Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Secret of Christian Sanctity

Today's Gospel reading leaves us hanging with a call to perfection in Matthew 5:38-48
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
A lot of tough rules for life in that one. As a youngster, that last line always bothered me most. How in the world could I be perfect? One look in the mirror would be a strong argument for the impossible nature of carrying out that order. Not once during my school years did I receive an evaluation that said "Perfect," "Nearly Perfect," or even "Making an effort to be Perfect."

I also remember singing that classic hymn, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" with the last lines that go, "God helping, to be one too", "why I shouldn't be one too", and "I mean to be one too."

It took a while to understand how totally incapable I am to sanctify myself. It is a common stumbling block, and was commented upon by the late John Stott,
"(Archbishop) William Temple used to illustrate the point in this way. It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can't. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a live like that. Jesus could do it; I can't. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like that. And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like that. This is the secret of Christian sanctity. It is not that we should strive to live like Jesus, but that he by his Spirit should come and live in us. To have him as our example is not enough; we need him as our Savior." John Stott "Basic Christianity," 1958 (p 128 second ed. IVP Books, ISBN 978-0-8308-3403-7)
Self actualization classes will continue to sell, books and television programs aimed at living a happier life through exercise, diet, money making, or political activism will keep seducing millions, but the real secret to happiness has been given to us freely, it is not of our creation, and is not a secret at all.
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." John 14:16-17 (KJV)

1 comment:

  1. The problem is with the first person, singular pronoun "I." I cannot be perfect. Christ in and through me, provided I surrender everything to Him, can be.

    That's the lesson we all have to learn and one I still struggle with.