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Saint Paul and the “Works of the Law”

Folks,    I often get questions about how Orthodoxy views sola fide.  Orthodoxy believes that we are justified through faith in Christ, but it denies the Protestant insistence that justification is by faith alone.  My assessment is that Martini’s article shows how the Orthodox understanding of justification is much more faithful to Scripture than Luther’s.  Let’s read it and have and have a discussion on this important issue.    Robert

Saint Paul and the “Works of the Law”


Coptic priest censing the altar

A great emphasis in the protestant reformation was the doctrinal formulation of “justification by faith alone,” which many asserted to be “the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls” (Martin Luther: “articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae”).

While this was in and of itself a complete novelty (and devoid of Patristic warrant or justification) — supposedly based upon the Scriptures alone — it is quite easy to demonstrate that not only is this concept foreign to the Scriptures but also foreign to the first century Judean mindset (not to mention the Christian mindset). To be plain, Luther and other reformers were reading their contemporary disagreements with the mainstream Latin church into the words of St Paul.

From an Orthodox perspective, there is no conflict between faith and works, and indeed the “faith vs. works” arguments never found any foothold in the Christian east. Concepts like “legalism” are a complete non sequitor for the Orthodox, as “merit” has no place in our Theology (but this is a much longer, and more intricate discussion beyond the scope of this post). Perhaps the best summary of the Orthodox viewpoint on this topic is found in Saint Mark the Ascetic (Philokalia): “Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the Kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.”

As Christians, we are most certainly “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1) as the apostle clearly intimates, but this is not the same thing as being justified “by faith alone.” The only time we read “by faith alone” in the Scriptures is when the Brother of God writes: “You see, then, that one is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (St James 2:24). The person who has faith is seen as on par with the demons, but nothing more (according to St James). Our faith must be shown forth and proven by good works — by hope, love, charity, fasting, worship, etc — by coming together as the Body of Christ and offering ourselves, along with Christ, as a sacrifice for the Life of the World.

But the main issue with the novel readings of the reformers (Luther, especially) is that they imported the discussions around “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6) into St Paul’s completely separate discussions on the “works of the law” (εργων νομου), or what could properly be translated “works of the Torah,” given the Alexandrian (Septuagint) usage of νομος.

Interestingly enough, this phrase “works of the law” is found in only three places in all of Second Temple and early Christian (apostolic) literature. Two of those references are the apostle Paul himself, in his epistles to both the Romans and the Galatians:

“… by works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20)

“Therefore, we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles as well?” (Rom. 3:28-29)

“… no one is justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ […] that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” (Gal. 2:16)

“I just want to hear this from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you that senseless that having begun in the Spirit, you now end in the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3)

“… those who depend on the works of the law are under a curse …” (Gal. 3:10)

Try to imagine how someone 2,000 years from now — and completely removed from our culture by time — would understand a phrase like “Honest Abe.” Without knowing the cultural significance behind a phrase like this, one would be left scratching their head. Similarly, we must listen to the Mind of the Church and the understanding of those living in Paul’s day in order to see what he’s “getting at” in both of these epistles.



Apostle Paul

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention here the important notion that Paul’s epistles were not doctrinal treatises “out of the blue,” but were all written to address problems in the Church. These letters are not exclusively (or even primarily) for the sake of posterity and for the establishment of “dogma,” but are rather mostly for the purpose of correcting errors in both thought and behavior in the new and burgeoning pioneer faith of the Christians.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the apostle’s statements above regarding the “works of the law.”

In the first quote from Romans (3:20), St Paul says that “no flesh” will be justified in God’s sight. He then continues to speak of the fact that “there is no distinction” (v. 22) of persons before God, speaking to the difference (or lack thereof) between Jews and Gentiles. The conclusion of the apostle’s present discussion is that the Lord is “God of the Gentiles as well” and therefore “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28-29). In other words, we are not purified before God because of “Jewishness” or cultic purity (as the Pharisees and other anti-temple cults of Second Temple Judaism argued, e.g. the Essenes/Qumran community), but because of the faith of Abraham — because of faith in Jesus Christ. It is Christ that makes us pure through our union with Him (and as a result, the entire world is both purified and sanctified by the Church and Her sacrificial service).

The issue that the apostle is addressing here is not one of “faith vs. works” or even “legalism” vs. “faith alone” — the question is, does one need to “become a Jew” first in order to be a true and justified Christian? The answer is (of course) no, for Christianity is the true Judaism. There is not even a hint of the Medieval and protestant notion of “meritorious works” here, and to read such a discussion into Paul is simply anachronistic.

In the Galatian epistle, St Paul makes the same argument in relation to εργων νομου, but with even more force — even challenging the apostle Peter on this very issue in front of a large gathering of Christians (although Chrysostom seems to indicate that they planned this public outburst in advance, in order to teach a lesson).

The apostle emphasizes that he and other Hebrew Christians are “Jews by nature and not Gentile sinners” (Gal. 2:15). This statement immediately characterizes the following ones in the context of “Jews vs. Gentiles,” not “faith vs. works” as later protestant commentators would erroneously assert. The apostle then helps me not feel so bad for being redundant at times (i.e. v. 16) and reinforces that one is justified through “faith in Jesus Christ” and “not by the works of the law.” For Christians, our “cultic purity” as people of the true Temple is found through our union with Jesus Christ, not through the “traditions of men” (St Mark 7:8) that would have us continually purify ourselves by other means (more on that in a bit).

Shifting the focus to that of “receiving the Spirit” of God, the apostle asks the Galatians if this was accomplished through εργων νομου or through belief — the answer is obvious: throughbelief, and then continued through faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if we have “begun in the Spirit,” why would we nullify the Grace of God with the εργων νομου and purification of “the flesh?” This, again, is not a reference to “meritorious works” or “works of supererogation,” but to that of cultic purity and the excesses certain groups propagated in the later period of the Second Temple.

When we consider the old covenant Scriptures with regards to the Temple and ritual purity, we can see how the “flesh” (σάρξ or sarx) was a pivotal theme — but one that had nothing to do with “merit.” For example, in Leuitikon (Leviticus), chapters 13-14, there are various instructions on how to deal with people that contract the flesh-disease of leprousy. The fact that these people are anointed with oil is no insignificant notion, as the correspondance to Chrismation reminds us that through union with Christ (and by receiving the Holy Spirit), we are united to the true Temple (Jesus Christ) and are therefore made ritually pure in the flesh. Beyond this, we see that even buildings can contract leprousy, being defiled by the Gentiles (the foreigners) that dwelled in the land before the Hebrews:

“When you come into the land of the Chananites, which I will give you in possession, and I shall give a leprous disease in the houses in the land acquired by you […] And he[the priest] shall look at the attack in the walls of the house, hollow, greenish or reddish […] and they shall take out the stones in which is the attack and throw them into an unclean place outside the city. And they shall scrape off the inside of the house round about and pour out the soil in an unclean place outside the city.”
Leuitikon (Leviticus), 14:34,37,40-41 (LXX)

This same concern for a ritual purity “of the flesh” was paramount in the notions of both the Pharisees and the other anti-Temple/anti-Jerusalem movements of the first century — not “faith vs. works.”


Rebuilding the Temple Ezra 3:10

Due to the fact that “the promised land” had been under constant occupation by “the Gentiles” (the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, etc.) — along with the continual defilement of the Temple by these impure foreigners — the feeling of ritual impurity had to have been at an all time high for those living in the first century (AD). In the minds of the Pharisees and Essenes, the entire land was defiled in the flesh with leprousy. The only hope for the Judeans, then, was the purification of their land and of their Temple (or even an abandonment of the Temple altogether, until it was under the control of “pure” hands). Without the Temple as a locus of cultic purity — in the midst of a purified land, set apart for God’s people — there was no hope for the salvation and restoration of Israel (the eschatological hope for the new covenant, the anointed one, or Messiah, etc.).

Salvation must be seen (in one sense) as a return to the Paradise of Eden, in true union and communion with God — but this can only be possible if we are cleansed of our impurities and able to dwell in the midst of a holy God (or rather to have a holy God dwell in the midst of us). The concern of the Pharisees and Essenes (for example) was certainly valid, therefore, but they were ultimately “missing the boat.”


Qumran Caves

The third place where this phrase ”works of the Torah/law” is found is in one of the documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls (from Cave Four). This scroll is self-titled Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah, or “Selections of the Works of the Torah” (it is also known as 4QMMT/4Q394-399 in scholarly references or as “A Sectarian Manifesto”).



The scroll opens with a statement of purpose: “These are some of our pronouncements concerning the Law of God; specifically, some of the pronouncements concerning works of the law, which we have determined . . . and all of them concern defiling mixtures and the purity of the sanctuary” (4Q394 Frags. 3-7, Cols. 1-2; with 4Q395 Frag. 1). As stated here, the very purpose of these εργων νομου are to keep the sanctuary pure and free of defilement — they are not about “meriting” salvation through “good works.”

Some of the “works of the law” that are then enumerated fall under topics such as: a ban on offerings using Gentile grain, a ban on sin offerings boiled in Gentile/copper  vessels, a ban on sacrifices by Gentiles, rulings on the purity of those who prepare the red heifer, a ban on bringing the skins of cattle/sheep into the Temple, a ban on Temple entrance after contact with skins of a carcass, a ruling on who is fit to eat of the holy gifts, a ban on the inclusion of the “unfit” into the people of Israel, a ban on the entrance of the blind/deaf into the Temple, a ruling on the cleansing of lepers, a ruling on unlawful sexual unions and marriage, and so on (cf. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, ed. Wise, Abegg & Cook, pp. 454-462). As you can tell, the predominant concerns of these “works of the law” is that of cultic/ritual purity (as related to the Temple and to the people/congregation of Israel).

But beyond this, what is the ultimate concern? As alluded to above, it is that of salvation — and not just for individuals but for the whole of Israel (the longing for its restoration and salvation in the new covenant, even).

The “people of the desert” in Qumran are warned that to ignore these rituals of purity is to invite the judgment of God: . . . because of […] the fornication, some places have been destroyed. Indeed, it is written in the book of Moses that ‘You shall not bring an abomination into your house,’ for an abomination is hated (by God).”

You can almost hear the paranoia in these words, as the Judeans looked around and were completely surrounded and “infested” throughout the land (and the Temple) by Gentiles. It is no wonder that a variety of anti-Temple movements arose in the first century (of which the Forerunner, John the Baptist, was likely a part), and one can’t help but mention the zeal shown by Christ in the cleansing of the Temple. In fact, the necessity of “separation” from the impure is next mentioned in this scroll: “We have separated from the majority of the people and from all their uncleanness and from being party to these matters or going along with them in these things. And you know that no unfaithfulness, deception, or evil are found in our hands, for we give some thought to these issues” (4Q398, Frags. 14-17, Col. 1).

The connection of this apparent apostasy and compromise in Israel is connected with an eschatology of “the Last Days,” as well: “In the book of Moses it is written […] that you ‘will turn from the path and evil will befall you.’ And it is written ‘that when all these things happen to you in the Last Days, the blessing and the curse, that you call them to mind and return to Him with all your heart and with all your soul.’ . . . at the end of the age, then you shall live . . .“ Even with some damage and incompleteness to these fragments, we can see the overall direction the author of the scroll is taking — if the defilement and cultic impurity of Jerusalem/the Temple continues, God will completely abandon Israel. The time for returning to God “with all your heart and with all your soul” has come (and arguably, this is what we see in the new covenant and in the Person of Jesus Christ and His Church).

Continuing with the eschatological theme, the Qumran community (according to this scroll) expected the restoration of Israel (the return to God) to occur in “the Last Days” when those of Israel shall return to the Law of Moses with all their heart and will never turn away again.” I believe this refers not only to the new covenant but explicitly to the ultimate anti-Temple sect: “the Way” of Jesus Christ and His blessed apostles.

