Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Twenty-Two
Salvation is a Continuous Process
But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. Acts 15:11
Good morning Prayer Team!
Our last reflection focused on Acts 15:1-11. This reflection will focus on Acts 15:11 standing alone. We know that the Acts of the Apostles tells the history of the early Church, things that happened not only in the opening decades of the Church but in the months and even days following Pentecost. We know that St. Paul wrote letters to the early church communities, which we call “Epistles.” These were written 20-30 years after the Resurrection. Saint Paul would write extensively on the topic of faith, works and grace in several of his Epistles.
Much earlier than the Epistles, however, we hear the word “grace” referred to in reference to our salvation in Acts 15:11. We are pausing to discuss this in this reflection (there will be further discussions in the future) to connect salvation and grace. We know that in order to go to heaven (attain salvation, go to everlasting life—all of these terms are interchangeable) we need to have faith in Jesus Christ. Because without faith, without a system of beliefs, there isn’t a way to put focus and purpose to life. Without faith, there is no concept of salvation. We believe in God, we have faith, and thus our focus becomes attaining the promised salvation.
However, faith is not enough. Why? Because faith calls us to action. Christ tells us to love God and also to love our neighbor. Love requires action. Our faith is demonstrated through works of love. If faith is our love of God, then works are our love of neighbor. Works without faith also lack focus and purpose. If we are working without faith, then we ultimately are working for ourselves rather than working for the Lord. And our work would then be self-serving rather than altruistic.
I don’t think there has even been a study done as to whether there are more people who believe in faith without works, or who do works without faith, but suffice it to say, there are many people who are in both camps—plenty of people who come to church regularly but who won’t do much to help their neighbor. And there are plenty of people who do all kinds of “good” things but who never pray, worship or meditate of Scripture, or may not even believe in God. They have no faith element.
Fortunately, there are many people who do both—they believe and they live out their faith through good works. However, faith and works together are not enough. Because if they were, salvation would be something we could proclaim for ourselves. We could set an appropriate number of works, figure out a measure of an appropriate amount of faith and declare ourselves saved. There are two problems with this—if we proclaim our own salvation, there is no need for God to save us. Secondly, we can’t quantify faith. God knows the faith of our hearts.
Thus, salvation is a gift from the Lord, and we receive it through His grace. Our faith and our work will be factors in God imparting His grace to us. Christ has told us this when speaking about judgment in Matthew 25—that our judgment will be based in large part on whether we have faith (oil in our lamps—Matthew 25:1-13) on how we used our talents (25:14-30) and how we helped others (25:31-46). It is God, however, who will sit in judgment over each life and it will be the grace of the Lord Jesus which will be imparted on those whom HE chooses, to give to them eternal life.
In the context of Acts 15:1-11, Saint Peter told the council gathered together that it was not a “work” like circumcision that would save the people. And it wasn’t a heritage—Jew or Gentile—that would save them. Rather it was the grace of the Lord Jesus that will save both Jews and Gentiles whom He finds worthy. This remains true. We are neither saved nor condemned based on our culture or ethnic. We are neither saved nor condemned because we are baptized. Baptism is the first step to salvation, but does not in and of itself guarantee salvation.
Understanding faith, works and grace is one of the most important lessons of being a Christian. Its right up there with love God and love our neighbor, the two great commandments. Hence, we will have more to say on these topics down the road, as they shape not only our understanding of Christ and His hope for our lives but because they, very simply, lay the path to God’s kingdom by providing the template to salvation.
It is also important to note, and we will discuss this again in the future, that our church does not believe that we are saved in a finite moment. Salvation is not a once-saved, always saved proposition. Rather, we journey to salvation one day at a time, ever growing in faith through repentance, seeking to do more and more works of love, and ultimately experiencing God’s grace through the sacraments, while praying for His grace to allow us to ultimately enter into His Kingdom.
My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty! In your majesty ride forth victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; let your right hand teach you dread deeds! Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. Your divine throne endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; and the king will desire our beauty. Since He is your Lord, bow to Him; the people of Tyre will sue your favor with Gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever. Psalm 45
It is a combination of faith and works and ultimately God’s grace that will save us! Salvation is a continuous process, so work on yours today through prayer and repentance (faith) and loving your neighbor (works)!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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