51 CAN ANYONE BE SAVED? Aug 30, 2020

These sermons are recorded on the live-stream recording of the Divine Liturgy, which is uploaded to our public Facebook Page.

1 Corinthians 15.1-11

Matthew 19.16-26

We can applaud the rich young man for the way he frames his question to the Savior. It gets to the heart of the matter. He does not say, ‘What must I believe that I might have eternal life?’ He says, ‘What must I do?’

We are not called to ‘believe’ in Christ as the world understands belief or faith. That’s how the demons believe, says St James (2.19), and it does them no good because in their believing, they don’t do: thy don’t repent or deny themselves to follow Jesus. To turn in repentance to God and to walk in His Way, which is Christ: this is what biblical faith is.

Do we not follow after what we love in our heart, regardless of what we think or believe in our head? And, as St Paul teaches, do we not become a slave to whatever we love, regardless of what we think or believe in our head? (Rm 6.16) But, are we under compulsion to give our love to this and not to that? Do we not choose what we will give our love to and to let whatever we love rule over us (Rm 6.12-23)?

The LORD answers this young man: ‘If you want to be perfect,’ then do what I tell you to do. Let’s look closely at what the LORD tells the young man to do. I think it goes much deeper than to sell all that he has. The LORD’s WORD pierces like a two-edged sword into the young man’s heart, into the secret chamber of his thoughts and intentions. For, this is where we choose what we will do, whom we will follow, what we will ‘let reign in our mortal bodies’ (Rm 6.12), what we will let shape us and mold us, either the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life (1 Jn 2.16), so that we are in the shape of the world, or the WORD of God that we might be shaped in the image and likeness of God as He created us.

Why, then, did this young man go away in sorrow when he heard what he had to do in order to have eternal life, if it wasn’t because the LORD’s WORD exposed the idols he loved and had chosen to let reign in his mortal body and required him to deny them, even to destroy them if he wanted eternal life, just as the LORD had commanded Israel as the condition for giving them the land of their inheritance?

Was anything forcing the young man to go away from the LORD to stay with his riches? Did he not freely choose to deny the LORD and keep his riches? Did he not freely choose to let his riches be the master that would reign over his mortal body, and not the LORD? Did he not choose to be the obedient slave of his riches and not of the LORD? And so, it says, he went away in sorrow. Is this to say that he would not have been sorrowful if he had chosen to do as the LORD directed him? What do you think?

On Thursday last, we read from the daily epistle lesson: ‘There is a godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation, which one does not regret; and there is a sorrow of the world that produces death’ (2 Cor 7.10). The LORD says: ‘Blessed are those who mourn.’ In the Upper Room, as He is preparing to go to His voluntary Passion, He says to His disciples: ‘Because I have said these things to you (concerning my Cross and Burial), sorrow has filled your heart…You will weep and lament over my death, the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.’  (Jn 16.6, 20). In the Garden, the LORD was in agony, such that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22.44). But, for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the agony of the Cross (Heb 12.2).

So, no: the young man would not have been free from sorrow if he had chosen to deny his riches instead of the LORD; but his sorrow would have been a godly sorrow. It would have led to repentance and to the joy of salvation. His sorrow would have been from the suffering that comes from denying his idols and losing his life enslaved to idols by taking up his cross, following Jesus so that by uniting himself to Christ in the likeness of His death, he could work out his salvation in fear and trembling, putting to death all that was earthly in him, all the riches of his idolatry that made him into a spiritual corpse who, like his idols, had eyes that do not see God, ears that do not hear God, hands and feet that cannot walk in the Way of God that ascends to heaven. His real worldly riches, however, were passions of the soul; and so are ours: they include lust, greed, anger, envy, vanity, and the spiritual pride in which we perceive ourselves to be as though we were gods (Gn 3.22). But, this is the godly sorrow that leads to repentance and the joy of receiving the eternal life of the LORD’s Resurrection.