The rather important conclusion to this scroll (“Selections of the Works of the Torah”) is as follows:

“Now, we have written to you some of the works of the Law, those which we determined would be beneficial for you and your people, because we have seen that you possess insight and knowledge of the Law. Understand all these things and beseech Him to set your counsel straight and so keep you away from evil thoughts and the counsel of Belial. Then you shall rejoice at the end time when you find the essence of our words to be true. And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him, to your own benefit and to that of Israel.”

Of note, we see that the ultimate purpose of these “works of the law” is for the sake of Israel and her salvation. For the Judeans of Qumran, this had come to mean purifying the land and the Temple from the defilement — the leprousy — of the Gentiles, and this is certainly why they found themselves in the recesses of the wilderness as a protest against the impure and compromised priests of Jerusalem.

It seems to be the case as well that the Pharisees had ultimately the same goal, leading them to push for cultic purity even outside the context and walls of the Temple (an extra-Scriptural notion), as we must keep in mind that the Pharisees were not priests, nor were they directly connected to the (Second) Temple. Rather, they were attempting a “lay” reform of the priesthood and of the people of Israel, pushing their agenda by any means necessary (as an aside, this made the “new Rabbi on the block” — Jesus — to be quite a direct affront and competitor against their efforts, and thus their attempts to discredit him and his ministry).

I also need to mention the use of the phrase “reckoned to you as righteousness” in this scroll. In the Qumran/Essene/Pharisee mindset, the ultimate personification of this being “reckoned” as righteousness is not in Abraham, but in Phinehas (and this is very clear in theDSS elsewhere). Phinehas is famous for his zeal in the book of Numbers:

“And Israel stayed in Sattim, and the people were profaned by whoring after the daughters of Moab. And they invited them to the sacrifices of their idols, and the people ate of their sacrifices and did obeisance to their idols […] And behold, a man of the sons of Israel came and brought his brother to the Medianite woman before Moyses [Moses] and before all the congregation of Israel’s sons […] And when Phinees[Phinehas] son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation. And he took a barbed lance in his hand, and he went in after the Israelite man into the alcove and pierced both of them, both the Israelite man and the woman through her womb. And the plague stopped from Israel’s sons. And those that died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.”
Numbers 25:1-2; 6-9 (LXX)

The zeal shown here by Phinehas was that of keeping the congregation of Israel pure, and helping to stave off further spread of a plague (judgment for their “whoring” as the LXX nicely puts it). In the same way, both the Pharisees and Essenes (and presumably the community at Qumran) were zealous for the absolute purity of Israel. As a result, they associated their actions with those of Phinehas the priest. And indeed, the approval of this zeal is seen in the Psalmist’s words: “And Phinees stood and made atonement, and the breach abated. And it was reckoned to him as righteousness to generation and generation forever” (Psalm 105[106]:30-31 LXX).



There is no distinction in Christ

If we circle back to the words of St Paul in his two occasional epistles referenced above, everything should be much clearer (although I would argue that the Scriptural text itself stands alone to delineate against any notion of “faith vs. works” or meritology). What’s interesting, however (cf. N.T. Wright), is that St Paul extends the “works of the law” to be not only these cultic purity laws of the Temple but also that of the most basic of Judean “markers,” such as circumcision itself (e.g. Romans 2:25-29; 3:30; 4:9-13). The heart of the apostle’s arguments in both Romans and Galatians is not “faith vs. works” but rather “you don’t have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian.” Indeed, to be a Christian is to be united to Christ — and that is a promise offered to the whole world, for “there is no distinction” (Rom. 3:22) with God.

