Posts tagged ‘sin’

Slaves of sin, or slaves of Christ and righteousness

What we are each called to be.
[Preached at St. John of the Ladder Orthodox Church in Greenville, SC]
Romans 8:16-23; Matthew 8: 5-13

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!

I particularly love to preach on the writings of St. Paul, and we really have a very good one to look at this morning. St. Paul writes and preaches in a very direct and straightforward way. He says things as they are, and leaves us always with a challenge to conform our lives to the Gospel, to conform our lives to Christ.

And so he begins this particular reading (from his letter to the Church in Rome) by saying: “having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” This type of language from St. Paul is characteristic – we are either slaves to sin, or we are slaves to Christ and to righteousness. And so, having entered Christ’s Body, the Church, he reminds us that we are to be no longer slaves of sin. 

This concept – slaves of sin – is worth a little more thought for us, particularly considering the frame of mind prevalent in the world today, and at all times to some extent. In the society around us, in the frame of mind that the vast majority of us grew up surrounded by and even sharing in, the ultimate definition of freedom is for us to be able to do whatever we want. This concept is pushed further and further in society, and every now and then we might see something bad come of it, but the general idea is that we should be able to do whatever we want to do – this is freedom. 

The language of St. Paul, however, presents for us a different perspective. He would not say that are exercising freedom in our sinful activities, but rather we are acting like slaves. In the same way that a slave is forced to do things that he doesn’t want to do and has no choice over, sin has this same effect on our lives. It’s not spelled out in this morning’s Epistle, but the basic vision we get of sin in the life of a human being is consistent in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Fathers. Man chooses to sin – sin separates man from God – the more we sin, the further we are from God – the further we are from God, the more distorted our vision of reality becomes – this puts us in an ever repeating cycle where we fail to see reality (will of God) and we’re pulled right and left by our sinful passions. We are very passionate in our fallenness, and its very easy for our passions to entirely take control of our lives. When our passions are ruling our lives, then this imaginary language of choosing in freedom falls by the wayside; we’re not choosing, we’re being ruled, we are slaves.

St. Paul picks up on the reality of our lives, and tells that we have a choice – to be slaves to sin (passions and death), or to be slaves of righteousness. This is why we find St. Paul constantly reminding the Christians and exhorting them to remember that they are no longer slaves to sin – to no longer give ourselves to sin. We turn our back on anything that might separate us from our Christ, and we walk to Him unhindered by our sin. We continue to see this same plea to give no place in to sin even from Holy Men today. Elder Joseph the Hesychast writes: “In whatever battle a person has been defeated once – even if 100 years have passed – as soon as he encounters that same temptation that had defeated him, he is overpowered once again. Therefore, I am saying to you…that in every battle with the enemy, you must emerge victorious. Either die in the struggle, or win with God. There is no other road.” We flee from sin, lest we again become its slaves after having left become the bondservants of Christ.

And now again we have to look at St. Paul’s choice of words – we find the phrase “slaves to righteousness” or “slaves of God” (which are the same thing) 3 times in this very short 6 verse Epistle reading. Calling ourselves slaves of anything or anyone is a bit uncomfortable, perhaps. And some of us might find it odd to call ourselves slaves of Christ. But let’s think about this reality with the mind of the Scriptures and of the Church. Christ loves us more than we love ourselves; He died for us men and for our salvation (Creed); “He desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his ways and live.” Our Christ desires our salvation. Everything He has for us is to cleanse us from our sins and to place us at His right hand. Everything from Christ is for our salvation. There’s no better exchange than for us to give up our own sinful will and “take the cross as a yolk” (Panikhida). It is only in giving ourselves wholly to Christ that we can truly become what we are created to be. Enslavement to Christ is serving one Who loves you more than you can comprehend, and is always working for your salvation.

This is why St. Paul, and all of the Saints following after him, encourage us so strongly to continually lay aside sin, and every increasingly give ourselves to Christ. And His grace is there to meet us in our weakness, and enables us to do things that we would never have thought possible when thinking with just our human minds. I’ll end with us hearing again the last few phrases from the Epistle: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

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Daily Sacrifice for Christ

With increasing regularity, I am seeing phrases such as: ‘we must be willing to lay down our lives for Christ.’  Virtually always, this phrase is then attached to the Christian holding on to his Faith, clinging to his Christ, even in the midst of terrible persecution, even to the point of death.  Obviously, we see exactly this in the Holy Scriptures.  Christ promises that the world will hate us even as it hated Him.  We then see this lived out in the lives of the Apostles, who are stoned and beaten and tortured, and all but one eventually martyred.  Holding on to our Faith in Christ in the midst of persecution has been a basic reality for Christians in at least some part of the world since the time of Christ.
But I have a concern with the frequent use of this phrase as I am seeing it right now.  My concern can be explained to be something like: do we think of laying down our life for Christ only in terms of literal physical death, while not applying it to our lives daily, as the Scriptures and the Saints teach us?
It is very easy for us, both psychologically and spiritually, to look to a particular “event,” and in doing so to escape the struggle that is going on in our lives right now.  In other words, to speak about the resolve and the faith that we have and how that will support us in martyrdom, but then to fail to offer ourselves daily as a sacrifice to Christ.  The daily dying, the daily laying down our lives, setting aside our sins – this is the constant martyrdom that we as Christians should be undertaking every single day of our lives.  When the Fathers teach us about the Holy Martyrs, they tell us that the Martyrs were able to undergo the tortures and being put to death precisely because they lived in Christ!  They had already been martyred in Christ – it was no longer they who lived, but Christ lived in them (Gal. 2:20). 
So this then, is our daily sacrifice.  Regardless of exterior persecutions, we are to persecute sin in our flesh.  We are to constantly see the sin within us, repent, and return our lives to Christ.  This is hard; this is a struggle; this is often unpleasant.  But it must be done.  We are to put off the old man, the man of sin and death, and be clothed in the new man, righteous in Christ (Eph 4:22-24).  St. Paul even uses the image of martyrdom when describing this activity: “put to death your members which are on the earth” – put to death sin within you (Col. 3:2).  Remembering at all time that we cannot do this alone, rather “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
An ending quotation from St. John of Kronstadt – “The loving Lord is here: how can I let even a shadow of evil enter into my heart? Let all evil completely die within me; let my heart be anointed with the sweet fragrance of goodness as with a balsam. Let God’s love conquer thee, thou evil Satan, instigating us to evil. Evil is most hurtful both to the mind and to the body. It burns, it crushes, and it tortures. No one bound by evil shall dare to approach the throne of the God of love.”olHH
May we join our efforts to the mercy and grace of our loving Lord, and escape the snares of evil around, and within, us!

Author Matthew Jackson