Time to tackle one of the other major points of contention – who is saved? Again, I’m sure this is going to come down on the wrong side of many people, but the theology behind this is sound, and based on the teachings of the New Testament, specifically Jesus, Paul, and James.
Now, I’m not going to say, “he is saved, and he is not”, that is not the job of the Theologian, I am simply going to point out what Sacred Scriptures say is required to be saved. It is up to the reader to then decide where they stand according to teachings. Let me start off by saying that no one is perfect, and the Eastern Church teaches us that perfection is not required, nor attainable.
About being saved, Christ tells us: John 10:9 “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” How does one enter through the gate into Salvation? By following two simple commandments, given to us by Christ: Matt 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Everything that Christ taught through example, teaching, or parable, falls into one of these commandments, as does everything in all of the Epistles. Nothing more is needed than to follow these teachings.
The Western Churches teach that faith is all that is required, Eph 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” And this is true, for there is nothing that we can do to “earn” our way to heaven, we must have faith. But, as James expands: James 2:14 “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill- clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Jesus, himself, backs this up: Matt 7:21 “Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Faith, backed by works, all revolving around the unquestionable devotion to God and man, is what is needed for salvation, this and nothing more. Do you need to be a Christian? No, but it is far easier to accomplish this for those who have the teachings of Christ, than for those who do not. But, Paul tells us that it is not impossible for non-Christians to be saved: Rom 2:12 “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
So, what does the law require us to do?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
How does one love God in this manner? By asking at every moment throughout our lives if what we are doing, saying, thinking, feeling, is in alignment with His will. If not, then we should stop and ask ourselves, “Why not? What does He want?” Is this easy? No. Decidedly not, especially in today’s world when so many things out there pull us away with shines baubles and flashy promises. But, Jesus said it would be this way: John 16:33 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And, Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
This is what it means to love God beyond all other things. But, that is only half of Jesus command to us, the second is even harder to follow:
2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Under normal circumstances, one would not wish harm upon oneself, either physical or mental. If you were in trouble, you would want others to help; if you were down, you would want a kind word and compassion; if you were going through hard times, you would want a helping hand. As you would want these, so should you be willing to give it to others,. I remember a personal time when my car broke down 50 miles from home, while contracting at a not-so-local company. I had the car towed to a garage, but had no way back home. One of the people I was working with offered me the loan of her car to get home, and then back the next day. We had known each other for less than two weeks at the time. This was truly an act of love for her neighbor.
But, just who is our neighbor? Jesus does tell us in parable known widely as that of the Good Samaritan, but most people today get the message wrong. In it Jesus tells how a Jew fell upon robbers, who left him by the roadside. People normally considered his friends (a priest and a Levite) passed him by, but one of the most hated people by Jews (even more so than the Roman authorities), a Samaritan, treated his wounds, then took him to the local equivalent of a hospital (an inn), paid for his care (two days wages), and promised to pay more if needed on his return to the inn.
Now, today most people see this as saying we should be kind to our enemies, but that is not the purpose of the parable. What is being said here is not to love your enemy, but to recognize who is your neighbor, and who is not. To look beyond the obvious, and to see the true person, not the labels we usually attach to people. Let’s put it into today’s terms, pulling an example from our current situation. For most of the Western world, the parable would be restated: a Christian was mugged, shot, and left for dead. A priest and a minister, seeing him, hurriedly passed by, not wanting to get involved. A Muslim saw the man, called 911, went with him to the hospital, and guaranteed to pay all bills. Who is the neighbor? Who deserves out love? Tough? Incredibly. To overcome our prejudices is not easy.
The church teaches us that we will fail, repeatedly, in both of these commandments. So, are we condemned to spend eternity in hell? No. For Christ tells is that: Matt 12:31 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Salvation is possible for everyone, so long as we truly repent and ask forgiveness for what we have done. The word used for forgiveness means more than just saying, “it’s okay”. True Christian forgiveness means accepting the apology, then forgetting that the offense ever occurred, not bringing it up to remind the person that they hurt you. This is what God does when he forgives us our sins, they are permanently removed from our slate, never to be brought up again. Can we forgive others as easily and completely?
The Eastern Church teaches us that we can never be free from sin, but that we can always be forgiven, so long as we repent. Repentance is another one of those hard words, just like forgiveness, it means that we will do everything we possibly can to keep from repeating the offense. We do it to show out love both to God, and to our neighbor whom we offended (every offense against a neighbor is also an offense against the God who created them).
In the end, the Eastern teaching on salvation is that none of us is truly worthy of salvation, there is nothing we can do to earn it. At the time of our judgement we all rely on the goodness and grace of the Holy Spirit, and to reject this grace is the unforgivable blasphemy.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The Modern Theologian