At the same time, we also see the contemporary (for the apostle) concern over cultic purity in St Paul’s letters. For example, when the apostle mentions being justified “in the flesh” in both letters (e.g. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:3), he is not speaking to the reformers’ notion of “faith vs. works” (i.e. “works” are “good works” done “in the flesh” and not “by the Spirit”) but rather the attempt to be ritually pure before God through the “works of the law.” This is corroborated not only by the Dead Sea Scrolls but also in Leuitikon (Leviticus, Ch. 13-14), where we see that both people and various objects (e.g. homes) can be diseased “in the flesh” with leprousy, becoming ritually impure in God’s sight.

A great promise of the new covenant in Christ — as related to this subject — is that Christ has replaced the Temple in His very Person. As a result, the Church (as the Body of Christ) is also the temple of the living God, which St Paul mentions elsewhere. With the Church now supplanting the Temple everywhere it gathers, the purity of Christ is capable of being spread throughout the world, ridding every nation of the defilement of the flesh and of every strain of leprousy.

While the Essenes and the Pharisees were both correct in wishing to purify Israel from defilement, they were also both incorrect as to how this would be accomplished.


Fall of Jerusalem AD 70 - painting by David Roberts (1850)

Fall of Jerusalem AD 70 – by David Roberts (1850)

With the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the promise of Jesus to supplant that Temple in the Holy Gospel finds its ultimate realization, and the “Last Days” had truly come upon Israel.  In Christ, and in the apostolic Church, the people of God had now “returned to God,” and through union with Christ and faith in Him are now truly pure — even without circumcision and even without the “works of the law.”  In other words, even without the old Temple and even without becoming Jewish first.


Good News for all the world

Good News for all the world

In this sense, then, the Good News of Christ is truly Good News for the whole world — for the Jew first and also the Gentiles (the “nations”). The so-called “Great Commission” is a calling to spread the purity of Christ — the true Temple — to all the nations; and this purification begins in the purifying waters of Baptism (cf. St Matt. 28:18-20), hearkening back to the purification rituals for leprousy (using water and oil) in the books of Moses.

The debate over the “works of the law” in the first century was not one over “faith vs. works,” but rather over how one is made a Christian, and therefore how the entire world can be saved in Christ. This mission will certainly require our good works, as we cooperate with the Grace of God and work to spread the Good News and the purity of Christ to every corner of the earth through the ministry of the Church.

Vincent Martini     

On Behalf of All.org





1 Vote


  1. B. Shelley

    Good luck working on these “Evangelical” types. They believe the main thing is invoking Christ’s name and then they can go home.

    I am a traditional Anglican.

    • robertar

      Dear B. Shelley,

      There are a wide variety among Evangelicals. Granted not all Evangelicals are interested in Orthodoxy, but growing numbers are. They are looking for something deeper and more fulfilling. We should be welcoming like the father in the parable and not judgmental like the older brother.


  2. Matt Nelson

    Thank you for the excellent and informative article. I am hoping you can help me with a question that the article raises in my mind. To wit, does not the general Orthodox expectation that communicants should comply with the behavioral strictures o one or the other of the surviving monastic typicons mirror in principle the first-century Judaizers expectation that the works of the law should be a prequisite for communion? It strikes me that, in both cases, rules of ritual purity are being interposed as a requirement for Christian communion, which is precisely what Paul, and the ultimately the first-century Church, opposed.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! You asked an excellent question. Orthodoxy views Holy Communion as spiritual healing. The purpose of fasting is the denial of the desires of the flesh. Fasting is an important means of preparing yourself soul and body to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. But as Orthodox priests often tell their parishioners: Fasting without prayer is just a diet. The importance of inward preparation can also be seen the requirement that Orthodox Christians go to confession. Recently, my parish priest mentioned Isaiah 58 as providing an crucial context for approaching the Christmas fast. In this passage we we learn that ritual fasting is worthless unless accompanied by a transformed life yielding spiritual fruit.

      So basically Orthodoxy doesn’t have rules of ritual purity as it has rules for spiritual purity and spiritual growth. I view my priest more as a coach concerned about my spiritual growth than a police officer looking to catch me in the act.

