What is my role in being saved?

November 7, 2018

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.  

What is the Christian’s role in being saved and accepting salvation? This question is one that rouses many different answers from many different people. There are some that we can be saved in a moment – they can pinpoint their salvation to a historical event that took place in which they accepted the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts. From then on, they believe that nothing they do can counteract that moment – they are forever saved from that point on… This is clearly not the Orthodox understanding of how we are saved. 

There are others who would claim that salvation must be worked out through your actions almost as if it were transactional. That is to say that they believe they must “earn” their salvation through the accumulation of multiple good works. In this case the believer sets our to do as much good as possible and believes that faith does not have a role to play in their salvation. Again, this is simply incomplete and incorrect as per the Orthodox understanding of what our role in salvation is.  

What then is the proper Orthodox understanding of salvation? Is it faith alone, is it mostly through my own works and actions? Let’s investigate this further together.  


In the story of the prodigal son of Luke 15, we encounter a very interesting reality that speaks to all of us as human beings. The prodigal son turns to his father in the beginning of the story and basically declares that he no longer wants his father, nor his home, and that all he wants is his own self seeking. And the father gives his son the inheritance due to him and lets him go…freely! Later, when all is lost, the young man comes to his senses and realizes his sin, his grave mistake. He arises and comes back to his father and confesses his error…again freely! You see, what we see here is the both the curse and the gift of human free will – with it I am free to chose evil and leave my heavenly Father, and with it, I can also freely choose to come back and be united to my Lord and my God. The Church teaches us that by being created in the image of God, one of the great gifts that the Lord allows us to share with him is Free Will – the capacity to act without the limitation of necessity; the ability to live as per my own pleasure. What this says therefore is that we are sons and daughters…not slaves!  

In Philippians chapter 2, St Paul gives an account of the humbled and exalted Christ, exhorting all Christians to adopt the mind of Christ so that we may be willing to humble ourselves just as the Lord did in taking on the form of humanity for the sake of our salvation. He ends that powerful passage by saying that the God has also exalted the name of Jesus Christ so that all nations would bow down to Him and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. However, Paul does not end there, he does not stop at the idea of only declaring the Jesus is Lord. He continues with the following in verses 12 and 13:  


12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.  

Notice how St Paul is saying two unique statements – YOU work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and immediately after he says “it is GOD who works in you…” How is this possible? How can both of these two concepts coexist? Well this is the mystery of cooperation with God – what the Church calls Synergy or Synergia in Greek – where God and man work hand in hand for the sake of the common goal of salvation.   

So, if we are to answer the question of what is my role in being saved, the Orthodox Church would answer and say that you must work hand in hand, as a fellow worker with the Holy Spirit, in living a Godly and faithful like.  



Now some may be tempted to ask the question, “so how much work is God’s and how much is my own?” My beloved, let’s not be tempted to weigh our contribution in attempting to fraction out the path to salvation. Rest assured, what God does in the process of salvation is infinitely more important that what humanity does. The Creed tells us that it was “for us and for our salvation” that the Lord was incarnate, born of a virgin, baptized, ministered to the world, was betrayed, crucified, died, rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, and sent us Holy Spirit to dwell and work in us. All of this was His doing in paving the way for humanity to be reconciled to God. However, none of this means anything unless we accept His grace and His love. This basically means that our salvation consists of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: God’s divine grace and our human will! 

Again, this means that God cannot save you without your consent! God needs you to save you! There are some who believe that God’s grace can be irresistible – even to the point where we cannot possibly refuse it. We do not accept this! The Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon man’s freedom. Both God’s grace and our free will (enacted in faith and in action) must be aligned for us to be saved.  

This is made perfectly clear in the saying of the Lord in the book of Revelation. He tells all of humanity:  

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. “ (Revelation 3:20)”  

God is always the initiator, he stands at our door and he approaches us where we are. It is up to us however to react to his knocking on our door – not only by hearing the knock, but by also opening the door! The hearing in this case refers to our knowledge of faith, and the opening of the door is the work we must do. Both are essential, if I did not hear His knock, I will never get up to answer – and hearing the knock without opening the door serves me no purpose. Only if I cooperate – if I open the door after hearing the knock, will the Lord come in, meet and dine with me. 

Two great church fathers summarize this idea beautifully:  

Saint John Chrysostom says: ‘God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence. He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one’ [Sermon on Acts 9] 

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem also emphasizes: ‘It is for God to grant His grace, your task is to accept that grace and to guard it’ [Catechetical Orations, 1, 4] 


My beloved it is evident from all this teaching that the Lord calls us to work with Him. That while He has granted us Salvation through His son, who stands at our door and knocks, that we are called to work in Synergy and Cooperation with God – to hear His knock, to accept and preserve His grace, and to open to Him that we may be saved in and through Him.  

Remember,  Know your faith, live your faith, and teach your faith.  

And to God be the Glory, now and forever, and unto the ages of all ages. Amen.  

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