Salvation, SoteriologyGeneral Information
Salvation (from the Latin salus, "health," "safety," "well being") is a religious concept that refers either to the process through which a person is brought from a condition of distress to a condition of ultimate well being or to the state of ultimate well being that is the result of that process. The meaning of the concept varies according to the different ways religious traditions understand the human plight and the ultimate state of human well being. Ideas of salvation may or may not be linked to the figure of a savior or redeemer or correlated with a concept of God.
In Christianity, salvation is variously conceived. One prominent conception emphasizes justification - the process through which the individual, alienated from God by sin, is reconciled to God and reckoned just or righteous through faith in Christ. Other religions present other views. In certain forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, salvation is understood as liberation from the inevitable pain of existence in time by means of religious disciplines that ultimately achieve a state of being that is not determined by time bound perceptions and forms of thought.
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William S Babcock
K Klostermaier, Liberation, Salvation, Self Realization: A Comparative Study of Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian Ideas (1973); A W Pink, The Doctrine of Salvation (1975); C R Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Salvation: A Study of the Atonement (1969).
Salvation is perceived in a variety of ways by different Christians and even different Christian Churches. The Salvation process is unique to each individual. In some cases, it can be a slow, methodical procedure. In others, an instantaneous flash of insight causes a miraculous transformation! For most people, the Salvation process is somewhere between these extremes.
In all cases, the central human condition involved for Salvation is absolute total trust in God.
A very analytical way of looking at it involves the following:
(This presents a generalized Protestant perspective. Catholics and Orthodox are taught rather different views on Salvation.)
Conversion essentially initiates the process of Salvation, by representing a willingness to seriously consider the value of Christian Faith.
The Indwelling Holy Spirit is especially helpful here. ALL people are exposed to many sources who / which claim to present the Truth. Discernment of what is True and what is not, is often quite difficult, as the sin-driven sources are often extremely believable in their lies and partial truths. A Christian or a Seeker often needs to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance on discerning the value of unusual statements.
Regeneration occurs when a person realizes that Faith in Jesus Christ is the correct and valuable Path.
Justification occurs privately but is then publicly acknowledged in the Church in a Baptism ceremony. The Baptism is the Scriptural method for the Church to recognize that Justification has occurred.
Adoption is essentially an "automatic" follow-up to Justification, where God applies the benefits of Redemption that came to exist in the Justification.
Many Christian Churches consider only some of these 'stages' to be part of the Salvation process. Various Denominations describe their concept of Salvation in different ways. In addition, the indwelling Holy Spirit understands what unique sequence and process is necessary for each individual, so sweeping generalities (like this description!) are often incorrect. These matters make precise general discussion on the subject somewhat difficult.
In addition, this listing is a specifically Protestant description. Catholic and Orthodox desciptions have some differences, and generally discuss fewer "stages". Also, where Protestant beliefs insist on Salvation being totally by the Grace of God, with no input by the person, Catholic beliefs include finding substantial value in the Good Works of the person.
(BELIEVE contains individual presentations on these different matters. See the very end of this page for links to them.)
The saving of man from the power and effects of sin.
Soteria therefore gathered a rich connotation from LXX to carry into NT. There, too, it means deliverance, preservation, from any danger (Acts 7:25; 27:31; Heb. 11:7). The roots saos, sozo, however, add the notion of wholeness, soundness, health, giving "salvation" a medical connotation, salvation from affliction, disease, demon possession, death (Mark 5:34; James 5:15; etc.). Sometimes this meaning is literal; peace, joy, praise, faith are so interwoven with healing as to give "saved" a religious significance also. Jesus' self description as "physician" (Mark 2:17) and the illustrative value of the healing miracles in defining his mission show how readily physical and spiritual healing unite in "salvation" (Luke 4:18 - 19).
