Brethren, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If one looks at the proposition that is identified: namely that a person is justified by faith alone – that is if you solely believe in Christ as Lord then by virtue of that belief alone you are automatically justified. In other words, through an act of mental commitment you are saved. That is what the proposition “saved by faith alone” means at least to the Protestant and Pentecostal denominations. However, this is not the Orthodox understanding of salvation. What about good works in the name of the Lord? What part do they play in the salvation of man? Is it really an issue of faith versus works or is it an issue of requiring both faith and works? This is no small question, for how we answer it determines our understanding of God
Justification, or being right with God from the Orthodox perspective, requires an understanding of not only believing in Christ but also doing good works in his name. Faith without works, as we are told by St James, is dead.
So, how do we understand justification? Orthodox Christianity believes that with the coming of Christ there is a new covenant. The Old Testament understood salvation through the law. Now, Christ came into the world and fulfilled the law and through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are led to a clearer understanding of God. Of course our understanding can only relate to the energies of God and most certainly not to his substance. Further, we emphasise that it is mercy, and not faith that justifies us. This aspect is most important to understand. The proposition is that faith comes from within myself, therefore I save myself. That cannot be right for salvation but then becomes a personal act dependent upon me. Whereas the reality is that salvation is dependent upon God whose mercy is infinite and his love has no end. God calls. God gifts salvation – is as clear to the as that. That said, just as God calls constantly we need to respond constantly. In other words, justification by faith is not static. We must aspire, we must strive, and we must strain to attain justification.
It is by the mercy of God that we are saved. We may well be justified by faith. Once in faith we are empowered by God for good works that bring glory to him. One without the other is not possible. One only has to remember the Epistle of James. “What does it profit my brethren if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them “depart in peace, be warmed and filled” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body: what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14 – 17”
One of the greatest attributes that Christ can give to us is his peace. In chapter 20 of John’s gospel the resurrected Christ appears to the 10 disciples and the first words he says is: peace be with you. The peace of Christ can only be arrived at if you are at peace within. You cannot be faithless. Without faith there is no God. Why? Because it is by faith that we believe in things unseen and as God is unknowable, incomprehensible and invisible then we cannot know him until we have made up our mind that we will believe in him. Once we believe in him then we want to be like him, to imitate him to the extent that we can. Then we can be partakers of his Grace. Then we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
The great Paul then maps out how tribulations, how problems, how sorrows lead us to hope. He does it as follows: – he says firstly that problems in sorrows and tribulations lead us to perseverance. If we do not accept perseverance then we fail at the first hurdle. If however we do: then perseverance gives us character. In other words perseverance moulds us into becoming the people that we are. If we have character then we have hope. We have hope in the resurrected Lord. We have hope in everlasting life.
Paul goes on to point that hope never disappoints. There is a saying that hope springs eternal, and another: whilst there is life there is still hope. Do you see that the underlying nature and character of us humans is to be hopeful, for without hope there is only hopelessness, and with hopelessness there is only darkness.
However we Christians have now the love of God poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. If that is correct then the love of God naturally follows. Once we have love then we have hope. One leads to the other and the other bounces back to increase the first which then bounds it back again, and so forth. It is in this way that our life in Christ grows.
Paul then says something profound. He says, if you have a righteous man you would hardly die for him. If you had a good man some would even dare to die but Christ died for you and me and by ascending to the cross he demonstrated his love for all of us sinners. It is by that death that Christ has reconciled us to God. So Christ died for sinners without regret and willingly. We sinners, if we accept the love of Christ are reconciled by that reason alone to the love of God. If we accept the love of Christ then we wish to have communion with Christ and if we have communion with Christ then we can participate in his peace.
See how one thing leads to another – but is all dependent upon us. God is constant. God does not change. On the other hand, man does. Man is changeable and is thus capable of being transformed. It is through transformation from disbeliever to believer that we are able to fully participate in the love of Christ. So, we are told quite clearly that we are justified by faith but faith without works is dead so faith demands works and it is these works that are the hallmark of our commitment to Christ. If we model ourselves on Christ then we can do no more for our salvation – the rest is up to God and his mercy.