Jesus the Savior
Fr. Thomas Hopko · March 19, 2009
In his second episode on the Names of Jesus, Fr. Tom explores the roots and meaning of the name Jesus - God Saves.
We know that Jesus was named Jesus, Yeshua, Iesous, because that word means Savior, or God saves, the Lord saves. This is specifically said in the New Testament. For example, in Matthew’s gospel, when Joseph is instructed by the angel to take Mary into his house and to name the child, and therefore to become legally the father of Mary’s child, the angel says in the dream to Joseph, she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins. So, he’s called Jesus because he saves, because he saves. Now, you have the same exact thing in St. Luke’s gospel. Here, however, it’s Gabriel, the angel, telling Mary at the annunciation not to fear. She’s found favor with God. She will conceive in her womb. She will bear a son. And then the angel says, and you shall call his name Jesus. So the name is given Jesus also because of his being the Savior.
And then in Luke’s gospel, it simply says that in so many words, when you have the actual account of the birth of Christ, where the angels come to the shepherds in the field, and the angel of the Lord appears to them, the glory of the Lord shone round about them, they were filled with fear. And the angel says to them, do not be afraid before behold, I bring you good news, or glad tidings, or a good message of great joy, which will come to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, soter in Greek, who is Christ the Lord. Now, if anyone would just go to a biblical concordance and look up savior, look up save, look up salvation, there are countless, countless times in the Bible where this particular word as a name, the savior, as a noun, salvation, as a verb, to save, or I save, sodzo, soteria, which is salvation, and soter which is savior, how many times these words are used. They’re used again and again and again.
And if anyone knows anything about Christianity, the person would know that the Christians believe that Jesus saves. You see the sign all over even on rocks and trees and billboards: Jesus Saves. And then you have all kinds of variations with quotations from the Bible making that very particular point. There is no other name by which anyone can be saved except the name of Christ. Be baptized for the remission of your sins, and you will have salvation. Believe in God and be saved. Come to me to be saved. There are just so many, many places in Holy Scripture where the issue of savior, and salvation, and being saved are used that I will not even try to even bring them up.
However, what we want to see for today very clearly is that the term the Savior, is a title for Jesus. He is the the Savior, the unique Savior. He is the only one who saves. Salvation comes through him. He is our great God and Savior, the great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, what we want to see now is that the noun Savior, the title Savior in the Holy Scripture it is, first of all, a title for God himself. The Lord God is the one who brings salvation. It is God who works salvation in the midst of the earth. It is God who is the Savior. I mean, if you just take a New Testamental text, Mary, in the very beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke, when she realizes that she’s pregnant, and she sings her song the famous Magnificat, the song begins with “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” So God is her Savior. She is saved by God.
In Luke, also, in the song, in the canticle of Zechariah. After John the Baptist is born, Zechariah sings his canticle, usually called the Benedictus, and in this canticle begins with “blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed his people.” It says immediately, “and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he spoke by the mouth of his prophets that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” And then he continues in his canticle speaking about his child John, he said and “you child will be called the prophet of the Most High for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways and to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”
So God is the Savior. He raises up the horn of salvation. He saves a people from their enemies, and he gives knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins. So, you just have this teaching about salvation all through the gospels. In St. John’s gospel, for example, you have the prologue about Jesus being the Word being incarnate, coming into the world, then you have the famous line in the third chapter that’s also very famous to Americans. It’s all over billboards and in end zones in football games and all this kind of thing: namely the famous 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, or only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”, or but that through him, the world might be saved. Then he continues, he who believes in him is not condemned. He who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And in the Book of Acts, Peter will say there is no other name by which anyone can be saved in heaven and on earth than the name, Yeshua, Jesus, than by Jesus himself. And then in John it continues, “this is the judgment that light has come into the world. Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, less his deeds should be exposed, but he who does what is true comes to the light that he may clearly see that his deeds have been wrought in God.” So, the judgment is the coming of salvation. The very judgment is the light of God, the light from light, the great epiphany of God that we’ve been contemplating these days: that is the judgment. That God sends his son as the light of the world to save the world, to be the salvation of the world, that people who are in darkness would be in darkness no more, people who are caught by death will be caught by death no more, people that would be captivated and enslaved by anything at all would be liberated.
