Why do you think the way you think? In other words, what forms your opinions, priorities, and actions. Why do you choose what you choose? All of these questions go to the foundation of how you live your life. And if we don’t periodically examine the foundational formation of how we think and live, we will find ourselves being lived by life instead of living life as a free person.
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. This is why Jesus says in John 14:6 “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Truth is a Person, not a set of ideas or principles, so to live truthfully means to live in a relationship with He Who IS Truth!
That sounds like fairly significant work, wouldn’t you say? What is the framework you use to set your priorities? Why do you pay attention to one thing and ignore another? How do you make the choice? Knowing the answers to these questions is hard work but necessary if you are ever going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Look at our lesson today in 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.
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, and 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, and 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!
We are entering that time of year when we remember the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Feast is tomorrow, but if I am going to truly enter the power of this Feast of the Cross, I need to start today! The Cross of Jesus Christ takes preeminence in the message of Christianity precisely because it is at the Cross that I see the extent of God’s love for me. It is at the Cross that what the worst the world can throw at Chrtist is transformed into a moment of victory and power! What is weak is made strong. What is seen as death is transfigured into life. What is seen as a sure defeat is merely the precursor to ultimate victory. The Cross of Jesus shouts into history “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The very thing meant to destroy becomes the stepping stone to the destruction of sin, death, and Satan. No wonder the Church remembers the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen in Jerusalem. No wonder we wear it around our necks. No wonder we make its sign with our hands. No wonder we put it on our church buildings. We exalt the Cross precisely because the Cross exalts us to life eternal. And the Cross displays to the whole of creation, both seen and unseen, that God will undo the power of death and grant life to His world!
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 live a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. We offer You in mediation the life-giving Cross which, of Your goodness, You have given unto us, the unworthy, O Lord. Save Your hierarchs and Your flock, and grant peace through the Theotokos, O only friend of man.