On Tradition and Scripture

10-12-2021 Ephesians 2:19-3:7

Paul here begins this lesson with a very powerful statement. We have to remember that he is writing this to the Gentiles, and also that he wrote this to them from a prison for preaching the word of Christ. See, the Gentiles were the uncircumcised, those who had resisted Judaism. And he begins this powerful passage with a statement. “You are no longer strangers or foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This was a huge statement for them, and should be for us as well. They were divided, the Jews and the Gentiles, by their beliefs, and yet Paul here unifies them. In fact, all of humanity is unified through their union with the Spirit of God through the Body of Christ, His Church. This is such a powerful statement, especially at that time, because so many had rejected the Jewish tradition of who God was, and yet, he tells them that they are all unified through their belief in Jesus. I can’t help but relate this to our times, where so many people “believe in God,” but it’s their own God who just so happens to love everything that they love and hate everything that they hate. But when the beginning point is God, and then we work to change ourselves to suit that, then that is where the true change comes. “Having built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.” he proclaims. What is the source of the Church to Paul, the teachings that he is teaching? “On the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.” This also rings so true in our time. Through our union with the Church, we are unified not only one to another, across racial barriers and everything else; but also to all the saints and prophets who have gone before us. And we must always remember to thank them, to seek their prayers on our behalf. It’s so imperative that we understand how much the saints sacrificed not only for their generation, but for future generations as well. If we ever forget where we came from, what has passed, then we will never understand where we are going. And we must remember to thank not only our patron saint, but all of the saints for their work, their sacrifice, their continued prayers on our behalf.
And it is from this foundation that we have the Scripture and all of the doctrines. All handed down to us throughout the ages for our continued life in Christ. It’s so easy for us to think of the Church as just a building, or a stage for a contemporary Christian rock band, or even a theatrical stage where someone is stumbling over a script; but it’s so much more than that. The Church has never been any of those things, it was never meant to be. The Church is the House of God, the Body of Christ, and we must never forget the lessons which have sprung forth from it. The teachings of Christ, the teachings of the saints, the teachings of the Church fathers; all recorded and passed down to us throughout the generations. The world is very quick to dismiss that fact, the enemy is quick to teach us that “those lessons are outdated, it was a different world,” but I struggle to see any peril in the Scriptures that I don’t see manifest in our current generation. See, they tend to take one verse and misinterpret it. I’ve hear lessons that taught that you could do whatever you want, as long as you’ve taken the holy bath, you’ll still inherit the Kingdom. But I don’t see that anywhere in the Scripture. No, I see the exact opposite. I see that you shall suffer for His name’s sake. I see the apostle’s hanged and persecuted and imprisoned. And yet, I still see peace in their writings because they know that they are doing it for a savior who allowed Himself to be crucified, a slow painful death, in the name of our sins. I see this complacent approach even in the face of death. The only time I get a sense of animosity from any of the apostles is when someone rejects Jesus and decides to live a material life, which Jesus Himself warned against.

Then Paul continues though. He refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ. Now ask yourself, if the prosperity gospel were true, why was he imprisoned? Being a prisoner tends to be a title of apostleship. To be a preacher preaching against the worldly laws, the “societal norm,” was an offense, especially amongst the Gentiles who had already rejected the faith. Imagine, if you can, a world where merely speaking of Christ and His commands was an offense, where holding and speaking out about Christian values was reprimandable, censored, and illegal. History oftentimes repeats itself, my brothers and sisters, and I foresee a time in the near future where such may be the case. We must never turn away from our Lord though, we must never bow down to the world and it’s prince.

And we note that far from being merely an apostle, Paul was given a special commission, the dispensation. He was given that to extend the Church of Christ to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. It may seem to mean little now, but in his time, this was unheard of. All who truly believed were accepted, regardless of race or status in their society. Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, all were welcomed into the Church of Christ, all were “being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

This is perhaps the greatest lesson of this passage. If the Protestant Reformation has taught us anything, it’s the utmost necessity of unity within the Church. Ask yourself, which denomination is right? They each claim to be right, they each hear leactures about the “actual” meaning of Scripture every Sunday. Each denomination claims to be the “true Church of Christ” and disclaims all of the others as among the lost. I’ve seen Pentecostal churches lose people to the Lutheran church and “pray for them to find their way back to the ‘true’ church.” See, they each claim to be the “true Church” but each of them have doctrines and teachings that completely contradict one another. If “sola scriptura” is right, then why even have sermons? Because even they know that there’s so much more to be a Christian than just memorizing passages. They understand the need for tradition, they just choose to start their own instead of the traditions established over the course of two thousand years. Yes, read the Scriptures, yes, know them; but remember the necessity of the traditions handed down for generations. What did the saints die for if the printing press was the enemy? The Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, they are in fact infallible, but they get so misinterpreted that they become dangerous to us. We pick and choose one verse here, this other verse that we like there, and consider it the whole of Christian theology. Yes God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that all who believe in Him should never die. But to believe in Him is to follow Him, and to follow Him is to obey Him, not just acknowledge His existence. “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matt 7:21). No, the saints and the martyrs all died for the teachings which had been passed down throughout the generations for us and for future generations.

Brothers and sisters, let us revel in that fact. Let us embrace this truth. There is still a Church whose teachings have survived almost two millenia; a Church wish worships the Triune God; a Church who ask the saints who have gone before us to pray on our behalf; a Church who doesn’t have a Pope or a pastor who can come in and change those thousands of years of teaching. The Body of Christ lives as one, in unity with Christ, by the grace of the Father, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just have to search for it, and you will find it.

Christ is in our midst.