There would be this great salvation, and the instrument of that salvation, the unique instrument, the only instrument according to Christian faith, if anyone is saved anywhere on the planet in anyway whatsoever, it’s only in and through the work of Jesus, whether or not they know it, whether or not they know it. And this would be a Christian conviction: that if Christ had not come, if he had not died on the cross, if he had not been raised from the dead by the power of God, and if he were not glorified at the right hand of the Father, having destroyed death and forgiven all the sins and fulfilled all righteousness and revealed all truth, then the human beings would not be saved. No human being would be saved. Everyone would be in darkness, ignorance, caught by disease, enslaved by their own passions, and ultimately, they’d be dead. And that is the teaching of Christian faith. Without Christ, everybody’s dead. There is no natural immortality. God can hold in his hands the lives of his people. He even does so according to Scripture, but that’s not natural at all. It’s only by the grace of God. And that God will even preserve in existence all beings that he has made including the demons, even though those who reject the salvation that he brings to the world.
Now, this whole issue of salvation and savior, when we look at it in biblical terms, we have to see that in the Law, in the Psalms, in the prophets, in all the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the Savior is God. It is God Almighty. God is the only one who can save. No other creature can save. No angel can save. No being can save. No human can save. Nothing can save. Only God can save. And salvation is of the Lord. There is no other salvation exception salvation that’s worked by God. And that term salvation is used in a multi-form way in the Scripture. It is used for every possible kind of salvation that you can think of: salvation from disease, salvation from enemies, and then ultimately salvation from sin, and salvation from death itself. So there’s a whole lot of different ways that the term soteria is used. And it’s interesting also to note that that word, and I’ll use the Greek word, soteria, which is what the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Greek uses. It’s the word that’s used all the time.
In fact, I counted once that in the Psalter, you have the word savior, or salvation, or to save in verb form at least 75 times in a 150 Psalms. So that means that it is there all over the place, that God is saving, that salvation comes from God, that people will see the salvation of God, that salvation comes to his people. God works salvation in the midst of the world. And these words using salvation are often used in the Orthodox Christian Church services. For example, at all the festivals of the Holy Cross, the main prokemenon at the reading of the Scripture is “God is our King before the ages. He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth.” And that means that he hanged on the cross in the midst of the earth outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.
Now, this line as an example, the Lord God is our King, before the ages he has worked salvation. It is definitely a biblical teaching of the Law, Psalms, and Prophets that the task of the king on earth who is God’s anointed, his Christos, is also supposed to be a Savior. He’s supposed to be the one who saves, and save means heals. Save means destroy enemies. Save means deliver from terror, from torture, from death. Save means liberation. Save means to be victorious. So the term soter, savior, it also means victor. It also means conqueror. It’s interesting that in English translations of the Bible, that term savior, the word Savior is used relatively consistently. When you have the term Savior, God is our Savior, he is the only Savior. Christ is the Savior, our great God and Savior, that’s consistent, but the term salvation, or the term to save, is very often translated by very different terms.
For example, in the New Testament, every time Jesus heals somebody, it says in Greek, when that person is healed, he’ll say, your faith has saved you. But we have in English, your faith has cured you, your faith has healed you, your faith has made you whole, but every single time in Greek it doesn’t say that. It uses the verb sodzo. Your faith has saved you. Also another example, just an easy example, could be from the Psalter. For example, in the praises, in the 149th Psalm, if you read that Psalm, it’s read every single morning in the Orthodox Church, the so-called Lauds. It’s used in the Western Church too. But there’s a line in the Psalm that says the Lord takes pleasure in his people. And in the King James Version, the next verse says, the Lord takes pleasure in his people, and he beautifies the meek with salvation. He beautifies the meek with salvation. In the Revised Standard Version, that same verse says, he adorns the humble with victory. So, one translation translates the Hebrew word as victory; the other one translates it as salvation.
