Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wrath and Justification

In a previous post a conversation developed about how the Orthodox Church understands God's wrath. Below I am going to include some of my comments about God's wrath as understood in Orthodox theology, and then I'm going to ask you to consider Justification.
As far as I can articulate, God's wrath is very real, just as is His mercy. God does not change. Man changes, usually through the use of his free will. When man orients himself against God (in sin), he experiences God in wrath. When man orients himself properly regarding God (in faithful love) he experiences God in mercy and blessedness. God is constant, man is not and thus has different experiences of God.

To put it in the context of communion with God, when man is out of communion with God he experiences God as wrathful. When man is in communion with God he experiences God as blessedness and mercy. God, for His part, does not change Himself but rather does all to change man's situation. Hence He sends His Son to reunite humanity in communion with Himself through the Incarnation and to free men from their sins and from bondage to mortality and the Devil through the cross and resurrection. God is constant, man is not.

Having said this about God's wrath, now consider Justification (our context is Orthodoxy compared to Lutheranism).

In Lutheran theology justification is that God declares the sinner to be righteous. This means that man is truly sinful, but God changes His mind about the sinner and regards him as righteous instead. The result of this justification is that man is then able to enter into communion with God and be sanctified and becomes a temple of God and so forth. While justification and sanctification happen in the same moment in time in Lutheran theology, sanctification, communion with God, and the attending blessings are understood to be a direct result of God choosing to see man as righteous (for Christ's sake). In this paradigm God changes in order to save man from wrath.

In Orthodox theology God does not change in order save man from His wrath, but He changes man. What about man does He change? He changes man's orientation to God at the ontological and existential level, that is, He returns man to blessed communion with Him. This in itself is man's justification. If it is man's bondage to mortality, corruption, and passions that orients man to experience God in wrath (for in such bondage man is in broken communion with God), and on top of that it is also man's actual sins that further plummets man into the depths of experiencing God in wrath, then God's solution is to
  1. first restore communion between Him and humanity through the Incarnation of His Son by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary, and then
  2. second burst apart man's bondage through crucifixion and resurrection, and then
  3. third to make this salvation available to all who will believe through union with Christ in the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.
In this way God changes man's situation. Each person's justification happens through communion with Christ, who Himself is our Justification. In this way man's sins are really destroyed by Christ's cross, and man really is made righteous through abiding in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. In this way Justification is more than just a declaration of favor, but is communion with the One who favors us. This is why Justification in Orthodoxy is much like Sanctification. Both mean a change in man through God's operation (in Orthodoxy, God's Energies). In Lutheranism Justification is different from Sanctification, in that the former is only a status change (declared righteous) and the latter is an actual spiritual change in man (made holy).

For this reason, in Holy Orthodoxy, man is saved from wrath. God does not change, so if we are not in communion with Him but instead in bondage and serve to sin, death, and the Devil then the wrath of God abides on us - for under those conditions that is the only way we can experience God's unchanging-ness. If we are in communion with Him, then our sins are cleansed and God dwells in us in Grace, mercy, and peace. One of the nice things about God not changing is that He loves us - which applies even when we were enemies in sin and had His wrath abiding on us. He pulled out all the stops to change our situation, our orientation to Him, but without forcing anyone to return to that communion that was lost in Paradise by Adam and Eve's first sin. In Christ we can return and abide with God and He with us (and in us and through us!), or we can reject this Grace for the love of sin and remain in wrath. God is with each person, but if we are not with Him through Christ then we experience God as wrath, for we lack blessed communion and experience only broken communion. Praise be to God that He is constant in faithful-love toward us, even when we were children of wrath!

There are some further applications that can be drawn from this paradigm, but I will stop with this for now.


Deacon Benjamin Harju said...

Thus, for God to impute Abraham (or anyone) with righteousness is to consider him to be a participant in God's own life and manner of existence. And if God imputes sin it is for God to consider us to be non-participants in His life and manner of existence.

Listen to a good explanation at Ancient Faith Radio: Matthew Gallatin's Imputed Righteousness - Part 2 (of 12).

Anonymous said...

I am still wrestling with the Orthodox concept of wrath and trying to put something together. Your post is helpful. I detect though a "differing spirit" between Fr. Stephen's blog posts on the Wrath of God, Kalomiros' article on the River of Fire and Fr. Hopko's podcast on the Wrath of God.

Fr. Stephen & Kalomiros almost go so far as to deny the wrath of God or that God has any kind of wrath in Him and that people who bring it up are not worthy of the faith: "Those who insist on exalting His wrath as a threat, inevitably misportray God and use anthropormorphism as a substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ." (

Hopko though says: "And God is well pleased in His Son, Jesus, because the Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world, and assuages divine wrath and redeems humanity and saves creation..." (

So it is difficult for me to grasp where Orthodoxy actually stands on God's wrath. I get the non-penal, non-propitiation emphasis. But the Father's I quoted above are contradicting each other.