Much of the most frequent use of soteria and derivatives is for deliverance, preservation from all spiritual dangers, the bestowal of all religious blessings. Its alternative is destruction (Phil. 1:28), death (2 Cor. 7:10), divine wrath (1 Thess. 5:9); it is available to all (Titus 2:11), shared (Jude 3), eternal (Heb. 5:9). It is ascribed to Christ alone (Acts 4:12; Luke 19:10), "the pioneer of salvation," and especially to his death (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 5:9 - 10). In that sense salvation was "from the Jews" (John 4:22), though for Gentiles too (Rom. 11:11). It is proclaimed (taught) as a way of thought and life (Acts 13:26; 16:17; Eph. 1:13), to be received from God's favor by faith alone, a confessed confidence and trust (Acts 16:30 - 31; Eph. 2:8) focused upon the resurrection and Lordship of Christ (Rom. 10:9), "calling" upon him (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). Once received, salvation must not be "neglected" but "held fast," "grown up to," humbly "worked out" (Heb. 2:3; 1 Cor. 15:2; 1 Pet. 2:2; Phil. 2:12), some being only narrowly saved in the end (1 Cor. 3:15; 1 Pet. 4:18).
(1) By what we are saved from. This includes sin and death; guilt and estrangement; ignorance of truth; bondage to habit and vice; fear of demons, of death, of life, of God, of hell; despair of self; alienation from others; pressures of the world; a meaningless life. Paul's own testimony is almost wholly positive: salvation has brought him peace with God, access to God's favor and presence, hope of regaining the glory intended for men, endurance in suffering, steadfast character, an optimistic mind, inner motivations of divine love and power of the Spirit, ongoing experience of the risen Christ within his soul, and sustaining joy in God (Rom. 5:1 - 11). Salvation extends also to society, aiming at realizing the kingdom of God; to nature, ending its bondage to futility (Rom. 8:19 - 20); and to the universe, attaining final reconciliation of a fragmented cosmos (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20).
(2) By noting that salvation is past (Rom. 8:24; Eph. 2:5, 8; Titus 3:5 - 8); present (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15; 6:2; 1 Pet. 1:9; 3:21); and future (Rom. 5:9 - 10; 13:11; 1 Cor. 5:5; Phil. 1:5 - 6; 2:12; 1 Thess. 5:8; Heb. 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:2). That is, salvation includes that which is given, freely and finally, by God's grace (forgiveness, called in one epistle justification, friendship; or reconciliation, atonement, sonship, and new birth); that which is continually imparted (santification, growing emancipation from all evil, growing enrichment in all good, the enjoyment of eternal life, experience of the Spirit's power, liberty, joy, advancing maturity in conformity to Christ); and that still to be attained (redemption of the body, perfect Christlikeness, final glory).
(3) By distinguishing salvation's various aspects: religious (acceptance with God, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship, reception of the Spirit, immortality); emotional (strong assurance, peace, courage, hopefulness, joy); practical (prayer, guidance, discipline, dedication, service); ethical (new moral dynamic for new moral aims, freedom, victory); personal (new thoughts, convictions, horizons, motives, satisfactions, selffulfillment); social (new sense of community with Christians, of compassion toward all, overriding impulse to love as Jesus has loved).
In Jesus' openness and friendship toward sinners, the loving welcome of God found perfect expression. Nothing was needed to win back God's favor. It waited eagerly for man's return (Luke 15:11 - 24). The one indispensable preliminary was the change in man from rebelliousness to childlike trust and willingness to obey. That shown, there followed life under God's rule, described as feasting, marriage, wine, finding treasure, joy, peace, all the freedom and privilege of sonship within the divine family in the Father's world.
Peter also called to repentance (Acts 2:38), promising forgiveness and the Spirit to whoever called upon the Lord. Salvation was especially from past misdeeds and for conformity to a perverse generation (vss. 23 - 40); and with a purpose, inheritance, and glory still to be revealed (1 Pet. 1:3 - 5; etc.).
In John's thought salvation is from death and judgment. He restates its meaning in terms of life, rich and eternal (thirty six times in Gospel, thirteen in 1 John), God's gift in and with Christ, beginning in total renewal ("new birth"); illumined by truth ("knowledge," "light"); and experienced as love (John 3:5 - 16; 5:24; 12:25; 1 John 4:7 - 11; 5:11).
Paul saw his own failure to attain legal righteousness reflected in all men and due to the overmastering power ("rule") of sin, which brought with it death. Salvation is therefore, first, acquital, despite just condemnation, on the ground of Christ's expiation of sin (Rom. 3:21 - 22); and second, deliverance by the invasive power of the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of the risen Christ. The faith which accepts and assents to Christ's death on our behalf also unites us to him so closely that with him we die to sin and rise to new life (Rom. 6:1 - 2). The results are freedom from sin's power (vss. 7, 18; 8:2); exultation in the power of the indwelling Spirit and assurance of sonship (ch. 8); increasing conformity to Christ. By the same process death is overcome, and believers are prepared for life everlasting (6:13, 22 - 23; 8:11).
