Hi! This has been a nagging question for me and my friends. Is eternal life promised only to those who have received and known Christ? If yes, then does orthodox faith imply that God denies this gift of eternal life to mortal men just because they are born and brought up in a family that is not Christian? Let me illustrate.
I (Almost any Christian) am (would be) a Christian owing to being born in a Christian family and nurtured in right faith. So, I’m sure now that any attempt to radicalize me to other religions will not work. But, if I were born in a non-Christian family and suppose that I would have become so staunch in my own religion, that I would quash any missionary attempt to convert me to Christian. In such a case, if I die without accepting Christ, Who accepts every good person irrespective of their nature (here, my religion), will not I be given a second chance?
Thank you for the question, what follows below is a short version of the answer, while the longer, detailed answer is recommended for a clear and right understanding of the question, in the link given at the end of this…
Human nature cannot be sinful, for nature is what is created by God, and it was not created evil or sinful. What is the constitutive of our nature is that it was created in the Image of God, who is the perfection of all goodness. But precisely because freedom is part of the image, the created nature has to be ‘worked out’ through human freedom. There are two possibilities open to man – one, to say ‘yes’. This is life. The other possibility is to say ‘no’. This is alienation or death.
The effort of man to do good in no way denies the grace of God. The very capacity to make an effort towards the good is a gift of grace. If one looks at man phenomenologically, one finds that man is capable of both good and evil. But all good that man does is purely because of grace. God alone is good. God is the source of all good. Man’s goodness is not self-derived, but given by God, through His grace.
In understanding grace from God, for St. Gregory of Nyssa, human initiative is essential, for without it there is no freedom; without freedom there is no moral good; and without moral good there is no Image of God. He sees the dominance of evil in the majority of men; but he has to take into account the opposite fact also – there are a few rare human beings who are good in a large measure, in the history of mankind...Regardless of their faith/religion.
Human nature is acting towards the original purpose of ‘God creating Man’, with its own being only when it practices virtue. St. Issac the Syrian (7th Century) defines Virtue as follows “The Virtue: that in his mind a man should be unoccupied with the world. As long as the senses have dealings with external things, the heart cannot have rest from imaginations about them.”
All good action has its original cause in God’s goodness and is therefore the result of grace. But only when man acts by his own, in freedom to perform the good, does he become truly man, acting in conformity with good, in freedom. Virtue is thus the true character of the new man, who puts on Christ, and this means to put on love, holiness and righteousness.
It is the grace which makes human effort possible. But in no case can grace become compulsive, for then it can no longer effect the truly moral good, for “virtue compelled is not virtue”. Without Christ, human nature, the ‘sheep gone astray’ could not have by itself returned to the Shepherd. So without that grace humanity could not have produced any virtue. This is to say that the “Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is freely available to non-Christians, since they are capable to do in practice do good.
All this is possible because the grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ and renewed the whole of human nature in one single act of redemption, that human beings now have the possibility of practicing “virtue” and living in the good.
The good acts of man are proper response to the grace of God, who has created man to be a free agent of the good, and when man lost that capacity, it was again restored it to him in Jesus Christ. There are three factors that makes it possible for man to do good, they are (1) the grace of creation, (2) grace of redemption (Christ died for the redemption of whole mankind) and (3) the sacramental grace, but good has to be a free act of man and not something compelled by a sovereign grace. It should be noted here that first two of the three factors mentioned above are available to all mankind in the world regardless of faith/religion, which are the grace of creation and the grace of redemption. Only the third factor, the sacramental grace, is the one which is additionally available to the members of the True Church.
The Spirit thus unites human person to Christ, but only when Man has separated from evil and cleansed himself, through baptism and the Eucharist on the one hand, and through the intense self-discipline of the love of God on the other. But the will of man is a necessary precondition for the perfection of man. For a person, who is not part of the church, but lives intense self-discipline of the love of God as mentioned above receives the grace of God, by the activities of the Holy Spirit. Grace of God is available to all humans through the grace of creation and the grace of redemption, may they be part of any religion and it is up to God to decide on his/her salvation.
Now we will see few references from Bible, with regard to this…”For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth [struggleth], but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).
One more way of looking at the status of heterodox believers is to compare them to New Testament “God-fearers” like Cornelius (Acts 10:2) or the Roman centurion (who, by the way, had greater faith than anyone in Israel; Matt. 8:10).
As we discussed earlier, Man’s effort in his own freedom to work towards good, develops virtue and this has its own value, wherever it is to be found. Before meeting the Apostle Peter, Cornelius neither believed aright concerning God, nor taught others the truth. But God, beholding his diligence in that which he knew, and foreseeing also how willingly he would embrace the truth, brought him to know Christ in a wondrous manner.
God “will have mercy on whom He will have mercy” (Rom 9:18). In the Orthodox Church we have the path of salvation indicated to us and we are given the means by which a person maybe morally purified and have a direct promise of salvation. The grace of the Spirit, coming to us in the preaching of the Word, in the water of baptism and in the heavenly food of the Eucharist has to be perfected through a life of virtue. With reference to the question asked, it is particularly instructive to recall the answer once given to an inquirer by the St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894). The blessed one replied more or less thus:
“You ask, will the heterodox(Non-Orthodox/Non-Christians) be saved… Why do you worry about them?
They have a Savior Who desires the salvation of every human being.
He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a
concern. Study yourself and your own sins…
I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and
possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a
different faith, you will lose your soul forever.”
Orthodoxy is the only sure path for salvation. It may not be the only path for salvation, but it is the only safe road…
Detailed Article on the question, Please click the link: https://orthodoxchristianlife.com/2017/11/29/what-will-become-of-him-heterodox-non-christians-is-there-salvation-for-all/