On Humility and Leading a Christ-like Life

10-8-2021 Ephesians 1:7-17

Here we have Paul declaring that our only means of salvation, of our forgiveness, is through the blood of Jesus. He alludes not only to the Eucharist, but also to our baptism as being absolutely necessary for that redemption. And this redemption refers to the freedom from the bondage of a slave. Likewise, when we have achieved these actions, this freedom, we are freed from our bondage to sin. See, it’s this whole idea that when we give into the desires of the flesh, we constantly herald that in so doing, we are celebrating our own freedom. In reality, however, when we do so, we are actually making ourselves slaves to our own body, slaves to sin. Think how hard it is for the alcoholic or drug addict to turn away from their ways. Likewise, think about the man who is constantly looking for a fight, for something to anger him. We become slaves to the very things that we felt would bring us into the throes of freedom. Does freedom from this bondage, however, guarantee a sinless life? By no means, but they are necessary steps in a life in Christ, who calls us to be as His imitators. And this is all in the steps towards true redemption. And the price of this redemption is blood, and that blood was given by Jesus Himself for the sake of those who would follow Him, trust in Him, have faith in Him.
He goes on to speak of the “mystery of His will.” This “mystery” is this very plan of redemption about which He spoke. It is, in fact, the Gospel, the Church, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of God. The Gospel itself tells the story of the life of Jesus and explains what He expects from those who would follow Him. The Kingdom is the reward, the eternity promised to those who believe and obey His commands. The Church is the house of God. It is in the Church where we gather to peacefully share our lives as the family of God. We join together in communion with God and with one another, free from worldly cares and concerns, free from political dissonance, free from any personal issues with one another. We come together to truly worship, to confess our many faults, to receive communion, to celebrate the blessings that each of us have been given as well as to find comfort for the many trials we have encountered. We, as the family of God, must stray away from any difference in opinion, in politics, in anything which would seperate us from the love of God and one another.
hhis is something that I personally have grown to understand more and more. It is not supposed to be five minutes of singing, an hour plus lecture, and then five more minutes of singing. It’s an hour of rejoicing, of joining in with the saints and the angels in worship and praise of the all holy Trinity. Even, nay especially, in times of turmoil, with we feel overwhelmed by the world and it’s faults, the communion of the Church family is necessary to make it through, to stand together, with love and compassion for one another, no matter what. Regardless of background, or social status, or economic status, none of those things matter in the body of God. We are each one of us made in the image of God, so however we treat one another is how we treat God, especially in His house.
Paul goes on to note that this Gospel is for all. We see him say that “we who first trusted in the gospel.” We have to remember that Paul was first a Jew, thus this inclusion of “we” includes the Jewish people, and yet “we” are joined with the Gentiles, “you who also trusted,” and to what end were they all joined? “That He might gather together all things” (verse 10). See, Paul here is stating that the Gospel isn’t exclusive of any, but rather all are offered this same Gospel, this same chance at redemption. All come together as one, sealed with the Holy Spirit. All human beings have this same opportunity, this same offer at redemption, this same calling to “sacrifice” our slavery to human vice and sin and to live a Christ-filled life. And to what end? That we would all be inheritors of the Kingdom. God will punish those who don’t answer this calling, but to any and all who heed it, He offers eternal paradise in the Kingdom. And he says that this bringing together of all who believe is sealed together with the Holy Spirit, who is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”
He concludes this by stating that after he heard of their love of Jesus and all the saints that he has not ceased to give thanks to God for their continuing faith and love. It is worth noting here that he specifically says God and all the saints. Not merely God alone. Whilst it is God alone whom we worship, let us not forget the continuing prayers of the saints on our behalf. This is why in our prayers, we never pray to St John to save us, but we do ask that he would pray on our behalf, much as we would our brother in Church on Sunday. If we are true in the faith, we believe that the saints have gone on to life eternal through the grace of the Lord, thus seeking that they pray for us as well is only fitting. It’s also worth noting that St Paul himself says that he will not cease praying for them, for the church in Ephesus. This is the very approach that each of us should have as well. We should imitate him as he prays for his brothers and sisters, likewise she should each pray for those in the Church.
See, in our world, especially on social media, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in political topics that we forget what it means to be a Christian. I personally struggle with this daily. But, we have to remember, Jesus never called us to be a Republican or a Democrat, or to wage war on one another. In fact, when we do such things, that is the enemy manifest in us. That is the enemy, the “lord of this world,” causing us to be divided against one another, rather than united against him. Jesus, on the other hand, commands us to love one another. And that’s not just those in the Church or those we see eye to eye with on political topics. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Wishing ill on someone, even someone we don’t agree with, doesn’t spread the message of Christ. If I, as a Christian, argue politics with someone, or allow their opinions to shape how I treat them, then I’ve not only failed to change their minds which have been shaped by the world, but I’ve likely destroyed any chance of the coming to know Christ. Should I accept these worldly means? By no means. But, I must be careful to correct them out of love and compassion, not closed-minded arrogance or anger. Oftentimes the best correction is merely to explain the love of God to them and then let the Holy Spirit instead do the work of converting them, if they be willing, always remembering that God has given us free will, but He has also given us the outcome of those decisions. And yes, we may truly love someone who has fallen, but many times the best we can do for them is offer to bring them to church and if they refuse vehemently let the issue go, but still always be there for them.
Being a Christian means that we never stop praying for people: our friends; our family; our enemies; our neighbors; even when we don’t agree with them. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the very ones who sentenced Him to death while they were crucifying Him, what does that translate to when we look at our own lives? Was He outspoken? Yes! Did He deny the faith? Of course not. And baring that in mind, He warns us that we will be hated for His name’s sake. Yes, keep the commandments, yes, spread the gospel by all means. But we must remember that there are those who will choose not to hear those things. And always remember this, the “gospel” literally translates to “good news.” It is not the side of the argument that makes people stop commenting because they are so sick of the topic. When our goal is to win an argument, then our goal is no longer to represent Christ, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy. Our goal must be to represent Christ and all He stood for, out of love, not pride. I love God, and I will do anything that I can to preach His word; but there are many things beyond my control that only the Holy Spirit can do, and humility is recognizing that fact and instead of trying to convince people with words, I try to convince them by leading a life that makes them wonder how I’m able to do so. And I think that’s the most important thing. I can argue with the most devout atheist and not make a dent, or I can live a life that makes him see the difference my faith makes in my life, and possibly lead him to Christ.

Christ is in our midst.