Later, the Eastern Church traced the effect of Adam's fall chiefly in man's mortality, and saw salvation as especially the gift of eternal life through the risen Christ. The Western Church traced the effect of Adam's fall chiefly in the inherited guilt (Ambrose) and corruption (Augustine) of the race, and saw salvation as especially the gift of grace through Christ's death. Divine grace alone could cancel guilt and deliver from corruption.
Anselm and Abelard explored further the relation of man's salvation to the cross of Jesus as satisfaction for sin, or redeeming example of love; Luther, its relation to man's receiving faith; Calvin, its relation to God's sovereign will. Roman Catholic thought has emphasized the objective sphere of salvation within a sacramental church; and Protestantism, the subjective experience of salvation within the individual soul. Modern reflection tends to concentrate on the psychological process and ethical results of salvation, emphasizing the need to "save" society.
R E O White
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
L H Marshall, Challenge of NT Ethics; H R Mackintosh, Christian Experience of Forgiveness; V Taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation; E Kevan, Salvation; U Simon, Theology of Salvation.
There are four major ways of ordering the soteriological elements of God's eternal decree.
The distinction between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism has to do with the logical order of God's eternal decrees, not the timing of election. Neither side suggests that the elect were chosen after Adam sinned. God made His choice before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), long before Adam sinned. Both infras and supras (and even many Arminians) agree on this.
SUPRALAPSARIANISM is the view that God, contemplating man as yet unfallen, chose some to receive eternal life and rejected all others. So a supralapsarian would say that the reprobate (non-elect) vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Rom. 9:22) were first ordained to that role, and then the means by which they fell into sin was ordained. In other words, supralapsarianism suggests that God's decree of election logically preceded His decree to permit Adam's fall, so that their damnation is first of all an act of divine sovereignty, and only secondarily an act of divine justice.
Supralapsarianism is sometimes mistakenly equated with "double predestination." The term "double predestination" itself is often used in a misleading and ambiguous fashion. Some use it to mean nothing more than the view that the eternal destiny of both elect and reprobate is settled by the eternal decree of God. In that sense of the term, all genuine Calvinists hold to "double predestination" and the fact that the destiny of the reprobate is eternally settled is clearly a biblical doctrine (cf. 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 9:22; Jude 4). But more often, the expression "double predestination" is employed as a pejorative term to describe the view of those who suggest that God is as active in keeping the reprobate out of heaven as He is in getting the elect in. (There's an even more sinister form of "double predestination," which suggests that God is as active in making the reprobate evil as He is in making the elect holy.)
This view (that God is as active in reprobating the non-elect as He is in redeeming the elect) is more properly labeled "equal ultimacy" (cf. R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God, 142). It is actually a form of hyper-Calvinism and has nothing to do with true, historic Calvinism. Though all who hold such a view would also hold to the supralapsarian scheme, the view itself is not a necessary ramification of supralapsarianism.
Supralapsarianism is also sometimes wrongly equated with hyper-Calvinism. All hyper-Calvinists are supralapsarians, though not all supras are hyper-Calvinists.
Supralapsarianism is sometimes called "high" Calvinism, and its most extreme adherents tend to reject the notion that God has any degree of sincere goodwill or meaningful compassion toward the non-elect. Historically, a minority of Calvinists have held this view.
But Boettner's comment that "there is not more than one Calvinist in a hundred that holds the supralapsarian view," is no doubt an exaggeration. And in the past decade or so, the supralapsarian view seems to have gained popularity.
INFRALAPSARIANISM (also known sometimes as "sublapsarianism") suggests that God's decree to permit the fall logically preceded His decree of election. So when God chose the elect and passed over the non-elect, He was contemplating them all as fallen creatures.
Those are the two major Calvinistic views. Under the supralapsarian scheme, God first rejects the reprobate out of His sovereign good pleasure; then He ordains the means of their damnation through the fall. In the infralapsarian order, the non-elect are first seen as fallen individuals, and they are damned solely because of their own sin. Infralapsarians tend to emphasize God's "passing over" the non-elect (preterition) in His decree of election.
