|04 - Perfecting Holiness in the Fear of God, Oct 5, 2014|
II Corinthians 6:16 – 7:1
The LORD says: “Become merciful even as your Father is merciful.” Isn’t it clear from how the LORD gives the command that becoming a child of God isn’t something that just happens. We must do something. We must make choices and act on those choices. God will not make those choices for us. If I do not make those choices, I will not become a child of God.
We see the same thing in this morning’s epistle where St Paul quotes from the OT. The LORD will be Israel’s God, even their Father. He will dwell among them and even walk among them if Israel will do something. They must come out from the midst of the idols and from those who worship them. They must touch nothing unclean. These are things Israel must do. God will not do it for them.
The LORD is talking to the Jews, sons and daughters of Abraham. They are the chosen people; yet, if they want to become children of God, they must do something. Simply to be children of Abraham isn’t enough. They must become merciful as God is merciful. That means they must choose and act in certain ways.
St Paul is speaking to Christians who have been baptized into Christ and who have received Christ as their food and drink in Holy Eucharist to become the temple in whom God dwells. Yet, even we who have been baptized and who have received the body and blood of Christ in Holy Eucharist must each one do something. We must choose to come out from the midst of the world and touch nothing unclean. We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit. This means that we must do something that is both of the body and of the mind. It isn’t enough, for example, to be sexually pure with the body. We must also be sexually pure with our minds so that we don’t think lustful thoughts. This is something we must do if we want to become children of God. God will not do it for us.
This work of faith that we do is the perfecting of our sanctification, of our becoming holy as God is holy so that God will receive us and make us partakers of His own divine nature.
But, how on earth can we do such work as perfecting our holiness when we are so unholy in our deeds, our words, our thoughts? Do we not discover, as soon as we make the slightest effort to come out from the world that we are enslaved to the world by our own desire for the world? Or, when we make the slightest effort not to touch anything unclean , do we not discover how much we are drawn to what is unclean by our own desire? This is the “law of sin” that is active in us. It sprang up in our nature when Adam and Eve turned away from the Tree of Life to receive the fruit of the serpent’s tree and the venom of the serpent spread through our nature to poison all of us who are born in that nature, corrupting and weakening our will at its heart so that, in the words of St Paul, we find that the good we would do we do not do; and the evil that we would not do, that’s what we do! (Rm 7:19)
Clearly, our work must begin at the point of our will where we make our choices. Clearly, it is the work of denying ourselves, as the LORD commands. But, what an impossible task! Who can be saved, cried the disciples; and, St Paul, seeing this law of sin active in himself, cried out: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24)
In this morning’s epistle, St Paul says: “Having these promises;” viz., that God will dwell in us and walk among us; that He will make us to be light, not darkness (that means that He will raise us up to the joy and love of His Holy Resurrection); that He will be a Father to us and we will become His sons and daughters – having these promises, says St Paul, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God!”
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, says the Proverb. This is where the work of perfecting our holiness so that we may become like God must begin. For, the more we fear Him, the less confident we are in ourselves and the less proud we are. We begin to wake up, to come to our senses, and we begin to realize that we are not worthy of heaven, we are not worthy that God should show mercy to us for we have been like those whose souls are filled with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud. This realization brings us down even into the depths of hell where the fear of God works to cleanse us from all vanity and pride. Archimandrite Zacharias makes a marvelous observation: when we abase ourselves like this \in the fear of God, we are freed of the devil’s influence because, being proud, the devil will not go down with us in our voluntary abasement.
Begun in the fear of God, our work continues in the fear of God. Now, our prayer, “LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner!” “LORD, I cry out to Thee, hear me!” becomes sincere, urgent, penetrating into the heart washing away affectation, self-satisfaction and sentimentality. The seductions of the world lose their allurement because we see the darkness that fills them. We begin to long for stillness. We want to retreat, undistracted, into our closet to hold ourselves before the gates of Paradise, lamenting the foolishness of our arrogance and hardness of heart, calling to the LORD from the depths of our soul to have mercy on us.
In the fear of God we begin to love this inner stillness because it is so cleansing, so sobering, so healing. Building a solid edifice of stillness in our soul becomes, if you will, the second stage of this work of repentance, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. The Scriptures begin to open to us hidden layers of meaning we did not see before because now we read the Bible in the broken humility of a contrite heart as the Manual of the Spirit.
But note again – this work we must do. God will not do it for us. Indeed, our holy fathers would tell us that God cannot do it for us precisely because He has made us in His image. He has made us in love and in freedom, so that if we are to become like Him, we can do so only if we want to, and only if we choose to act on our desire to come out from the midst of the world’s seductive allurements and, in the fear of God, to touch nothing unclean.
In this inner stillness, we proceed to cultivate inner attention, watching all our thoughts, the movements of our will, and observing how things come at us from without and from within to draw us away very subtly, imperceptibly, from the narrow path that leads through hell and into the heavens that Christ has opened. We become more and more aware of how much we desire the world’s allurements, how much we follow the old man in us in his blind love for what is unclean. This stage of the work of perfecting holiness in the fear of God is exceedingly hard because we are fighting against ourselves; and, we see how easily and quickly we forget God, let alone the fear of God, when the beautiful appearances of the world’s seductions that we love are set before us: our love for gossip, for indolence, for vainglory, for revenge and so many other exceedingly subtle soul-destroying desires working in us that we never saw before.
So, we must want to do this work. It cannot be done for us. But, if we want to do this work, and if we choose to take it on in the fear of God, we have turned voluntarily toward the Tree of Life, the Cross of the Savior, and we have immediately given God permission to come help us.
For, when we take up this work of our own free will, we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. When we do that, we enter into Christ Himself; and He receives us, as He promised, not just into His Holy Resurrection but into Himself to make us His children, even partakers of His own divine nature. As we carry about the dying of the LORD in our flesh and spirit, we are renewed in the inner man; we are freed from the law of sin and delivered from the body of this death in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.