“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”
But if so, then spirituality must be an engagement with ordinary life, not a withdrawal from it. Merton himself said, “Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time.”
And to think that the most spiritual human of them all spent the greater part of his life being a carpenter rather than a preacher! Hands-on engagement with life rather than abstract contemplation of it – that is spirituality.
“The spiritual life is not, therefore, a life entirely uprooted from man’s human condition and transplanted into the realm of the angels … If we are to become spiritual, we must remain men.”
Spirituality, then, is a form of humanism; an acceptance of one’s humanity, not a denial thereof. After all, we are human beings, not angels. This does not mean that we tolerate the sins done in and through the body; it means that this weak human flesh can be an instrument of righteousness – if we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
“From this you see that blessedness depends upon the act of vision, not upon the act of love – which is a consequence.” (Dante’s Paradiso, Canto XXVIII, line 109)
The eyes and the heart are connected. What you regularly feast your eyes on, the heart learns to love with an iron grip. The eyes, the heart, and the object of affection are all caught up together in an iron embrace of either life or death, depending on the character of the object one has set her eyes and heart upon and the manner by which it is seen and loved. The object of affection serves to either elevate one’s soul or corrupt it.
It’s time to heed the words of the children’s song: “Be careful little eyes what you see.”
Sometime ago, I asked God to make me very rich – as in very, very rich! I now think that prayer was motivated by greed. Come to think of it, what would hundreds of hectares of land and billions of pesos in my bank account really mean to me on my deathbed? I am reminded of a Tolstoy short story: the man who ran all day to cover a large piece of land – he was promised that it’ll be all his, as much as he could cover by running all day – only to fall dead at sunset. Now all the land he’ll own is the six feet of dirt he’ll be buried under.
What about praying to be rich? I’m not saying that to pray in such a way is absolutely wrong all of the time. But I remember two examples from the Bible that seem to teach that praying to be rich is not ideal.
First, Agur. “Give me neither poverty nor riches.”
Second, Solomon. He prayed for wisdom. Riches were just a bonus.
That too is now my prayer: Lord, make me wise.
“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7, NIV)
“As for me, I would choose being sick over living in luxury, for being sick only harms the body, whereas luxury destroys both the body and the soul, causing weakness and incapacity in the body, and lack of control and cowardice in the soul. What’s more, luxury breeds injustice because it also breeds greediness.”
(Musonius Rufus, LECTURES 20.95.14-17)
Sometime ago, I listened to Ryan Holiday’s audiobook, The Ego is the Enemy, and I liked much of what he had to say. So I also bought his The Obstacle is The Way (print version this time), as well as The Daily Stoic, from which the quote above is taken. It’s an interesting thought: preferring to be sick rather than to live in luxury, because sickness harms only the body, whereas luxury destroys both body and soul.
Of course, M. Rufus might be exaggerating somewhat, but he has a point worth considering. (Full disclosure: I prefer not to be sick as much as possible!) Adversity has a way of making you stronger; luxury has a way of making you soft.
M. Rufus also points out that “luxury breeds injustice because it also breeds greediness.” Interestingly, the apostle Paul says something similar, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9) And, regarding adversity, he says, in that famous “thorn in the flesh” passage, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Given the choice between sickness (or adversity in general) and luxury, the former is to be preferred for the sake of one’s soul. I am reminded of a lot of verses related to this point. For example, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” But one passage not many people are familiar with is Psalm 106:13-15. “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (KJV) They got what they lusted for, but their souls suffered as a consequence.
Lesson of the story: Be careful what you ask for: you might get it and more besides!
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8
 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;  that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (ESV)
Introduction (verses 1-2)
Holiness is a difficult topic to speak on because we are quite conscious of our failings in this regard. When Peter drew near to Jesus, he said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And Isaiah, when he saw the Lord’s glory, said, “Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Nevertheless, we must speak on this topic because it is critical for our spiritual well-being; but we do so only because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, and because the grace of God sustains us.
To be holy is to be set apart for God, to be devoted and consecrated to him. To live in such a way as to always please him, in thought, in word, and in deed. Who is sufficient for these things? To be holy is a life-time task and it will never be completed in this life. But God will be with us all the way. He has given us his Holy Spirit to empower us, and he has given us his Word to encourage us as we walk in the path of holiness.
- Holiness is God’s Will for Us: (verse 3)
- Because God is holy;
“YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:16)
- Because Christ died to make us holy;
“[HE] GAVE HIMSELF FOR US TO REDEEM US FROM ALL LAWLESSNESS AND TO PURIFY FOR HIMSELF A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION WHO ARE ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS.” (Titus 2:14)
- Because without holiness we won’t see God.
“STRIVE FOR PEACE WITH EVERYONE AND FOR THE HOLINESS WITHOUT WHICH NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD.” (Hebrews 12:14)
- Holiness is Our Responsibility (verses 4-5)
- God works in, but we work out!