Robert Reymond, himself a supralapsarian, proposes the following
refinement of the supralapsarian view: (See Robert Reymond, Systematic
Theology of the Christian Faith, 489).
Notice that in addition to reording the decrees, Reymond's view deliberately stresses that in the decree of election and reprobation, God is contemplating men as sinners. Reymond writes, "In this scheme, unlike the former [the classic supra- order], God is represented as discriminating among men viewed as sinners and not among men viewed simply as men." Reymond's refinement avoids the criticism most commonly leveled against supralapsarianism, that the supralapsarian has God damning men to perdition before He even contemplates them as sinners. But Reymond's view also leaves unanswered the question of how and why God would regard all men as sinners even before it was determined that the human race would fall. (Some might even argue that Reymond's refinements result in a position that, as far as the key distinction is concerned, is implicitly infralapsarian.)
All the major Reformed Creeds are either explicitly infralapsarian, or else they carefully avoid language that favors either view. No major creed takes the supralapsarian position. (This whole issue was hotly debated throughout the Westminster Assembly. William Twisse, an ardent supralapsarian and chairman of the Assembly, ably defended his view. But the Assembly opted for language that clearly favors the infra position, yet without condemning supralapsarianism.)
"Bavinck has pointed out that the supralapsarian presentation 'has not been incorporated in a single Reformed Confession' but that the infra position has received an official place in the Confessions of the churches" (Berkouwer, Divine Election, 259).
Louis Berkhof's discussion of the two views (in his Systematic Theology) is helpful, though he seems to favor supralapsarianism. I take the Infra view, as did Turretin, most of the Princeton theologians, and most of the leading Westminster Seminary men (e.g., John Murray). These issues were at the heart of the "common grace" controversy in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Herman Hoeksema and those who followed him took such a rigid supralapsarian position that they ultimately denied the very concept of common grace.
Finally, see the chart (above), which compares these two views with Amyraldism (a kind of four-point Calvinism) and Arminianism. My notes on each view (below) identify some of the major advocates of each view.
Amyraldism is the doctrine formulated by Moise Amyraut, a French theologian from the Saumur school. (This same school spawned another aggravating deviation from Reformed orthodoxy: Placaeus' view involving the mediate imputation of Adam's guilt). By making the decree to atone for sin logically antecedent to the decree of election, Amyraut could view the atonement as hypothetically universal, but efficacious for the elect alone. Therefore the view is sometimes called "hypothetical universalism." Puritan Richard Baxter embraced this view, or one very nearly like it. He seems to have been the only major Puritan leader who was not a thoroughgoing Calvinist. Some would dispute whether Baxter was a true Amyraldian. (See, e.g. George Smeaton, The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 reprint], Appendix, 542.) But Baxter seemed to regard himself as Amyraldian. This is a sophisticated way of formulating "four-point Calvinism," while still accounting for an eternal decree of election. But Amyraldism probably should not be equated with all brands of so-called "four-point Calvinism." In my own experience, most self-styled four-pointers are unable to articulate any coherent explanation of how the atonement can be universal but election unconditional. So I wouldn't glorify their position by labeling it Amyraldism. (Would that they were as committed to the doctrine of divine sovereignty as Moise Amyraut! Most who call themselves four-pointers are actually crypto-Arminians.) A H Strong held this view (Systematic Theology, 778). He called it (incorrectly) "sublapsarianism." Henry Thiessen, evidently following Strong, also mislabeled this view "sublapsarianism" (and contrasted it with "infralapsarianism") in the original edition of his Lectures in Systematic Theology (343). His discussion in this edition is very confusing and patently wrong at points. In later editions of his book this section was completely rewritten.
P R Johnson
(Greek soteria; Hebrew yeshu'ah).
Salvation has in Scriptural language the general meaning of liberation from straitened circumstances or from other evils, and of a translation into a state of freedom and security (1 Samuel 11:13; 14:45; 2 Samuel 23:10; 2 Kings 13:17). At times it expresses God's help against Israel's enemies, at other times, the Divine blessing bestowed on the produce of the soil (Isaiah 45:8). As sin is the greatest evil, being the root and source of all evil, Sacred Scripture uses the word "salvation" mainly in the sense of liberation of the human race or of individual man from sin and its consequences. We shall first consider the salvation of the human race, and then salvation as it is verified in the individual man.
I. SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE
We need not dwell upon the possibility of the salvation of mankind or upon its appropriateness. Nor need we remind the reader that after God had freely determined to save the human race, He might have done so by pardoning man's sins without having recourse to the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Still, the Incarnation of the Word was the most fitting means for the salvation of man, and was even necessary, in case God claimed full satisfaction for the injury done to him by sin (see INCARNATION). Though the office of Saviour is really one, it is virtually multiple: there must be an atonement for sin and damnation, an establishment of the truth so as to overcome human ignorance and error, a perennial source of spiritual strength aiding man in his struggle against darkness and concupiscence. There can be no doubt that Jesus Christ really fulfilled these three functions, that He therefore really saved mankind from sin and its consequences. As teacher He established the reign of truth; as king He supplied strength to His subjects; as priest He stood between heaven and earth, reconciling sinful man with his angry God.
A. Christ as Teacher
Prophets had foretold Christ as a teacher of Divine truth: "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles" (Isaiah 55:4). Christ himself claims the title of teacher repeatedly during the course of His public life: "You can call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am" (John 13:13; cf. Matthew 23:10; John 3:31). The Gospels inform us that nearly the whole of Christ's public life was devoted to teaching (see JESUS CHRIST). There can be no doubt as to the supereminence of Christ's teaching; even as man, He is an eyewitness to all He reveals; His truthfulness is God's own veracity; His authority is Divine; His words are the utterance of a Divine person; He can internally illumine and move the minds of His hearers; He is the eternal and infinite wisdom of God Incarnate Who cannot deceive and cannot be deceived.
B. Christ as King
The royal character of Christ was foretold by the Prophets, announced by the angels, claimed by Christ Himself (Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 9:6-7; Ezekiel 34:23; Jeremiah 23:3-5; Luke 1:32-33; John 18:37). His royal functions are the foundation, the expansion and the final consummation of the kingdom of God among men. The first and last of these acts are personal and visible acts of the king, but the intermediate function is carried out either invisibly, or by Christ's visible agents. The practical working of the kingly office of Christ is described in the treatises on the sources of revelation; on grace, on the Church, on the sacraments, and on the last things.
C. Christ as Priest
The ordinary priest, is made God's own by an accidental unction, Christ is constituted God's own Son by the substantial unction with the Divine nature; the ordinary priest is made holy, though not impeccable, by his consecration, while Christ is separated from all sin and sinners by the hypostatic union; the ordinary priest draws nigh unto God in a very imperfect manner, but Christ is seated at the right hand of the power of God. The Levitical priesthood was temporal, earthly, and carnal in its origin, in its relations to God, in its working, in its power; Christ's priesthood is eternal, heavenly, and spiritual. The victims offered by the ancient priests were either lifeless things or, at best, irrational animals distinct from the person of the offerer; Christ offers a victim included in the person of the offerer. His living human flesh, animated by His rational soul, a real and worthy substitute for mankind, on whose behalf Christ offers the sacrifice. The Aaronic priest inflicted an irreparable death on the victim which his sacrificial intention changed into a religious rite or symbol; in Christ's sacrifice the immutation of the victim is brought about by an internal act of His will (John 10:17), and the victim's death is the source of a new life to himself and to mankind. Besides, Christ's sacrifice, being that of a Divine person, carries its own acceptance with it; it is as much of a gift of God to man, as a sacrifice of man to God.
Hence follows the perfection of the salvation wrought by Christ for mankind. On His part Christ offered to God a satisfaction for man's sin not only sufficient but superabundant (Romans 5:15-20); on God's part supposing, what is contained in the very idea of man's redemption through Christ, that God agreed to accept the work of the Redeemer for the sins of man, He was bound by His promise and His justice to grant the remission of sin to the extent and in the manner intended by Christ. In this way our salvation has won back for us the essential prerogative of the state of original justice, i.e., sanctifying grace while it will restore the minor prerogatives of the Resurrection. At the same time, it does not at once blot out individual sin, but only procures the means thereto, and these means are not restricted only to the predestined or to the faithful, but extend to all men (1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). Moreover salvation makes us coheirs of Christ (Romans 8:14-17), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9; cf. Exodus 19:6), sons of God, temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16), and other Christs--Christianus alter Christus; it perfects the angelical orders, raises the dignity of the material world, and restores all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). By our salvation all things are ours, we are Christ's, and Christ is God's (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).
