Brethren, knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Galatians 2: 16-20 (Epistle from Sunday after the Holy Cross)
Today’s Epistle reading requires a careful study. Like many passages of Scripture, each phrase has intention and if you read them too quickly, it is very hard to grasp the meaning. The first sentence, as many of St. Paul’s sentences, is a real “run on.” Remember that in last Sunday’s Epistle (Sunday before Holy Cross), we discussed the fight in the early church over whether circumcision was a requirement to be a Christian. Circumcision was part of the Jewish Law. And in establishing the early church, Jews who had become Christians were reticent to give up the idea of circumcision. Like they wanted to add Christianity to their Judaism. Saint Paul basically told them that Christianity wasn’t an adding or subtracting from Judaism. Christianity was the revealing of God’s Kingdom present on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, thus inaugurating “A new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)
So in beginning today’s Epistle passage, Saint Paul reminds us that our justification is not through works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus. Notice, Saint Paul did not dismiss the idea of salvation requiring faith and works. Salvation, as we have discussed, involves faith in God, works of love and charity, and ultimately the mercy and grace of God. Addressing this letter to the early Christians, Saint Paul wanted to steer them away from the idea of salvation through the Jewish Law and help them understand that salvation was based first and foremost by faith in Jesus Christ, who superseded the Law. Faith is augmented through works of love and charity. But our Christian journey starts with faith.
If people transgressed the Jewish Law, they might be told that they were accursed. This happened many times in the New Testament. Jesus was often criticized by Jewish leaders for not following the Law. Because the Law was seen by them as perfect. If we, as Christians, fall short in our Christianity, because we sin, does this make Christ, whom we follow, an agent of sin? Saint Paul says emphatically “Certainly not!” (Galatians 2:17) When we fall short of Christ’s expectations, that is called sin. We all sin. Every Christian is a sinner. Does that make Christ the leader of sinners? Yes. Does it make Him a promoter of sin? Absolutely NOT.
Saint Paul admits that his zeal for the Law prohibited him from having faith in Jesus Christ. So he had to “die” to his legalistic ideas and embrace Christ’s law of love and charity. Therefore, “putting to death” his previous ideas, it is no longer the old Saint Paul who lives but Christ who was living in him. This is the same path we are supposed to take—to be crucified with Christ, to “put to death” our egos, our passions, our sense of justice and entitlement—and to live in Christ, to live a life of love for Christ, love for neighbor, repentance (working on our own shortcomings) and forgiveness (forgiving and being patient with the shortcomings of others).
Therefore, the Christian life doesn’t have us living for ourselves but for Christ. As we will read in the Gospel (tomorrow’s reflection), we are to deny ourselves, take up His cross and follow. This is the new life in Christ, that we are to live by faith, secure in the knowledge that Christ gave His life for us, and that He loves each and every one of us.
The Law is important, rules are important. But we don’t worship rules. We worship Christ, and His law is love.
The last through today is this—do you feel that Christ lives in you? (Galatians 2:20) Why or why not? When we live a life of rules and regulations, it feels like WE are the center of our existence. We exist to obey rules and expect the same of others. However, when we live with Christ at the center, then we live a life of love, which is patient and kind when it comes to the shortcomings of others. Others live lives that are patient and tolerant of us. And life has purpose—it has Christ as both its source and destination.
If you feel that Christ is not living in you, you are actually incorrect. He lives in each of us. We just have to allow Him to live in the lead. If you feel that Christ is not living in you, or leading your life, you can change that simply by giving Him the wheel. And that starts with a decision to pray TODAY and to put Christ in the lead TODAY. To let Him guide you to lead with love, patience, mercy, joy and divine purpose.
Exalted is Your Cross today, and all the world is sanctified. O Christ, who sit together with the Father and the Spirit, You stretched Your hands upon this Cross, and thus You drew the whole wide world to knowledge of You, O Savior. Count worthy of divine glory those who with faith obey You. (Second Exapostelarion from Orthros, Feast of the Holy Cross, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Give Christ the wheel of your life today!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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