In today’s adult Church School class, we talked about the following selection from Chapter 2 of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (NKJV)
According to St. Theophan the Recluse (as recorded in Archbishop Averky’s commentary on Ephesians), this passage gives us St. Paul’s (and the church’s) answer to the contemporary "faith vs. works" controversy which rages in other christian confessions. We are saved by grace through faith. Nothing we have done or can do can save us.
But that does not mean that good works are not necessary for salvation; St. Paul immediately goes on to say that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works." So our salvation consists in our resurrection as it were from the dead, and in our new, living state we cannot but do good works out of love and gratitude to Him Who has saved us. Resurrected in His image, we must naturally do His works.
One of the participants in the class pointed out the one of our standard morning prayers more-or-less recapitulates what the Apostle is saying here:
My most merciful and all-merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through Thy great love Thou didst come down and take flesh to save all. And again, O Saviour, save me by Thy grace, I pray Thee, for if Thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty. Indeed, in Thy infinite compassion and unspeakable mercy, Thou O my Christ hast said: Whoever believes in Me shall live and never see death.
If faith in Thee saves the desperate, save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. Impute my faith instead of deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds which could justify me, but may my faith suffice for all my deeds. May it answer for and acquit me, and may it make me a partaker of Thy eternal glory. And may satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that he has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ, my Saviour, whether I will or not, save me. Make haste, quick, quick, for I perish. Thou art my God from my mother’s womb.
Grant me, O Lord, to love Thee now as once I loved sin, and also to work for Thee without idleness, as I worked before for deceptive satan. But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.