Me preaching this homily at St. Luke’s Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL

[Preached at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL]
Romans 10:1-10; Matthew 8:28-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This morning, in our reading from St. Paul’s Epistle the Christian community in Rome, the Apostle very simply speaks to us about those things which are required for our salvation. These words of St. Paul are often mis-interpreted, and we see all varieties of mis-interpretation in Christian groups surrounding us today. In the Orthodox Church we don’t simply look to the words of the Scriptures and then understand them in whatever way we choose – our understanding of St. Paul’s words is influenced by the way they’ve been understood by Christians for the last 2000 years. We don’t stand as individual islands of interpretation, because that quickly leads to schism (as seen by the thousands of various groups claiming Christianity) and absurdity. We also understand the words of the Scriptures (and the writings of the Father’s) within the larger context of the witness of the Church – in other words, we can’t simply take this morning’s reading and allow it to stand on its own – it stands within the context of all of St. Paul’s writings, and all of the writings of the Scriptures and the Fathers.
So, I thought this morning that we could quickly step through our Epistle reading, and remind ourselves of what St. Paul says is necessary for our salvation in this particular reading, and see these words in the larger context as well. The larger part of the Epistle reading has St. Paul reminding the people about their (and our) relationship to the law. This conversation leaves people baffled – Paul insists repeatedly in his Epistles that we are set free from the curse of the law in Christ, yet he also reminds us that we are called to follow in the commandments of Christ. When St. Paul speaks of “the law,” he is, of course, speaking of the Old Testament law. These laws covered all sorts of things that the people could and couldn’t do. And so eventually, the people’s focus settled not on trying to please God, but on simply attempting to follow the outward constructs of the law. As St. Paul says in the Epistle, they were trying to obtain righteousness on their own.
This is the fall of Adam all over again – trying to be like God, trying to be good and righteous and holy, but doing it on our terms and by our own strength. This is why St. Paul refers to the law as a curse – the law set forth the things that needed to be accomplished in the sight of God, and no one could do it. The law condemned the people because they were unable to keep the law. God knew that the people would fail, and so before the time of our Lord, sacrifices were offered  by the priests to cover the sins of the people. The people were not actually made righteous by the sacrifices, but their sins were covered over in the sight of God.

St. Paul reminds us this morning that our relationship with God as Christians is not this Old Covenant curse. We are not struggle to keep the laws of the Old Testament. We are not responsible in our works to attain to the righteousness of Christ. No longer are external works and sacrifices necessary for our righteousness, rather now we are made whole by our relationship with Christ. St. Paul writes, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” God is no longer exterior to man – He has become man in the person of Jesus Christ, and our humanity is united to the Godhead in Christ for all of eternity. Now God no longer dwells in a temple made of human hands, rather now He dwells in the temple of our hearts.

And so at the end of our Epistle, St. Paul writes, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (vv 9-10) These verses have become a great source of confusion for many, leading them to assume that the way we live is irrelevant to our salvation, and that we simply need to confess one time that we believe and we will be saved. But this is not at all what St. Paul says, and certainly not when we take this verse in the context of all of the writings of St. Paul. St. Paul joins confessing Christ with our mouth to believing Him in our heart. We are being called to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ – and this confession is to be a continual confession of our reliance on nothing in this life other than the mercy and grace of God. And if our confession is Christ, and if this confession is true – is from the belief in our heart, then our lives will reflect Christ.

If we confess Him, and we mean it, then that confession will be evident in our lives. Remembering that our Lord said “if you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). There’s no dichotomy in the Orthodox Church between faith and works – if our faith is real, then the works of God come as a part of that – that is why the various New Testament Epistles can say both “without faith you will not be saved” and that “without works you will not be saved.” Faith and works come as a package deal.

And so how will our lives look if we are properly confessing Christ with our mouth and properly believing Him with our hearts? There’s a very nice line in this morning’s Gospel to express it (nice line, but also very difficult): “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29) Following the commandments of Christ means that we torment sin in our flesh, we becomes slaves of Christ and of the Gospel (as St. Paul teaches in other places). Living in Christ, truly confessing Him and truly believing Him, means that we leave no place for sin in our lives – all we have to rely on in every time and in every place is our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

May we all confess Him with our mouths and believe Him with our hearts, and may our lives daily reflect the image of Christ within us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson