In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

I would like for us to look this morning at St. Paul’s words to the Galatians, and for us to think about this topic of faith and works, and their relationship to our salvation. This is not really a contentious topic in the Orthodox Church – the Fathers have opened the Scriptures for us so that we can understand and live the right relationship of faith and of works. But this is a highly contentious topic among Western, non-Orthodox, Christians – so I’d like us to look at it with several things in mind.

Firstly, many of us are converts from Western Christianity, so we may be carrying around some baggage from those years that we’d do well to address. Also, we live in the West, therefore we might be influenced by discussions that go on around us without our even realizing it. So I’d like to do a few things – 1) lay out in very general terms the Western debate over faith and works, 2) two things happen here simultaneously – we see why this debate is flawed by positively learning what the Church has to say.

I. The Western Debate
Generally speaking, there’s a great fear on both sides of this debate about faith and works. On one side, you will hear Biblical quotations about man being saved by faith. This side generally does not want to talk about works at all – adding works into any discussion about salvation makes them think Pelagianism (heresy that says we are saved solely by our works, apart from the help of God). So from this perspective, all man needs to have for salvation is a belief in God, regardless of his actions.

On the other side (works side) is something that sounds a bit more like Pelagianism. Of course, Biblical verses are quoted about works, like “faith without works is dead.” But instead of coming to a balanced position, this side tends to the opposite extreme – for example you might hear about man’s good works being weighed against his sins, or man having to do good works to counteract his sins. Faith is certainly discussed here, but faith seems to be mostly the umbrella under which our actions are committed – everything is done under the watch of God, but salvation will ultimately be determined by works.

So in a general way, this is the Western debate over faith and works (certainly there are more nuanced positions, but these are the major 2 categories – faith and works are not balanced, but one always ‘outweighs’ the other).

II. The Biblical-Patristic Tradition
At the very forefront of our looking at faith and works, we can sense a huge Biblical issue – in the above mentioned debate, both ‘sides’ quote the Bible. There are verses talking about faith, verses talking about works, and places like our Epistle reading this morning, that talk about both faith and works. The Bible cannot and does not contradict herself – if there seem to be conflicts between passages, there’s a level of understanding that we’ve missed. This is why, as Orthodox, we try not to get into these discussions where each side is quoting various verses to defend a particular position – that’s like saying, “well your verse says that, and my verse says this.” But you can’t do that – if the position is not in accord with the witness of the Scriptures in their entirety, then verses are being misunderstood. This is one reason the Patristic Tradition of the Church is so vital – the Saints of God help us gain insight into the Scriptures by their writings and their lives. The Scriptures are understood and explained in the Body of Christ, Church. If we don’t understand something, there’s a place to go look to help us gain understanding.

So now, I’d like us to hear what the Orthodox Christian Church has to say about faith and works and salvation, using this morning’s representative Epistle reading. St Paul writes: “…a man is not justified by the works of the law [Old Testament law] but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law…but if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, is Christ therefore the minister of sin? Certainly not!…I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Christ…”

St Paul says nothing of a dichotomy between faith and works, rather it sounds very clear that both faith and works are present in the life of a person who is being transformed in Christ. The life he lives is through faith in Christ.

So I’d like us to end by hearing St. John Chrysostom comment briefly on this very Epistle reading, looking to the Saints to make sure we have the proper understanding: He beings by saying that faith in Christ has replaced the works of the law for the believer, and he continues “For a man cannot live to God, otherwise than by dying to sin; and as Christ suffered a bodily death, so does Paul a death to sin…if thou remainest dead to sin, thou livest to God, but if thou let [sin] live again, thou art the ruin of thy new life…”

In other words, our faith in Christ is our salvation; but a true faith in Christ includes our death to sin, a constant struggle against sin and for the works of the New Covenant (virtues) – a saving faith transforms the life of the believer into a man struggling to put on Christ, and to abandon sin. Our faith and our works go hand in hand, as we read in many places in the New Testament [faith without works is dead – therefore a living faith is accompanied by the works of Christ], and as St. John Chrysostom and all the Saints testify to in both their lives and their writings.

May we then, empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, struggle to die to the old man, and to put on Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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