and salvation of our souls, our bodies, and our spirits”

 

Join us for the third and final instalment in this series where we discuss the role of good works in the Orthodox understanding of salvation.

 

References:

Holy Bible, New King James Version.

[1] Malaty, T. Y., 1992. Dictionary of Church Terms. Alexandrea : St George Coptic Orthodox Church

[2] H.H. Pope Shenouda III, 1976. Salvation in the Orthodox Concept.. Cairo : Egyption Printing CO.

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