On the Presuppositions of our Personal Salvation
Ch. 13 from The Truth of Our Faith
by Elder Cleopa of Romania
Father, earlier you spoke
about our personal salvation. Can you tell me more about this?
Some religious confessions teach that personal salvation presupposes the action
of Divine Grace alone, according to Calvin, or the grace of faith, i.e. of trust
in God, according to Luther, by which the merits or virtues of our Lord Jesus
Christ are conferred upon man. Therefore, to give a general outline, there are
Protestant Christians who believe that salvation stems only from faith and that
on the part of man himself there is placed no condition or requirement for his
Our Church, however, teaches
that our personal salvation is neither a gift, nor a simple work, but rather
a process and an undertaking that matures or develops gradually and is realized
in the co-operation of two persons: God and man. On the part of God, Divine
Grace (His uncreated Divine Energy) is offered to us, while for man's part,
faith and righteous deeds are necessary. Consequently, the prerequisites for
our personal salvation are the following: the Divine Grace or uncreated Divine
Energy of God and the faith and virtuous deeds of man.
Our objective salvation
is realized only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereas our personal or subjective
salvation, which in the language of the New Testament is called righteousness,
holiness, or salvation (in the narrow sense), is realized as a continuance
of this objective salvation, with our personal energy or activity acting in
co-operation with Divine Energy or Grace.
On the part of God, Divine
Grace is absolutely necessary, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the
glory of God, and we are justified by His grace, redeemed in Christ Jesus (Rom.
3:23-24). For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good
pleasure (Philp. 2:13). For by grace are ye saved through faith, and not that
of yourselves: it is the gift of God - not by works, lest any man should boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God
hath beforehand ordained, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2: 8-10).
From this it is clear that
divine Grace is necessary for our personal salvation. This truth is also evident
in the words of the Lord: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth
in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can
do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered;
and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye
abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall
be done unto you (Jn. 15: 5-7).
Hence, the Grace of God
is for us the fluid that runs from vine to the vine branch. On the part of man,
saving and actualized faith is necessary, i.e. faith which worketh by love
(Gal. 5:6). Without this contribution of mans, salvation is not held out for
any man. Conscious faith in God, without good deeds, the demons, too, possess,
for they also believe and tremble (Jas. 2:19). Holy Scripture itself makes
clear that good works are necessary for salvation. Holy Scripture is filled
with passages which refer to good deeds as a necessary prerequisite of our salvation
(Mat. 25:34, Jn. 5:29, Rom. 2:6-13, 2 Cor. 5:10, Jas. 2:14-26, Rev. 20:12, and
I have gathered from different discussions I have had with representatives
of various confessions that they are of the opinion that divine Grace operates
by force and irresistibly. For them, it is not possible to speak at all of freedom,
nor of a certain worthiness of man in whatever pertains to his salvation. It
is said that this is apparent from the parable of the Lord: And the Lord said
unto the servant, go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come
in, that my house may be filled (Lk. 14:23). Elsewhere the Lord also said:
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I
will raise him up at the last day (Jn. 6:44). It is claimed that with this
meaning in mind the Apostle Paul says the following: For it is God which worketh
in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). It would seem
clear from all of these citations that there does not, in fact, exist freedom
of will and that God alone, independent of our disposition, grants salvation.
Holy Scripture teaches us clearly that man is created by God free and self-governing,
that is, with freedom of will, as the Holy Spirit tells us: O Lord as with
a shield of Thy good pleasure hast thou crowned us (Ps. 5:13). Elsewhere it
says, He Himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his
counsel, (Eclus. 15:14) and again, He hath set fire and water before thee:
stretch forth thy hand unto whichever thou wilt (Eclus. 15:16). Furthermore,
in another place in Holy Scripture it is said: Behold, I set before you this
day a blessing and a curse; a blessing if ye obey the commandments of the LORD
your God (Dt. 11: 26-27). And further on it is said: See, I have set before
thee this day life and death, good and evil ... I call heaven and earth to
record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing
and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Dt.
30: 15, 19).
The freedom of the will
of man, as well as the dependence of salvation upon his freedom, appears more
clearly from the words of the Saviour Himself. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou
that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often
would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens
under her wings, and ye would not! (Mat. 23:37, Lk. 11:20) Whereas to the rich
young man He said, If thou wilt enter into Life, keep the commandments (Mat.
19:17, Heb. 4:11, Rom. 2:4).
Through the mouth of His
prophet Isaiah, God says the following: If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall
eat the good of the land. But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with
the sword (Isa. 1: 19-20). And again to the rich young man He says, If thou
wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou
shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (Mat. 19:21).
In all of these passages
it is positively obvious that God fashioned man with freedom of will and does
not compel the will of anyone to draw nigh to salvation. For if the will of
man is coerced into accepting salvation then any compensation in the future
life would be meaningless. Likewise, God would cease to be the just judge the
Holy Scriptures customarily refer to Him as being. If our salvation is accomplished
without our personal will then that which the great Apostle Paul says would
be incomprehensible to us: For we must all appear before the judgement seat
of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according
to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). And likewise,
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive
his own reward according to his own labour (1 Cor. 3:8).
Fair enough, but I still have serious doubts. Isnt it possible
that God, from before the ages, determined the fate of each one of us? In other
words, some are to be saved and some to be punished, analogous with the decisions
rendered from time immemorial, out of His sovereign pre-ordination for each
one of us? The following words of the Apostle Paul appear to support this opinion.
For the children being
not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God
according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;
It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written,
Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there
unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy
on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have
compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth,
but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even
for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in
thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore
hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou
wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his
will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing
formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the
potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour,
and another unto dishonour? (Rom. 9: 11-21).
The same Apostle says elsewhere,
Blessed be the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings
in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before
the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before
him in love: Having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus
Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. (Eph. 1: 3-4).
From this it seems evident
that salvation is offered according to the decision of God from before the ages.
For the Apostle says likewise elsewhere: But we are bound to give thanks always
to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning
chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the
truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:13-14). Furthermore, the following is
written in another passage: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even
the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory (1 Cor.
2:7). And elsewhere it is said: what hast thou that thou didst not receive?
Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received
it? (1 Cor. 4:7). For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do
of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Hence, consequently the problem is posited
as follows: No one is saved except those who were pre-elected and predestined
by God from before the ages. Man in this life follows the lot proscribed for
him by God without the possibility of changing or replacing it.
Holy Scripture contains within it unanswerable passages or, as Saint Gregory
of Nyssa puts it, strong bones. Some would like to break these bones of Scripture
with their wisdom teeth as of yet still only suitable for sucking milk. However,
such a thing they would never be able to manage. All who have desired to plunge
into the depths of Scripture have drowned in the fathomless ocean that is the
wisdom of God. Such was the portion shared by Origen, Arius, Macedonius, Nestorius,
Sabellius, Dioscorus, Eutyches and all the other chiefs of the ancient heresies
who have been swallowed up in the unfathomable sea of Holy Scripture. The profundity
and depth of Scripture was not the cause of their fall and drowning, but rather
they themselves were the cause, due to their own insufficiencies, of being drowned
in the depths of the mysteries of the Scriptures.
Holy Scripture is like
a fountain or an endless spring, of the wisdom of God in which we must be steeped
and partake in accordance with our level of wisdom and spiritual maturity. Just
as we take water from the well with a bucket, empty it into our pitcher and
then into our glass in order to quench our bodys thirst, so must we also do
with our spiritual thirst when we are urged to drink of the deepest ocean of
wisdom, the Holy Scriptures. Thus, spiritually speaking, if we draw more water
from the well of Scripture than is drinkable (out of desire for the purity of
our intellect (νούς) and heart), due to our pride and inquisitiveness
we will be destroyed in our attempt to grasp the incomprehensible with our limited
human faculties. If, for example, we were to see a child from the first grade
trying to learn and to teach others that which is taught at the university,
how much laughter and amusement would it provoke in us! The same and worse happens
to those who desire to scrutinize and unravel the incomprehensible mysteries
of the Scriptures with an intellect inexperienced and unenlightened by the Holy
The divine Prophets and
Apostles, as well as the holy Fathers of the Church, while by the purity of
their lives attaining to the simplicity and innocence of infants, at the same
time also, on account of their wisdom, became as perfect spiritual men (Eph.
4:13). Nevertheless, they were never so bold as to delve into the impenetrable
mysteries of the wisdom of God. Before these elevated notions and expressions
they remained as if enraptured saying, How great are Thy works, O Lord, exceeding
deep are Thy thoughts, (Ps. 91:6) and Great is our Lord, and great is His
strength, and of His understanding there is no measure (Ps. 146:5). Still further,
in another place, it is said: Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that
the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth
not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding (Is. 40:28).
Listen also to the vessel of election, the Apostle Paul, as he says with wonderment;
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind
of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? (Rom. 11: 33-34).
You understand, therefore,
my friend, that this fathomless depth of the wisdom of God cannot be approached
by any intellect among His creatures, neither those found in the heavens, nor
those on earth. Much more difficult is it for those who, without purifying their
intellect (νούς) and heart from the passions, and being
bereft also of divine enlightenment, presume on their own to penetrate the unbounded
abyss of the Scriptures.
My dearest to Christ, earlier
you referred me to certain passages that appeared to you to underscore a type
of absolute predestination for man, however, the truth of things is entirely
The first passage refers
to the call of man toward the grace and righteousness which is in Christ Jesus
(Rom. 9: 11-21). The Apostle desires with this example to illustrate that the
call and righteousness of men do not depend on the works of the law but on
the goodness of God Who calls by His Grace all men to salvation, both Jews and
Gentiles (see above: Rom. 9: 22-24). Without the grace of God, men are powerless
to accomplish anything with regards to their salvation. Here the Apostles is
underscoring the importance of the presupposition of our objective salvation
or sanctification (i.e. the salvation of the race of man collectively), without
repeating again the personal presupposition: the freedom of man in co-operation
with the grace of God, with faith and good works.
Furthermore, in no sense
is it maintained that the foreknowledge of God exists as a basis for the predetermination
of the soul or the predestination of each one of us. This is unstated yet implicit
when the Apostle says that there are those whom God chastens and hardens since
they had become instruments of wrath, God tolerating them with forbearance.
God perceives everything in advance and is not dependent upon the passing of
time to know that between the two sons of Isaac one would be the conveyor of
His messianic promise. Thus, it is nothing to marvel at when He says: Jacob
I have loved, but Esau I have hated.
If it is said that God
has mercy on whomever He wishes and punishes whomsoever He wishes, then we must
ask: Upon whom does God want to show mercy and upon whom does He desire to inflict
punishment? If He loves him that He has predetermined for salvation, who in
this life would be evil? Likewise, if He punishes those who reject Him, who
in this life would be good? Or does God want certain among the good to become
evil and certain among the evil to become good, without any righteous judgement
or requital? Yet, in this case, where is righteousness? Where is equity or impartiality?
Where is wisdom and all of the other attributes of God? Not even among men is
it possible for such things to occur, and yet even when men are given over to
arbitrariness it is a tragedy and setback.
As for the other passages
you cited, they do not refer to some type of categorical predestination of the
eternal life of the soul, but rather to the election or call of the soul to
the Christ-sent grace. The call or election of the soul is not based on its
worth or virtue but rather solely on the goodness of God. This invitation is
not expressed and offered to a few, as is maintained by the followers of unqualified
predestination, but rather to every human being, since the Apostle is speaking
only in the plural and thereby showing that it is not that some are preferred
and especially invited in the sense of predestination.
It is with this understanding
that the Apostle Paul says: For this is good and acceptable in the sight of
God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge
of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the
man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself as a ransom for all, to be testified in due
time (1 Tim. 2: 3-6). If from this text we wanted to expound an unconditional
predestination for the heavenly majesty, a predestination of this sort would
have to be understood according to the letter and spirit of the text, i.e. as
unrestricted and unbounded. However, this would mean that salvation comes automatically
to everyone, and it is well known that it does not. Furthermore, the very followers
of predestination themselves maintain that the number of the predestined for
salvation is restricted.
The truth is that Christ
has brought salvation to everyone, something theologians have labelled general
(or objective) salvation. And yet, everyone does not actualize this objective
salvation, only those who seek and pursue it. While objective salvation is granted
to every human being, subjective or personal salvation depends on the intent
of man. Those who desire to be saved and work toward that goal receive divine
Grace as their aide and guide. This Grace does not work in us violently; rather
it abides with us peren- nially as a specific offering for the work of our salvation.