In the Septuagint, which is the main Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, done by Jews, not by Christians, the text says the Lord takes pleasure in his people, he shows his good favor on his people, hoti eudokei kurios en lao autou, and then it says in Greek, kai praies en soteria, which translated literally would be, and will exalt the meek with or in soteria, in salvation. So it uses the term, at least in the English translation, would be salvation. So you have this, these words, savior, salvation, and to save everywhere. And you yourself, can, if you’d like to, get yourself a biblical concordance, look at how many times those words are used, and then read the various meanings and the various ways that they are used in the Bible. But what we want to see now is a very simple thing. We want to point out that Jesus is the Savior, and he is the only Savior. There is no other Savior. There is no other person who saves us. There is no other action besides his incarnation, his ministry, his passion, his death, his resurrection, and glorification. Nothing else can save us. Nothing else. If that doesn’t happen, we are not saved. We are not saved. He is the only one. He is the unique one. His very name Jesus, Yeshua, means God saves. And by the way, the term Hosanna, which you have in the Bible a lot, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna. It means God saves, God save now. God is doing his saving activity. So the confession of Jesus as the Savior, and here he mentions also even that use of the symbol of the fish for Christianity because the spelling of the word fish in Greek is ichthus, and the I is Iesous Christos huios theou and then the last is soter, Savior. Jesus Christ the son of God, the Savior. Jesus Christ, the son of God, the Lord. And only the Lord saves. Only God saves.
Now, what you see in the Bible, which is very important is the very clear teaching, only God saves, and only Jesus saves. Only God is the Savior, and only Jesus is the Savior, but we see also that only God is God, but Jesus is also called God. We also see that only God is the Lord, the Kurios, but Jesus is the Kurios. And this would be our conviction, Christian Orthodox conviction of ancient Christianity that Jesus is everything that God his Father is, except he’s not the Father, he’s the Son. He’s the Son of the Father who receives everything from the Father, and so all of the qualities that belong to God, metaphysically, essentially, naturally, organically, not by grace, not by faith, but they just belong just as the very nature of the reality, everything that belongs to God belongs to him. He is everything that God is. He has everything that God has, and he has and is all these things in his humanity. The man Jesus has all these things. And it’s very interesting that the gospel basically, the very content of the gospel is that the man Jesus is treated the way God is. And that the man Jesus does all the things that only God can do, and that all the prerogatives that belong to God alone are his.
So God is the Savior, and he is the Savior, and both are true. And you can nuance it a little bit more by saying, God does everything that he does through and by and in and even for his Son, his eternal Son and Word who becomes the man Jesus. So all things are done by God, by Jesus. God creates through Jesus. God redeems through Jesus. God saves through Jesus. So we can say that Jesus is the one by whom all things were created, all things were made, so Jesus is our Maker. He’s the actual hypostatic personal maker of the world who does God’s divine activity. In Greek, they call it demiurgos, he is the agent of all divine actions.
So, when God who alone can save, saves the world, he does it the only way that God does everything, and we might even dare to say the only way that God can do everything and that is by way of his Son. His image, his logos, his word, his davar. And we must remember again that davar, in Greek logos, which means word in English, translated word, doesn’t only mean a spoken word, doesn’t mean a conceptual word, it means an act. It means a thing. So the agent of all divine activities is the second person of the Trinity. It’s the son of God. It is Jesus of Nazareth who is God’s son because Jesus is God’s son. He’s not the man in whom the Son dwelt. He’s not the man to whom the Son was joined. He is the Son himself. That’s Orthodox theology. That’s Orthodox doctrine. So, we confess God is the Lord, and has revealed himself to us. We say God is the Savior. There is no other Savior but God. But we also say Christ is the Lord, and Christ is the Savior, and there is no other Savior besides Christ. And there is no other salvation that God affects except by in and through his Son who is begotten of the Father before all ages, and born on earth from Mary, the virgin, Jesus of Nazareth, named Jesus because he is the Savior.
