Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Life of Spirit or Words?

Are we stuck with a faith that is external, following this rule or that tradition, or have we developed one that is internal, one rooted in the heart?  Saint Paul, as well as Jesus, saw this as problem of the Jews at the time of Jesus.  This is why they could not understand His message of the Kingdom.  He was not speaking of a new earthly Kingdom but calling all to participate in an eternal Kingdom with Him in Heaven, one that was based in the heart.

Today, with so many Christians stuck on the notion of "Sola Scriptura," we see an excessive emphasis placed on the "Word".  "If its not in the Bible its not true," many of them say.  But, this too is an external form of faith, taking the limited set of words and projecting mentally new ideas, basing faith on a few words, a narrow view limited to words, not unlike that of the Jews at the time of Christ.

Saint Paul says,
He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? (Romans 2:28-29)
His example is about circumcision, but it also applies to all the Mosaic laws practiced by the Jews at that time.  What was important based on the teaching of Jesus was the "law of Spirit" (Rom 8:2) or the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12).  The life of an Orthodox Christian is one that is lived based on Spirit which comes from faith in Christ and a surrender to the teachings and practices of His Church.  We are saved by the Spirit or God's grace that works through us.

How do we nurture this Spirit we gain at our Baptism?  By first, of course, with faith. Based on faith, then through prayer, worship and ascetic disciplines.  We pray daily, morning and night, we learn to say the Jesus prayer continually throughout the day, we attend worship services and participate in the Mysteries of the Church, especially Holy Communion and Holy Confession.  These all bring us into union with God. We exercise our faith to purify our heart and receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, 
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8)
The "Word" provides a solid foundation and contains the truth as revealed to us by God, but being a Christian is much more than knowing the Word.  The Word keeps us from straying from true belief, but we must learn to go beyond the word to an inner relationship with God, one that is personal and intimate.

Saint Peter says,
Do not let your adornment be merely outward.... rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." (1Peter 3:15)
Jesus says,
He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38)
This is the basis of the Orthodox Way of life. It is an inner way of life that is expressed outward.

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