Thursday, December 7, 2023

Stay away from sin. . .

The history of Israel is often confused both by those who claimed to be the chosen people of God and those who lived outside this tribe.  Those who had been set apart by the promise to Abraham and the march of Moses to the land of promise presumed they had been chosen because they were special.  When they got to the land God had appointed for them, those who were living there had to go.  It was not because the people of God were too good to share the land but because they were too weak to live with those who confessed other gods.  This weakness proved true through the ages of prophets and exiles and betrayal and restoration and remnants.  The world presumed this to be arrogance but the hubris was not the high and mighty claiming their preeminent place; it was sinners who weakness was obvious to all but them.  They were to remain pure as the leaven for a world of death yet they proved themselves seldom up to their calling.

So it is presumed by those outside and some inside the Church that Christians have the same problem.  We think we are better than everyone else -- too good for others.  The Church is in the minds of her critics and even among some of the faithful a preserve for the holy.  The Church is nothing of the sort.  She is no museum of righteous people who have received the pat on the back from God for their goodness.  No, the Church is a hospital of the broken, wounded, and dying whose only hope lies in the God who became flesh for them (and for the whole world).  The Church is not filled with people who are better than others but people who know their weakness, sin, and death and who know they have only one Redeemer -- Jesus Christ the crucified.  We in the Church sometimes learn the lesson of arrogance and confirm the world in their judgment against us.  We need to be careful about this -- now more than ever.

The reason Christians do not hang around with sinners is not because they think themselves too good for such people but because they know their weakness.  As Psalm 141 reminds us:  Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!  Our hearts are still inclined toward evil and we are too weak to battle both the sinful desire of the heart and the company of those who have abandoned righteousness to delight in sin.  We pray God to insulate us against both the desires of our hearts and the influence of the evil and this is why we stand apart.  We are so weak we would surely give into the ways of the wicked without God's aid and succor and part of that is the call to stand apart.  It is not to showcase how much better we are but as a tacit admission of our weakness.

We cannot go along and get along.  It is not because we are so smug in our self-righteousness but, as St. Paul reminds us, we learned truly what sin was after becoming a Christian and it exposed the weakness and sin within.  It is for the sake of this weakness we must stand apart as much as for any other reason (such as our witness).  We cannot give into the tolerance of the age or the lack of judgment which could presumed to condone and approve of what must be condemned -- not only for our sake but also for the sake of the world.  Yes, Jesus eats and drinks with sinners.  But St. Paul insists that we mark evil and stand apart from it.  That is because we are not Jesus.  We are those whom Christ has redeemed.  We are not His equals but remain forever dependent upon His mercy and grace or we would fall.  There but for the grace of God...

The pressure is surely on us to make faith into something very deep and private -- so deep and private that it is not evident on the outside of us and therefore hidden and known only to God.  The pressure is upon us to go along and get along -- all in the name of love, Christ's love no less.  But weakness is our problem and temptation is our enemy and we dare not fool ourselves into thinking we can handle evil.  Only Jesus can.  Therefore, we must stand in Christ and stand apart -- for our sake and for the sake of preserving the Gospel among us. 

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