But now let’s think a little bit further on what does it mean that Jesus is named the Savior? We know that he is. Definitely, we know that he is. What does it mean that he saves us? We know that he does. We confess that he does. Our whole faith is that he does, and he’s the only one who does. What is this salvation? What is the content of it? What makes salvation, salvation? What is it? And here, I would like to try to convey at least my understanding of this by something that happened when I was a seminarian. When I was a seminary student, young fellow, I was sitting in a class of dogmatic theology with my beloved professor, Professor Serge S. Verhovskoy. He was a Russian layman professor. Theology was his entire life. He was a provost of St. Vladimir Seminary, and I was his kind of hand-picked disciple. In fact, my vocation is kind of, I think to be kind of a loud speaker, perhaps even through Ancient Faith Radio, for the teachings of Professor Verhovskoy, and also the teachings of Father John Meyendorff and Father Alexander Schmemann, and Dr. Nicholas Arseniev, and Dr. Veselin Kesich, and all of my teachers. I’m not a scholar. I’m a reporter, a microphone.
But I discussed this issue, oh, countless hours with Professor Verhovskoy about salvation. What is it, how do you understand it? How does it work? But before I got to the point where I was doing that with this man, and I did it virtually until he died, at least once a week, and I thank God for him with all my heart and soul. But once in class, I’m sitting in class as a student, probably 19, 20 years old, I don’t know, maybe a little older, 21? I was there for 6 years, so I don’t remember exactly when it happened. But he said—he had a funny accent in English—and he said “my dears.” He always called us my dears. My dears, and being a Russian, whenever he wanted to affirm something, his voice would go down. When we speak English, when we want to affirm something, our voice goes up. When you speak Russian, your voice goes down. So he would say, my dears, we must, we must, he used to say, avoid, this abominable preoccupation with salvation. My dears, we must avoid an abominable preoccupation with salvation. Well, that blew me away, and you know, spiritually speaking, symbolically speaking, after I fell off my chair and got up again, I raised my hand, and I said professor, why can you say such a thing? Isn’t it all about salvation? Isn’t Jesus our Savior? Doesn’t he save the world? Isn’t salvation what it’s all about? And he kind of looked and smiled and said, “of course.” Of course. But what I would like to say is this. There are many Christians who are hardly interested in God at all. They’re really not interested in Christ. They’re not interested in life. They’re not interested in the beauty of creation. They’re not interested in their fellow man and their neighbor. They’re not really interested in just about anything except salvation. Translated, meaning: how to get to go to heaven when you die.
Because a lot of Christians think of salvation meaning, are you saved means: do you get to go to heaven? And so, Christians will go around saying, are you saved? And then they’ll even claim that to say “I’m saved” means I know for sure that I have my place cut out in the age to come, and I’m certainly going to heaven and anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, and I believe, and I’m baptized, so I’ll be saved, and I’m saved by grace and not by works, and all this kind of stuff. But then they’ll start arguing about what do you need to do to be saved? Do you need to believe? Do you need only to believe? Do you need to do works too? And then what about pietistic actions? You may not need to be circumcised, I mean that might be agreed upon, but Christians might argue and say well, you got to go to church to be saved. You got to be a member of the church to be saved. Some people might even say, you got to be baptized, but that’s a spiritual reality. You don’t need to be baptized in water to be saved. And even some people who are baptized into water, they’re pretty ugly, miserable, horrible creatures, so you know, baptism doesn’t save you. And just going to church and standing there and singing hymns doesn’t save you. Baking a cake for the cake sale doesn’t save you. Knowing the Nicene Creed doesn’t save you. Or maybe it does save you? Maybe you got to never eat any meat, milk products, or anything on any Wednesday or Friday or you’re going to go to hell? And other people say no, that’s nonsense.
So there becomes a huge, huge debate that split Christians up into literally thousands of churches, and many of those churches are the churches that claim salvation through faith and belief in the Bible and belief in Jesus, but then they argue about how does it work? You know, there are some who will say, I must accept Jesus as my Savior or I’m not saved. There are others, I’m tempted to say of a more Calvinistic, Augustinian line who would say, oh no no, God chooses you. You don’t choose God. There’s predestination. God decides who is saved. God is sovereign. If he wants to save you, he’ll save you, and if he doesn’t, you’re going to hell. And you have no case to make whatsoever, because God does whatever he wants. He’ll save whom he wants to save, and he’ll damn whom he wants to damn, and you’re nothing but clay, and he’s the maker, and you’re the earth, and he’s the potter: so forget about it. So there’s a big debate about that. Then there’s a big debate about all the sacraments and do you need to have Holy Communion? It’s written in the Scripture, if you don’t eat body and drink his blood, you have no life in you. You have no eternal life in you. So some people say well, unless you’ve gone to communion, you can’t be saved. Anyone who is not baptized in water can’t be saved.
