From what i understand, one would get quite different answers to this question from a protestant, a catholic, or an orthodox christian. Most of my knowledge on the topic is of a protestant viewpoint, as i go to a Lutheran School, and i am eager to understand the orthodox understanding of how one is justified. From what i understand (and this may not be fully correct), the protestant concept goes something like this:
A sinner decides to accept Christ as his/her personal Saviour, and has faith in Him. In having this faith, the sinner is saved, and the merits of Christ are 'transfered' into the 'account' of the sinner. Now that the sinner has already been saved, a transformation begins occuring in the sinner by Grace, through faith (sanctification).
In Orthodoxy we don't even use that much the concept of justification, while in Lutheranism this is the most important concept. Emphasis to the concept of "justification" presupposes an emphasis to man's sin, and it tends to answer to this sin-obsession in legalistic ways. Perhaps I'm not clear enough. In other words: for Lutherans man is an unworthy sinful creature that needs to be forgiven by God. Forgiveness is achieved the way you describe in your post about justification.
In Orthodox thinking the whole frame changes. Here man is not an unworthy sinful creature that needs to be forgiven by God. Man is the child of God, created to be Godly himself. Our worth is innumerable, even after the sin, which explains why Christ suffers for our salvation. In Orthodoxy we don't speak about justification, because we don't focus on sin - we focus on deification. Lutherans speak about sanctification, as something that comes in the end. Sanctification and Deification exist to some degree even at the first act of faith, when someone starts to have faith in Christ. A faith that would come as a theoretical position, as an ideology, has no meaning. The start of faith and each step of faith, is a start and a step in deification - or is nothing at all.
For an Orthodox the aim even from the start of spiritual life, is not to achieve forgiveness of a sin, but to walk the road of Deification, to become again united with God and God himself.
Its very interesting observing the differences in thought between western and orthodox theology. The bothering part to me here is that both the east and the west share the same scriptures. So how is it that there can be so differing views on theological concepts such as justification, and the atonement?
I guess, in relation to the concept of the atonement, protestants and catholics somewhere along the line confused human justice, and God's justice. Turning Christ's passion and death into an act of 'appeasing' the wrath of the Father, they then lost sight of how one becomes righteous, and what God's righteousness is. After all, God's righteousness is Christ Himself (1 Cor. 1:30). I guess once this concept is established, it becomes obvious why justification is not a one-time "not guilty" sentance. To be righteous is to be in union with Christ, to have a dynamic relationship with Him. Is this the correct way of looking at it?
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Here the use of the words "you have been saved through faith" implies that a person who has faith in God, is sure of his salvation, and 'has already been saved'. If this is so, why in orthodoxy (if we are already saved, having a living relationship with Christ) is there such an emphasis on mercy?
John, be careful not to miss the context. Ephesians 2:8-9 does not refer to someone personaly, to a particular faithful, but to humanity before Christ, and says that now, after Christ's coming, they no longer walk in ignorance, now they have all that they need in order to be saved. Thus ἐστὲ σεσῳσμένοι doesn't mean that each of them has secured a home in paradise; it means that they now can be saved. Personally speaking, no one is certainly saved, so long as he is in this life.
Yes very true, its easy to miss the context of a passage when its taken out, and analysed seperately.
Another question i have is:
How is it that Christ's death saves us and frees us from sin?
I'm familiar with the various theories of the atonement, particularly the satisfaction and ransom theories, but am uncomfortable with the picture both give us of God. In any case, how is it that the atonement frees us from the bondage of sin, as we read in Romans? Paul teaches that Christ's death makes us dead to sin, and free from it. But obviously Christians are not dead to sin...
In summary my main question is; how is it that Christ's death makes theosis possible?
When Paul or other Fathers speak about Christ's death this way, they don't mean a mechanical salvation. Just because Christ died on the Cross, we are not automatically saved. Anywhere the Fathers speak about salvation, theosis, etc, they mean a possibility. Christ followed a road we can follow ourselves, or not.
Christ's death by itself is not enough to save us. It is His death and Resurrection that saves us - a death He did not want (recall His words, if it was possible to avoid "drinking this cup"), but accepted trusting His Father, leading to the Resurrection and Return to the Father. By following the same way with Christ, i.e., by trusting ourselves, life and death, to the Father, we are united with Christ and in Him we see the Father, so that each of us becomes again the Son united with the Father.