The cause and effect of salvation.

Homily 521 – 21 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 6, 2022
Epistle:  (203) Galatians 2:16-20
Gospel:  (39) Luke 8:41-56

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

No one is justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is what St. Paul writes to the Galatians, and what we hear from our Protestant brothers and sisters constantly.  All those actions you take – those feast and fasts and self-denial – none of that will gain your salvation.

And you know what?  They are right.  None of that effort gains our salvation.  It isn’t supposed to.  That misunderstanding of the role played by the discipline in our lives goes back to the times before Christ.

As St. Paul points out – the Jews also misunderstood the place of the disciplines imposed from the Torah.  Same for the Latin Church in the 15th Century, at the time of the Reformation.

And, if we can detect it, same for us today when we look at behaviors in our world and preach condemnation for those who don’t follow our expectations of how a – quote – Good Christian behaves.

So what is that relationship then between works and faith – between our behaviors and our salvation?  They have to be related somehow, right?

Yes, they are related.  But the relationship, the cause and effect at play here are opposite in the modern understanding.

In the modern understanding, perhaps throughout history, but certainly in the modern western educated mindset, the idea is that compliance leads to salvation.  If we obey, we will be saved.

In truth, even the reformers believed that – they changed not the cause and effect, but rather the definition of obey.  To the reformers, and to the modern-day protestants that followed them, the answer to the question “obey what?” was changed.

Instead of obeying the Church, we should obey faith itself.  We should obey Scripture itself.  Church to them was no longer the arbiter of obedience.  We were and are all on our own in their minds.

So, what started as trying to reform the Church evolved into what we see today as you have to determine for yourself – and you should obey yourself.

Now, where have we heard that before?  If we turn to Genesis, chapter 3, we find exactly the same structure described:  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

They decided for themselves what was to be obeyed.  They interpreted the Scriptures for themselves – the only Scripture they had, the direct words of God Himself.

And humanity fell.

So, if they and the reformers that followed missed something, what was it they missed?

St. Paul is addressing a real concern after all – not just a theoretical possibility.  This is real life!

Perhaps what St. Paul meant is that the obedience doesn’t result in salvation, but rather salvation results in obedience.  Our obedience is not the cause, but the effect.  Effect of what?

Our salvation.  The free gift of God offered to all – unconstrained.  The way it was always intended to be, even under the Mosaic law.  The 10 commandments are less about compliance and obedience and more about how the one who is saved will behave.

Not perfectly – because all have neglected some part of the appropriate behavior from time to time.  All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, as St. Paul wrote elsewhere.

We live the life we do not to be entitled to anything, because the only thing we are entitled to is death.  We will not stand before God at the judgement and say, “But Lord, you have to save me because I fasted perfectly, I attended Church every time the doors were open, I never missed saying my prayers, I never left someone in need without giving, I never left anyone alone.  You owe me, God.”

That is arrogance.  When people ask, what is the minimum I need to do to be a good Christian, the answer is there isn’t one.  Nor is there a maximum.  Salvation is yours to accept or reject.  You reject it and go your own way.  If you accept it, you begin to walk the path of theosis, the path of union with Christ.

The Torah, the Law, becomes for us not a map to salvation, but a mirror in which we can evaluate ourselves.  We can see the areas that are lacking in our lives, we can see the areas that distract us.

Then, we can repent – change – refocus our attention to our Lord, and seek Him again, to mimic Him, to be like Him in all ways.  And if we can’t do that, we can mimic St. Paul or one of the other saints – St. Paul tells the Corinthians twice in his first epistle to imitate him, as he imitates Christ.

We can do that too.  We can imitate Christ by our following of the disciplines of the Church.  Fasting, prayer, giving of our material possessions and income.  All of the ascetical disciplines.  And we can frequently look in the mirror of the word of God to see how our lives measure up.

Interesting thing about mirrors, though.  They only allow us to really truly see ourselves in them.  We can’t see others – their faults and their repentance and their heart.  We are in no position to take that mirror to point out the faults of others, because as soon as the mirror turns to them, we lose sight of it completely.

So, our answer is the same as it is to St. Paul.  He died to the law – he was crucified with Christ, and it is no longer his life, but Christ living in him.

Which is another way of saying, he has denied himself – his body, his ego, his everything – and picked up that cross, and followed Christ.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.