So there’s so many different kinds of arguments I could go on and on and on about how all of this is all messed up. And what my professor that day wanted to tell us and has stuck with me forever just to this very day in Elwood City, PA when I’m getting close to my 70th birthday, the faith is not about salvation in that sense. It’s not like figuring out “what do you got to do to be saved minimally” like do you have to go to church or don’t you? Do you have to believe in Jesus or don’t you? Do you have to participate in sacraments, or don’t you? Do you have to be in some particular church and not another or don’t you? Do you have to be in communion with the bishop of Rome who is the Pope or don’t you? And there are times when people said if you’re not in one or another particular church, you are simply not saved. You are just simply going to hell. And there’s plenty of folks around that think that we Orthodox Christians are just going to hell because our understanding of Christianity is so weird. But there are also, for the sake of full disclosure and to speak the truth in love, there are Orthodox Christians who say if you’re not a member of the Orthodox Church, you might even daresay the proper jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church, you’re also going to hell. You’re not saved. So you get salvation by association, or salvation by church membership.
Now, Professor Verhovskoy what he taught us and what is true is this: you can’t look at it that way. You can’t begin with what you need to do to do be saved. No. In fact, in that sense, it is an abomination, almost a blasphemy, even to interested, if not obsessed, with the issue of salvation and start trying to figure out who’s saved and who’s not and telling who’s saved and who isn’t saved, and why it’s so. Real authentic Christians should never, ever, ever get involved in that kind of thing. Never. That is my deepest conviction, and I’m sharing it with you now. It’s not according to Jesus. It’s not according to Christ. It’s not according to Scripture. But what is? What is? What is, is that there is God. Beautiful, marvelous, magnificent, splendid, glorious God Almighty. And his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, born of a virgin on earth, the all-holy, life-creating Spirit that proceeds from God, dwells in the Son, is breathed upon us. There’s life, there’s world, there’s reality; there is truth. There is peace. There is joy. There is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is God himself. And what we have to realize is that we’ve got to be interested in the God who saves us, not in salvation as such. We’ve got to be interested in loving God, not salvation. God. Life is about God. The Bible is about God. Church is about God. Sacraments are about God and being about God there about Christ, and about Christ there, about crucifixion and resurrection and glorification and humility and love and mercy and meekness. Jesus says learn from me, I am meek and lowly of heart. You will find rest for your soul.
It’s about the grace of God coming in us and being manifested for our salvation. That’s what we just heard in church during these days of Epiphany from the Epistle of Titus. The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people. God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the Church. God is the Savior of all human beings, especially those who believe. So, our confession has to be that God, in Christ, has already, on the Cross, saved everyone and everything. That’s the gospel. That’s the glad tidings: that he has come for Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free, whoever we are upon the earth, and even the whole earth, and even all the galaxies and the stars and the sun and the moon. God, who created all of that, is saving all of that, and he’s saving it all in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we have to be thrilled about. That’s what we have to confess. That’s what we have to live by.
Now, if we do, then we will glorify God, and we will try to keep his commandments because we will love him. And we will try to love him with all our mind, all our soul, all our heart, all our strength. We’ll try to love our neighbor, even our worst enemy as ourselves. We will not judge anyone for anything. Our holy fathers teach us that we judge no one for nothing. Who are we to judge? God who is the Savior is the judge, and guess what? He judges us by saving us. He came to save the world, not to condemn it. So the judgment of the world as we just heard from St. John’s gospel is his salvific act in Jesus. It’s that salvation that judges the world. But what is that salvation? That salvation is God. You can put it this way, quickly. It’s God acting to destroy everything that is ungodly, everything that is not according to God’s good creation, everything that he does not want.
