Yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:16-20 (Epistle of the 21st Sunday)
How, exactly are we “saved”? Is it in one finite moment? Are we judged based on our whole life, or just how we are at the end? Is there a moment where we can say our salvation is guaranteed?
These are questions that many Christians ask, and even try to answer. The answers are found in various places in Scripture, so that we don’t have to guess, we can go right to the Scriptures.
In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul tells us that we “know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16) And in the Epistle of St. James, he writes to us that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17) We know then that our salvation is based on both faith and works. Ultimately, salvation is an act of God’s grace and mercy. For no amount of faith or works can make us worthy of salvation. No one can approach the Judgment Seat of Christ and proclaim themselves worthy to enter the Kingdom of God. Ultimately, our entrance into the Kingdom of God is an act of mercy on the part of the Lord, which will be affected by both our faith and our works.
There are some churches that espouse the notion of “once saved, always saved,” the idea that one is “saved” in a finite moment in time. This notion doesn’t account for works, not does it account for spiritual struggle that defines each Christian life. If I was “saved” years ago, then what is the incentive to struggle today?
One way to look at the salvation equation is to take a cup, rocks and water. The cup represents faith. It is the structure of what we believe. The rocks represent our works. If we have faith with no works, our faith is as empty as the empty cup. For faith without works is dead. On the other hand, if we have works without faith, it’s like pouring a bunch of rocks on a table. They have no order, no structure, and ultimately no purpose.
So we combine faith and works. We fill the cup with rocks. A close look at the cup, even when filled with rocks, indicates that there are still some empty spaces. This is where grace comes in. Grace is the God-like quality that completes what is lacking in each life. Because no matter how hard we try to follow after Christ, something will be lacking in each of us.
How do we get grace? One spoonful of Communion at a time is the best way to get it. One prayer at a time. One confession at a time. And over time, these “spoonfuls” of grace begin to truly fill the cup. The ultimate expression of grace, however, is God granting us His Kingdom at the end of our lives. And His judgment of our lives will be based on the “cup” we present Him. Will we have a large cup of faith? Will we have an empty cup, meaning we did no works to support the faith we claim to have? Will we have an impressive amount of rocks but no cup in which to keep them, meaning we did lots of good things but not in His name. The problem with works that are not in His name is, in whose name are they in? Ultimately good works not done for God end up being done for ourselves. Finally, how much grace did we seek out through prayer and the sacraments?
There is a finite equation for salvation—It is faith plus works plus grace. The challenge is that faith, works and grace are things that cannot be quantified. There isn’t a certain amount of each one that guarantees salvation. So we work each day to deepen our experience of each so that we can make our “case” before His Judgment Seat and ultimately leave it to God’s Providence to judge us worthy of Paradise.
Saint Paul tells us that we should “live to God” (Galatians 2:19). And that the best way to live our lives is to not live for ourselves but for Him. He says in Galatians 2:20 “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” and consequently our lives are not lived for ourselves, but as St. Paul says “the life I now life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me. (2:20)
From exalted heights above descended Gabriel and came, and he sat upon the rock wherein the Rock of life had lain. Arrayed in white, he cried out to the weeping women: “Cease now from your mourning and cries of lament, you women who are always moved to sympathy. Take courage; for truly risen is He for whom you weep and are seeking. And therefore, cry out to the Apostles, ‘The Lord has truly risen.’” (Second Resurrectional Kathisma of the second set, 4th Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Faith plus works plus grace equals salvation. A life lived in Christ and for Christ bolsters faith, works and grace.