"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- The Trinity, Humans, Image/Likeness, Grace and Free Will

The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware


"'That there is a God is clear; but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge.'"  -- John of Damascus

So obviously John wasn't even debating the fact of God's existence instead stating rather forthrightly that God's existence is clear.  What and who God is... that's another story.

"Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet He is also a God who acts -- the God of History, intervening directly in concrete situations."

I read this just a day after reading Sarah's comment about God being "the ultimate introvert" and had to smile at the visual I had of God hiding.   I do recall God hiding Himself in the sense that He only allowed Moses to see His back parts (whatever that symbolized!...Oh, here is a bit of commentary on that if you are interested.) But I also see clearly in the Bible that God does act, and, therefore, does not hide in the sense of an uninvolved person who just sits back and watches with bemused interest to see what those earthlings He created will do next.

"God is not simply a single person confined within His own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom 'dwells' in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union."  (pg. 209)

I had to stop and think about this statement. (Thus why some books I read so slowly!)


"Humans were made for fellowship with God."

"But humans, made for fellowship with God, everywhere repudiate that fellowship."

Enter story of Adam (representing humankind as a whole) falling and his "original sin" affecting all humanity. (pg.218)

Does this give us our reason for existence? Our meaning for life? Fellowship with the Almighty?


"Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...'"  ~ Genesis 1:26

Image "indicates rationality and freedom"  -- bestowed upon us from our beginning

Likeness is "assimilation to God through virtue."  -- a goal only acquired by degrees

"However sinful we may be, we never lose the image; but the likeness depends upon our moral choice, upon our 'virtue,' and so it is destroyed by sin."

"Orthodox religious thought lays the utmost emphasis on the image of God in the human person."

"Because she or he is an icon of God, each member of the human race, even the most sinful, is infinitely precious in God's sight."  (pg. 221)

I rather liked this explanation of image and likeness and the facts of how we obtain each!


"The Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon human freedom."

While recognizing that "what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what we do," Orthodox believe achieving full fellowship with God depends on us doing our part as well.   "God's gifts are always free gifts, and we humans can never have any claims upon our Maker. But while we cannot 'merit' salvation, we must certainly work for it, since 'faith without works is dead.'" 

I understand this a bit differently and have argued often here that we work because of our faith/our salvation not to earn it.  It's like a light plugged into the power source is going to shine simply because the electricity is flowing to it.  It's not that the bulb tries its hardest to shine so that the electricity will see its effort and decide to give it the power to shine.  We work because we are connected to the Source, not in an effort to earn the Source's power.   Alas, I see that I differ from the Orthodox in this measure. I could point to statements of Jesus and Paul to back up what I believe.  I understand this verse from James as important as well, but understand it as I've described and not that we must work for our salvation. 

The Orthodox view of salvation is this:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in."  "God knocks, but waits for us to open the door -- He doesn't break it down.  The grace of God invites all but compels none."  (pg. 222)

As a non-Calvinist, this is basically how I've always believed.  I simply do not believe God chose to eternally damn some for hell.  Maybe I am completely wrong, but I can't wrap my mind around a God like that especially in light of verses such as "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

You'll notice from his description that "the Orthodox picture of fallen humanity is far less somber than the Augustinian or Calvinist view."  They don't believe that a person in a "fallen and unredeemed state" can do nothing pleasing to God.  (pg. 224)

They do believe, however, that "human sin ...set up between humanity and God a barrier which blocked the path to union with God. Since we could not come to God, He came to us." (pg. 225)

And this sets the stage for God coming to earth. Next up, Jesus.


sanil said...

I'll have to read this book. To me, it sounds like the "working for salvation" could be not so much trying to get noticed or approved, but working to keep faith alive. It seems to affirm that salvation is given freely, not earned, so it wouldn't make sense to then say that they work to earn it. But practicing the faith and living the way you feel your faith directs may help keep you believing when you don't feel like it and don't have those assurances. I say that partly on the assumption that the comments on the existence and semi-invisibility of God are related, though, which they might not be. If they are, then you have to work for it because sometimes you can't see God in the world and have to see him in yourself.