On the Law as a Tool

Paul continues here to explain the necessity of actual faith in Christ to the people of Galatia. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Law…” he begins. However, he continues to state that they were in felt held under guard for a purpose “kept for the faith which would soon be revealed.” See those whose earthly lives predate the coming of the Messiah could not have had faith in Jesus, who had not come yet. And it’s funny because one of my biggest hang-ups before I came ot be a Christian was “what about everyone who lived before Him, did they just go to hell?” It’s funny because if I’d only read the Scripture befoer making such an assumption, I’d have known the answer. I doubted the faith because of a question that God had answered nearly two thousand years ago. Even though He had not yet come, they wer still held in righteousness by the Law itself. Before the incarnation of Christ, there was still the Law, and those who had held to it were counted as righteous.
In this context, however, we should consider the Law to be basically like a tudor, a teacher, teaching what we should and shouldn’t do. We learn what is accepted and what is not, and then through repentance and faith in Christ, we might be saved. And once we come through that repentance and faith in Christ, we might be saved. Logically, once we’ve achieved the point of repentance and faith, we no longer need the tudor. Not that it is useless, merely unneccesary to live a life in Christ. We no longer need that teacher, that tudor. Even though it is still there to compare our lives to, to make sure that we are still living a life in Christ.

It’s just like in school. You study, you learn your subjects, but you can’t stay in school your whole life. At some point, you have to go out into the real world with all of the knowledge you’ve obtained, and actually apply it. If you make a mistake, you apologize, trust that you’re forgiven (well, hopefully), and continue working. So it is in Christ. You have you’re tudor when you’re younger in the faith, you learn what you are expected to do (most of it is pretty obvious), you go out and apply it to your life, and when you a mistake (and you will I promise you, I’ve lost track in my own life), you apologize (repent), and move on, with faith that as long as your repentance is sincere, you are forgiven. I can not stress how importance the idea of sincerety is here though. Repenting of something that you have no intention of quitting is not only ineffective, it’s actually not what the word repentance means. To repent means to turn away from something, it’s not waking up with a hangover and saying, “I’ll never do that again,” and then going to the bar with your friends.
See, the Law isn’t given to us legastically, it’s given to us as a guideline. It’s given to us so that we will know when we’ve sinned, and we can repent, confess, and move on. All of us sin, ALL of us. There’s only one who has ever walked this earth without sin, and that one was Jesus. We were given the Law so that we could learn that, apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can’t keep it. Without His grace we could never attain to those standards, and if someone were to manage to, they’d be filled with pride, which is a sin. In never being able to attain to these standards though, it’s so easy to throw up our hands and surrender, but we must never do that. The Law teaches us that value, nay, the necessity of repentance and humility. All of us sin, even the most holy man in the world is probably proud of that fact, and therefore sinful. But, we must never give up. We trust in Christ to forgive us and pray that He would remove that sin from our lives.
And, Paul takes it even further. He states that “all are sons of God through grace in Christ.” Do you understand what that means? It means that Jewish, Greek, slave, free, man, woman, rich, poor, all of us are sons of the God most high. Do you understand the implications there? What Paul is saying here is that it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what country your ancestors are from, if you’re rich or poor. None of it matters. We are all sons and daughters of God the Father. When we call each other brother and sister in Church, we mean it most literally. Remember that when you see someone in a bad mood at Church, or overwhelmed with their children, or whatever the circumstance; that it your brother or sister. How would you react if your actual brother or sister were there on the brink of tears from being overwhelmed? It should mirror how you treat each other, not only in Church, but in life. We who believe are the seed of Abraham; we are the very plants that he planted finally blooming in this generation.
He concludes by stating that the heir, when he is a child, is under the guidance of another. Parent, guardian, babysitter, whatever the situation, he is under this guidance. Likewise, when we were children, we were also under the guidance of someone, we were in bondage to societal philosophies and traditions. We were told when to go to bed, what to wear, what we were eating for dinner; as well as a multitude of political ramblings. But each of these things shaped who we grew up to be. But, as we have grown, we’ve been able to see the true light of the Holy Spirit shining on us. Likewise, when the time had come, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem not only us, but all generations, past, present, and future. The past, who had lived under the Law, as He had promised Abraham; the present, all who were in Corinth and Galatia, the apostles, everyone; and the future generations for all time. Our children, you, me, our grandchildren, everyone has this opportunity.
See, some of us have been going to Church just because it’s what you do. We may listen to podcasts, maybe even read theology books, but what do our lives say? Do our lives really reflect the life that Christ commanded of His followers? Are we humble or prideful? Do we love eveyrone regardless of what they’ve done to us, or do we get mad and walk away? Jesus prayed for the very people who crucified Him, while they were doing it. How do we react when someone says something we don’t like online? Are we humble, or do we hide behind that fact that they’ll never be able to take it out on you in real life?
See, we Christians have this bad habit of talking a great faith. We speak incessantly about being a Christian, but when we disagree with someone, do we truly represent Christ, or do we just get angry and propgate the fight? In the last few months, due to health issues, I’ve been online a lot, and I constantly see so many Christians arguing with people and threatening them, using words my seven year old isn’t even allowed to say. And all of this makes me think, if I can see what you’re doing, or you can see what I’m doing, we both know that Jesus can. He sees all and knows all. And none of us ever know when our time is coming. It’s by our lives that Jesus will judge us, not by our final words. We need to repent now and start living the life that Jesus Himself told us to live. No, the Commandments were not given to us legalistically, but they were given to us for a reason. If you can read this, take the time to look at them, look at Jesus’ teachings, and ask yourself, are you truly living a life that you would want to answer to Him for, especially as those claiming to be His children? But if you can read this, then you know that for time, there’s time. Look at the commandments, look at Jesus’ teachings, and evaluate your life in comparison. There’s still time right now to repent and confess and turn back to our Lord, to whom belongs all glory, honor, and blessing.

Christ is in our midst.