This takes me to the LORD’s Beatitudes, which begin: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ I think all the beatitudes may be describing the poverty the LORD calls this rich young man and us to. It is a poverty of spirit that, at its heart, hungers and thirsts after righteousness, longs to become meek and merciful and pure in heart in order to be not as though one was a god, but to be truly like God. Can you see how godly sorrow engenders such poverty of spirit? To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to sorrow, to grieve over one’s enslavement to worldly riches, for they do not make us righteous. They do not give us the joy of salvation and eternal life. But, as the LORD says to this young man, ‘Follow Me and you will have riches in heaven,’ so He says to us in His Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit; rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven!’

Hearing this word of the LORD, is there any one of us who responds, ‘Oh sure! I can do that! No problem!’ It is a dangerous thing to draw near to God seeking salvation because whatever He says to us will evoke sorrow in us. If we want to be saved and have eternal life, we will have sorrow because we will have to put to death our love for our idols. And, if we want to keep our love for our idols, we will have sorrow because we will have chosen a life that’s divorced from God, empty of meaning, and ruled by the fear of death.

Who of us, when we examine ourselves honestly in the Fiery Light of the Savior’s WORD can say, ‘Sure! No problem!’ Who of us does not feel sorrow somewhere deep inside because we know in our heart that we do not have the desire or the strength to deny our love for our idols and give ourselves to this poverty of spirit that is required if we want to follow the LORD and have eternal life?

This WORD of the LORD, I think, is meant to test us. It bears us down to the thoughts and intentions of our heart, and sets us before a choice: which path do we choose? The broad and easy path that goes down to destruction? Or, the narrow Path, the ‘better and changeless Path’ that ascends to God? Which sorrow do we choose? For on both paths, we will have sorrow, either the godly sorrow that leads to salvation in the death of our idolatry and the death that comes from it, or the worldly sorrow that produces death in our idolatry. Which death do we choose? The death that goes back to the dust, or the death of Christ that takes us into His Tomb, the Fountain of our Resurrection?

What if, in this testing, even though we feel we can’t let go of our love for our idols, we choose even so not to turn away from the LORD, but instead, to fall on our knees at His feet and say to Him with the disciples: ‘LORD, this is not possible for me. I cannot do this. I don’t particularly want to do this! LORD, save me, for I am perishing!’

Holy Scripture gives us to believe that, if we chose to stay and not turn away from the LORD, we would hear what the disciples heard: ‘Of course you can’t do this.’ It is in fact impossible for you. Like the Israelites of old enslaved to the Pharaoh, you are enslaved to the devil who holds you in his power through the fear of death (Heb 2.15)’ Goodness! Even the LORD would say in the Garden, ‘If it be possible, take this cup from Me!’ If the LORD Jesus were not God in the flesh, He couldn’t do it, either. But, because He is God in the flesh, He can do it, and He alone can do it (cf. Dt 1.26-31). Therefore, unite yourself to Christ. Let the WORD of the LORD reign in you. He has united Himself to our weakness, so that with the LORD dwelling and abiding in you, raising you from the bed of your spiritual paralysis so that you can walk, you can do it.’ (Dt 30.14) For, it is the LORD who is with you who will save you and deliver you (Jer 15.20).

St Paul tells us this morning: ‘I gave to you what I received: that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried and rose again on the third day.’ This is the same formula St Paul uses for Holy Eucharist (1 Cor 11.23f.) In our baptism, we put on Christ who died for our sins, who was buried and rose again. In Holy Eucharist, we receive His Heavenly Spirit who raised Him from the dead. Christ, the WORD of God, who is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, is in our mouths and in our hearts, so that we can do it (Dt 30.14). We need only to present ourselves to God as His slave. And what does God do to His slaves? He heals them. He makes them strong in His Holy Spirit. He raises them from death to life so that they can walk in His way. This healing of our soul is the proof that He is truly the Son of God. But, He doesn’t just heal our soul. He also gives His joy and His peace to us. And this is the sign, the proof, that the LORD is raising us from death and pouring into our souls the living waters of His eternal life. Amen!