Subsequently, it is not possible for us to speak of an unconditional predestination
and its inadequate presuppositions for salvation. The truth concerning the predestination,
fate and life of man can be summed up as follows.
A. Holy Scripture speaks
often of a kind of predestination that carries with it the meaning of pre-knowledge.
At times it is spoken of directly, being referred to variously as foreknowledge
and predestination, (Acts 2:23 Rom. 8:29) the counsel of His will, (Eph.
1:11) the mystery which hath been hid from the ages, and the book of life
(Col. 1:26, Eph. 3:9, Rev. 20:15, Lk. 10:20)
is based on the life and works of man, which are plainly evident to our All-knowing
God. Indeed, Holy Scripture speaks precisely: And we know that all things
work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according
to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed
to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
Moreover those whom he predestined, them he also called: and whom he called,
them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Rom.
We know also that at
the future judgement there will be specific criteria upon which all will be
judged. No one will be judged arbitrarily for that judgement will be righteous
and unprejudiced. The Apostle says, For we must all appear before the judgement
seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according
to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5: 10, 1 Cor. 3:8).
But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and
he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6).
Furthermore, Holy Scripture
sets forth this teaching with more clarity in other ways. It is often repeated
that God does not want the death of any sinner, that He is not willing that
any should perish, (2 Pet. 3:9, Eph. 4:6, Rom. 3:29) that all are called
to salvation, and that God gave His grace to overflowing (Mat. 28:19, Rom.
10:18), precisely there where sin abounded, in order to provide all men with
the possibility of salvation. All of this would be made a lie if the number
of the chosen were in fact limited.
B. History certifies
with all of the Church Fathers and theologians of great authority, together
with the entirety of Holy Tradition and its incontestable substantiating elements,
that the teaching on divine foreknowledge has always existed within the Church.
- Saint Irenaeus (+202
AD) says: God who knows everything has made ready the proper dwelling: for
to those who seek after and yearn for the unapproachable light God in His
goodness grants them that light.
- Saint John Chrysostom
(+407 AD) says: God has not foreordained us for salvation only out of love,
but also on account of our good deeds, because if this (salvation) were dependent
only upon our good works then the coming of Christ and everything which He
has effected for our salvation would be as though unnecessary.
- Saint Hilary (+367
AD) writes similarly: That which God foresaw, He also foreordained.
- Blessed Jerome (+420
AD) writes: For that which God knew would happen in the life of His Son,
that He also permitted (preordained) for His Son.
- Saint Ambrose (+397
AD) says: God did not predetermine without seeing first that which He foreknew.
Likewise, in those whom He foresaw worthiness, to those He also preordained
a spiritual reward.
If grace is always necessary for salvation, whatever the case,
and if salvation is a gift of God given with grace, do we have a part in the
working out of our salvation?
Yes, we certainly do have a part to play but grace is also necessary for our
salvation, for man cannot be saved on his own. We are not like logs or stones
with which God does whatever He likes.
If grace were to work on
its own - indifferent to us - it would mean that we would walk to our salvation
without our will. In this case if some are lost to perdition they would not
be to blame, but rather grace would be responsible since it did not compel them
to be saved. This teaching, as we have said previously, is not a teaching of
the Christs Church but of the Calvinists who have themselves termed it unconditional
election or predestination. According to this teaching, God decided from before
the ages to save certain men and destroy others. This He does in accord with
His liking, not according to the way man would work but through His grace -
grace that He decided to give in order to save some. To a few Grace is given
- grace that compels them to work according to His will - while to others grace
is withheld. Such is the teaching of the Calvinists.
And the teaching of the Orthodox Church is different from that?
Previously, I showed you the Churchs teaching clearly enough and at quite some
length, and yet I will add for you also the following: God our Saviour will
have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim.
2:4). Grace does not compel anyone. Men have the God-given freedom to accept
it and to work with it or to reject it. Those who embrace it are saved and those
who withdraw from it are lost. Guard well, my son, that which you have heard
that you may be illumined by it and believe as a true Orthodox Christian.
Ch. 13 from The Truth of Our Faith:
A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the Teachings of True Christianity, by Elder
Cleopa of Romania (Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2000). Order from Uncut Mountain Supply.