On Repentance and Forgiveness

Galatians 2:21-3:7

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Jesus died in vain.” As we had seen previously, Barnabas, and even Peter, had each laid aside the grace of God. The had laid aside the grace of God and had replaced it exclusively with the works of the law. Now, is this to say that we should lay aside the law, disregard it? By no means. However, believing that the law should supercede the grace of God is utter blasphemy. It is fully possible to obey all of the laws of God and still have no faith in Him. If obedience to the law was all that was required, then Christ indeed died in vain.
He goes on to deeply admonish the believers in Galatia. They had previously accepted the teachings and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, only to later reject His teachings. Rather than abiding in Him in the Spirit, they turned to trying to be perfected in the flesh. He even accounts for the suffering that they have encountered and poses the question of if this suffering was indeed in vain, or was it allowed so that their faith in Him woud be even stronger. See, it’s this logic that when everything is going well, it’s so easy to disregard God. When your job is going great and you’ve got a nice home, you’ve got kids and family and everyone is healthy and doing great, it’s so easy to take not only the power of God, but even those things that you have for granted. It’s when suffering comes, when pain, sickness, homelessness are encountered that many people turn to God. Regretfully, it’s so easy for us to buy into this “prosperity gospel” that if you believe in Him, everything will be perfect, and that’s just not the case. We live in a world that utterly reject Him. Consider the apostles, the saints. Consider, if you will, the martyrs who have died in His name. Jesus never promises us that if we follow Him our lives will be without struggle. To the contrary, He promises us disdain, pain, hatred, even death, if we are truly in the faith. Look at our world now. People of faith are the most discriminated against. As our worldly sciences increase, as our healthcare increases, our right to live our faith decreases. See, we tend to have this mindset that we can do whatever we want, and no one can tell us any different. And that is a very worldly mindset. And as that seeps into the Church, we begin to see more and more schisms. More and more arguments amongst Christians about what should and shouldn’t be allowed. And God’s just kind of looking down like, “I told you what you could and couldn’t do, what’s the problem here?” Jesus tells us that in this life, if we are truly His followers, “you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…brother will deliver brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents…and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:18-22). See, this prosperity gospel sounds great, but when we look at God’s word, it doesn’t even silhouette the teachings of those who preach it.

Lastly, Paul goes to the heart of the problem. “He who supplies the Spirit to you…does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Are we expected to obey the Law? Of course we are. To live a Christian life is to be in obedience to the Law. However, obedience to the Law must be derived from true faith in God. Consider Abraham. Paul reminds us that it was written that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” When we are living a life of true faith, we will abide by the Law, but it’s far more important that the foundation of that life is faith in God, not the Law itself. Any atheist could abide by most of the laws put forth in Scripture; but that alone could never be enough. Being a “good person” isn’t enough. It is only through faith in God that we could ever be counted righteous.

Is this to say that we will never sin? By no means, it is to say that when we fall, we truly repent and have faith that God will forgive us, so long as the repentance is true. See, it’s never enough to repent of drunkenness while on the way to a bar. To truly repent means to strive not to fall into the same sin, and to pray that it will be enough. And sometimes it isn’t. All of us fall into sin, but that should never be looked at as an excuse to willfully do so.

When I first joined the Church, I found myself repenting for things that I didn’t even know were sin. I was never raised in a religious household, so many things that are sinful, I didn’t realize were sin. I found myself being like a child being told “no” by my Father for the first time. And oftentimes, I would find myself repeating the same things over and over again, each time being told “No” and each time asking for forgiveness. But just like that child, each time it would resound in my head more and more. I had been brought up to believe that I could do whatever I wanted. Once I found out about God, it was even better, because my young inexperienced mind took the few Bible catchphrases that I heard (John 3:16, as an example) to mean that “great, I can do whatever I want and still get into heaven, I don’t even have to believe in God.” But, that’s not what God said, and it was years before I was willing to read and understand that. That was never what God said, that was what Satan the tempter of man said to me through the teachings of the world. I was Mr “if God didn’t want me to do it, He wouldn’t have put me in this situation.” I was reknowned for the catchphrase, “I was born this way, it’s not my fault.” and still convinced that I could attain the Kingdom. “I can be a good person, not waste my time praying or reading the Bible and still get into heaven.” But, that’s not what God says. God says something completely different than what I’d learned from the world. And I didn’t learn that until I truly opened my heart and let Him into my life. When I finally read and actually studied the Scriptures, I learned these things. I learned that everything I’d been taught was not a lie, but a misinterpretation of what was being said. Jeremiah 29:11 was the result of 70 years of prayer and asceticism and was salvation from the retribution taken against the prophets and diviners who had led the people wrong. See, for me, it was the actual reading of Scripture after opening my heart to God, and spending time in the Church, the true Church, that I learned these things. And I am ever thankful to Him that He led me there.

In so doing, I learned what sin truly was, and to call it what it was. To truly repent of it, to confess it, and, by the grace of God, to be forgiven of it. And with each sin I committ, I follow the same path, and I can only bow down before His image and say, “Lord Jesus CHrist, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And I’m sure some of you have, or are currently, going on the same path. May you each find the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t focus on the Law, focus on Him, and you will find the Law manifest in your life. If He can lead me on the right path, I know He can lead each of you as well.

Christ is in our midst.

On Testing Yourselves

2 Corinthians 3 13:3-14
Paul begins this chapter by confirming the power of God. “Since you seek the power of God speaking in me…” he begins. And it’s interesting that he refers to the weakness of Jesus and compares it to the weakness that we all encounter. And the comparison that he makes of Jesus “being crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.” This does not imply that God and Jesus are seperate beings, but rather is a testament to the fact that God was willing to take on human flesh and all of it’s weaknesses for our sake. “We are also weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God.” This is the affirmation that though we are often times very weak, that we encounter many things which would seek to disrupt and destroy our lives, and yet, through Him we are saved. It also serves to us as a stern reminder that no matter how “good” or “holy” we may think ourselves to be, it is not we ourselves who can obtain the kingdom. No self-righteousness, no judgments, nothing could make us worthy of the kingdom. But rather it is the grace of God Himself living within us is worthy of obtaining the Kingdom. The test of being in Christ is a humble, virtuous life in Christ and in communion with the Church, the “body of Christ.” Make no mistake, we will falter; but through this communion, we are able to repent, confess our sins, and move forward. And through His grace alone would we be able to attain to the Kingdom.