“THEREFORE, MY BELOVED, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED SO NOW, NOT ONLY AS IN MY PRESENCE BUT MOUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING, FOR IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU, BOTH TO WILL AND TO WORK FOR HIS GOOD PLEASURE.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
- We must add to our faith
“FOR THIS VERY REASON, MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO SUPPLEMENT YOUR FAITH WITH VIRTUE, AND VIRTUE WITH KNOWLEDGE, AND KNOWLEDGE WITH SELF-CONTROL, AND SELF-CONTROL WITH STEADFASTNESS, AND STEADFASTNESS WITH GODLINESS, AND GODLINESS WITH BROTHERLY AFFECTION, AND BROTHERLY AFFECTION WITH LOVE.” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
- Don’t let sin reign in your body (Romans 6:12-13)
“LET NOT SIN REIGN IN YOUR MORTAL BODY, TO MAKE YOU OBEY ITS PASSIONS. DO NOT PRESENT YOUR MEMBERS TO SIN AS INSTRUMENTS FOR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT PRESENT YOURSELVES TO GOD AS THOSE WHO BEEN BROUGHT FROM DEATH TO LIFE, AND YOUR MEMBERS TO GOD AS INSTRUMENTS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
- Holiness is a Serious Matter (verses 6-8) “The Lord is an avenger in all these things.”
- To be unholy is to reject God’s call.
“THEREFORE, AS THE HOLY SPIRIT SAYS, ‘TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS IN THE REBELLION. ON THE DAY OF TESTING IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS PUT ME TO THE TEST AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE, I WAS PROVOKED WITH THAT GENERATION, AND SAID, THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART; THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS. AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 3:7-11)
- To be unholy is to disregard God.
“DO NOT BE DECEIVED: GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FOR WHATEVER ONE SOWS, THAT HE WILL ALSO REAP. FOR THE ONE WHO SOWS TO HIS OWN FLESH WILL FROM THE FLESH REAP CORRUPTION, BUT THE ONE WHO SOWS TO THE SPIRIT WILL FROM THE SPIRIT REAP ETERNAL LIFE.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
- To be unholy is to despise the Holy Spirit which God has given us.
“OR DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, WHOM YOU HAVE FROM GOD? YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, FOR YOU WERE BOUGHT WITH A PRICE. SO GLORIFY GOD IN YOUR BODY.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
“BELOVED, I URGE YOU A SOJOURNERS AND EXILES TO ABSTAIN FROM THE PASSIONS OF THE FLESH, WHICH WAGE WAR AGAINST YOUR SOUL.” (1 Peter 2:11)
Lord, help us to live according to your will. Help us to live lives that please you. Help us to be holy, because as your children we want to reflect your character. Help us to heed your warnings regarding sin and immorality, that if we sow to our flesh, we will surely reap death and corruption, because you are a God who cannot me mocked. And if ever we are in the grip of sinful habits that weaken our spiritual lives, that defile our consciences, and that harden our hearts against you, we pray that you will melt our hearts and free us from these sinful habits by the power of your Holy Spirit. Give us freedom from sin! We claim the promise of your son, Jesus Christ, who said, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” We also ask forgiveness for the many times we have disregarded you and your call for us to live holy lives. We repent of our sins and we ask that you cleanse us from all unrighteousness by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. Lord, you are a merciful God to those who trust in you and who turn to you with broken and contrite hearts. Have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and make us holy. And we believe that you will do so, because we ask all these things in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Amen.
The thoughts that dominate our minds determine our character, and eventually our destiny.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Continue reading “Think Christ (an Ikthus East Sermon)”
The newness of our life therefore is this, that we walk in purity before God, eschew all corruption and uncleanness, and separate ourselves from all the defilements of the world, in order that we may offer ourselves in sacrifice to God; at the same time we must walk in integrity and uprightness with our neighbours. The performance of these two things is all that is requisite to the perfection of the Christian life.
– John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, p. 437
The previous post ended on a not so uplifting note. I of course agree with what Owen wrote regarding the mind’s helplessness against the affections. But that is not the last word in our struggle against sin. Here are some positive insights I’ve culled from William Arnot’s Studies in Proverbs:
The best way of moving a young heart is to please it. The surest way of turning a person from one pleasure is to give him a greater pleasure on the opposite side.
In chapter 12 of his book on Spiritual Mindedness John Owen writes, “Without spiritual affections we cannot be spiritually minded.”
He then tells us why this is so. “By nature our affections, all of them, are depraved and corrupted. Nothing in the whole nature of man, no power or faculty of the soul, is fallen under greater disorder and depravation by the entrance of sin than our affections are. In and by them is the heart wholly gone and turned off from God.” Continue reading “No Greater Judgment”