Among the many things that caused me to leave the Protestant tradition was a problem that I began to see with what is called “easy believism.” What that basically means is what I experienced as a child; I was told to say a certain prayer, be baptized and then I was all good. Now, I look back on that and feel like it was kind of a “get out of hell free” card. Once saved, always saved, right?
The problem with that is that it’s not actually a biblical understanding of what salvation is or what it means to be a faithful Christian. There are repeated exhortations in Holy Scripture, specifically the NT, to be faithful, to endure, to keep the faith until the end. In other words, there are things we must do if we are of the Faith.
St. Paul says we are to “examine” ourselves to see if we are of the faith in 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
And St. Peter exhorts (2 Peter 1:10-11) us to make our calling and election sure by doing “these things,”
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
One of the things that I have found in the historic Church that is profoundly helpful is the practice of asceticism. And it has changed the way I live out the Faith. I have always been drawn to a monastic practice (though I am not a monk) of prayer and asceticism and the early Church did this very well, I feel. I’ve begun to slowly work my way through a book entitled Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander and it is fantastic. I want to interact with what I am learning and putting into practice in my own walk with Christ and His Church.
Colliander starts right off in Chapter 1,
“If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is.”
I feel like, in my own life in the past, there has been great lethargy. I depended on a little prayer to “save me” and did little to actually put forth any effort of my own. I love his call to action but not just action for the sake of action alone. No, the call to action is to a lived experience of walking with God.
This is a way of life. It is the Way. The first Christians were initially called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2).
One of the earliest extant Christian writings we have, other than what became the books of the New Testament is The Didache (literally meaning “teaching”). In this work, one of the major themes talked about is the comparison between two “ways” that are called the way of life and the way of death.
Following the Way, following Christ should change everything about our lives. And once we change our lives to follow Christ, we cannot let go, we cannot give up. Colliander exhorts us to,
“Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back.”
Don’t look back. Sounds like something Jesus said when He stated,
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62
Jesus says that, if we begin to follow Him, if we put our hand to the plow and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Not fit. I don’t think Jesus is taking this lightly, but I fear that we do. We are given warnings throughout Holy Scripture of how we are to live and the judgement that comes on those who do not.
We must remember that we are no longer our own; we are not even alive in our flesh. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
He didn’t say old things are to be put on a shelf so we can take them down and look at them occasionally. Old things have passed away. They have died. Or, as St. Paul again says in Colossians 3:3,
“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Our former selves are dead, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (at least this should be true of us). As Colliander puts it,
“You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie.”
Our lives should be lived with one purpose: to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This can only be accomplished by putting on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27) and putting our flesh to death (Rom. 13:14). We must, moment by moment, take up our cross and put our flesh to death and be unified to Christ.
Although this sounds impossible, it has already been done! This is the glory of the gospel! Christ has already defeated sin, death and the devil. In Him, our humanity has been redeemed in His own flesh! We have but to walk it out, daily dying to self and putting on the Lord Jesus, walking in His way and finding again the communion with God we lost in the Garden.
This is the glory of Christ and ours to share in! Through Christ, our communion with God has been restored and, like our first parents, we can now walk in the cool of the evening of our lives with Him. This is not yet fully realized but one day…oh, one day! In that day, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like unto Him! Glory to God!
Hold fast to your purpose, beloved, and do not look back.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
Death has been all around me my whole life. Many times, I wasn’t aware of it or even thought of it much, until I began my law enforcement career. I’ll never forget the first homicide I responded to and the strange feeling that came over me as I looked into the lifeless eyes of the body lying on the sidewalk.
In that moment, death became very real for me. Again, it’s not like death had never touched me. Three of my four grandparents had passed before then but, somehow, death had been something that I never really thought about. But, in that moment, death became very real to me and an almost daily occurrence. Despite some close calls, I felt, at times, like death couldn’t touch me.
Then my sister died.
My world got rocked. Suddenly, someone that was dear to me had been “taken” far too soon. I remember beginning to ask questions of myself, of faith, of God. I honestly don’t think I had given much thought about it until then, despite the daily violence I witnessed as a police officer. It was only years later that I came to a truly Christian understanding of death.
In our culture, people think that death is the end. So, the way the world lives should be no surprise to us. If you believe that your 70-80 years or so on this plane of existence is all there is, then eat, drink, be merry and do whatever you want. In that scenario, truth is completely subjective, and death and sickness and aging are to be avoided at all costs.
If we are Christian, we know this is not true. If we are Christian, we know that humanity was created by God to be in perfect communion with Him and each other and His creation for all eternity. Death was never meant to be part of the equation. That’s why it feels so unnatural and uncomfortable to us; because it is unnatural. We aren’t meant to die. But just because it’s unnatural doesn’t mean it has to be uncomfortable.
A couple of weeks ago, I went with my wife to a doctor’s appointment. They hooked up an ultrasound and began to scan my wife’s abdomen for signs of life to confirm the pregnancy test she had taken. Sure enough, as I looked at the screen, I could see clearly the placental sack and the small life moving in my wife’s womb. Joy leapt into my heart. God had blessed us with another child! My wife jokingly said, “Only one, right?” The nurse doing the ultrasound said, “Well, let me take a look.” She began to move the little thing around and I saw it the same time she did.
Another placental sack.
I began to smile as I looked at my wife. She was staring at the screen with a stunned look on her face. Then the nurse said, “Hmmm, something’s not right. This one looks a lot smaller.” My body felt like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water on it and I said softly, “Oh no.” The nurse did some more scans then left, saying, “I’ll be right back.” My wife and I both just stared at the screen until the nurse came back. After another scan, she said something that I will never un-hear. “The other baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
Death in its cold cruelty has again touched my family. My wife wept as I held her hand.
But then, almost immediately, something else happened. I was reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus when He said,
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
And the words of the prophet Job,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I cried also. I cried for the child that we won’t know on this side of eternity. I cried because my wife was suffering such pain. I cried for my living children who will not get to meet their sibling right now.
But I also experienced great joy. The joy I have found is in the knowledge that our bodies will die, just as the physical body of our Lord Jesus died and was buried. My joy is found in the knowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead, being the first fruits of those who will be resurrected like Him one day. When that day comes, I will see my child. Oh, the joy of that day!
But I am also joyful because my child will never know pain. He/she will never know hunger or fear or sadness or disappointment or have scars or be cut from a team or break a bone or have their heart broken in unrequited love.
No, in the arms of the Creator, my child will only know the joy of the embrace of the Savior! Can you imagine?! In one moment, their little heart was beating in the safety of the womb. In the next moment, their eyes opened to see the glorious face of the Creator and Savior of the world! In His presence, there is fullness of joy forever and unto the ages of ages!
I am learning more of what it means to have a truly Christian view of the world and what it means to be human and be united to Christ. I know that my child is united to Christ in a way that I do not yet fully experience. But one day…. oh, one day, I will know full union with my Savior. And then, along with my child, my sister, my grandparents and all our God-bearing Fathers, we will know the glory and eternal rest of being fully restored to the glory we knew in the Garden.
Oh, what a day that will be! Until that day, we grieve for those who have fallen asleep. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Let us rejoice in the hope of resurrection!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!