And then Paul impels us to “examine yourselves to determine whether you are in the faith.” To “test yourselves.” As Christians, we have Jesus living in us, unless we are “disqualified” (for lack of a better word). And what is it that could disqualify us? Being unable to speak the truth about Christ. Being unable to live a Christ-like life. Intentionally wronging or hurting others. Living a life of arrogance and being unwilling to love one another, even those who wrong us. Jesus had the power to call down the angels, but instead went willingly to the cross because His love for His people was so great. He went to the cross to take upon Himself the punishment for the sins of His people, and not just those who were present at that time, but rather for the sins of all people, past, present, and future. Paul, Peter, Timothy, Pontius, me, you, your great grandchildren; He chose to die for the sins of all people in all time. And to what length do we honor that sacrifice, I ask you? We may occasionally post something on social media, but do our true lives look as though we truly believe it? I htink that, if we were honest, even in the Church, most people see His great sacrifice more as a “get out of jail free card.” I think that most of us, if we’re honest, don’t really see His sacrifice in the true light of what He willingly did for us.

And Paul further extols us, “I pray that you would do no evil, no that we should appear approved.” Again and again we see this abomination against actions for the sake of appearance. It’s this strong warning, anyone can say they’re a Christian. Anyone can go to church. But do our actual lives reflect that faith? Do we strive to live a Christian life, or do we just look for the cliff notes version of the Bible. Anyone can quote John 3:16, I’ve seen it used to promote many sinful events, but do we truly believe that the whole Bible is the Word of God? If so, we need to pay attention to it. 1 Corinthians 6 alone condemns so much of our current culture, yet it so often gets bypassed because of this condemnation of so many things that we’ve accepted, that we’ve rejoiced in, that we’ve grown to love more than we love God Himself.

Paul concludes this letter to the church in Corinth we a final lesson. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace. In having completed so many of thes lessons, he wants to make it known that disciples of Christ should never be at ends with one another. True disciples of Christ should strive to be as Christ was, never accepting false teachings, or heretical thoughts; however the true disciples of Christ would never have accepted those things either. But, amongst the faithful, there should never be hatred, never be judgment. Let us all remember that there was only ever one without sin, and He took all of our sins unto Himself so that those who truly seek after Him would be cleared of those wages of thos sins.

Let us all strive to live a Christ-like, Christ-filled life. Let us abide in His teachings and commandmnets as best we can, never forgetting to turn to Him in prayer whenever we fear that we may fall. Let us remember the sacrifice that truly happened for all of our’s sakes, and remember it as it really was. Most pictures and paintings of the crucifixion don’t really do justice to the length that He went to for our sakes. The Scriptures describe the crucifixion much more in detail than our paintings and icons ever could. We will fall from this, we will fail; but let us repent and confess each time we do so, praying that we may one day we judged worthy of the Kingdom.

Christ is in our midst.

The Light

Long ago the Apostle Paul warned believers that because of them people cannot believe in God and in Christ, because in them they do not see the triumph of life, in them they do not see people who shine for eternity.

Let us become such that each of those around us, each person who meets us, would stop and exclaim: What shines in the eyes of these people ?! This is an unearthly light, this is a light that streams from somewhere – we do not know from where, but we need to go there, because we need this light, not a temporary light, but an eternal one, the radiance of God …

✒ Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh
📷 photo by Maxim Chernogolov

# Christianity # faith # mission

On Election and Personal Accountability

Romans 9:6-19

St Paul questions Jewish unbelief by illustrating the faith of a nation torn in two. There were some who believed that Israel were the spiritual sons of Abraham and some who believed that on the sheer basis of their physical lineage that they were immediately among some group of the “elect.” And thus, Paul challenges them with this question, “Who are the true sons of Abraham?” And then, he gives them the answer. “Those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of the promise.” It is not merely Abraham’s biological offspring who are his true children. Remembering that Abraham also bore offspring with Hagar (Genesis 16) and Keturah (Genesis 25). Were it merely physical offspring, then those bloodlines would also be considered the children of God. Further, it is not even those born of the bloodline of Isaac, otherwise Esau and the Edomites would also be included. No, rather, Paul makes a very clear distinction that it is “the children of the promise (who) are counted as the seed.” (v.8). Those who are “in Isaac,” thus those who faithfully believe. 

It is so much easier to think of a particular ethnicity, an “elect” group of people, whom God has chosen to be blessed, because on a carnal level, it removes personal accountability. If one is of Israel and Israel are the children of God, then those of Israel need do nothing, for they are already blessed. Further, if one is not of Israel, they also need do nothing, because nothing can change that lineage. You are either blesssed or cursed because of God’s decision, and none of us has the power to change God’s mind, thus you can do whatever you like regardless of your stature and nothing can change it. It becomes much easier because it requires no action or conscious decision on our part. 

However, if there is no elect group with these special entitlements, then both sides must take responsibility for their actions. If there is no special elect group, then each of us must make the willful decision to align ourselves with God, to believe in the promise. We must each consciously decide to have true faiths and to order our lives accordingly. And that’s so much harder for us to do. We must heed the words and commands of our Lord. To deny ourselves and abide in Him is much harder than to merely believe that because of our lineage we are either blessed or cursed, but either way nothing we do can ever make a difference. 

Thus, the Jews didn’t want to hear this teaching from the mighty apostle. Salvation and God’s blessing was for them only, not for the Gentiles, the “unclean and unworthy.” And while part of this may have come from their selfish pride concerning their ethnicity; I’m sure at least a small part of it came from this responsibility as well. It’s so easy to think that they can do whatever they so choose, whatever they’ve always done, and be completely fine and “blessed.” Whatever went wrong, they could easily blame the Gentiles for. But St Paul challenges this notion by reminding them that there is no one group that God chooses over another. Quoting from Exodus, he reminds them of God’s proclamation to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” This is not to say that God creates people and determines which list He will put them on, but rather that there is no one ethnicity that has this special privilege. The blessing of God is on whoever consciously turns to Him in faith, abiding in His commandments. 