Amber said...

I love the concept of humanity as icon of God. It just...I don't know. I'd always known the quote about mankind being made in God's image, but I guess I never really understood it until someone explained it in that fashion. You know how some information just doesn't click until someone explains it in a new way? Like that.

I'm not sure that your understanding of salvation is different, really. Maybe you're misunderstanding the 'works' part in Orthodoxy? *thinks hard**waves smoke away from ears*

Okay. Using your light bulb metaphor. The bulb, in the broad sense, glows because it is plugged into a power source. But it's not as though the bulb is passive in this interaction. Within the bulb are elements that have to perform specific functions for the power flowing through it to make it light up. A bulb can be plugged in, have power getting to it, and not glow because the filaments are broken, or the connection isn't made quite right - the contacts are corroded or dirty or something.

It seems like all the work is being done just by that first act, the one of plugging in, but in reality there are ongoing actions and reactions that must happen or there's no light.

Same thing with God, loosely. The act of faith, of belief in Christ and God and the Holy Spirit and (as an adult) dedication of ones life to Him is the plugging in. So we're getting a flow of power - but then we still have to do our part, as simple as it may seem in comparison to the action of God is providing us with salvation in the first place. That's our works.

I don't know of any Orthodox that's ever said that we do good works to attract God's attention in the hope that He'll save us. It's always as a function afterward. Salvation is a participatory activity, not a passive one. :D

Mad Scientist said...

Hi, Suzanne - Joni shared this with me. Is the book you're reading written from an evangelistic Christian perspective trying to understand the differences? Or is it written from an Orthodox perspective explaining TO evangelicals/protestants?

In my conversations with my Orthodox friend, their definition of "Salvation" is very different from our protestant view. And they, in fact, believe that we MUST have good works in order to be saved. Cited recently was Matthew 25:31-46 wherein Christ separates the sheep from the goats seemingly based on their works and the way they treated others.

Also cited was James 2:24 - "It is by your works you are justified, and not by faith alone." And finally, he used Matthew 7:21...which I was going to quote to him, actually.

The argument and/or insinuation is that we need to have works to be considered saved and that without them we have no part in eternity. Whereas we believe that salvation comes from faith alone and not by works so that no man can boast.

Now, a Christian SHOULD have good works - it's a sign to mankind and to God that you are serious about what you believe, but I don't believe it is required for salvation. We can talk more via email if you'd like. I have some more interesting thoughts on this.

Susanne said...

Sanil, thank you! Yes, I think you make a valid point. I couldn't grasp why he'd say one thing and then the very next sentence make me believe something else. :)

Amber, ah, nice addition to the light bulb illustration! Very enlightening. ;) I appreciate your taking time to think up that, blow the smoke away and share this with me!

I like the icon thing too especially how image and likeness were explained. That was very cool!

Mad Scientist, welcome and thank you for taking time to leave a comment! This book is about Orthodoxy from an Orthodox point of view. Sure, feel free to e-mail me if you want to share more. You can use this address:

bluesky732 @ yahoo . com

I appreciate your feedback!

Becky said...

Amber I really liked your comment and explanation about the whole salvation/grace/works thing.

This is one of the issues that were on the line for me when I considered converting to Islam. The Christianity that I was taught was basically "if you believe in Jesus and accept him as your Saviour you'll be saved, no matter what else you do". Of course it was also implied that if you really loved God/Jesus you would do good deeds, but this wasn't necessary.

I feel that in everything we do, our goal should always be to become a better person, to seek His guidance, and do good unto others.

Daniel said...

“As a non-Calvinist, this is basically how I've always believed. I simply do not believe God chose to eternally damn some for hell. Maybe I am completely wrong,…”

No, you are not wrong. I was never a Calvinist in any sense of the meaning because is never fit any of the scriptures. God has provided us all, each and everyone, the opportunity to accept Christ as our Savior and live our lives as Christians. It is up to us to either accept or reject.

