Monthly Archives: December 2008

Justification and Orthodoxy

I just finished reading this article which I enjoyed. Its a fine article and a great stab at trying to understand Orthodoxy from an evangelical perspective.  He makes some mistakes, of course, but one can’t expect him to be aware of the subtlety of our doctrine as a non-Orthodox.  However, I would like to comment on a mistake I see quite often in people looking in at Orthodoxy from the outside.  I am speaking of his assertion that “The Eastern presentation of salvation can smudge the distinct steps of salvation. Justification and sanctification often get folded into the broader concept of theosis, and they become so blurred that Orthodox believers often don’t know what to make of the terms.”

Justification and Sanctification are, at their heart, sacramental terms and their proper context is the sacramental life.  We Orthodox are very clear on the (single) stage of both justification and sanctification: Baptism.  Our Baptism service proclaims (while the chrism is being removed): “You are justified; you are illumined. You are baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh, you are sanctified; you are washed clean, in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Our epistle reading during that service is Romans 6:3-11:
“Brethren, do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Thus, I would argue that the protestant concepts of justification and sanctification have entirely lost their sacramental context and have become merely a philosophical construct.  St. Paul clearly warns against this “philosophizing” of salvation in Col 2.  St. Paul says essentially that the fullness of God exists bodily in Christ and is appropriated to us through baptism and faith.  He warns us to avoid “hollow and deceptive philosophy” which are namely: 1. Christ isn’t fully divine/human 2. Justification is appropriated by any other means than baptism and faith (i.e. circumcision, dietary codes, etc).

Much confusion arrives when protestants ask Orthodox “are you saved”?  For protestants, “saved” means “justified.”  For Orthodox, “saved” means a variety of things (including justification) but ultimately “fulfilling the purpose for which mankind was created; namely union with God.”  This terminological mismatch leads protestants to think there is some confusion about the doctrine of justification on our end.  Yet the confusion exists on the other end.  St. Paul clearly teaches that we are justified and sanctified through baptism and faith, which is precisely what we proclaim.