      Orthodoxy has a lot of rules but it is not legalistic. Oftentimes during one of the fast periods an Orthodox Christian will be invited over for a meal at a non-Orthodox friend or family member’s house. We have been instructed to eat what is given us out of humility, charity, and gratitude. Here we break the fasting rule in order to keep the higher law of charity. I don’t think religions based on ritual purity have this spiritual principle. Please keep in mind that the obsession with ritual purity in first century Judaism was a reaction to the Babylonian exile, a new development in the Jewish religion. Orthodoxy like early Christianity in some ways maintained an important continuity with the Old Testament religion. Jesus said that he did come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. In Christ the Jewish fasts have been transformed into a new form of disciplines for spiritual growth.

      If you want a more in-depth explanation I suggest you contact a local Orthodox priest. Thank you again for your excellent question!


  3. Pavle

    Thank you for a great explanation of Eastern Orthodox beliefs about salvation.

    It seems to me that Protestant and Orthodox views about this differ only in details. Protestants believe that we are justified by faith alone, but that real saving faith ALWAYS brings evidence with it. And that evidence is in the good works. Such is the nature of saving faith. Salvation is by faith. But, once we TRULY believe in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, i see no way for us not loving Him, and not wanting to be faithful to him. So, in that sense, there is truly no real Salvation without works. Every Protestant will agree to that! However, it is dangerous to even think that our good works do anything to justify us. Salvation is of the Lord. It is a free gift. We can’t do anything without Him, even good works.

    And that is my greatest problem with Eastern Orthodoxy. EOC seems to teach that we actually can justify ourselves with our good works. Let me tell this. For a long time i thought that i can justify myself by combining faith and works. And i saw that i am a failure, and that i cannot do that. And then, i just believed to Lord Jesus Christ. I believed that He will save me. I realized that nothing i do can save me. NOTHING. It is all upon Him. And all good things that i do now, i realize that it is actually Him and His grace doing trough me. “My” good works are not my at all. It is Him working trough me. I have nothing. I have just faith in Him, and that faith alone carries me. Isn’t it all about Him, and what He did for us, in the end? Isn’t it all about faith?

    • robertar

      Dear Pavle,

      You wrote: It seems to me that Protestant and Orthodox views about this differ only in details. But I would respond that the differences are quite profound and can be seen in how the two traditions define “faith” and “salvation.” There are some Protestants who teach that faith by itself suffices and that good works in the form of Christian discipleship is irrelevant. You define salvation in terms of legal righteousness which is the standard Protestant approach but Orthodoxy sees our salvation in Christ more broadly, e.g., union with Christ, reconciliation with God and others, and the healing of our souls and bodies.

      You wrote: …there is truly no real Salvation without works. Every Protestant will agree to that! But are you aware of the controversy over ”free grace theology”? In the 1980s, the well regarded Calvinist, John F. MacArthur, put forward “Lordship salvation” to counter “free grace theology.” In response, Charles C. Ryrie, a prominent dispensationalist theologian at Dallas Theological Seminary, countered that MacArthur was teaching a form of works-based salvation. So while some Protestants might agree with your understanding of faith and salvation, this is not the universal Protestant position.

      You wrote: EOC seems to teach that we actually can justify ourselves with our good works. You will need to give supporting evidence rather than make broad sweeping statements like this. But let me say that the Orthodox Church does not teach that we can earn our salvation. You are welcome to prove me wrong. Orthodoxy teaches the necessity of a living faith in Christ, one that is manifest by acts of charity, a life of prayer and worship, and love for God and others. For Orthodoxy to separate faith from action is create a disembodied, abstract faith, the very opposite of living faith in Christ. Justification means “right relationship” with God. This implies a covenantal relationship where one accepts Jesus as your Lord and Savior. How do we enter into a right relationship with God? The Orthodox answer is through the sacrament of baptism. In Orthodox baptism we renounce Satan and accept Jesus as our Lord. In baptism we also commit ourselves to Christ’s covenant community, the Church.