My brethern, we live in a generation that teaches that certain groups are more highly favored than others. And the world, like the Jews in this reading, will continue to embrace this thought because it’s the easy way. It’s easy to say that we are of the elect we need do nothing to be saved, or the inverse, that because wee are not of the elect that there is nothing that we can do to be saved. It’s easy to think that one group is special and another isn’t and you need accept no personal responsibility for anything you do; you can either than God for your blessing or scapegoat all of your problems on those who aren’t like you. However, Paul’s teaching explains exactly how false of an ideology that is. Salvation, the grace, the mercy of God, these are available to any and all who willingly accept it. But that acceptance alone is not enough. That faith requires not only choosing to believe it, but choosing to live our lives according to that belief. And it’s not easy, by any means. However, let us remember that Jesus spoke of two paths; an easy path which leads to death (Matthew 7:13) and a much harder, more narrow path which leads to life (Matthew 7:14). 

Christ is in our midst.  

On the Law

Romans 7:1-13

St Paul returns to the law of Moses, but not to reinforce the concept of the law. Rather, he does so to illustrate a point. In the law of Moses, a wife was freed from her husband only through death. Divorce or seperation were never enough to free her from her bonds to her husband. Were a woman, divorced in the eyes of the law, to remarry, she would still be an adulteress in the eyes of God. Likewise, Jesus Himself taught us that were a man to marry a woman who was divorced, he would be guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32). And Paul draws on this interesting parallel here. If a person were to divorce themselves from sin through the law, then they would still remain a sinner in the eyes of God. The law can not free one from the bonds of that marriage, be it to a man or a woman, or to our sinful nature itself. It is only through death that one is freed from the bonds of marriage, and likewise, it is only through the death of Christ and our communion with Him that we ourselves can be freed from those bonds, from the bonds of the law; and thereby become free to marry ourselves to another, Who is Christ the Bridegroom. Through our death and rising up with Christ in Holy Baptism, we are freed truly from our bondage. 

Paul states that we, “having died to what we were held by,” should now serve in this newness of Spirit. His reference to being “in the flesh” refers to unredeemed man still under the power of sin and death. Without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, sinful passions are aroused when confronted by the law. In our fallen nature, we seek to use our own willpower to overcome these passions. And yet, I’ve often said that if willpower alone were sufficient, then the gyms would be just as busy on March 13th as they are on January 3rd. And this leads to this constant rebellion, this internal civil war, where we place our willpower on one side to stand against our passions on the other, and most often, the will loses. The alcoholic who seeks to stop drinking using his own willpower may temporarily overcome this passion, only to have it return sevenfold. The glutton may briefly overcome his passions, only to eventually return to his ways, oftentimes more strongly than it ever was. The adulterer may remain chaste for a month or more, but eventually return to the devil’s iconography with greater zeal than ever before. This is what happens when we seek to overcome these passions and vices with our own will, with no reliance on the Spirit of God. The demons are cast out, and returns to find the house cleaned and swept, but empty. And he goes out and finds seven friends to return with him, and the man is worse than when he first began. An empty space is still a space, and we must fill that space with something, otherwise the world and the spirits of the world will fill it with everything. 

So, Paul then poses the question, “Is the law sin?” Since he had not known that covetousness was sin before the law, and sin multiplied because of his knowledge of the law, was the law itself the source of the sin? Of course not. The law was given to us for the purpose of revealing to us the depth of our sin and to help us seek salvation. To seek Christ’s strength, His guidance, His healing. Murder is wrong, and we know that because of the law of God. If the law of God had never been given to us, would that have made murder acceptable in God’s eyes, or would it have still been wrong? Obviously, it would still be wrong, we just wouldn’t have had the knowledge of the fact that it was wrong and thus sought His strength and absolution for our guilt of it. It is not the law that creates sin, it is our fallen nature. And it is not the law that causes sin to multiply in the face of the law, it is our rebellious nature. The law itself is not wicked, but it is humanity’s desire for that which is forbidden. Anyone who has ever been around a two year old can attest to this fact, the best way to guarantee that a child will do something is to tell them not to. 
And this becomes the unfortunate side effect of the law where humans are concerned. When we hear “don’t covet,” our rebellious nature, the sin within us, seeks more and more to covet. When we hear don’t commit adultery, the demons within immediately link us to pornographic imagery and seek to water the seeds of that rebellious nature. The more strongly we are told that something is wrong, the more the flesh desires it, and it is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we are able to overcome those cravings for any length of time. Again, our personal willpower will suffice for a temporary time, but only for that temporary time. It is through the power of Holy Baptism that we are freed from those bonds, and through constantly seeking after God, seeking to fill that space with godly and holy things, that we are able to continue to resist these temptations. 
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of hearing a sermon, or reading a blog post, and becoming “convicted” on a Sunday, but where do we stand on Monday morning, on a Friday or Saturday night? Or, God forbid, suppose the baby was sick on Sunday and we couldn’t attend our service, where do we stand that Monday, eight days since that “conviction” hit us? 

In Acts, we read how the Church in obedience to the Church, was able to change the world. Most of us don’t trust the Church, and, if we’re honest, don’t trust Christ, so rather than trying to change the world, we can’t even change ourselves. We get so caught up in the day to day that we don’t read the Scripture, we don’t take the time to say our prayers, we don’t fast, and we never seek His help to resist temptation. We just hope that His forgiveness will be bigger than our sin. And that, my brethern, is an indictment on all of us. Not because we’re not holy and perfect, but because we choose to rely on ourselves, rather than turning to Him. And to be fully honest and transparent, that is something that I personally struggle with so much. I constantly try to fix things on my own. I constantly rely on my own willpower and conviction, rather than on Him. 

My brethern, we are not called to be perfect. We are not asked to be sinless. We are not asked to externally obey the law. We are told to turn to Christ our God in all things and trust in Him. I will never forget my spiritual father telling me that my salvation is fully reliant on my ability to be comfortable with the fact that I will sin. Not to be comfortable with my sin, but to be comfortable with the fact that I will sin. And when I find myself so doing, to repent, take it to confession, and move on. Not to get angry with myself for having fallen into sin, nor to revisit the sin, nor to parade that sin. To repent, to confess, and to move on. To get up, knock the dust off, and say Lord have mercy. And to turn in prayer to God each time that temptation arrives, until eventually, I don’t even realize how long I’ve gone without doing it. And how do I know when I need to do that? How am I even aware of the fact that I have sinned? That’s the purpose of the law. Not that I can never covet or else I won’t enter the kingdom, but to make me aware of the fact that coveting is an offense to God, something for which I must repent and turn to God for. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us that there is one sin which is unto death, and that is the unrepentant one, for which even the greatest saint’s prayers will not be heard if they are guilty of. 

My brethern, let us look to the law, not as a means of salvation, but as a guide to lead us into repentance. Let us each learn the law of God to find what is an offense to Him, and let us truly turn to Him in repentance. Seeking His forgiveness, His power, His guidance in turning away from those sins. I once heard a monk asked what they do in the monastery everyday, and his answer was, “we fall, we get back up, we fall, we get back up.” May we look to that as a guide for our lives as well. Learn the law, but learn it for the purpose of finding our own need for Him, not as something for us to attempt to achieve on our own. 

Christ is in our midst.

On Righteousness

Romans 4:13-25

Paul continues speaking on Abraham’s faith here. And this is vital; after having already noted that Abraham was considered righteous before God while 75, but not circumcised until 99 (Genesis 12:4, 17:24), he likewise continues this while speaking on the law. He uses this to explain that righteousness does not come through our genetic ancestry. Though the law requires one to become a Jew, the law itself offers no promise of salvation, but only wrath (v.15). St Paul then teaches us a very valuable lesson. Where there is no law, there is no transgression of law. And this almost seems to go without saying. If you are on a street with no speed limit, you can never be pulled for going either too fast or too slow. Therefore, if there is no law which states adultery to be sinful, there can be no transgression for committing adultery. Even if adultery is wrong in the eyes of God, if one doesn’t recognize that fact, then there is no sin for us to be held accountable. And this, according to the apostle, was the purpose for which the law was given. The whole purpose of the law was not to offer us salvation, but rather to make us aware of our sinfulness and thus our need for salvation. 

Consider, if you will, the secular mindset. Consider that most, if not all, secular people consider man as nothing more than a mere animal. So, given that particular mindset, what would ever make murder wrong? If man is nothing more than an animal, and we slaughter animals daily, then what makes murder wrong? Even moreso, when so often we look to the animal kingdom and see animals murdering their own kind almost daily, then how can we declare murder wrong? It is because our civilization has a law concerning it, that it is wrong. Other animals freely kill others, there are even some that will sacrifice their own offspring or mates, because there is no law which tells them otherwise. 

In like fashion, the “Law” was given to Israel so that they would understand that adultery was wrong. While polygamy and polyamory ran rampant in Pagan culture, the law made the Jews aware of the fact that such behaviors were an offense to God. And while obedience to these laws was never in and of itself able to offer salvation, they were given so that we would understand our own sinfulness and turn away from it. The law was given to Israel so that they would understand that they are not expected to behave like the animals, like the pagans, but rather, they were to be held to this higher standard of doing what was pleasing to the Lord our God. 

And that brings us to the point here. Paul’s entire teaching here is that it is not through the external that we are saved. It is not merely through not coveting or murdering or lusting after another that we are saved. Rather, it is the righteous, those who are being saved, who receive God’s promise in faith. And this is not merely a superficial faith that externally states “I believe.” Rather, Paul evokes Abraham, the father of faith, to show that it is a faith which directly controls our lives. And, much to the dismay of the Pharisees, it is not a faith based solely on physical lineage. Abraham begot Ishmael through the flesh, and Isaac through the promise of God. This is important to remember, because it is not those who are descended from Ishmael who receive the promise, but rather those who, through Isaac, receive the promise of God through faith. It is not those who happen to be born of the right lineage, but those who are born of the promise…the faith. He here reveals that there is no one ethnicity, no one “elect” group, who receive the promise of God, but rather those who are born of the promise of God, those who receive His word in faith. The true descendants of Abraham are all who believe, for he is the father of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. 

Paul concludes here by saying that Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. Had He been a sinner, the law would also have condemned Him. However, since He had perfect love and was without sin, He fulfilled not only the letter, but also the heart of the Law. It is His sacrifice which offers us this state of righteousness, that frees us from sin and death and unites us with righteousness and life. We need only accept this offering, accept this grace, and we also can be healed from the sins which lead us to death. 

Christ is in our midst. 

On the Wrath of God

Romans 1:18-27

The wrath of God that Paul references here is not the wrath that we would think of when we consider that word. See, when we think of wrath, we tend to imagine this sort of impulsive, emotional response to something that we don’t like. We consider it more as “losing our temper” and reacting in turn. And so, unfortunately for us, when we read these words, “the wrath of God,” we naturally imply this limited understanding to God, thereby remaking Him into our image. No, when Paul writes about this “wrath of God,” he is referring to God’s righteous and Holy Judgment. It is His truth, His love, and His power in confronting those who reject Him. And this wrath, Paul says, is revealed against all ungodliness and unrightouesnesss of men, those who reject God and those who suppress the truth of God. 

This is an interesting thought. See, Paul says that God is made manifest in all of creation. Anywhere you look, everything you see, is witness to God. All of us have this ability to recognize His power and authority merely by looking around at the world, all of the wonders of creation. Thus, claiming ignorance of God is no longer a possibility, an excuse. Elsewhere we find Paul state that “these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30). Not only is it no longer acceptable, but honestly, it requires more work, more study, and more faith to reject God than to accept Him. The psalmist declares that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament delcares the creation of His hands.” Any child who looks at the world believes in God, until they are actively taught not to; and that teaching not only creates more questions than answers, it requires more faith to believe those answers than to believe God. And it’s the object of that faith is the reason that it is so aggressively taught. Because it requires faith in science, faith in nature, and ultimately faith in man. 

