39 - Faith, Righteousness & Life, July 17, 2016 (with audio)

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Hebrews 13:7-16 (Fathers)

Romans 6:18-23 (Sunday)

John 17:1-13 (Fathers)

Matthew 8:5-13 (Sunday)

To get to the central theme that I hear in our Scripture readings this morning, let me set forth these four pairings: righteousness – life; sin – death; obedience – faith; disobedience – sickness and death.

Righteousness is life. Righteousness is immortal, the righteous live forever, it says in the Wisdom of Solomon. To be righteous is to live. To be justified (to be made righteous) is to be made alive.

But, plants and animals live; yet, we don’t say that they are righteous. Of the creatures, only man can be righteous. Only man is made in the image of God. It seems clear, then, that righteousness is the life proper only to man and that it is the life specifically of the image of God. Man made in the image of God, perhaps, could be taken to mean, man made in the righteousness of God.

What worldly man calls “life” is biological life. It is not spiritual life, it is not righteousness; and so, it is not truly life because it comes from the dust and returns to the dust in the so-called “circle of life”, which is really the “circle of death”. Man, if he does not live in the Spirit is not righteous. If he is not righteous, at best, he is living biological life; but, if he is living only biological life, he is not really alive because the life of man is not biological life but spiritual life or righteousness or the divine life of God.

Sin is death. In Greek, the word means, “missing the mark.” Again, we don’t say that animals sin. Only man sins, and he sins when he “misses the mark”. The mark is righteousness; and so, to miss the mark is to veer away from the spiritual life of righteousness. But, righteousness itself moves toward a goal. That goal is given in the Savior’s prayer this morning: “That they may be one as we are one, and that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (Jn 17:13). To live in God and for God to dwell in us as in His holy temple: this is the goal or the fruit of righteousness, this is what the spiritual life that is proper to the image of God in which God made man to live moves to. To sin, then, is to turn away from this goal of communion with God, or deification. And, since Christ, the Son of God, is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, not to be in communion with Jesus Christ is not to “live” in the light of life or righteousness, but in the darkness of death.

Faith, fundamentally, is to be turned toward what one loves. It is a faculty of the spirit or of the heart.

The holy fathers analyze the human soul into different parts. Generally speaking, they are the feelings or emotions, the rational, and the spirit. The spirit is called by other names. In Holy Scripture, it is the heart that “is the man, deep beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX). In the spiritual writings of the Church, it is the mind or intellect. In the dogmatic writings of the Church, it is the divine image or the hypostasis – “that which stands underneath” all the parts of our soul and body. You can see how “that which stands underneath” is the same as “deep beyond all things”.

As a faculty of our inmost self, our spirit or deep heart, biblical faith is the face of the heart turned toward the Face of God. It is, if you will, the posture of love, for the face of our heart will be turned toward our deepest love. It is the opposite of idolatry: the face of the heart turned away from the Face of God, and so to some other love whom she adores as her god, her “lord”, her husband, her “ba’al.”

Faith is expressed in obedience to the commandments of the LORD Jesus Christ, so St Maximus the Confessor teaches us. This is to say, and St Maximus says this explicitly, that faith is not blind. It most definitely is not a blind leap into the “unknown”, because faith is true knowledge. In faith, the heart knows her beloved; she knows who her face is turned to. If, then, the face of our heart is turned away from God, we cannot know God. We cannot see Him because the eyes of our heart are not looking at Him. We cannot hear Him, because our ears are listening to words coming from some other source. And so, we will not do what He tells us to do. We will not obey the Word of the LORD. We will not walk in His Way. In the direction our face is turned, that’s the direction we will walk in. If the face of our heart is not turned toward the Face of God, we will not walk in the Way of God. We will not walk in the Way of Righteousness. We will not walk in the Way of the Resurrection and the Life. We will not walk in the Way of Christ, “who is our righteousness.” If we are not walking in the Righteousness, the immortal life of Christ, we are walking in the biological life of the world, which ends in death and walks even while “living” in the vapors of death: nervousness, anxiety, anger, bitterness, fear, depression, despair and all the rest of the infirmities that afflict our soul and make us “sick unto death”.

 I said that faith is a faculty of the spirit. If our spirit is not developed – and it is developed only as we practice obedience to the words or commandments of Christ – faith is not developed. Since the face of the worldly man’s heart is turned away from God in idolatry, the spirit of the worldly soul is undeveloped, and the worldly man lives in his mind or in the feelings and emotions of his soul. He therefore sees faith as a faculty of the mind, i.e., intellectual assent to a religious assertion that cannot be logically or empirically demonstrated; or of the soul, i.e., an emotional feeling that has no rational basis and overwhelms reason by the force of emotional passion.

A faculty of the spirit, faith is of the heart, the inner man. By faith, we are justified, we are made righteous because in faith, we turn the face of our heart, our inner man, toward God. This is the movement of repentance: turning our mind around, turning the eyes of the face of our heart around to face the Face of God so that we begin to walk, to live in the Sun, the Light of Righteousness, Christ our God; i.e., we live now governed from within no more by the word that comes from our own heart or from our own understanding or from the wisdom of the world. We live governed by the Word of God. We live in obedience to the commandments of Christ.

But, if we are living with the face of our heart turned toward the Face of God, then we are living in our heart. Our mind and our emotions, then, are turned inward toward our inner man where we are looking to see the Word of God that is in our heart (Dt 30:14), the Word of God who “is in our midst”, the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us. We are waking up and rising from sleep “early in the morning”; we are following the LORD Jesus in exodus from darkness to light, from death to life, from Egypt to the Promised Land, from the kingdom of earth to the Kingdom of Heaven.

But, moreover: if we are living in our heart, we are living in the depths of our soul that are “beyond all things.” We are living “outside the camp” and in the “reproach” of Jesus, for Christ our Righteousness, Jesus our Resurrection and our Life, was rejected by the world. So will be those who “go out to meet Him outside the gate”, i.e., who go to meet Him in the “tomb of their heart” where He became one with us in His death and burial. Here in our heart where we are “outside the camp”, He removes our stony heart as He rolled the stone of His tomb (our heart) away, and He replaces it with a warm heart of flesh, a truly human heart, a heart that has been healed from her sickness and made alive with the deified humanity of Christ, a humanity that has been made warm and vibrant, righteous, in the love of God.

Faith begins when we resolve in our mind and soul to deny ourselves, to turn away from the wisdom of the world in order to follow Christ. Through obedience to the Word of God we are led into our inner man, our spirit, the tomb of our heart. With our face turned towards the Face of God in the tomb of our heart, He breathes into us His Holy Spirit and through Faith – in this divine kiss of face to face – we are raised from death to righteousness, to life in God that is eternal, ascending from glory to glory in the love of God that abides forever. Amen.