In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
St. Paul is very much an apologist not only for the person of Christ, and what the Father has offered to the human race, in the person of His Incarnate Son, but he is also a staunch preacher of what we might call “the ascetic life of the Christian.”
In other words, what does man have to do in order to accept the healing, the re-generation, and restoration of our nature, offered in the death and resurrection of the Messiah? Or to put it in other terms — what do we have to do to be spiritually healthy?
Our Epistle reading this morning very much follows the usual pattern of St. Paul—he gives a word on the person of Christ, and then a teaching on how man is to receive the Person of Jesus Christ. On the person of Christ, St Paul writes that: God has “given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, He has revealed Himself to mankind in the face [and the person] of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ, God become man, He is how we most perfectly see God. So therefore His followers are to “always bear about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” We must be willing to bear everything of Christ. Not only the grace and the glory and miracles that God gives. But also the humiliation, the disgrace, and the pain of rejection on the Cross.
To fully participate in the bounties of Christ, we must fully participate in His life, which includes, death on the Cross. St. Paul continues and further explains: “For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” For the life of Christ to be made manifest in our bodies, for Christ to abide in us, we must be constantly dying. And this is the center of St. Paul’s word this morning on how we are to live the Christian life. In fact, this image of the Christian life, as a constant dying, recurs multiple times in the letters of St. Paul. Life as a constant death, so that the life of Christ might be manifest in our bodies.
This teaching, to bear in our bodies the dying of Christ, to be delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake—what does this mean?
If this is the center of our spiritual health, how do we live this? It sounds fairly morbid to our tender ears. The Fathers of the Church teach us that this dying is our voluntary going down with Christ. This is the basic Gospel principle—if you would be My disciples, deny yourself, take up your Cross daily/hourly, and follow Me. We bear in our bodies the death of Christ when all that we are, is sacrificed on the altar of the will of God. When our own wills don’t matter anymore.
Our will, our desires, our passions, these things must die—in order for Christ to live in us. We voluntarily deliver ourselves to death. We voluntarily take up our Cross, as Christ did, and follow Him. And when we deliver ourselves to this type of death—this death of “I,” Elder Paisios calls it, the shrinking of the egotistical “Me”—then the life of Christ can be made manifest in our flesh. God will live in us.
We will share in the eternal life of Jesus the Christ, when we submit ourselves, our wills, entirely to Him. When we die to our own way, then it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. I have died, so Christ can live. Think of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. What a wonderful example—she simply said to God, ‘be it to me according to Thy word.’ Whatever you want, God, that’s what I want. She gave up her control of her own life, she took on the Cross of being the Mother of the Saviour, and look at what a wonderful work God did in and through her offering.
Practically though, how is this done? How do I die to myself? Three of the basic ways, did I say back to Basics, that the Orthodox Church identifies, to help us begin this process of daily dying, to the will of God are:
1) Pray—beseech God to reveal His will for you in every moment of every day. Pray and be watchful—watch for the hand of God in your life. Watch for the attacks of the enemy, and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart, with silence.
2) Repent— Live a life of repentance. True repentance, longing for the face of God. The separation we place between ourselves and God by our sin, is horrible, Repentance and struggle to follow in every way, the commandments of the Saviour.
3) Obedience—I learn to die to my will and to seek God’s will by being obedient. By learning to crush my will day by day. At work, in school, with parents, with children. Within the Church!
The Church— has fasting, and services, and spiritual rules, and disciplines, and we have a Spiritual Father, Fr Gabriel, our Rector. We submit ourselves in obedience, on a human level, to learn to submit ourselves to God. And a part of obedience is never judging—being obedient in every situation, don’t complain about the weather, be obedient to the gift of life God has given today, strive to do the things people ask you to do, and do them for the love of God, and this obedience helps us become sensitive, to the will and way of Christ.
We’ll end here with a quote, this whole process, the definition of what it means to live this Christian life, is very beautifully put by Fr. Zacharias [Zacharou] in his book about the theology of Elder Sophrony. “The Christian voluntarily undergoes self-emptying—death through repentance and obedience to God’s commandments.”
As the Christian struggles to identify his will with God’s will, and to become pleasing to God, he attains such respect for God that, out of honor and gratitude, he confronts even death.
St. Paul expressed in a marvelous way this state of spirit, which is learned in the humble and self-less love for Christ: ‘Nor do I count my own life as of any value’ he defies that which is supposed to be so frightening to human beings, he doesn’t care about death (Acts 20:24); “I am ready even to die for the name of Christ’ (Acts 21:13). ‘For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh’ (2 Cor. 4:11).
We follow the footsteps of Christ, to Golgotha, experiencing in our lives a taste of what He suffered, to do the will of the Father. All the saints have followed this same pattern. This is the perfect love which results from man’s perfect self-emptying. To be willing even to die, so that Christ can live in me. It shows man in his capacity to accommodate ‘the good and pleasing and perfect will of God’ (Rom. 12:2).
Such love, to be willing to die to ourselves, for Christ, puts to death any feeling of self-love in man, so that God may live in him, and be increasingly glorified in him; Bearing within himself the Holy Spirit, he too can cry out with holy boldness: ‘Now, my Christ, in Thee and through Thee, I too, am.” (Christ, Our Way and Our Life, Archimandrite Zacharias, STS 2003, p. 50)
May we also be able to cry out, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
May we be granted the grace to endure this struggle, to die to our own will, so that Christ’s will can be done in and through us.
This is the call of every Christian. In our every moment, to be filled with the life and the presence of God. Our path is of daily dying to our will, in order to live the will of God.
Our supports as we begin this path are — prayer, repentance, and obedience, along with perseverance.
May God grant us progress on the path, to submission to Him.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!