There is a common misconception that God sends people to hell. He does not, people send themselves to hell by actively rejecting Christ. It is a choice they make, not one God makes. Scripture reveals to us God will need to increase the size of hell to accommodate all those who will enter. This shows God did not design hell for us to be in it, but rather heaven. There is nothing which states God will need to increase the size of heaven because we were all supposed to end up there. Salvation is a gift. If I were in the desert and about to die from dehydration when you walked up and offered me clean, fresh water and I refused your gift of life and died, whose fault is that? Mine! Same thing. I chose my death and rejected life.

Daniel said...

Amber, I really like your explanation of salvation! The only thing I would add would be, “what if the bulb was removed?” Doesn’t matter how much power flows, nothing happens. We can remove ourselves from God which renders us a useless light bulb which is not fulfilling its design. While we keep ourselves plugged in and the power of God flows through us, we shine. If we remove ourselves from the saving power of God, we are dark and alone and unable to perform as we should and lose the saving power of God.

This brings to question whether a person can walk away from God. You bet! We see it all the time. If a person is “saved” and later abandons God, curses God, hates God, fights against God, persecutes Christians, etc., can we honestly believe this person is going to be allowed into heaven? I say no, not unless that person decided to “plug back in” to the power of God.

Not sure if this made a lot of sense, but I hope it did.

Daniel said...

Mad Scientist, if I may I would like to provide my humble, new Orthodox understanding to what you posted.

Works do not save a person, but rather the reason we do those works and they are the result of our faith. People can do the works and never make it into heaven. Remember the rich young ruler? We don’t “need” the works, but the motivation behind the works is what is important. The works reveal our true nature and our heart. Hmm, maybe I can explain it in a better way.

Think Marine Corps. Once a Marine always a Marine, right, or so the saying goes. Lets say you have Mike. Mike joins the Marine Corps and LOVES being a Marine. He eats, sleeps and dreams Simper Fi! Well, everything is going great! He is doing all the things the USMC requires him to do until one day he decides to violate the regulations and smokes some pot. He is drug tested and the Marine Corps finds out he smoked some pot. Welp, the rules are you do drugs you leave the Marine Corps. He is removed, even though he was an outstanding Marine and did almost everything he was supposed to do. Why? Because he didn’t do everything required of a Marine. He chose to violate the rules. He walked away from what made him a Marine, so he no longer is part of the Marine family.

While this example falls short of salvation, it shows how important works are. Lucky for us, God is more forgiving than the Marine Corps and will let you back in when they will not.

I think a better explanation would be we work toward our salvation because we do not receive that salvation until we fall asleep in the Lord. Remember the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43? Christ did not say you have now been saved, but rather “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” because he was going to die that day. After death he was given his gift of salvation. His act or work was humility before the Savior and repentance. We constantly strive to become closer to God, become more like Christ, to work hard everyday to be what God wants us to be and if we do, once we die, God grants his gift. We do not earn it.

1 Corinthians 6:9 explains “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,”

This details active participation in those sins. In other words, people who actively participate in those activities will not make it into heaven. It does not say, “…unless you have been saved.” People can do these things after making a profession of faith. People work at NOT being those people because flesh has a sinful desire. We each struggle with sin and it is a real effort not to succumb to its influence. The nonchalant attitude of “I got saved at 13 so I am good” only sends people to hell because they have done nothing to reveal they are living for Christ.

I could keep on for days, but I hope what I wrote is clear and understandable and please do not think it was in an offensive manner. If it sounds as much, that was not my intention.

Amber said...


