Here are a couple of passages from my book. I hope they help:
ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED?
Evangelical Protestants commonly ask, “Are you saved?” And many Protestants teach a “Once saved, always saved” doctrine. So the questions must be addressed: What is “salvation,” and can it be “lost?”
Orthodoxy answers that the essential issue is whether or not we are united with Christ and whether or not we are receiving Him through the Sacraments, following Him through repentance and faith, and experiencing Him through participation in the life of the Church. Apart from His true Church, we will never be fully united with Christ, and we will not have full access to the divine protection necessary to persevere in following Him throughout the duration of our lives.
The Christian life is founded upon a relationship with Christ through His Church. This relationship is initiated with the holy Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation. Subsequently it is cultivated and preserved through the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist, and Divine Unction. Christian growth hinges upon these sacramental graces, and no one can avail themselves of the Sacraments apart from the true and authentic Christian Church.
It is a grave error to believe that a person can make a onetime “profession of faith” and expect to enter heaven regardless of their ensuing actions and behaviors. As Clement of Alexandria said, “It is neither the faith, nor the love, nor the hope, nor the endurance of one day; rather, ‘he that endures to the end will be saved.’”
And in the words of Tertullian, “No one is a Christian but he who perseveres even to the end.”
One of the countless negative effects of Protestantism is that many people are more concerned with simply getting to heaven than with cultivating the experience of God here on earth. But heaven is an extension and fulfillment of the divine relationship that we have nurtured during our life in this temporal world. And we will never fully know and experience God in this life if we remain isolated from His true Church.
As Orthodox Christians, we trust in the redeeming power of the Cross (Galatians 6:14; I Corinthians 1:18), in the efficacy of Baptism and the other sacramental graces (Titus 3:5; St. John 3:5; Acts 2:38), and in the unfailing love, grace, and mercy of Christ (I John 4:16; Ephesians 2:8; Psalm 136). And as long as we trust in these things and strive to live out our Faith, then we have confidence that our Father in heaven will receive us into His loving arms.
Our Lord said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” [St. John 10:27-28]
Evangelical advocates of the “eternal security” position will often cite this verse as a proof text for their doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” However, they seem to emphasize the last two sentences of this verse to the exclusion of the first. But what this Scripture actually demonstrates is that our eternal destiny is predicated upon our hearing the voice of Our Lord and then following Him. And how can we follow Him if we remain isolated from His fold, separated from the Church that He divinely instituted through His holy Apostles?
The sheep are always secure when they remain within the Shepherd’s flock, heeding His corrective rod and following His protective lead. But, if in obstinate disobedience, a sheep seeks to independently live the Christian life apart from the Christian Church, then it becomes vulnerable to the demonic forces that seek to devour its soul. [Cf. I Peter 5:8] There is no authentic spiritual security apart from the Sacraments, which are the graces by which we initially, continually, and corporately receive and experience Jesus Christ. [Cf. St. John 6:53-56] And we cannot receive the Holy Sacraments apart from the Holy Orthodox Church.
Sincere Christian profession must be followed by persistent Christian practice; and the Orthodox Christian Church is the divinely established institution through which we receive the spiritual guidance and power that enables us to follow Christ in perseverance and truth. There is no true spiritual security in an individualistic, sectarian, and heterodox pseudo-Christianity. It is only within and through the Holy Orthodox Church that we have assured protection from the wolves of this world and confident hope of preservation unto the Day of Judgment. For Our Lord said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [St. Matthew 16:18]
Therefore, do not ask, “Can I lose my salvation?” Instead ask, “Am I experiencing Christ through participation in the life of His Church?” And know that any ostensible “Church” whose worship is not centered upon receiving Christ in the Holy Sacraments and worshiping Him in the Divine Liturgy is not the true Christian Church; it is merely a manmade religion established on subjective mortal philosophies and feckless human traditions.
ARE WE SAVED BY “FAITH ALONE”?
Along with “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone), “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) was another mantra of the Reformation that indelibly shaped Protestant theology. It is famously recorded that the Catholic monk Martin Luther strived to earn the favor and blessings of God through strict asceticism and rigorous monastic practices. But the more he labored, the more distant he felt from the peace and presence of God. Luther became despondent, until one day while reading the Bible, he suddenly became fixated on Romans 1:17, which states, “The just shall live by faith.”
Martin Luther felt that he finally understood the meaning of the Holy Gospel: faith is all that is necessary to bring man to the knowledge of God. And this idea – based upon a single verse in the Holy Bible (which significantly does not say that the just shall live by faith alone) – was the foundational seed that sprouted the entire Protestant movement. So, the question presents itself: Is eternal life really attained by “faith alone?”
