If Salvation Is Not By “Faith Alone,” How Does It Happen?

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

If salvation is about union with God, how then do you become one with God? Let’s use the Biblical analogy of marriage. Marriage is about oneness. It is two people joining their individual lives together in unified partnership. It involves courtship, marriage ceremony (usually a wedding), and then a life-long process of knowing one another in love, suffering, and mercy. Marriage and salvation have much in common. 

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Are you married if you…

Think about it? One is not married simply by thinking about the one he/she wants to marry or about marriage itself.  

Give mental assent? One is not married by being convinced intellectually that this person is “the one.” 

Have an emotional commitment? Two people are not married simply by having romantic feelings, falling in love, or having sexual desires towards each other.

You are married when…

Two people are “officially” married (joined together, made one) when they physically present themselves in faith to a proper authority, declare their fidelity (in words and/or actions), and then live as one. True marriage is not merely a one-time event. It is a life-long process. Marriage is a loving relationship that begins in ceremony and progresses in struggle, commitment, and change. 

So goes salvation. It begins in a loving, faith relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is declared in baptism, and is lived out in the Church in struggle and change. 

Much of this is described by St. Paul in Ephesians 5. Marriage is a “mystery” mainly due to its symbolism of the union of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a microcosm of the nature of salvation as union. There are no longer two bodies, but one. 

St. John Chrysostom (349-407) writes of marriage: 

I say that husband and wife are one body in the same way as Christ and the Father are one. …Paul has combined two illustrations, the natural body and Christ’s body; that is why he says, “This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the Church”…What does this mean? The blessed Moses, – or rather, God – surely reveals in Genesis that for two to become one flesh is a great and wonderful mystery. Now Paul speaks of Christ as the greater mystery; for He left the Father and came down to us, and married His Bride, the Church, and became one spirit with her: “he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” [1 Cor 6.17]. Paul says well, “This is a great mystery,” as if he were saying, “Nevertheless the allegorical meaning does not invalidate married love.” (On Marriage and Family Life, p. 52)

For you to experience the fullness of marriage and salvation you must, in some form and way, participate in this unity process. God does not force salvation on you against your will. You willingly receive what He offers. In some way you respond. You step into the water, lie down, and float. God carries you along. That’s salvation. 

You are saved when…

You passively respond. You actively acquiesce. You join with God in faith as He saves you. It’s challenging to describe.

This is not “works” as normally understood. By responding, acquiescing, joining, and participating in, you are not meriting or earning salvation from God. You are living out in loving faith a relationship that God in His mercy invites you into. 

Almost every morning, I say a prayer that includes this phrase: “You roused me as I lay in despair…” To me, that is what God does in salvation. He rouses us as we see our need for Him. Through the beauty of creation, a teaching that brings awareness, or a life situation, we get up, enabled by faith in Jesus Christ, to join Him Who mercifully saves. 

Therefore, there is no dichotomy between works and faith. They are both so intermingled that you can’t tell one from the other. Does a good marriage come about by effort or only by being faithful? It seems a silly question. Trust involves effort. Effort apart from faith is useless. Of course it’s both.

Does salvation happen by effort (non-meritous) or faith? Yes! From a human perspective, union of effort and faith evokes union with the Trinity. 

More to chew on. 

Dr. K