During a sermon in the fall of 2022, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill, said that a Russian soldier’s death on the Ukrainian battlefield washes away the sins of that individual. Here’s what he said, according to AP:
“If someone, driven by a sense of duty, the need to fulfill an oath, remains true to his calling and dies in the line of military duty, then he undoubtedly commits an act that is tantamount to a sacrifice,” Kirill said in the sermon.
“He sacrifices himself for others,” Kirill said. “And therefore we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.”AP, Moscow patriarch: Russian war dead have their sins forgiven, Sept 27, 2022
To be clear, nothing could be further from the Truth.
This is no isolated incident. From the days of the earliest church, false teachers have attempted to convince Christians that there is something else beyond Christ necessary for salvation. We see the New Testament authors correcting this lie and pointing to the truth again and again.
There is no more important question than this: what is salvation and how are we saved? How we answer this question makes all the difference.
Let’s start at the beginning, with Peter’s initial sermon at Pentecost. After hearing Peter bear witness to Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, people are cut to the heart. They are convicted of their need for salvation and they ask Peter what they must do to be saved.
Acts 2:38 reads with Peter’s response: “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And in Acts 4:12, we hear Peter declare the power of the name of Jesus again. He says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [than Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
It seems clear from these words that Jesus plays a role in salvation but is it just Jesus or do we also need to think, say, do or believe something else? Is the act of Jesus upon the cross sufficient or do we need something else?
Here we turn to Paul, who writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And in Romans 10:8-13, he explains: “ But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
We call on Jesus— and we will be saved. Jesus has done everything to accomplish our salvation, we only confess our faith in His completed work!
If you’re familiar with the Protestant Reformation you may hear the basis of the Solas of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, the Bible alone, and the glory of God alone. Nothing more, nothing less and by none other.
But in declaring that these men can be “self saved,” let’s understand what Patriarch Kirill is really doing. Kirill is expressly denying the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ unto salvation. Instead, he is declaring salvation by the self.
Instead, we revealed in the Bible, righteousness before God does not depend on human achievement or merit. It depends entirely upon God’s character as perfectly holy and perfectly loving. It depends solely on His grace— not anything we might do to win or earn or merit His favor. Christ’s work on the cross is completely sufficient for us!
There is WORK for the Christian to do— the Great Commission to bear witness to the good news of Jesus, building up the body of Christ using our gifts and resources, and glorifying God in all we do.
Our faith is expressed and worked out continually as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit within us to do the good work he has set before us. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Everything we do now, is for Christ and through Christ. But none of those works have the power to save. They are outward expressions of the reality that we are no longer bound to sin nor bound for hell. We are a people fixed on Christ and the building of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
This work includes actively discerning what is true and what is false, and standing up to tell others the difference. We are the people who declare the Truth— it is Christ’s work, not ours that saves.