II. INDIVIDUAL SALVATION
The Council of Trent describes the process of salvation from sin in the case of an adult with great minuteness (Sess. VI, v-vi).
It begins with the grace of God which touches a sinner's heart, and calls him to repentance. This grace cannot be merited; it proceeds solely from the love and mercy of God. Man may receive or reject this inspiration of God, he may turn to God or remain in sin. Grace does not constrain man's free will.
Thus assisted the sinner is disposed for salvation from sin; he believes in the revelation and promises of God, he fears God's justice, hopes in his mercy, trusts that God will be merciful to him for Christ's sake, begins to love God as the source of all justice, hates and detests his sins.
This disposition is followed by justification itself, which consists not in the mere remission of sins, but in the sanctification and renewal of the inner man by the voluntary reception of God's grace and gifts, whence a man becomes just instead of unjust, a friend instead of a foe and so an heir according to hope of eternal life. This change happens either by reason of a perfect act of charity elicited by a well disposed sinner or by virtue of the Sacrament either of Baptism or of Penance according to the condition of the respective subject laden with sin. The Council further indicates the causes of this change. By the merit of the Most Holy Passion through the Holy Spirit, the charity of God is shed abroad in the hearts of those who are justified.
Against the heretical tenets of various times and sects we must hold
that the initial grace is truly gratuitous and supernatural;
that the human will remains free under the influence of this grace;
that man really cooperates in his personal salvation from sin;
that by justification man is really made just, and not merely declared or reputed so;
that justification and sanctification are only two aspects of the same thing, and not ontologically and chronologically distinct realities;
that justification excludes all mortal sin from the soul, so that the just man is no way liable to the sentence of death at God's judgment-seat.
Other points involved in the foregoing process of personal salvation from sin are matters of discussion among Catholic theologians; such are, for instance,
the precise nature of initial grace,
the manner in which grace and free will work together,
the precise nature of the fear and the love disposing the sinner for justification,
the manner in which sacraments cause sanctifying grace.
But these questions are treated in other articles dealing ex professo with the respective subjects. The same is true of final perseverance without which personal salvation from sin is not permanently secured.
What has been said applies to the salvation of adults; children and those permanently deprived of their use of reason are saved by the Sacrament of Baptism.
Publication information Written by A.J. Maas. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Salvation is the goal of Christianity, and the purpose of the Church. The theology of salvation is called soteriology. Orthodox Christianity strongly believes that God became man, so that man may become like God. This concept of theosis, rejects that salvation is a positive result to a legalistic dilemma, but is instead a healing process. Orthodoxy views our inclination to sin as a symptom of a malady that needs treatment, not just a transgression that requires retribution. One of the distinctive characteristics of Orthodox Christian thinking is that it sees the Gospel message not as law, but as relationship. It speaks of the mystery of the Holy Trinity in terms of the relationship of love that exists among them. To join in that love is the work that will lead to salvation.
To be like God, through the gift of God, is the essence of man's being and life. In the scriptures it says that God breathed into man, the "breath (or spirit) of life" (Gen 2:7). This teaching has given rise to the understanding in the Orthodox Church that man cannot be truly human, truly himself, without the Spirit of God.
The image of God signifies man's free will, his reason, his sense of moral responsibility, everything, which marks man out from the animal creation and makes him a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God's 'offspring' (Acts 27:28), his kin; it means that between us and him there is a point of contact, an essential similarity. The gulf between creature and Creator is not impassable, for because we are in God's image we can know God and have communion with him.
The Church teaches that when we do not respond to God's love, we are diminished as human beings. The act of faith that he asks of us is not so very different from the faith and trust we place in those people who surround us. When we do not respond to the love given us by the people who love us, we become shallow and hardened individuals.
God did not abandon his people after Christ's ascension into heaven. His Church, starting on Pentecost, is still with us today.
The final coming of Christ will be the judgment of all men. His very presence will be the judgment. For those who love the Lord, his presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death.
The Church is the unity of those united with the Trinity. The One Church united as the three persons of Trinity are united. If one in the Church makes proper use of this Church, for communion with God, then he will become 'like' God, he will acquire the divine likeness; in the words of John Damascene, he will be 'assimilated to God through virtue.' To acquire the likeness is to be deified, it is to become a 'god by grace,' [not by nature or essence].
The Arising of Jesus
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