We were talking in Bible study recently about “First Principles.” It seems this is something we so rarely consider, but if we miss fundamental truths, we always end up in places we never intended to go.
For instance, if you don’t build your life on the fundamental truth that when you say “God” you mean the Holy Trinity, you mean the Father, and you mean the UNCREATED, you will wind up with a basic view of the world impoverished by having a god that is too small! And when you’re god is too small, your life will be too small too! First principles are absolutely necessary to have a strong foundation for your life. Of course, knowing what first principles are and then pressing out the implications of these first principles is the hard work we are all called to do. And we won’t be able to do this alone. We will need a community that isn’t bound by time, geography, or even death to fully press out just what these first principles mean and what they look like in our lives.
Sounds like fairly significant work, wouldn’t you say?
Our Gospel Lesson lays out a significant “first principle” that absolutely is foundational for those of us who embrace the Christian faith. Look at Matthew 16:13-19:
At that time, Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Our Lord wants to drive a significant message deep into His disciples’ hearts, so He asks them a foundational question: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” And, of course the disciples give a variety of answers about the popular beliefs of the people of the day. Then the Lord asks the “money question:” But who do you say that I am?” That’s when our precious Simon Peter shines! “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Lord names Peter “rock” and promises that the foundation of the Church, the community of believers throughout the ages, will be built on that identity of the Lord as “Son of the Living God!”
You see, first principles are necessary if we are ever going to measure and navigate our lives based on more than just the immediate stimuli of our immediate surroundings. No matter how much easier an “unexamined life” may feel, the truth is the “unexamined” and purposeless life will always be less than it could have been.
And the first principle of the Lord’s true identity and the implications that true identity has on all of humanity makes an eternal difference! If Jesus really is the “Son of the Living God” then His promise that the Church will never be hindered by even the “gates of hell” and His authority given to the Church to “bind” and “loose” (go to confession and listen to the prayers prayed over you at the end of confession to understand these words) are true and solid! And they matter to my everyday life, because I will base my priorities, my choices, my values, my character, on this identity of Jesus Christ and His solid, trustworthy, Body! You can build a real life on this solid foundation!
That’s why the fight through the centuries has been about the Lord’s identity. The enemy has always tried to water down His identity (He was a good man, a good Prophet, a wise teacher, etc) or even deny He ever existed. Because, if the Lord is Who He says He is, then the Church is WHAT He says She IS! And if that’s true then my life, my choices, my theology must be in harmony with this eternal reality. To the extent my life is in harmony with this wisdom, I am who I am meant to be. To the extent my life is in disharmony with this reality, I am deluded and confused!
Today, are you pressing out this significant “first principle” in your life? Are you willing to unpack the significant wisdom of the identity of the Lord and His Church and just what that means to you? If you are, if you are willing to wrestle with this revelation, this first principle, you can watch as amazing formation begins to occur in your own life. You will become Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Did you miss last night’s Faith Encouraged LIVE program? Last night we talked with Orthodox Bioethicist Wesley Smith on Human Exceptionalism and the mystery of we humans created in God’s image. If you want to know why the Church is foundatiuonally set on certain issues of human life, this is the program to hear! Just go to AncientFaith.com and listen to the archived programs!