“In Christ we have everything….
If you want to heal your wound, he is the doctor.
If you are burning with fever, he is the fountain.
If you are in need of help, he is strength.
If you are in dread of death, he is life.
If you are fleeing the darkness, he is light.
If you are hungry, he is food: ’O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy are they who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 34:8)
(Ambrose of Milan in the book The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Oliver Clément, pg.56)
This is the sixth blog in this series exploring ideas about and images of salvation. The first blog is Images of Salvation and the previous blog is Images of Salvation (V).
As we have already seen, salvation in the Orthodox Christian tradition is not limited to dealing with sin and the punishment for disobedience to God as is emphasized, almost exclusively, in some traditions. In Eastern Christian thinking, Christ takes upon Himself the sin of the world, not just to pay the price for it, but to destroy sin and its consequence death. Salvation liberates all humanity from all of the effects of sin.
“… if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2, emphasis mine)
The salvation which Christ achieves is not merely to satisfy the demands of justice, but to destroy the judgment against us and to destroy all the power of sin, Satan, death, evil.
“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
Christ doesn’t just pay the price to satisfy the legal demands of justice, he brings to an end the whole system of legal demands, and establishes the Kingdom of Love which once and for all ends the system of retributive justice (Romans 6, Hebrews 7-10, 1Peter 3:18-20). And as all of these passages make clear, we participate in this salvation through baptism.
“From this theological perspective we are invited to think of the redemptive act of God in Jesus Christ as a kind of divine therapy. God’s love and compassionate care have cured our diseased and mortally sickened human nature. In Fr. Georges Florovsky’s words: ‘Redemption is not just man’s reconciliation with God. Redemption is the abolition of sin altogether, the deliverance from sin and death . . . The death of Our Lord was the victory over death and mortality, not just the remission of sins, nor merely justification of man, nor against a satisfaction of an abstract justice.’” (Vigen Guroian in ANCIENT AND POST-MODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 72)
As David Hart says:
“Christian thought has claimed from the first that in a world in bondage to sin, where violence holds sway over hearts and history, the peace of God made present in Christ is unique; the way, the truth, and the life that alone can liberate the world from the tyranny of greed, cruelty, egoism, and aggression is none other than a particular Nazarene rabbi put to death under Pontius Pilate. Precisely because the church has always explicitly maintained that the world lies under the authority of thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers whose rule is violence, falsehood, and death, over which Christ and Christ alone has triumphed…” (David Hart, THE BEAUTY OF THE INFINITE, p 2)
Salvation is liberation: from bondage to sin and death, not simply from the penalty of death for sin. The Eastern Christian tradition has a rich and deep understanding of salvation and all that it gives to us. St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) writes:
“Of these mysteries that He has granted to men in His boundless generosity, seven are of more general significance; and it is these whose power, as I have said, lies hidden within the Lord’s Prayer/ These seven are theology, adoption as sons by grace, equality with the angels, participation in eternal life, the restoration of human nature when it is reconciled dispassionately with itself, the abolition of the law of sin, and the destruction of the tyranny that holds us in its power through the deceit of the evil one. (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 20394-411)
Salvation is not only restoration, but is oriented toward a new and better future. Salvation is not looking to the past world that was lost – the golden age of Paradise, for salvation moves us to the future Kingdom of Heaven and a world in which all things are made new (Revelations 21:5). St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) says:
“That even after your losing it out of your own indifference, he gave back to you what was lost – or, rather, not only what was lost but even far more than that: while you lost paradise, he gave you heaven. Do you see how much greater is the gain than the loss, how more substantial the wealth? He gave you heaven so as to give evidence of his characteristic lovingkindness and to vex the devil by showing that even if he devises countless schemes against the human race, it will be of no further benefit to him, God ever leading us upwards to greater dignity. You forfeited paradise, then, and God opened heaven to you; you were condemned to temporary labor, and honored with eternal life; he bade the earth bear thorns and thistles, and you soul produced for you fruit of the Spirit.” (OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 3, p 33)
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