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...


I'm going to have to move my explanation into yet another post, because it's too long to fit here.

Unknown said...


Best of all, the promise of eternal life is a gift, freely offered to us by God (CCC 1727).

The Catholic Church teaches what the apostles taught and what the Bible teaches: We are saved by grace alone, but not by faith alone (which is what "Bible Christians" teach; see James. 2:24).

When we come to God and are justified (that is, enter a right relationship with God), nothing preceding justification, whether faith or good works, earns grace.

But then God plants his love in our hearts, and we should live out our faith by doing acts of love (Galatians 6:2).

Even though only God’s grace enables us to love others, these acts of love please him, and he promises to reward them with eternal life (Romans 2:6–7, Galatians 6:6–10).

Thus good works are meritorious. When we first come to God in faith, we have nothing in our hands to offer him.

Then he gives us grace to obey his commandments in love, and he rewards us with salvation when we offer these acts of love back to him (Romans 2:6–11, Galatians 6:6–10, Matthew 25:34–40).

15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5: 15-16)

Jesus said it is not enough to have faith in him; we also must obey his commandments. "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do the things I command?" (Luke 6:46, Matthew 7:21–23, 19:16–21).

We do not "earn" our salvation through good works (Ephesians 2:8–9, Romans 9:16), but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our faith, will be rewarded with eternal life (Romans 2:7, Galatians 6:8–9).

Paul said, "God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work" (Philippians 2:13).

John explained that "the way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3–4, 3:19–24, 5:3–4).

Since no gift can be forced on the recipient—gifts always can be rejected—even after we become justified, we can throw away the gift of salvation.

We throw it away through grave (mortal) sin (John 15:5–6, Romans 11:22–23, 1 Corinthians 15:1–2; CCC 1854–1863). Paul tells us, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Read his letters and see how often Paul warned Christians against sin! He would not have felt compelled to do so if their sins could not exclude them from heaven (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, Galatians 5:19–21).

Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that God "will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life for those who seek glory, honour, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness" (Romans 2:6–8).

Sins are nothing but evil works (CCC 1849–1850). We can avoid sins by habitually performing good works.

Every saint has known that the best way to keep free from sins is to embrace regular prayer, the sacraments (the Eucharist first of all), and charitable acts.

Unknown said...

What is required in order to have Jesus ABIDE in us and we in Him?

Can we do it:

1. By accepting Him as our our own personal Lord and Savior ?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

2. By the grace of GOD only? Sola Gracias?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

3. By faith in GOD alone? Sola Fides?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

It is simple common sense that since He commanded that we must do something, then doesn't it stand to reason that He would also tell us how to do it?

Jesus was very clear in what we must do in order to have Him ABIDE in us and we in Him.

Jesus left this command for us in John 6:53-57:

53 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (the taken away branch);

54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.


57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."

Unknown said...

When did Jesus drink the last cup?

Jesus drank from 3 cups during the Last Supper, but the last - the fourth - he did not drink from then.

Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, and John 19:30 show Jesus drinking vinegar or sour wine on the cross, from a sponge placed on a hyssop branch.

The hyssop branch was symbolic of the sprinkling of the Passover lamb's blood using a hyssop branch - see Exodus 12:22.

So Jesus was truly the Passover Lamb; then he said, "It is finished."


Deacon Benjamin Harju said...

Mr. Gormley,

Thank you for sharing with us the Roman explanation of salvation in Jesus Christ. I'd like to make a couple points about your posts.

Merit defines merit: "By merit (meritum) in general is understood that property of a good work which entitles the doer to receive a reward from him in whose service the work is done."

So, while you assert that good works done in faith do not earn eternal life but rather merit such, it follows that Roman Catholic language lays a claim of entitlement to eternal life based on one's faithfulness (i.e. faith working through the commandments).

In Orthodoxy, our good works never entitle us to anything. Christ explicitly states in St. Luke 17:10, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" God promises to reward those who serve Him, but God's promise to give is not the same as an entitlement to take. God's promise to give is mercy, because no matter how much good is done, we are still sinners being healed by God's mercy and unworthy participants in His Grace. There is no room for entitlement.

However, when you speak about being in a special relationship with God, this would be closer to an Orthodox understanding of the term "merits." If a person were to have any special "merit" with God, this would not be a quantity to be calculated, but the quality of a relationship of faith and love in the sanctification that comes from union with God. Thus, in this sense, the Blessed Virgin Mary could be said to have her own unique merit with God, meaning she has a special relationship of faith and love in holiness that surpasses that of all other people. But in Orthodoxy this never means she is entitled to anything, nor has she earned more than she needs. This is not Orthodox language. This is not the Scriptures.