As an aside, there is a musician that I used to listen to when I was younger. He was a very devout anti-theist, and recently I read an interview with him. He stated that his entire life he had been taught all of these questions to ask about religion, to ask about creation, to ask about morality and mortality, to ask about God. And in so doing, he found himself growing to despise the Church and all that it represented. His carnal nature didn’t want to accept the strictness of the Church; his desire for personal autonomy taught him that no one could tell him what he could or couldn’t do. And he was right, even St Paul affirms that “if there is no resurrection then we are to be the most pitiable among men.” If our faith were errant, then we would have spent our entire lives laboring and being tortured and (in some instances) martyred, and denying ourselves. Paul even says that “if there is no resurrection then ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” But then, he couldn’t help but keep wondering why so many people were willing to do this. So this man, this anti-theist, began to ask the same questions of science thatt he’d always been taught to apply to religion. He began to apply the same logic against the theories of man that he’d always used against the word of God. And, according to him, he found that Christianity held up much better to this scrutiny than the ever changing answers offered by science. He stopped recording and touring for a few years to read and study the Scriptures, to dedicate time to prayer, to attend every Church service that he could and ask questions for the purpose of learning, not arguing. And then, after his years “in the desert,” he has since recorded two albums and is using his platform to reach the youth as well as his previous fans with the message of the cross. His story is such an inspiration to me because, although never with the fame or notoriety that he had, his story could so easily be mine. 

Paul goes on to state that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and darkened in their hearts.” This is such a powerful statement because to this very moment, to this very day, time, and place, they remain fully relevant. To be fully human is to worship and give thanks to God, because humanity itself by nature worships. And when we reject God, our hearts become darkened and are left with a void to fill. By our very nature, we have to worship something, and if we reject God, we immediately begin to seek other idols, other objects of worship. We worship the creation rather than the creator. Whether this be an abstract idea, the enlightment brought this concept of worshipping reason; an ideology, something such as worshipping mother earth or the stars; a political party or political allegiance; a celebrity whom we consider to be worthy of following; a newstory even, whether it be the victim of a crime who is martyred for their beliefs; whatever the case may be, we so often seek to fill this void with whatever we can find, something that can logically fill this void with something we consider greater than us, rather than seeking the truth of God. 

And when we do this, we find this “wrath of God” that Paul is talking about, this judgment. And many times, the worst judgment God can offer us is to to give us exactly what we think we want. The Scripture, our history books, and even our current headlines are filled with times that the Lord has given us exactly what we (collectively) thought that we wanted, and the inevitable consequences of those desires. I think back to when the nation of Israel asked Samuel to intercede for them with the Lord that He would give them a king to rule over them (1 Kingdoms 8, LXX). And the Lord responded to Samuel, “heed the voice of the people in whatever they might say to you, for they have not rejected you, but have rejected Me.” (1 Kingdoms 8:7 LXX). And from that point forward, we find so many examples all throughout history where man has sought something other than God, and He has given it to them, and how horribly that ended for them. See, so often man rejects God in the name of freedom, but that freedom leads to even deeper and deeper slavery. Think of the many many nations who sought salvation in Socialism, and yet, once they attained it, fought bloodied years of trying to get out from under it. See, historically, what we have always thought we wanted that would fill that void fails to, it’s never enough. And so we push and push for more and more, until we become enslaved by whatever ideology we sought to begin with. On a personal level, consider the man who thinks that earthly riches will fill that void. How many people keep chasing this “if only I had a little more” philosophy, and how far that finish line of “a little more” keeps getting pushed back. When we seek to fill that void with earthly possessions, it will never be enough, because the nature of earthly possessions could never suffice to fill the void of God when we turn away from Him. Which is why it’s such a powerful judgment when He steps away and allows us to have whatever it is we think we want. 

I’ve so often said that the biggest problem with activism is that you can never be sated once you begin. It’s this same concept, once you embrace this ideology and begin fighting, at what point do you stop fighting? You never can, because it’s this finite goal seeking to fill this infinite void. But, once you are able to recognize this, and begin to seek after God, you will find that He will give you the desires of your heart; but that is the desire of a heart that sincerely seeks Him. If your goal is political success, or ideological fulfillment, or material wealth; none of that will ever be enough. You will never be truly content, because that line will constantly keep moving from you. And if this mindset conquers a nation, that nation will eventually lead itself into ruin. God will never cause it’s downfall, He won’t have to. He will simply allow the nation and each individual person to have what they think they want, and our nature itself will take over and lead to this destruction.

However, once a person, or a people, begin to seek after God sincerely, that is where He will give them the true desire of their heart. As we read in Chronicles, “if My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn away from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will be merciful to their sins and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

While all of this is most obvious in the political sphere, this is solely a political topic. And that’s the important thing to remember here. While it is more comfortable to read all of this and say, “great, how can we apply this to whatever nation,” it is less comfortable, but more important, to see this on a personal level. No one will ever save the world unless they begin with saving themselves; and the process of so doing will not only envelope you until you can no longer try to save the world, but will influence people along the way. And, if enough people are influenced by your own personal battle to deny the flesh, to deny the carnal, then it will spread. St Seraphim of Sarov teaches us that if we “acquire a Spirit of peace, then thousands around us will be saved.” If we seek God, His grace, His mercy, His love; and abide in His commandments, truly loving one another as Jesus taught us; seeking our own salvation rather than condemning others; then others will question how we are at such peace in spite of what’s happening in the world. And thus, through seeking after our own salvation, we may in deed be the inspiration that so many others need to see. If we, on the other hand, seek to be the voice of reason and the salvation of the world, then we may be judged and given just that opportunity. And, speaking for myself, I would make a horrible savior. And I think most of you would agree on a personal level. There has only been one born of flesh worthy to bear that title, and it is definitely not me. 

Christ is in our midst.