03 - Made Righteous By Faith, Sept 18, 2016 (with audio)

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Galatians 2:16-20 (Sunday After)

I Corinthians 16:13-24

Mark 8:34-9:1 (Sunday After)

Matthew 21:33-42

“Seeing that a man is not made righteous by the works of the law but by faith,” says St Paul. The righteousness of God is Christ Himself (I Cor 1:30). “He is our Life”, says St Paul (Col 3:4). And, the LORD says: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25). To be made righteous, then, is to be made perfectly one with God (Jn 17:23), even to bemade a god, a child of the Most High (Ps 81:6) so that it is no longer I who live but Christ God who lives in me.

We are made righteous, says St Paul, through faith. But, what is faith? The root meaning of faith is “a turning”. The Psalmist defines faith perfectly: “O LORD, toward Thee have I raised up my soul; my eyes are always toward the LORD” (Ps 24:1-15 LXX). Biblically, faith is the heart turned toward the Righteousness of God, i.e., toward Christ. It is to love God with one’s whole heart.

St Paul says we are not made righteous by the works of the Law. That’s because, as he says, “Through the Law, I died in the Law;” and he goes on to say, “in order that I might live in God.” The work of the Law, i.e., its purpose, is not to make us live; it is to expose the idolatry of our covetousness or self-love (Rom 7:7), which it does when we keep it and whenwe do not keep it, and to give us the means to put our self-love to death in order that we may live in the love of God.

For, what is the Law distilled to its essence but the commandment of God, “Thou shalt not …”? Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me. Thou shalt not worship any graven image. Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not covet, Thou shalt not bear false witness; i.e., Thou shalt not live according to the desires of the flesh but according to the will of God. But, what is this “Thou shalt not” of the Law but the LORD’s commandment to Adam: “From the tree of good and evil you may not eat”? But, what is this commandment if it is not the very commandment Our LORD gives this morning? “Whoever would be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross. Let him lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s in order that he might find it.”

Can you see from all of this that the work of the Law, its purpose, precisely was not to be our life but the death of self-love in order that those of Israel who loved God might live in God?

If giving Israel the means for putting to death what is earthly in us was the workof the Law, the engine that drove this work was faith; i.e., a heart wholly in love with God, whose eyes are always toward the LORD, so that in the love of God, the Israelite denied himself in order to follow the WORD of the LORD into the Promised Land of Israel’s inheritance. But, the LORD says to Israel: “I am your inheritance!” (Num 18:20) The inheritance the Israelite lives for is Christ!

For St Paul, this faith was the life-blood of the Law. He quotes Moses: “The WORD is near you, it is in your mouth, it is in your heart” (Dt 30:14). What WORD? The WORD (Hebrew: dabar) that is the substantive, living, creative Truth of God behind all things as the root, the beginning (arche) in which all creation comes to be. ThisWORD of the Law of Moses, says St Paul, this is the WORD of faith that we preach (Rom 10:8).

“Through the Law,” says St Paul this morning, “I died in the Law in order that I might live in God.” There is a profound teaching in these words of St Paul. I don’t think it’s possible to see into those depths at all if one’s ears are not turned to listen attentively to the WORD of the Church’s theological doctrine. I.e., one’s theological understanding at the outset either blinds or illumines one to St Paul’s teaching. This is to say that the confession of faith in which one approaches Holy Scripture is a big deal.

So, “Let us attend!” Christ is Himself the WORD of faith that St Paul proclaimed. And He became flesh and dwelt among us in order that He might become the completion (telos) of the Law, as St Paul says (Rom 10:4), so that the WORD of the Law would be written no more on tablets of stone but in our heart, as the prophets say. And, the WORD of God completed the Law in the flesh when He died on the cross, as He Himself bore witness when He cried out: “Tetelestai!” It is finished, completed, from the same word as telos!

What St Paul says in the reference above is: “For, to all those who believe, Christ is the completion (telos) of the Law [that leads] into righteousness.” When he says that Christ is the telos of the Law, St Paul turns our eyes to Christ crying out on the Cross: “Tetelestai!” I hear him saying that Christ completed the Law in His death on the Cross; for to kill the “body of sin” was the Law’s purpose. More deeply than that, when he says, “[leads those who believe] into righteousness,” I hear him saying that, by His death, Christ united us in our heart, our root, to the WORD of the LORD, which is Christ, the Righteousness of God, Who is the Source, the arche in which we are rooted, and He inscribed the WORD of the Law, which is Himself, on our heart. He led us back to: “From the Fruit of the Tree of Life you may eat,” for Christ is the Fruit of the Tree of Life.

What, then, could this righteousness be that Christ leads us into by His death but the life of His Holy Resurrection in the Garden of Eden? That means that His death on the Cross has opened Eden to all and His tomb is the entrance; and that means we return to Eden when we unite ourselves to Christ and put to death what is earthly in us by taking up our cross and following Him into the tomb of our heart in the love of faith!

Can you see how Christ crucified on the Cross is the very shape of the Law in its completed form? For, the death of Christ on the Cross is the consummate expression of human obedience in love to God, and obedience in love to God is the heart of the Law. That would mean that when the righteous of the OT died, the Law in which they died brought them as on a mystical Exodus to the foot of Christ’s Cross and united them to Christ in His death so that in the death of Christ, they died to the Law. The Law had done its work. It had given them the means to deny themselves and to lose their life of self-love for the sake of or in the love of the WORD of the Law, which was Christ. For them, He was yet to come; but, by their faith, they could see Him from afar off (Heb 11:13). When Christ appeared, not just our righteousness but theirs also appeared. And when He died on the Cross, not just our death died. Their death died, too – as it says in St Matthew: at the moment Christ died, “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised and appeared to many!” (Mt 27:52). By their faith in Christ who was yet to come, in His appearing they are now perfected (teleiothosin – same word!) with us (Heb 11:40), and with us, they live in God.

So, when Christ, the WORD of the Law incarnate, was rejected by the builders and killed outside the city and buried in the tomb, the Righteousness of God became perfectly one with us, inscribed forever in our heart. Christ is the Cornerstone. And, it is marvelous in our eyes because He is laid in the tomb of our heart where we are dead; and there, where we are broken and weak in the shadow and darkness of death because of our sins and trespasses, there He unites us to the Father in Himself and makes us righteous, a living and new creation, born in His Holy Spirit from above as gods, children of the Most High.

In the hope and love of this marvelous faith soaking wet with the living waters of divine joy inexpressible, we take up the cross – the disciplines, the works of faith: prayer and fasting and obedience to Christ’s commandments. If these are the flower that blossoms from the tree of the Cross, as we read in the Lenten Triodion (p. 230), it means that these disciplines of abstinence are filled with the living joy of the Resurrection because they are rooted in the life-creating death of Jesus Christ Our LORD and Most Blessed Savior. So, when we do them from the heart, we receive the power to lose our life and to follow Christ to the Cross, to crucify what is earthly in us, and to follow Him out into the Garden of Eden, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen!