Justification and Salvation
There are many metaphors and images to help us understand this great mystery of salvation. There is Christ as teacher, as sacrifice, as a ransom, as victor over death and as union or participation. This multiple view was unnecessarily reduced to a single view in the West with the work of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in 12th century. It was his view that was codified in the creeds of the reformers in the 16th century and has been embraced in most Protestant churches. It is based on a juridicial view with image of Christ as a sacrifice. It is commonly refered to as the “satisfaction” theory of atonement. His work is Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man)
Anselm believed that Adam through his disobedience of God had committed a crime against God. See the juridicial nature of this thought. His disobedience or sin is seen as a crime, not as a turning away from God. Anselm applied the medieval notion of justice to this act. Since a crime had been committed there needed to as “satisfaction” of God’s honor (Some will see this as wrath rather than honor).
How could a crime against God be satisfied? This was of much greater honor than any human crime. The only way He could be satisfied according to Anselm was by a supra-human as a stand in for us. But there is problem with this. It implies that God is changeable. We have to change God’s view of us. But in James 1:17 it says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Anger and pride are both human emotions. If we accept the notion that sin angers or offends God, then it must be true that before sin God was not angry. If we agree with the satisfaction theory then after satisfaction God is no longer angry. God changes. It is therefore blasphemous to base our understanding of salvation on the idea that God gets angry or has a fragile ego. Anselm use a model of a medieval monarch for his god. This human model is not sufficient for the God of Scripture or the Church.
You may say, How about all the places n Scripture it talks about the “wrath” of God?. What we see is Scripture is human emotions being applied to God. These emotions are no more the true nature of God that He is human than when it says He walks in the garden. Wrath is how humans experience their separation from God and in not the nature of God. As John reminds us “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
How about the notion of justice? We know that God is just because He does not change. If we think that God can’t let man get away with his sins and that justice must be satisfied then we are making God himself subject to some sort of cosmic justice. Justice then become something greater than God. Also if God wanted justice, why couldn’t he have just forgiven man. Why did He have to send His son to suffer and be killed?
Anselm with his “satisfaction “ theory put God in a box. God had to either change or become subject to an external justice. God’s ways are different than man’s ways so we cannot use human analogies to properly describe God’s ways It says in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than earth, so are my ways higher that your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Another problem with Anselm’s view is that “satisfaction” makes sin God’s problem rather than ours. You may say that God wants to save man because He is merciful, but He can’t violate His own justice. Sin then is God’s problem. The issue becomes man’s effect on God due to sin, rather than what sin does to man. According to Anselm, once God has been satisfied man is off the hook. Salvation then is reduced to some kind of play where God can declare man’s innocence regardless of his actual state.
Another problem with this idea of satisfaction is that salvation remains external to man and man therefore remains unchanged. If we think only that through Christ’s death on the Cross and our faith in this event, means only that our sins are erased from the ledger of crimes, man still remains unchanged. He is still in essence sinful. Man is not recreated, not transformed, not born again. He is merely declared “not guilty.” This presupposes that God and man cannot be really united on any level beyond that of moral obedience. (This was an early heresy called ) What man needed was to be renewed, to become like God and not simply forgiven His sins.
There are three problems with the idea of “satisfaction”: 1) God must change, 2) God must be subject to a higher justice, 3) Salvation is external and man remains unchanged. Orthodox Christians cannot accept this idea because it violates the most fundamental principle of Christian theology and leaves man unchanged. For Orthodox to be saved means healing, man is restored to spiritual health, united again with Him. God does not need to be changed but our state needs to changed. Christ came not as a substitutional sacrifice but came as a healer, to renew mankind, to be reunited with Him and to live with his free will voluntarily acting in cooperation with God’s divine will.
Salvation is the work of God as Christ says, “without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If without Christ we can do nothing, then likewise apart from us God will do nothing. Our free will is an essential condition, for without it even God does nothing. This interrelationship between divine grace and our human freedom remains always a mystery. As Paul says, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:33)
Be not confused by this idea of synergia or cooperation. Salvation is a free gift of God There is no idea of Merits in Orthodox views. Salvation cannot be “earned” or “deserved”. Salvation is totally an act of divine grace and yet in this act of grace we remain totally free. Like the virgin Mother assented to the angel Gabriel we too must assent to this Grace freely given to us. This cooperation involves a union with God, an intimate relationship that comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our cooperation is the work of the Holy Spirit. The free gift from God requires a free response guided by the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, “we are fellow-worker (synergoi) with God” (1Cor 3:9).
The salvific work of Jesus was a matter that required for him to become like us. God took on human flesh. Why? So mankind could be renewed, healed. To be healed we need faith that unites us with Him so we can become like Him. Salvation is the person Jesus himself, not a particular act of Jesus. What did the elder Simeon say when he beheld the baby Jesus? “My eyes have see your salvation” (Luke 2:30). We cannot limit our thinking about salvation to the Cross couched in juridical terms of “satisfaction.” We must consider what came before. He was God who took on human flesh at His birth. We must also consider that following the Cross we have the Resurrection, Ascension and His Second Coming. We must not narrow Jesus to a mere sacrifice to satisfy God’s anger, justice or honor. We must consider the whole saving economy that embraces all the images Scripture provides for us. We must realize that It is Jesus Himself that is our salvation.
So are you saved? Salvation is a life long journey. A journey with Christ in our heart. In Orthodox daily evening prayers there is a short petition attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, “O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in your sight, yet grant me by your grace to make a beginning.” Metropolitan Kallistos Ware reminds us the right question is not “Am I saved” but “Have I even begun?”
Dec 22, 2011
References for further reading
The Life by Clark Carlton
How we are Saved by Metroplitan Kallistos Ware