Reject those who say we need only our own free will and not prayer to help us keep from sin. Even the Pharisee wasn’t blinded by such darkness. For, although he mistakenly thought he only needed his own righteousness (and believed he was saturated with it), nevertheless, he thanked God that he wasn’t “like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers…” Yet it isn’t a question of prayers alone, as if we don’t need to include our willful efforts. For although God is “our Helper,” we cannot be helped if we don’t make some effort of our own. God doesn’t work out salvation in us as if we are dull stones or creatures without reason or will.
-St. Augustine of Hippo (emphasis mine)
Sola Fide, or “faith alone” is a protestant doctrine that human beings need only have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Those who ascribe to this view see man’s relationship with God as very judicial; we human beings are “criminals” by virtue of our fallen nature and soley by believing in Christ, God gives us a judicial pardon (justification) and decides to save us. We play absolutely no part in this salvation outside of merely believing in God. I (as well as both branches of ancient historical Christianity) have a problem with this, and my personal reasons are three fold: (1) It is irreconcilable with normal human behavior and is essentially a “get out of hell free” card, (2) the idea of a judicial pardon is irreconcilable with the idea of an all powerful God, and (3) it is demeaning to the creations of God and ignores the gifts which He has given us.
(1) Get out of hell free: I say that the doctrine of sola fide is likened to the Monopoly game’s get out of jail free card because if all that is needed for salvation is belief, then it ignores how we act. Now, I will agree that faith is the jumping off point, the essential beginning step for salvation, but it is not enough to retain that salvation. If all I need to get to heaven is to believe in Christ (and what exactly is it that we’re supposed to ‘believe’ in order to gain the salvation?) then as long as I have that faith, can I go out and do anything I want? Can I continue to live in the world, valueing money, gratifying my body and the desires of my passions etc. and still get to heaven as long as I “believe” in Christ? This just doesn’t make sense!
In Orthodox Christianity (as well as Roman Catholicism) salvation is a dynamic process. We do not say that we “are saved,” rather we say that “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.” You have to work to keep your salvation! This isn’t to say that salvation comes about by human effort, not at all! Salvation can only be granted by God. But if we truley believe that Jesus Christ was God. If we truley believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, if we truley believe in everything that God has revealed to the world from the time of Noah down to the time of Christ, then we will be active in our faith. We will strive to conquer our will, we will fight to overcome our passions, we will learn the tacticts of the demons and the subversive logismoi and learn to fight against them, trying as hard as we can to live like Christ and how God wants us to. It is not enough to say “I love you Jesus!” and then think that we are automatically granted entry into the Kingdom.
(2) We must be reconciled, not God: This reason I have against the idea of sola fide actually has its roots in the whole western conception of original sin and salvation. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) tends to view original sin as some sort of stain on the soul which each of us inherits at birth. Because of this view, the Western idea of salvation tends to be that we must appease the wrath of God and ask for forgiveness for this sin on our souls. It is seen much like a court process: God is the stern judge, and we are the defendants. We must plead our case before God and then hope that he chooses to forgive us. But let me ask this, if God is truley just, then why does He hold us responsible for a sin which we did not commit?
Eastern Christianity has never seen salvation like this. We are only responsible for the sins which we ourselves commit. We do not inherit some stain on the soul. Rather, what we inherit are the results of the original sin; death and subjugation to the passions. If you view salvation in the manner that the Western Churches do then in effect what you say is that we have to reconcile God to us; we have to make God change His mind and they way that He views us. Again, this view is mistaken! It is us who would be changing, not God. It is us who should change the way that we live and us who have to work to live how God wants us. If you believe in sola fide then you unequivocally buy into this idea that God must change to justify us, rathern we changing in orther that we be justified.
(3) We are not cattle: My last major objection to sola fide comes from the complete helplessness that it leaves the human race. Sola fide assumes that human beings are completely depraved and absolutely helpless to do anything to change the situation. How demeaning is this! We are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. To say that we are such base creatures as to not be able to do anything under our own power but wallow in sin rejects this truth. No, we human beings, while not having the power to actually achieve salvation on our own, do have the ability to work towards it, to prove to God that we are trying to live how He wants. We are not dumb animals, walking around in the dark praying for someone to turn the lights on for us. We are icons of God.
The truth that the Eastern Orthodox Church has proclaimed for nearly 2,0oo years—since the time of the Apostles—is this: Adam and Eve, acting as representatives of all of humanity, were created in the image and the likeness of God. At the time of creation our will was perfectly in tune with God and because of this there was no corruption in our bodies, we could see and talk to God easily. The fall from this state of grace was the result of going against the will of God. The result of this was that it because increasingly harder to do the will of God and so we left the state of grace which we lived in. No longer partakers of the divine grace corruption entered our bodies, meaning that we don’t have easy control over our will and passions, and eventually the material body corrupts tot he point to where it cannot sustain life or the soul (death). God didn’t abandon us though, and chose the Israelites to teach how to enter back into that state of grace. To make it easier for us to overcome our will and to realign it with God’s, He gave the Israelites commandments and laws. These served as a way to deny the things that we want, and to eventually overcome those wants.
Over time however the Israelites looked to those rules and laws and ends in themselves. They saw them as the way of achieving salvation, rather than as a jumping point. So, God became incarnate in the flesh and came down Himself to teach us a new way. He became a rolemodel for us, showing us how to live, how to love, and teaching still that we must deny ourselves and look to God on how to live. By dying on the Cross, the immortal destroyed the power of death, and opened up the gates of Heaven so that now when the body fails, the soul has the opportunity to go straight to Heaven and be with its Creator.
In order to this we must acknowledge God as the only true God, and Christ as God Himself. We must acknowledge that we often live for ourselves, gratifying our passions and seeking after our own will. Futher, we must deny this and work to conquer this will and instead do the will of God. We must have faith that by doing this we can reach the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and then once in that state we can strive to grow in God, and to learn more and more about Him. We cannot reach God through our own power, but neither are we powerless in our struggle. Salvation is a two way process: God has set up the right conditions and waits for us with open arms, while it is up to us to see those conditions and to run willingly into those arms.
May God bless you during this period while we eagerly await the celebration of His ressurection!
IC | XC
NI | KA