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I really applaud Orthodox emphasis on the fact that we must understand that we utterly need Jesus before we can be truly saved. To be fair, the understanding of our own sinfulness is an integral part of Protestant gospel presentation as well. To give an example, consider an excerpt from Martyn Lloyd-Jones book “Spiritual depression”, about which I blogged some time ago:
Yet the correct teaching is that we are saved by faith and not by works. Why so many miserable Christians do not see it? Because they don’t see a need for it. Many people do not see themselves as sinners. That kind of person thinks of sin in terms of action, or what he/she does. Sometimes they put it quite plainly: “I have never really thought about myself as a sinner: but of course this is not surprising as my life has been sheltered from the beginning.” Such people have heard it preached that Christ has died for our sins and they say that they believe that; but they have never really known its absolute necessity for themselves.
Such people need to be convicted of sin. “There is no one righteous, no not one, all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God”. The way to know yourself as a sinner is not to compare yourself with other people (you can always find those worse than you), but come face to face with the Law of God. The Law of God is not just “Do not steal, do not murder”. It is also to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Here is a test for you and me: “Are you loving God with all your being?”. If not, you are a sinner. You can be innocent of all gross sins and yet be guilty of being satisfied with your life, having pride in your achievements and feeling that you are better than others. If you have never realized your guilt before God you will never have a joy in Christ. “Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to save”. “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick”.
Sounds similar to Orthodox view, doesn’t it? Yet, the Protestant gospel presentation has a second part that is practically missing in the Orthodox tradition. Consider what the doctor says next in his book:
God has said that He will punish sin, and that the punishment of sin is death and banishment from the face of God. Before man can be reconciled to God, before man can know God, this sin of his must be removed. God, because He is righteous and holy and eternal, could not forgive the sin of man without punishing it. He said He would punish it, so He must punish it, and, blessed be His name, He has punished it. God has punished our sins in Christ, in His body on the cross, so he can now forgive us.
In other words, Orthodox Christianity is very clear about the fact that we cannot save ourselves and in need of a savior. Yet, they do not elaborate how this salvation actually happens. They prefer to treat it as a mystery, something unexplainable that can only happen by God’s grace after we have understood our need for this grace and put our complete trust in God.
I do believe that Bible is clear on how we are saved – by reconciliation with God achieved by Jesus’ sacrifice. But I can say two things in defense of Orthodox view:
1) Very often Protestants concentrate on the second part of gospel presentation (reconciliation), almost skipping the first. A partial understanding of your own depravity can come from ‘we are saved by faith, not by works’, but you can believe in salvation by faith alone without feeling utterly sinful. Many think why bother about your own sinfulness if we already reconciled with God. The doctor speaks about exactly such people. This grave mistake is much less likely to happen in the Orthodox gospel presentation.
2) You don’t need to understand how you are saved in order to be saved. It is not the belief in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin that saves us, it is the sacrifice itself. So Orthodox incomplete gospel presentation is still a Christian gospel presentation by which you can be saved.
What is surprising that Bible does talk about another belief, which is necessary to salvation, belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Rom 10:9 says ‘That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’. Yet this part is often missing in both Protestant and Orthodox gospel presentations.
Are there any drawbacks in not knowing how exactly you are being saved? If you can think of any, leave a comment!