Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To say that the Holy Trinity is the hallmark of Orthodox worship and faith would be an understatement, to say the least. Orthodoxy is inescapably and indelibly Trinitarian! Anyone who prays with us soon catches on: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” This is the “right worship” and the “right faith” of the Church, just as the word Orthodox means. The Feast of Great and Holy Pentecost just a few Sundays back is the apogee of our liturgical cycle commemorating salvation history, the apex of our Lord’s Incarnation. It is also the Feast of the Holy Trinity: “The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protector. O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee!” At no time in creation or in salvation do the Persons of the Holy Trinity ever work independently of the Other, but all work in concert together bringing about our creation as well as our re-creation, even if one member of the Holy Trinity happens to be the focus at the time. The Father creates through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We often find the stamp of the Holy Trinity in the apostolic writings albeit it is not always so obvious as the apostolic greeting used in the Divine Liturgy: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” We find the Holy Trinity at work today in St. Paul’s Epistle. We are sinners, you and me. But that has not stopped our man-befriending God from coming to our aid. Through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we now have been reconciled to the Father! “[W]e have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” says the Apostle. Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ was “delivered up [on the Cross] because of our offenses, and was raised [up from the dead] because of our justification” (Rm. 4:25). It is, therefore, this saving work of our Lord Jesus accomplished according to the will of His Father that we place our hope and our faith in. It is the faithfulness of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ that we trust, in His work and obedience that has secured for us sinners redemption and sanctification, just as Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rm. 4:20-24).
“Therefore,” Paul says, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . .” Justification. Justified by faith. Words and a phrase well known by many of us from our Protestant days. Faith, trusting in Jesus, was everything for us in those days. And, it still is! One of the Morning Prayers in our prayer book rightly emphasizes the role of faith. “May faith be accounted to me in place of deeds,” we pray, “for Thou shalt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith suffice for everything: may it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory” (9th Prayer).
But, for us Orthodox, justification by faith is no longer the whole enchilada of salvation. In other words, for us Orthodox, justification by faith in Jesus Christ does not constitute the entirety of our salvation. In other words, justification, though absolutely necessary and critical, does not equal salvation. Period. There is and can be no salvation apart from the work of Christ God and our faith in Him. But, justification by faith in Jesus Christ is just the beginning of salvation. We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved. It is faith in the work of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ that starts us on the way and it permeates the whole of salvation. It is what opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. As our Lord says elsewhere assuring us, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us His Kingdom (Lk. 12:32), but we must also press into this Kingdom (Lk. 16:16), which is to say, “’the violent take it by force’” (Mt. 11:12). It is God’s gift to us which we must actively seek to enter into and retain. It is faith at work, “faith working through love” (Ga. 5:6).
Justification by faith is the entrée into the ongoing saving work of God called sanctification. It is God cleansing us from our sinfulness after He has made us right with Him, making us whole and healing our brokenness, purifying our hearts and souls as a temple of the Holy Spirit, imparting to us His holiness and righteousness (Ep. 4:24; Co. 3:10; 2 Pe. 1:4). There is no point in this saving and sanctifying work of God that does not involve or depend upon our faith in Him and in His Son and in His Holy Spirit. By faith we cooperate with the mighty saving work of God for us and open ourselves up to His tabernacling Presence, His divine indwelling as promised by our Lord (Jn. 7:37-39; 14:17, 23).
Beloved, what our ancient father, Adam, unleashed, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ has now tamed. What Adam started, Jesus has completed. “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man [the Second Adam]” (1 Cr. 15:45-49). Adam brought us sin and death while Jesus Christ brings to us unworthy and undeserving sinners Life and Light! We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and in His faithfulness as the Son of God. To the point, says St. Paul, that we now live by faith in the Son of God Who loved us sinners while still His enemies and Who gave Himself up in love for us who did not love Him or care one iota for Him (Ga. 2:20).
Another translation of that Galatians passage says that we now live “by the faith of the Son of God.” We live by Jesus’ faithfulness which is unto ages of ages. “[Jesus] is . . . able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hb. 7:25). Jesus is the Way to the Father (Jn. 14:6). He opens the door to the new and living relationship with God, that is, Jesus reconciles us to His Father and He sustains us in that new and living relationship by giving us access, Paul says, by faith to the grace of God “in which we stand”: that ever-flowing power and mighty rushing river of the Holy Spirit. Grace is more than the mere favor of God. Grace is the energy of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of our God, Paul says, Who has been poured out on us abundantly in the waters of Baptism and the oil of Chrismation (Ts. 3:4-7). The Spirit of God enlivens us and regenerates us who were dead in our sins and trespasses (Ep. 2:4-7), souls powerless and weak, sinners unable to save ourselves or to clean up our act! The Holy Spirit gives to us – breathes into us just as He did at creation (Gn. 2:7) – the very Resurrection power and Life of our Lord Jesus Christ! “If we were reconciled to God through the Death of His Son, [how] much more shall we be saved by His Life?” The Spirit of God pours into our hearts the very love of God, so that we are not only assured of God’s love for us revealed in and through the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of His Son, but so that we might love God Who has first and always loved us sinners (1 Jn. 4:19).
Paul then says, “And [we] rejoice, in hope of the glory of God.” It is the glory of God from which we have fallen far short and it is this same glory that has been restored to us through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (Rm. 3:23)! We have faith, we have hope, we have love – the theological trinity of virtues so necessary for us to be Christian woven together here into one strong and binding cord. We are justified by faith in the Son of God, we have the hope of the glory of God the Father to which we are called and which we bear as those created in His image, and we have the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.
We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” Paul says. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, . . . .” It is not enough, so it seems, for us to be well-grounded in the truth of salvation, but we must also know where this truth of God takes us and how we get there. Our justification by faith in Jesus Christ takes us somewhere. It of necessity leads us to our sanctification. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God, . . . but we also glory in tribulations, . . . .”! Why? Because we know, Paul says, “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance [produces] character; and character [produces] hope.” And “hope does not disappoint” because of the love of God!
This, beloved, is how saints are made, the formula for saints, for our sanctification in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Faith, hope, and love are of little value or benefit to us who are justified by faith, unless they are exercised, tried, and tested. Faith must lead to faithfulness and faithfulness to obedience and obedience manifests our love for the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This, beloved, is the testimony of all who have been justified by faith and have pressed into the Kingdom of God the Father, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and the All-holy Spirit.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Rm. 5:1-10 Mt. 6:22-33