      You wrote: And all good things that i do now, i realize that it is actually Him and His grace doing trough me. “My” good works are not my at all. It is Him working trough me. What you just articulated is the doctrine of monergism (“one energy”, God alone works salvation). This is at odds with the Orthodox position of synergism (“working together”, God initiates and we respond). You seem to be saying: “God is all, I am nothing.” This statement is heretical because it denies human free will. God waits for the sinner to repent, to change his/her mind. If you look at the Apostle Peter’s closing exhortation to the Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:38 you find him expecting two responses: repentance and baptism. If you look at the case of Paul and Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31, you will find a favorite verse used by Evangelicals: Believe in the Lord Jeus, and you will be saved—you and your household. Did the jailer then say the Sinner’s Prayer and leave Paul and his companions in the jail cell? No! He led them out, washed their wounds, took them into his house, and set a meal before them (vs. 33-34). This was faith in Christ made manifest through action. You might find my Response to Theodore: Semi-Pelagianism, Sola Fide, and Theosis helpful.

      You closed with: I have just faith in Him, and that faith alone carries me. Isn’t it all about Him, and what He did for us, in the end? Isn’t it all about faith? My response to this is: No. It’s all about Jesus Christ our God and Savior who invites us to be his followers. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is costly; it is not just about believing some ideas about Jesus. It calls for an act of obedience.

      Remember the story of the rich young ruler? In Luke 18 we read about the young man who faithfully kept the Law of Moses. His was a life full of good works but even he knew that he was missing something. What he was lacking was life in Christ. Jesus recognized this lack and told him: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22) When I was a Protestant I used to puzzle over the meaning of this passage. The Protestant approach is that if the young man met certain conditions like giving away his possessions then he would qualify for eternal life; but then this ran contrary to sola fide (faith alone). This passage took on a different meaning when I viewed eternal life as life with Christ, union with Christ. I thought of the rich young ruler standing there while Jesus moved on to the next village leaving him behind. He had “everything”: he was young: he was rich; he had power; he had the Torah and he lived a righteous life,” but he lacked Jesus Christ. So while he stood there holding on to his old way of life, he lost the opportunity for a new life in Christ. If we continue to read Luke’s gospel we find in the next section Jesus predicting his impending death. This tells me that had the rich young ruler done what Jesus asked him he would have become a witness to Jesus’ death and his resurrection. This made me sad and sobered about the cost of being a Christian.

      The Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, warned against cheap grace, grace without obedience. In Orthodoxy I am learning to balance faith in Christ with faithful obedience to Christ. It is not all about my faith, but about living for Jesus Christ. Following Peter’s Pentecost sermon we read about the early Christians: “They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Faith in Christ leads to life in the Church. This is because the Christian life is life in the Church. The two cannot be separated. Your comment says nothing about life in the church but I would contend that eternal life cannot be divorced from life in the Church. There is a quote that I like very much: “Together we are saved, alone we are lost.” I hope this helps you understand the Orthodox approach to salvation in Christ.

      I’m curious as to how well acquainted you are with Orthodoxy. Has it been mostly through what you heard from others? Or do you know personally devout Orthodox Christians or have you ever talked with an Orthodox priest? First hand direct experience with Orthodoxy is usually helpful for many people. Thank you for sharing your views with us.


    • Vincent Martini


      Are you familiar with a writing by the great Orthodox father Mark the Ascetic who wrote On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous By Works? You might find it interesting.

      In peace,

  4. Prometheus

    Very nice. Something I have been aware of for some time and am frustrated that many Protestants, particularly the Lutherans, have a hard time seeing. If you read the Pauline letters, what you see is a constant struggle against an understandable Judaism. Acts 10-11 is one of my favorite passages for that reason. What I find so neat in discovering this is that it is perhaps *the* theme of the gospel. Statuses of ethnicity, culture, wealth, race, and gender keep no one from entering the kingdom. All that God requires is “to fear him and to do what is right (Acts 10:35).” Understanding that the gospel is primarily about reconciliation rather than distinction actually brings the epistle of James into much clearer agreement to Paul than it might appear otherwise. While Paul is constantly dealing with Jew-Gentile issues, James (like Jesus in the Gospels) has to deal with Rich-Poor issues. The scandal of Jesus, it seems, is that he redefines the membership of the elect based on faith in him . . . the Torah is no longer the mark of the chosen people of God. This, of course, as you have noted, is what the Anglican scholar N.T. Wright has been trying to say to some extent: the issue of justification revolves around the question, “who is the people of God.”