So we are saved first of all, from. The salvation is a salvation “from”. We are saved from ignorance, from darkness, because he gives us the truth, and he is the truth, and gives us the spirit of truth. We are saved from our sins. We are saved from our madness our insanity, from our diseases, from our transgressions. We are saved from our own self, from the vain imaginations of our own heart and mind. We are saved from everything that destroys and ultimately the last enemy to be destroyed is the destroyer itself which is death. So we are saved from death. So you can speak about being saved from. And so we’re saved from everything that is no good. Everything that is not true. Everything that is not beautiful, everything that is ugly, everything that is diseased, everything that is corrupted, everything that is just plain rotten and no good. Everything that is morbid and dead and demonic. We’re saved from the power of the devils. It says that in I John, the reason for the epiphania, the appearance of the son of God is to deliver us from the works of the devil. So we’re saved from the works of the devil. Whatever they are, that’s what we are saved from by God.
And then we are saved for. Not only from, but “for”. We are saved for life. What makes life, life? According to the Holy Scripture, what makes life life is the glorification of God. Not trying to figure out who gets saved and who is not saved, and what you got to do to get to go to heaven and then do the minimal amount of things that you need. Professor Verhovskoy would say it would be like saying how often do I have to be with my wife? Do I have to see her every day? Can I see her every other day? Can I see her just on Sunday mornings for two hours? What do I have to do with her? What do I have to give to her so that I can be quote, unquote “in good standing” with her? That’s an abomination. That’s a blasphemy. Human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God do not act that way. In fact, we do everything to be in communion all the time, to love all the time, give everything, to share everything, to enjoy everything. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about some kind of minimal standards or rules that if we fulfill them externally, we get to go to heaven.
And it’s very interesting that many Christians who claim to be saved by faith alone and not by works, they’re still very interested in what works you need to do to be saved. And I would even suggest let’s strike once and for all from our life this question: what do I need to do to be saved? The answer is: everything and nothing because there’s nothing I can do to be saved if God doesn’t save me. But once God saves me, then I have to do the works that he does, and that means I can never rest assured of my salvation. Oh yes, I can say and I must say the gospel of God in Jesus Christ is that we are all saved. I’m saved, you’re saved. Joseph Stalin is saved. Osama bin Laden is saved. Whoever you want to think of is saved, as far as God is concerned. And then the question is, do we accept that salvation? Do we live by that salvation?
And here the teaching of Scripture and the saints would be that nobody could claim to do it. Nobody is righteous, no, not one, even after baptism. And we’re always sinners saying God be merciful to me, a sinner. We’re always saying, I am not worthy, I am not worthy. I am not deserving. Certainly I am not deserving of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the fire of God, and the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus. I am not worthy of salvation. It’s a gift. But once I realize that there is that gift, then I have to take that gift, and I have to repent every time I don’t take it. I have to repent every time I neglect it, forget it, and worse, that I would just refuse it and live by my own standards and my own life. That’s hell. That is hell. Hell is being and doing what you want to be, not according to what God wants, which is salvation.
So once I know that I am saved by Jesus, then what I do is that I pray without ceasing. I give thanks in all circumstances. I rejoice in all things. I try to share everything I have. I try to do everything as well as I can, and I know that even if I do that, I am not deserving of salvation. And I know there’s nothing I can externally do. I could go 100 Divine Liturgies and give all my body to be burned and everything, even as St. Paul says, but if I have not the love of God in me, if I’m doing out of arrogance and pride or trying to get to go to heaven when I die, and earn my salvation, then I’m still in the hands of the devil. My life is still an abomination. I have not yet understood salvation. Why? Because I have not yet understood God. So to understand salvation and to receive salvation, you have to understand and receive and love God. We love God, not salvation. God. We love God. And therefore, we are saved for loving God, glorifying God, praising God with every breath, more than we breathe the holy fathers say. We are saved for work. We are saved for activity. We are saved for rejoicing in one another. We are saved for serving each other. We are saved for repenting, in fact. We can only repent because we’re saved, because that salvation is always available to us.
