I look around me at the world today and I am saddened. I am saddened by the direction the American society is headed and indeed the world. I am saddened by the complete confusion and fear that most people are living with these days. I am even more saddened at the behavior of most of the people who claim the name of Christ these days. I cannot remember a time in my life when I saw so many so-called Christians wandering around in confusion and fear, succumbing in such an obvious way to the darkness of this present world.
So many Christians I hear saying things like, “I don’t understand what’s happening,” or lamenting the condition of the world or, even worse, joining in the shame and cancel culture that infects our world today. In fact, if I may digress for a moment…I am ashamed of the Christians who shame other Christians for not choosing to take the so-called Covid-19 vaccine. Most of those Christians who are attacking other Christians for choosing not to be vaccinated say the same crap that’s coming out of the mouths of pagans.
Think about that for a second. If the things you are saying to each other as Christians match what pagans and the world is saying, you are doing it wrong. There are many good reasons to refuse the vaccine, least of which is a lack of actual scientific data that supports the long-term efficacy of said vaccine. By the admission of the very pharmaceutical companies that are dispensing these cocktails, these vaccines are, at this current time, experimental. From a Christian perspective, what happened to loving our brothers and sisters, showing them grace and speaking kindly to one another, whether or not we agree with them? Are our brothers and sisters not allowed to make decisions for themselves and their children without us calling each other names and attacking one another?
If you are one of those, I implore you to stop. Stop attacking your fellow Christians and understand that, just as you took the vaccine for your reasons, they are refusing it for their reasons. Besides, if you have taken the vaccine, why do you care if they do? Aren’t you protected?
Anyways, back to my main point.
There is a pervasive darkness over the world today. If you cannot see that, you are simply not paying attention, or you’ve just fallen asleep at the wheel of life. Over and over I hear Christians say that they don’t understand what’s happening. And I submit to them, you don’t understand what’s happening in the world because you have forgotten the Holy Scriptures. You have forgotten that the real enemies aren’t the Taliban or Al Qaeda or the coronavirus. We have an enemy, for sure. But it ain’t those things.
St. Peter helpfully reminds us of our enemy,
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
St. Peter tells us, first, that we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and that we are to cast all our cares on Him. Stop being so anxious about a virus; there have been and will continue to be viruses. Humble yourself under the hand of God and take your fears to Him. Be sober, be vigilant he tells us. In other words, to put it in our current context: pay attention and be on your guard against the influences of the world. Stop listening to the talking heads on TV and listen to the Holy Spirit. Spend time in prayer and Holy Scripture, go to Church, spend time with faithful brothers and sisters who aren’t consumed by the world, laugh with your children, play fetch with the dog. St. Peter also clearly tells us who our enemy is.
Our adversary is the devil, not each other. Not a virus, not the Taliban, not the President and Congress (though they sure act like the enemy of the people). At the bottom of all this is a spiritual struggle. The devil hates God and he hates you. He wants to destroy humanity and he will stop at nothing. He will use any means within his power. We must recognize this.
St. Paul also reminds us in Ephesians,
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
St. Paul reminds us that our enemies are not each other or a virus or any of this mess we’re in. Our enemy is against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness. Vaccines, masks and lockdowns won’t stop our real enemy. Only the armour of God will do that. Only when we are girded with the truth consuming our heart and mind and soul, only when we have put on the breastplate of righteousness and have shod ourselves with the gospel of peace, the peace of God that has been offered for all on the cross by our Lord Jesus, only when we have taken up the shield of faith and thrown our lives and souls into the care of the All-Holy One, only when we have taken up the helmet of salvation which is our union with Christ, only when we are armed with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, only when we pray without ceasing, only when we persevere; then and only then can we see clearly and understand not only who our enemy is but the great power that has been given to us in the Church and our union with Christ to defeat our enemy.
Christ has defeated sin and death! And, if we are in Him, so have we! Let us live without fear. Let us live without vitriol toward our fellow Christians, let us live in the peace that only God can bring through His most precious Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity who holds us in the palm of His hand!
Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might! He has overcome and so shall we!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
I remember coming out of seminary and thinking about a few things. I know that sounds funny. You’re probably thinking, duh, you should be thinking. Over the years since I graduated from seminary, I’ve actually read the Bible more than I did while in seminary. Let me refine that. It’s not that I didn’t read the Bible during seminary but Bible reading in seminary, for me, was an academic exercise. I was studying the Bible, not absorbing it, not digging in, not spending a lot of time meditating on the whole of Holy Scripture.
I came out of seminary understanding what hermeneutics was and being able to tear verses apart word by word…and missing the forest for the trees. I fear that scholasticism has not done us any favors in Christianity, at least not in a tangible, lived reality kind of way. I’ve said this a lot recently, but I feel like modern Christianity is much less biblical and holistic in its approach than our forebears. Rather, modern Christianity is a direct product (I believe) of a rationalism that has emerged since the Enlightenment.