In attempting to answer this vital question, we must consider a few crucial points. First, it is imperative to understand that we cannot simply pick and choose Bible verses that suit our own subjective theologies. We accurately understand the Scriptures only when we read them in their entirety, and only when we read them within the context of the Teachings and Traditions of the holy apostolic Orthodox Church. Any attempts to interpret the Bible and develop a theology without adherence and submission to the Church that Our Lord established is a subjective endeavor at best, and a satanic delusion at worst. As St. Peter the Apostle wrote, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” [II Peter 1:20]
The doctrine of “faith alone” is the child of “Scripture alone;” and “Sola Scriptura” is a relativistic and subjective theological foundation because it ultimately depends on individual interpretations of the Bible. But since the Holy Bible is God’s divinely inspired written revelation to humanity, and since it contains the divine message of the very Word of God (i.e. Our Lord Jesus Christ- St. John 1:1; Hebrews 4:12-13), let us then examine the doctrine of “Sola Fide”(faith alone) in the light of its revelatory Truth:
St. James clearly says, “Faith without works is dead.” [James 2:20]
In fact, he specifically states that we are “justified by works, and not by faith alone.” [James 2:24]
Actually, James 2:24 is the only place in the entire Bible where the words “faith” and “alone” are found together, and it is to emphasize the fact that we are not saved by “faith alone.”
Therefore, eternal life is not the result of “faith alone” any more than physical longevity on earth is the result of “birth alone.” We have nothing to do with our initial birth and existence. God alone created us and gave us life. But if we do not eat, if we do not exercise, if we do not avail ourselves of the things which will enable us to continually live and grow, then we will surely die.
So, it is the same with the spiritual life. God receives all the glory, for He alone sent His Son to redeem us at the Cross; He alone provides the things we need for our sanctification (namely the Church, the Sacraments, and the Holy Scriptures); and He alone is able to forgive our sins and bestow upon us His unconditional mercy and grace. But nevertheless, St. Paul exhorts us to “Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]
and to “be diligent to enter that rest.” [Hebrews 4:11]
One problem with heterodox forms of Christianity is that these various Protestant denominations emanate from a faulty foundation. As we have established, Protestants begin with the foundation of “Sola Scriptura” (The Bible alone), and they reject 2,000 years of apostolic Teaching and Tradition. The result of this doctrine is that numerous cults and sects have arisen, each one claiming to be based upon the Holy Bible. But when man presumptuously attempts to interpret the Sacred Scriptures apart from the Church that Our Lord divinely instituted, then man will inevitably fall into heresy and error. Protestant doctrines were often formed by individuals choosing the verses that conveniently accommodated their own ideologies, and then systematizing these verses into a theological framework that appears to be “biblical” on the surface but is actually contrary to Orthodox Christian truth.
Now, I am not saying that all Protestants are “lost” or do not have a certain relationship with Christ. There are many fine Protestant Christian people who love Our Lord and sincerely strive to live according to the teachings of the Holy Bible. I consider many of them my brothers and sisters in Christ, and they have my great respect. My father-in-law is a devout Evangelical whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures far surpasses my own. His love for Our Lord and his Christian devotion are clearly evident in his unconditional kindness and his abundant encouragement given to others. And because of his love for God and his devotion to Christ, he is always open and receptive to Orthodox Truth. And yet I never feel the need to “convert” him. I only desire that his profound wisdom and knowledge will rub off on me as he affords me the freedom to share my Orthodox Faith with him. I am extremely blessed to share a deep Christian fellowship with my father-in-law, and I only wish that all of us who profess Christ possessed his combination of wisdom, kindness, and humility.
But I thank God for Orthodoxy, which led me away from my own subjective understanding and into the Light of objective Apostolic Truth. Salvation is a process that is initiated by Christ, cultivated by Christ, and completed in Christ. As Orthodox Christians, we trust that we have been saved, that we are being saved, and that by the grace of God we will be saved by Our Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming Cross. It is therefore Christ who saves, period. If we boast of our works or boast of our faith, we are guilty of presumption and pride. So whether we are Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, let us boast only in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For St. Paul writes, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” [Galatians 6:14]
Yet is important to understand that faith – if it is genuine – is actually work. For if we boast in the Cross, then surely we recognize the intense struggle it embodies and entails. Faith in Christ and the Cross means a willingness to heed Our Lord’s command to take up our own cross on a daily basis. It means a willingness to suffer for our faith and a dedication to the spiritual struggle. We cannot boast in the Cross without enduring pain, sorrow, heartache, and persecution. (Cf. II Timothy 3:12) Authentic faith is active, not stagnant. Faith and works are indivisible. It is a false dichotomy to separate faith and works, and this false divide is one of the many foul fruits that sectarian Christianity has produced.
True Faith involves:
in Christ (Acts 16:31)
of sin (St. Mark 1:15)
Christ (St. John 1:12; 6:54)
D) Being Baptized
in Christ (I Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3; Titus 3:5; Acts 2:38)
Christ (St. Matthew 10:38)
Christ (Romans 10:9-10)
Notice that all these things are verbs, implying action. With the exception of baptism, the original Greek meaning also indicates that these things are constant, not merely a one-time momentary act. Yet even with baptism, we are to continually remember its sacramental power and trust in its efficacy on a daily basis. We receive Christ through repentance and faith; we are born again through baptism; and we receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Chrismation. But receiving Christ through repentance and faith is not merely a single moment in our lives. We must continually receive Christ by trusting Him and following Him on a daily basis, by repenting of our sins through consistent participation in the sacrament of Confession and Holy Penance, and by partaking of His very Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. As Our Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” [St. Luke 9:23]
And as St. Paul writes, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” [Colossians 2:6]
Commentary from The Orthodox Study Bible states:“Each person must take up his own cross. The burden in this world is different for each person, and each has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for his own salvation and the salvation of those around him. The cross is to be taken up daily. Commitment to following Christ is not just a one-time event. Rather, it is the continual practice of faith and obedience, even to the point of being shamed and persecuted by the world.”
Perhaps the Gospel account of the rich young ruler best answers the question of faith and works:“And, behold, one came and said unto him, ‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ And he said unto him, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He saith unto him, ‘Which?’ Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The young man saith unto him, ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’ When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, ‘With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.’ Then answered Peter and said unto him, ‘Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’” [St. Matthew 19:16-30]
The words of Our Lord clearly reveal that actions are integral to the inheritance of eternal life. The rich young ruler asked Christ a specific and direct question: “What thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Therefore, if “faith alone” were all that was necessary for salvation, then Christ would certainly have responded, “You need only believe in Me.”
But we see that in order for faith to be real, it must be accompanied by works.
And the point is made even clearer with St. Peter’s question, emphasizing the righteous acts of the disciples: “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”
Our Lord answered:“Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
Thus, there can be no question about the integration of faith and works. We are not saved by “faith alone.” We are not saved by making a momentary “decision for Christ.” We are not saved by responding to an “altar call” or by “accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.” Mere belief is not sufficient; for as St. James says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” [St. James 2:19]
And as St. Maximus the Confessor said, “Belief without action is the theology of demons.”
Consider more commentary from The Orthodox Study Bible:“The faith that saves is a complete faith, not just the mind and the tongue but the whole man trusting the living God. This means our faith and our relationship with God – our justification – are dynamic and living. Our faith grows and affects our actions, or it dies. ‘Faith alone’ (by itself), static faith, does not save. We must nurture our faith in God and love for Him through our works.”
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church we recite the “Prayer of the Cross”:
The Cross is our power;
The Cross is our strength;
The Cross is our redemption;
The Cross is the salvation of our souls.
Notice that we do not say “Works is our redemption,” or “Faith is our salvation.” No. As St. Paul says, “We are saved by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9]
Thus, if we think that either our faith or our works saves us, then we are in error. We must acknowledge that salvation is possible only through Christ and His Cross. As Orthodox Christians pray in the Divine Liturgy, “We thank You, loving Master, benefactor of our souls, that on this day You have made us worthy once again of Your heavenly and immortal Mysteries… For You are our sanctification and to You we give glory…”
True faith in Christ means obedience to His commands and adherence to His Church. And we must also understand that there is a great difference between meritorious “works” and spiritual work. The “works” that St. Paul rejects here are those things which we presume will earn us the love and grace of God. Like Cain who offered the works of his hands in the feeble effort to appease the Lord, so anything that we do thinking it will merit the love of God will be in vain. Even faith can become a form of vain “works” if we view it as something that will earn us the love of God. In fact, if we think that we need to earn God’s love, then we have no faith at all. The love of God is ever present and ever sure, and it is completely unaffected by anything we do or don’t do. But to experience the holy fire of divine love, to bathe in its fullness, to allow it to enter into our hearts and minds without being consumed… well, this requires much effort and great struggle.
So let us not follow the error of Luther, who made St. James the enemy of St. Paul. God forbid! Instead, let us understand that faith and works are as inseparable as fire and heat. Together they do not earn us God’s love, but rather they enable us to experience the unconditional love of God that endures forever.
St. Symeon Metaphrastis writes:“We receive salvation by grace as a divine gift of the Spirit. But to attain the full measure of virtue we need also to possess faith and love, and to struggle to exercise our free will with integrity. In this manner we inherit eternal life as a consequence of both grace and justice. We do not reach the final stage of spiritual maturity though divine power and grace alone, without ourselves making any effort; but neither on the other hand do we attain the final measure of freedom and purity as a result of our own diligence and strength alone, apart from divine assistance. If the Lord does not build the house, it is said, and protect the city, in vain does the watchman keep awake, and in vain do the laborer and the builder work.”
Let us remember what Solomon said, “Trust in God with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall make your paths straight.” [Proverbs 3:5-6]
There is no room in heaven for human pride. We must forsake our own subjective theological beliefs and individualistic biblical interpretations, submitting instead to divinely-instituted Apostolic Teaching and Tradition. We must follow Christ, love God, and love our neighbor. These are the most important things, and they are by no means easy. We only have spiritual security in nearness to Christ and participation in His Church. This is faith, and it is never “alone.” This is salvation, and it is always accompanied by striving and struggle. We must take up our own cross and carry it; but we are empowered to do so only by the Cross of Our Lord, apart from which we have no hope of eternal life.
[From MYSTERY and MEANING: Christian Philosophy & Orthodox Meditations]