    As a Protestant, then, I would like to know what Orthodoxy makes of the following scripture in relation to other “Christians” and who the people of God is:
    “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

    • robertar


      I think what you are asking is what does Orthodoxy think about Christians who are not members of the Orthodox Church but do have faith in Christ. We would recognize them as believers in Jesus Christ, but we would also say that it is in Orthodoxy that we find the fullness of the Christian Faith. If you are asking whether we think Orthodox Christians are going to heaven and non-Orthodox will not, the answer is that the eternal destiny of individuals is a mystery and that membership in the Orthodox Church does not guarantee salvation. Salvation is through union with Jesus Christ. So a lot depends on how you understand salvation. I think this answers your question. If not, feel free to rephrase the question and I’ll give it another shot.


  5. Vincent

    Dear Robert I am inquiring into orthodoxy and I wonder do the orthodox believe that we are justified in an imputed righteousness or an infused/imparted righteousness? Is justification a one time event or lifelong process equivalent to sanctification for you guys?
    I am also told that Orthodoxy condemned 5 point Calvinism at the council of Jerusalem. Is this true?

    • robertar

      Hi Vincent,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! You asked some very good questions.

      With respect to the question about how we are saved, I am currently writing up a blog posting dealing with baptismal regeneration. I hope to post it shortly. But I would like to point out that the way your question is framed is based on Western medieval categories and the Protestant reaction to these categories. The terms “imputed righteousness” and “infused/imparted righteousness” are broad categories used to group the data gleaned from various Scripture passages. The early Church Fathers did not think along those lines. Justification by faith is a lifelong process. We put our faith in Christ and we continue to put our faith in Christ. Faith is not just an act but being faithful to Christ, that is, in a faithful relationship until our dying breath. One could say that “righteousness” or being in a right relationship is not just a mental comprehension of what Christ has done for us on the Cross but also remaining in a covenant relationship and being faithful in offering right worship to God. That is why faithfully attending the Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion is so important to being in a right relationship with God for Orthodoxy.

      With respect to the The Confession of Dositheus which resulted from the Council in Jerusalem in 1672, I know it condemned Calvinism but I’m not sure that it condemned the specific form of Calvinism known as five point Calvinism. But you might be interested to know that I wrote a series of articles called “Plucking the TULIP.”


  6. Aaron


    I know this is an old post, but I wanted to have something clarified that I don’t quite understand.

    You said, “In the first quote from Romans (3:20), St Paul says that “no flesh” will be justified in God’s sight…. In other words, we are not purified before God because of “Jewishness” or cultic purity (as the Pharisees and other anti-temple cults of Second Temple Judaism argued, e.g. the Essenes/Qumran community)…

    The issue that the apostle is addressing here is not one of “faith vs. works” or even “legalism” vs. “faith alone” — the question is, does one need to “become a Jew” first in order to be a true and justified Christian?

    While I would agree with you that this is not addressing “faith vs. works” I have seen several Orthodox priests say that the “works of the law” is distinctly about ritual purity and the ceremonial law and not the 10 commandments. I don’t think that is what you are saying here, is it?

    I affirm works…such as they are…gifts of the Holy Spirit that I synergetically allow to work within me. But I do not see how Romans 3:20 is speaking purely about ritual purity or cultic purity. It clearly has the undertone of virtue or morality connected to it, for the very verse you quote as “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” goes on to say immediately, ; “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

    Can we gain such knowledge of sin from the works of the law as you’ve described them here. Does not our knowledge of sin come from the moral law?

    Help me out on this one because I’m a bit hung up here. Thanks.

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