Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One topic which often comes up in conversation with those interested in Orthodoxy is the question of 'justification by faith alone', and the issues of sanctification and regeneration. Writing to a Protestant friend who wanted to know what 'our' position was, I found myself, as so often, having to say that as far as I understood it (thinks to self: how far is that :oops: ) this was not how we thought about these things, and that the distinctions being made were not ones Orthodoxy made.
I wrote as follows, and would be extremely grateful (before I make a bigger fool of myself) for any corrections.
I am genuinely unsure when you phrase ['justification by faith alone, regeneration and sanctification are of God alone'] it this precisely, for this is not how we proceed, neither am I sure that it is how the NT Church proceeded. Let me explain how we approach these matters - but please bear in mind I am a very 'baby Orthodox'.
When Orthodox Christians approach the doctrine of salvation, the discussion centers around the New Covenant. Justification (being or becoming righteous) by faith in God is part of being brought into a covenant relationship with Him. Whereas Israel was under the Old Covenant, wherein salvation came through faith as revealed in the law, the Church is under the New Covenant. Salvation comes through faith in Christ who fulfills the law, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, leading us to the knowledge of God the Father. Whereas some Christians focus on justification as a legal acquittal before God, Orthodox believers see justification by faith as a covenant relationship with Him, centered on union with Christ (Romans 6:1-6).
Orthodoxy emphasizes it is God?s mercy - not our faith - which saves us. ?Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God? (Romans 5:1-2). It is God who initiates or makes the New Covenant with us.
This is why the modern evangelical Protestant question, ?Are you saved?? gives pause to an Orthodox believer. As the subject of salvation is addressed in Scripture, the Orthodox Christian would see it in at least three aspects: (a) I have been saved, being joined to Christ in baptism; (b) I am being saved, growing in Christ through the sacramental life of the Church; and © I will be saved, by the mercy of God at the Last Judgment.
A final difficulty for us is the word 'alone'. Justification by faith, though not the major New Testament doctrine for Orthodox as it is for those in the reformed Churches, poses no problem. But justification by faith alone brings up an objection. It contradicts Scripture which says, ?You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only? (James 2:24). We are ?justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law? (Romans 3:28), but nowhere does the Bible say we are justified by faith ?alone?. On the contrary, ?faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead? (James 2:17).
As Christians we are no longer under the demands of the Old Testament law (Romans 3:20), for Christ has fulfilled the law (Galatians 2:21; 3:5, 24). By God?s mercy, we are brought into a New Covenant relationship with Him. We who believe are granted entrance into His Kingdom by His grace. Through His mercy we are justified by faith and empowered by God for good works or deeds of righteousness which bring glory to Him.
That was as clear as I could make it out; but if I am wrong, or if there are things I should have said, I should welcome correction.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)