Salvation = Grace + ??: Do We Orthodox Focus Too Little on the Redeeming Blood of Jesus and Too Much on Righteousness?

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The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”

“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”

But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?

As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.

I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.

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Why Christ and Christmas are Cooler Than Thor

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Last year I published this article in the Mighty Champions Magazine, a teen magazine produced by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern U.S.A.. I’m a huge fan of all that superhero stuff (especially my comic I’ve been collecting since the beginning: Miles Morales Spider-man comics—I have every single comic since he came out).

A lot of times superheroes are given “Savior” story lines. That’s what they do. They are super and they are heroes because they do phenomenal things to save people and often the world or even the universe from destruction.

So here I wanted to compare the story of the famed Thor with the story of Christ: who is a cooler super hero?  Continue reading

Why Christ Had to Be Born, Not Just Appear In Spirit, To Save Us: According to St. Athanasius

Christ's Incarnation -- The Reason For Season[This post is derived from a Sunday School lesson given 12/14/2014. You can download the presentation here]  [Also, click on the above image for a full high resolution version that you can download and share as you wish!]

St. Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” is a must read for every Christian, Orthodox or not. (A free public copy is provided at the end of this post). Don’t take my word for it; C.S. Lewis, famous author and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia series (among many other works), called it “a masterpiece.”

St. Athanasius answers fundamental questions in the work, including:

  • Why couldn’t Adam and Eve have just repented?
  • What does it mean that they would “surely die”?
  • Why was Christ born?
  • Why couldn’t Christ have just saved us by appearing in spirit, without becoming incarnate?

Here is a summary of what the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria had to say in the first couple of chapters:

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How to Explain the Need for Christianity, and Orthodoxy in 5 easy steps

Christ And Disciples (from icon in Coptic Church in Columbus, OH) If someone were to ask you, why do I need Christ? Why do I need to be Christian? Why do I need Orthodoxy? Why can I not simply be a good person?

Some answer: because God gives me blessings, and so I need Him to remain blessed and prosperous. To that I say, Christianity is not just a feel good religion conferring material prosperity as erroneously preached by many today (such as Joel Olsteen and Joyce Meyer—see this article for more on this). There is no denying that by God’s grace He gives (2 Corinthians 9:8), but at the same time God’s grace is manifested in our lack and in enduring suffering (Matthew 7:14; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10). With or without material abundance, a Christian seeks spiritual compensation now and hereafter. So if prosperity is not guaranteed, then why do I need Christianity, and Orthodoxy? It’s easy to get lost in all the details, so let’s simplify things. The answer revolves around two key matters:

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