I'm glad the explanation made sense to you. :)

That whole attitude of just believing in Christ is all you need to do is one I've encountered, and it makes no sense at all. It's ridiculous, really. I saw a documentary one time about a man who murdered his entire family because he thought that he was sparing them from the shame of poverty. He then ran off and lived a nice life for something like 20, 30 years before being caught. When he was asked why he didn't kill himself as well, his explanation was basically that he was a Christian and God would have to forgive him murdering his mother, wife and children because he had professed faith in Christ, but suicide would be a sin.

Amber said...



You're right that the removal of the lightbulb is a natural addition to the analogy and illustrates the problem with the idea of OSAS.

Susanne really hit on a useful idea when she brought up the lightbulb, didn't she? :D

Susanne said...

Daniel, well that's how I have always thought of salvation as well, but I have Calvinist friends and acquaintances who make strong cases for election and they use Scripture to do it. I don't like it personally and find myself repulsed by a God like that, but they are good people and make good cases so ??? That's why I had that disclaimer that I could be wrong.

Actually after reading this book I've kind of gathered that the whole human depravity thing is a more western Reformed position as the Orthodox aren't nearly as "damning" of humans. Yet I couldn't help but think of verses from Paul saying "O wretched man that I am who can deliver me from this body of sin?" and that OT passage about the heart being desperately wicked and all our righteousness being as filthy rags. I thought maybe I should look into Orthodox teachings on these verses to see how they line up with the Bible.

I liked what you added about removing the light bulb! So glad I used that as my example instead of the one I normally use about a piece of wood being attached to the tree. :) Also this is against Calvinism's perseverance of the saints which believes that once you are saved, you are always saved because GOD is the one saving and He won't let you go back into sin completely. That's how I understand it anyway. It's the P part of TULIP. :)

Interesting comment to Mad Scientist. Honestly this --

" We constantly strive to become closer to God, become more like Christ, to work hard everyday to be what God wants us to be and if we do, once we die, God grants his gift. We do not earn it. "

Sounds like Islam to me if you change Christ to Muhammad that is. :) Maybe Muslims are right and Christ's blood is not necessary if we are working for our salvation. Or for God to grant it when we die, that is.

How do we know we are doing enough? Sounds like Islam's reward points program with the Jesus option!

Thanks for sharing your views!

Angry Panda said...

Just updated my profile name - Angry Panda = Mad Scientist. Long story.

Appreciate Daniel's comments as well. Nice to get another Orthodox prespective.

However, I fall more in line with Susanne's perspective. I have an assurance of salvation based on what I read in the scriptures. I don't have to guess whether or not I will receive the gift of salvation because I feel I've already received it an have a place in Heaven.

But I agree that a Christian's life should flow with an abundance of good works. Not because we are trying to earn anything, hope to gain anything (including the gift), or through some compulsory effort but because good works are supposed to follow the life of a believer.

I can find no scripture that supports salvation through works or a statement that God may not allow us into Heaven if we do not do enough. That idea sounds dangerous - it puts too much emphasis on what I do as if the sanctifying work of Christ was not enough.

D2 said...

Daniel, I would be interested in hearing more of your views on works/faith.
i use to be a Calvinist, avid as a matter of fact, but am slowly moving away from the view.
Would you care to summarize the Orthodox view of depravity, and clear up your views on being saved in the future and not now? Is it wrong for me to declare "I'm saved!" seeing as I'm still alive in this body?
I'm just trying to grasp it all.
PS. I'm D2 seeing as we're both daniel.

Susanne said...

Angry Panda,welcome back under your new name! :)

Ever since I read Daniel's comment this morning I've been thinking of Scripture and Paul especially seems to say no go works saving us. I can't see us being works-based or everything I've told my Muslim friends about us and our differences is wrong. What use was Jesus' death if we are having to work for salvation? This is what Muslims do without the need for a blood sacrifice. God is my Savior. Not me. I work *because* I'm saved and when you are attached to the Vine (john 15), you produce fruit.

D2, those are good questions. I hope Daniel sees them and is able to answer at some point either here or on his blog.

Thank you both for your replies!

Susanne said...

"to say no go works saving us"

no to GOOD works...sorry