Monday, May 29, 2017
Christian Spirituality XXXII: Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
Fr. Evan Armatas, pastor at St. Spyridon Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado, emphasizes that one of the main themes of the gospel of Matthew is “listen and do.” This could be no clearer than in the final verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:21-29.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father,” Matthew 7:21. Jesus is saying that there is a “doing” that needs to be done. In verse 24, Jesus continues, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…”
Again, it isn’t just is hearing, there is a doing that is implied. Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, 25:31-46, the final judgment scene gives us the same impression. Doing is important. And yet, if we pay close attention to the words of Jesus in the final judgment, the doing is of a manner in which the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. The sheep did not know that they were helping Jesus or comforting Jesus. They were just putting their faith in action. They were working in the Kingdom. They were encountering Christ and they did not know it, they were not aware. They were in the Kingdom, but they did not know it.
Am I saying that we are saved by works? No, but our works do matter. It is good to read James 2:14-26. You know, the only time Scripture uses the phrase “faith alone” is to tell us we are not saved by faith alone, James 2:17 and 2:24. Just as we are not saved by works alone, we are not saved by faith alone. I suppose this to be a construct of the Western mind which just needs to know. We search the Scriptures because we want a formula, we want to know if we are going to Heaven or not. We want to boil it down into something easy to digest. This is dangerous at best and heretical at worst. The other thing that comes to mind about the quest to know about you own personal salvation is just a question of the ego and is rooted in pride. When we focus on this question, and ultimately determine, “I am saved,” we are walking on thin ice. Let us pay attention to Jesus and stay close to Him. Let us do what He tells us to do.
As Jesus closes out His sermon, He is telling us to do God’s will and not just go for the flashy religious things. Prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles are not signs that we have made it with the Lord. We can do those things in Jesus’ name and still He might tell us, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evil doers.”
Wouldn’t those things I mentioned above be considered God’s will? I mean, who’s doing these miracles anyway?
I think Jesus is telling us we need to be humble. Are we doing our religious acts to put on a show? Are we bringing attention to ourselves? Are we in it for the money or the glory or even just a pat on the back? Jesus wants us to do His will, the will of the Father. What is that? He just told us in this sermon.
Doing God’s will isn’t flashy. It involves things like loving the enemy, doing good to those who are bad to you, forgiving others, and acting out your faith by praying, fasting, and giving alms in a quiet manner so as not to cause others to notice you. We must be salt and light, doing good works in the world that others would give glory to God.
And if you are worried about your salvation, the remedy is not to trust in yourself and find Scripture quotes to prove that you are saved. No, the remedy is simply to trust in God. Stay close to Him and do what He tells us to do, which is to love. Love one another. Be selfless. Be humble. Sacrifice for one another by laying down our life. Simple. Not flashy. It is getting up at 2:00 a.m. tending to your sick child. It is not returning a demeaning comment from someone at work. It is not complaining about a task you are doing for someone. It is helping others in secret. In short, it is many things, even small things, done with love for the other and love for God. This is what we must do. This is what the sermon is about.
I was reading in the Philokalia the other day in the section by St. Mark the Ascetic. On page 130, number 64 I read this little gem that I think applies to what I just said above, but also is very appropriate for the times we live in. He says, “He who seeks the energies of the Spirit, before he has actively observed the commandments, is like someone who sells himself into slavery and who, as soon as he is bought, asks to be given his freedom while keeping his purchase money.”
As I speak with people, it seems that somehow obedience to the commandments has become something dirty and bad. “Oh, that’s legalism,” they say. “NO!” I respond, “This is being faithful to the Lord!”
Certainly, we can become legalistic, to be sure. But we have to start somewhere. We will certainly make mistakes, but the solution is not to throw out the whole law and somehow think the Holy Spirit will guide us in the truth. We have already been given the truth! And Jesus says, “Do what I have told you to do!”
And so, the challenge remains. I must do. I must do my best, knowing ahead of time, that I will fail. But it is in my doing that I learn and that I become more humble which will help me to become more and more like Jesus. This is how I enter the Kingdom: Jesus will lead me there in my humility. He will lead. I must follow. I must do what He tells me to do.
Dennis the Little