In the previous two instalments, we discussed how the blood of Christ is necessary and sufficient for salvation. Because Christ died for all humanity, salvation is consequently offered to anyone who wishes to accept it. In the book of Revelations 3:20, Christ said, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’.  No matter how much He knocks on the doors of our heats, we cannot benefit from His presence unless we hear His voice, open the door and accept His invitation.

How do we accept salvation? In the Orthodox understanding, we accept salvation through faith, partaking of the saving sacraments and good works. All of these conditions are met through synergy between God’s grace and our own striving, ‘pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God….’ (Hebrews 12:14-15). Without God’s grace, any faith and works –  no matter how great – are dead and cannot lead to salvation, ‘… for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Let us conclude our discussion of the conditions of salvation with the role of good works.

Good works

Good works are the living, dynamic and practical application of love and are the fruits of faith [1].

It is firmly established that sin is diametrically opposed to salvation (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5-6 etc). But it is not enough to simply avoid evil works as ‘to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin’ (James 4:17) and ‘every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Matthew 7:19).

Instead, good works are necessary for salvation because ‘….each one will receive his reward according to his own labour (I Corinthians 3:8) and therefore ‘those who have done good [will come forth] to the resurrection of life’ (John 5:29) for ‘if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17). The weight of works is especially striking in the book of Revelation as the judgment of all seven churches starts with the phrase, ‘I know your works’ (Revelations 2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8,15).

As with all conditions, good works are necessary but not sufficient for salvation as ‘though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing’ (I Corinthians 13:3).

Good works cannot be achieved solely through our own efforts but through the grace of God: ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:12-13) and ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

Faith Vs Works

Some denominations of Christians strongly profess that it is by grace and faith alone that we are saved and so denounce the role of works in our salvation. The Orthodox understanding does not favour one condition over the other but asserts their equal importance in attaining salvation. C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully when he says,

Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.” [2]

It is not a question of faith versus works, but rather a matter of faith and works.

A wonderful example of the interaction of the conditions of salvation is illustrated in the story of the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus’ encounter with Christ.

‘And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully…. Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:3-10)

Firstly, Zacchaeus chose to seek Christ earnestly out of his own free will. When offered to accpet Christ into his home, he received Him joyfully and called Him Lord, demonstrating his faith. Zacchaeus then confessed his sin of falsely taking from others and bore fruits of repentance as he declared that he would make reparation. In fact, he not only resolved to give back that which he had taken but went above and beyond what  further to restore fourfold. Christ replied that salvation had come to his house.

 

Conclusion

Salvation is the purpose and goal of the Christian life. Through Christ’s death on the cross and the shedding of His blood, salvation is available to all of us if we meet the following conditions through His grace: have faith, partake in the saving sacraments and perform good works. Each condition is necessary to obtain salvation but not sufficient in and of themselves – they must be done in conjunction with one another and through the grace of God.

‘Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation’ (Isaiah 12:2)

 

References

Holy Bible, New King James Version.

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

[2] Lewis, C., 1952. Mere Christianity. London: Harper Collins.

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