Let me dial this in a little. I want to specifically talk about salvation. I’m going to critique the position that I once held. I was taught and came to learn that salvation was, largely, a forensic thing. Let me explain what I mean by that.
The picture of salvation that was painted for me was that of a courtroom where God was the judge and I was the defendant. Evidence was presented in this heavenly courtroom of my sinfulness. All my past misdeeds were trotted out and placed on gruesome display for all to be shocked at the hideous filthiness of my actions. In the closing arguments, the prosecutor (who signified Christ) would stand up and say to the Judge, “He is guilty. But don’t punish him. Punish me. I have taken his punishment.” He atoned for my sin. Sound familiar?
Or another picture painted for me was that, because of my sin, a debt was owed to God as the Judge. It was a debt that I could not possibly pay. There was such a stark difference between the holiness demanded by God and my sinfulness that I would never be able to pay that debt. So, Christ paid my debt. He propitiated on my behalf. Sound familiar?
Our sins have been forgiven. After all, the Apostle Paul tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If we have been forgiven by our faith in Christ, we get to go to heaven when we die. Sound familiar?
By the way, all those things are true. Our sins have been atoned for. Yes. Our debt has been paid. Yes. Our sins have been forgiven. Yes. When we die, if we have been forgiven and our faith placed in Christ, we get to go to heaven. Well…sort of.
All those things are true.
I want to suggest to you that our view (mostly Protestant and most modern Catholics) of salvation is so shallow, narrow and truncated that we have failed to grasp what is going on when we say salvation. I want to suggest to you that a patristic and biblical view is much more than merely forensic justification.
Go back to the beginning. In the beginning, God created the human race. Life as we know it began in the Garden with a man and a woman joined to their Creator and each other in an intimate union and perfect harmony. They were living in a state of perfection, unashamed to be who God made them to be, walking in the cool of evening in fellowship with their Maker. All their needs supplied. All was as it should have been. Then they sinned. The union was broken.
Then God made a covenant with Abram. Let’s think for a second about what a covenant is. A covenant is a union of two parties for a specific purpose. Look at Genesis 12, 15 and 17. Look at the language used there, specifically in Genesis 17. God makes a promise to Abraham. He says that He will be God to Abraham and his offspring. Abraham, in return, was to be faithful to God. Notice that it is God who initiates, and Abraham is to be faithful in response.
Over and over throughout the Old Testament, the reason that God gives for punishing His people is unfaithfulness. Some examples:
Psalm 78:10-11, 40-42, 56-57, 59-62 (the psalmist says God left where He dwelt among His people, which we will come back to)
2 Kings 17:7-8
The book of Amos
The book of Hosea (we’ll come back to this one as well)
The covenantal language used here, and the violation thereof are indicative of infidelity. In fact, pretty much the entire book of the prophet Hosea is an object lesson of the infidelity of God’s people. There is really graphic language used in Hosea. The Hebrew root ‘zanah’ is used 14 times in Hosea and has strong sexual undertones. It means “to commit fornication, to be a harlot.” This is how God viewed the idolatry of His people; as marital infidelity. God, who had condescended to His people to dwell among them (Lev. 26:12, Exodus 25:8), Who had made an intimate covenant with His people to stand forever, had “wedded” Himself to a people who were unfaithful. God was faithful, His people were not.
It is in this context that we turn now to the New Testament. Repeatedly, Christ calls people to, yes repent, but also to be in relationship with Him. He says, for example, in John 14, that He will “take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.“ We will make our home with him. Intimate language of union.
St. Paul picks up on this intimate language. He uses, for example, the words “in Christ” or “in Him” repeatedly. In the New Testament, this phrase is used 70 times. St. Paul links the marriage of a man and woman with the love of Christ and His Church on more than one occasion, clearly picking up on this intimate covenantal/union understanding of how God loves His people.
At the end of our corpus of Holy Scripture, the vision of St. John paints another picture for us. He paints a picture of a banquet, the great marriage supper of the Lamb where the Bridegroom and His Bride are joined together in perfect union again.
This, brothers and sisters, is salvation. We are joined in intimate union with Christ, the God-man, the Second Person of the Trinity. This is the restoration of the people of God to the union of the covenant He has promised. Yes, our sins are forgiven, propitiated, expiated and all those other fancy theological words. All those are true.
But the ultimate joy and aim of salvation is the restoration of the union of God with His greatest creation, the human race. Those who are in Christ as part of the Bride, His Church, will know this renewed intimacy. Just as the Holy Trinity exists in perfect union, so the Bride is drawn into perfect union with her Bridegroom.
Oh, what joy! What manner of love has been bestowed on us! Let us, like the Apostle Paul, cry out,
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Glory to Jesus Christ!