One of the most important insights I have gained from the Orthodox Christian faith is that the decision to obey Christ and to cleanse my heart are decisions imperative to being a Christian. The idea I learned from the independent churches I grew up in was that a believer’s heart was cleansed by a sovereign move of God and one obeys Christ as a natural outflow of love for Him; and since it is automatic one need not consume his or her thinking with such things, we were far too concerned with “victorious living” by way of health and wealth. We were saved be grace through faith; anything more than this was a deception of the devil and a sure way to fall from grace.
These ideas are appealing to many, particularly, I think, Americans who are already conditioned to view life as a great hopping from one thing to the next thing in rapid succession, never stopping long enough to give serious attention to serious things: quick wealth, quick relationships, quick food, quick education, quick, quick, quick.
The authentic Christian faith does not avail itself to quick anything.
Stopping to give real effort to obey Christ in one’s personal daily life was simply too great a weight and too narrow a path, riding dangerously close the cliff of “dead works”. We reasoned that in order to have any chance at this faith thing we needed something simple and easy: just pray this prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart and He’ll clean you and save your soul, nothing else is required (well, except tithing). Just come to church each week and we’ll pump you up and remind you that you’re a winner!
The trouble is this simply does not work. A person cannot love Christ without cleansing his own heart. He can be convicted by God, and desire to follow God, but to truly love God requires a strenuous, daily fight with selfishness, greed, lust, anger, hate, unforgiveness, etc. All of these passions grow within a person with the intent of tearing him or her away from God. One must strive to preserve the faith he gains. Faith is nothing without love, and love is nothing without action.
Jude reminds us to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith,” and to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20 & 21). The Christian life is not automatic after one says a “sinner’s prayer” or has some other intellectual or emotional epiphany. Faith is a “race” (Heb 12:1) and a “fight” (2Tim 4:7) and requires extreme discipline of the body (1Cor 9:27). It is the believer’s obligation to cleanse his flesh and spirit of pollution of the world (2Cor 7:1), and if he or she will not “strive to enter through the narrow gate” unto eternal life they will not enter (Lk 13:24).
Indeed it is Christ who turns the believer away from iniquity (Acts 3:26), and Paul assures the believer that “sin will not have dominion over you for you are under grace” (Rom 6:14), but this is because grace “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:11). The student does not automatically do what he is taught, but must make a conscious effort to follow his teacher. We can “receive the grace of God in vain” if we do not become “workers together with Him” (2Cor 6:1).
And indeed we “receive from Him whatever we ask,” but how is this possible? “Because we keep His commandments and do the things pleasing in His sight” (1Jn 3:22); if we keep His commandments we “abide in Him and He in us” (1Jn 3:24).
The main point I’m trying to convey is that a Christian need not be afraid of good works. They are not the enemy; disobedience is the enemy, well, that and anyone who would attempt to deceive you into believing that a person can know God and still practice lawlessness (1Jn 3:8). There is no avoiding the facts if one truly believes the Bible is the word of God. Both old and new testaments repeat the same message.
“God will render to each according to his deeds,” no that’s not only Moses, Samuel and Isaiah, it’s St. Paul (Rom 2:6-7).
And he continues: “Glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good” (Rom 2:10). Paul again warns, “we will receive the things done in the body whether good or evil” (2Cor 5:10). Peter tells us: “whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35).
Christ Himself does not change the message (amazing, the same God who spoke to the Jews also spoke to the Gentiles). Hear the Master and Lord of our faith: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will be saved but everyone who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). He again promises that when the Son of Man comes in His glory He will, “reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).
I’m out of breath
Everything which exists exclusively in the imaginary world of the mind without ever becoming real eventually loses its pizazz. Christianity doesn’t work if the believer don’t do it. Christianity is not imaginary, it’s alive. Jesus never told anyone to think about Christianity and agree with it, He told those who would follow Him to, well… follow Him.
Thanks for reading