For years I batted around words like “faith” and “believe” with such frequency and then discovered that I really wasn’t sure what these words meant! Imagine my surprise while, as a pastor, and a graduate with a degree in Pastoral Theology that I had to humbly admit, I didn’t really get these words at all. Or, to be more accurate, my understanding wasn’t so much wrong as too small.
For years I had thought “faith” was the positive affirmation of a set of religious doctrines. I had “faith” which meant I “believed” certain things about God. But it was all trapped inside my head! It was all a glorified mental exercise. And the shallowness of my own “faith” proved to be the painful discovery that drove me to learn more about Christian history and the timeless wisdom of the Faith itself. Imagine my surprise when it landed me in the Orthodox Church!
Look at our Lesson today in Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5:
BRETHREN, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
St. Paul is a tireless evangelist for the message of Jesus Christ, so, when he heard that some folks had come to Galatia and told the Gentile converts they had to become Jews and live like Jews to become Christians, well, let’s just say he was a little “put out.” Some of the earlier passages in Galatians show a more “colorful” side to the Apostle to the Gentiles about any such notion that the Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians!
So, Paul wants these precious believers to know the truth, and the truth is this “faith” in the message of Jesus has everything to do with growing and maturing; not a retrogression back to mere rule-keeping!
Paul makes it clear that the “Faith” is all about becoming like Jesus Christ as THE key to enjoying the life Christ gives to everyone who believes. In fact, he insists that “as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ!” This alone insists on something deeper than mere assent to mental opinions or the slavish repetition of “old words.” No, this “faith” is meant to produce a person who is finally made free to be what the believer was created to be. And this transformation doesn’t come from merely following a set of rules or repeating old words like some kind of “magic spell.”
No, this Faith comes from entering into the Mystery of the God Who loved His creation so much, He entered into His creation as one of us so that we could enter into His eternal life as one with Him!
Now, it’s important to remember, St. Paul isn’t dismissing ritual or rules. Not at all! But he is insisting that the embrace of the spiritual disciplines that grow faith in our lives are motivated by love, not fear or even ethnic habit!. This Faith is based not on race, but grace! This Faith is offered and embraced by people who no longer depend on privilege or status but on the love that God has for them and the love they have for God!
Today, has your idea of “faith” grown up? Do you now embrace a “belief” that has graduated the kindergarten of fear and magic? Are you ready to mature past the elementary understanding of a lucky birth into the amazing invitation from God to everyone to become by grace what Christ is by nature? If you are ready then you’re on your way to being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Fr. Barnabas is away on a needed vacation and he asks your prayers while he travels.