For as often as we sin, when we get up again, that very salvation once and for all accomplished on the cross by God with his son Jesus, God our Savior, and Christ our Savior, that allows me to repent. That’s one of the elements of salvation, the ability to repent daily. And the holy fathers would even say, we are saved for tears. We are saved for weeping over our sins and the sins of the world. We are saved for weeping over how we have ruined our world and corrupted our planet, and destroyed our universe and killed our economy, and how our greed and how our competition, and how our, I don’t know what, racisms and all kinds of have stuff have created a hell on the planet Earth. Well, God has saved us in Christ from that hell, but it’s not only from the hell, it’s for the paradise. And that’s why St. Simeon the New Theologian said, we are saved so that each day we can become a fresh paradise to everyone around us, including our most horrible hated enemy. We are saved to be by grace everything that God in Christ is by nature. That’s what we’re saved for.
And so a person who knows that, that person is no longer interested or obsessed in salvation as such. They are totally devoted to God as the Savior, to Christ who is the Savior, to the eternal life to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fire into which they are baptized into which they are saved by the Savior Jesus, by his broken body and spilled blood. They’re not looking around, figuring out salvation. In fact, a saved person who is not interested paradoxically in salvation anymore at all, a saved person is not trying to figure anything out. A saved person is just praying to be illumined by God to testify to the fact that we are saved, that salvation is here, eternal life is here. Joy is here. Peace is here. God is with us. Emmanuel is Christ’s name also. God with us, that everything has been redeemed, saved, delivered, protected, purified. All the enemies have been destroyed. All of God’s enemies have withered up and are like smoke vanishing in the fire, and nothing over stands against God anymore. And to be saved is to be in that reality, and even more modestly, to want to be in that reality. To struggle to be in that reality, to confess with tears that we are not in that reality, and to confess that we have no claim on salvation. We cannot name anything, we can’t claim anything.
And we certainly cannot dare to claim, there’s my place in heaven, made for me because I accept Jesus as my Savior. Because the question would be, do you really accept Jesus as your Savior? Then your works will show it. That’s the teaching of Holy Scripture. Your deeds will show it. What do you do? Oh, no. We come before the face of God always as penitents and sinners until he comes again in glory, and we say, “Save me, O Lord.” We pray all the time in church, help us, save us, have mercy on us, keep us, oh God, by your grace. And what we will see is that the content of salvation is the outpouring of the divine chesed, the divine mercy, the divine love upon us, and we bask in that as our salvation. And to the measure that we are in that, to that measure we are saved. But it isn’t over until it’s over.
There’s a wonderful story of St. Macarius of Egypt who will be celebrated this month of January in Church, who when his life was over, and he was entering into paradise. According to the story, he had one foot into paradise, he heard a voice saying, Macarius you have conquered. Actually, the voice should have said, Macarius, Christ has conquered in you, Christ is the victor. He’s the Savior. But when the voice said, Macarius, you have conquered, Macarius turned around and looked, and it was the devil. And Macarius looked at the devil, and he said to him, not yet. Until both feet are safely in, not yet. We presume nothing, while at the same time we confess that everyone and everything in all of creation has been saved by God in the blood of Jesus. It’s our task to receive that salvation and to re-receive it, take it again, and again, and again, every moment of every day with every breath to be again loving God and loving our neighbor and trying to keep the commandments.
And if we do that, then God will save us if he wishes, and he will know how. But we won’t be interested in salvation anymore. We will be interested solely in pleasing, glorifying, worshipping, and loving God, who is love, who has loved us so much that he sent his beloved Son into the world to save us and to pour his saving power and love of the Holy Spirit into us, even now while we live in this fallen and corrupted world. So every day we say to the Lord, Lord have mercy, Lord save me, Lord be with me. And then we say Lord let me be worthy of your great salvation. Lord, let me be an instrument of your salvation, your love, your truth, your reconciliation, your victory over death and the devil to every single person around me. And when I fail in that, oh Lord, have mercy on me, and I know that you will. Why? Because you have saved me, and you have saved everyone and everything.