Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is my wish to inform you of a great mystery, a deep reality ever so present in our lives and in our experience as Christians. You may probably know this but Christ died for us all. He died for you and for me so that through his glorious resurrection we might be brought to life in him. On the Cross in John 19:30, the Lord cried out, ‘It is finished’. And so he had won for us our redemption, the eternal sacrifice had been consummated.
But is it true that there remains nothing to be done for our salvation to attain its fulfillment? I do not think so. And the Bible does not teach that, and this I intend to show you. Yes, Christ has finished his work of redemption and there is nothing lacking in his work but there is something still needed for that work to become manifest in us. And what is that? That work has to be applied to our souls. And that is precisely why Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit; to apply to our souls the complete merits of Christ on the cross, and to reproduce in us Christ himself and by Christ I mean, Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection, and the application of redemption is just as essential. Many people find it hard to come to grips with this particular truth because it involves suffering, and nobody likes to suffer. ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few’. (Matthew 7:14). We don’t have a binary deity, the Father and the Son; we have a Trinitarian deity, a family a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit. Jesus said, I come to baptize with fire and spirit. (cf. Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). And so, when the Spirit comes at Pentecost, tongues of fire appear, and whenever the Holy Spirit appears, there is Holy Fire. When we are taken up into the Spirit, there we are consumed with a passionate, burning love, the furnace of Christs heart, the reality of the Holy Spirit, the fiery love of God. That is not because Christs work is not enough. Its rather the application of the work of Jesus Christ.
It is really funny that those who advocate that we need not do any other thing in order to gain salvation still say that we should have Faith, that we should call upon God, that we should ask God for forgiveness, and that we should arise and pray. We shouldn’t do all these things if at all we need not do any other thing. The essence of Christianity is Christ reproducing his life in us like I have said. He didn’t die for us that we may find all things rosy and smooth, he died for us so that with the help of the Holy Spirit we would through his merits on the cross die to ourselves and to our sins and by so doing gain salvation.
St. Paul knew this very clearly and he teaches this in the Bible. Little wonder he says in Philippians 2:12, ‘Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING’. And to show that we are not just doing this on our own but that now as Christ has died for us and has sent his Holy Spirit to reproduce in us the life of Christ he continues in verse 13 to say, ‘ FOR GOD IS AT WORK IN YOU, BOTH TO WILL AND TO WORK FOR HIS GOOD PLEASURE’. If all has been paid for and we were just expected to sit and relax and live our lives the way we please and then get salvation in the end, why did he ask us to work out our salvation? For Paul, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross does not mean that we do not need to do anything anymore but that we can now do those things which were once difficult for us to do by our own strengths because now Christ lives in us and it would be really him doing all those things through us.
We see this clearly in Romans 8. A chapter of the Bible that St. Paul devotes to life in the Spirit, that aspect of our salvation that involves the Holy Spirit applying the fruits of the complete work of Christ to our souls. It is important to note that up until Romans 8, St. Paul has mentioned the Holy Spirit only once in chapter 5. But in this particular chapter he mentions him about 18 times. And in his opening verse he stresses this important fact, turn with me to Romans 8 from verse 1 to 4, there he begins, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ why? Verse 2, ‘for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.’ How? Verse 3, ‘for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,’ wow, so that we could sit down and relax and forget the law for they no longer apply to us? NO!!! Verse 4, ‘IN ORDER THAT THE JUST REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULFILLED IN US, WHO WALK NOT ACCORDING TO THE FLESH BUT ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT’. That is precisely what we’ve been talking about, the law is still binding on us, the law still has to be fulfilled in us, because the requirements of the law are JUST requirements, but now, it is easier for us, it has been made possible for us because we have the Spirit.
St. Paul then goes on from verses 5 to verse 8 telling us of how the Spirit is really the life of our souls and how we should set our minds on the Spirit who gives life to our souls and not on the flesh. And then in verse 9 he continues, ‘But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’. And in verse 10, ‘But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.’ And you might stop here and say well, our mortal bodies are dead, therefore nothing we do can really make sense, but wait, St. Paul is not finished yet, in verse 11 he says, ‘IF THE SPIRIT OF HIM WHO RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD DWELLS IN YOU, HE WHO RAISED CHRIST JESUS FROM THE DEAD WILL GIVE LIFE TO YOUR MORTAL BODIES ALSO THROUGH HIS SPIRIT WHO DWELLS IN YOU’. So not too fast, the spirit gives life to your mortal bodies previously dead because of sin, but now completely alive and capable of fulfilling the just requirements of the Law, of working out your salvation, for then it would be Christ working through you, of suffering, for now it would be Christ suffering through you. In Colossians 1:24 St. Paul says, ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church’. What is Paul saying? Is he saying that Christ suffering was not enough? NO! He is simply happy that he could be another Christ for the body of Christ, that Christ is reproducing his suffering in him for the sake of the Church. He hints at this further in verse 29 when he says, ‘For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.’
So back to Romans 8, St. Paul is not done with us yet, he continues in verse 12, ‘So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-‘. Guess you saw that didn’t you? WE ARE DEBTORS, WE STILL HAVE A DEBT TO PAY; not that Christ has not paid it, but he has paid it once and for all, and now the Holy Spirit needs to apply that to our souls. And in verse 13, ‘for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live’. In other words, if you mortify the body, you will live. And this we do by the Spirit. On our own and with our human power we are incapable, but with the Spirit it becomes possible, and that is the source of our life. Brothers and Sisters that is what Penance is really all about and everywhere we are taught that in Scripture. We need to do Penance every day. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, St. Paul says again, ‘But I suffer my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified’. That’s how important Penance and mortification is. Verse 14, ‘for all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.’ Verse 15, ‘for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’’. In other words this should not get you scared, the Spirit you have received is not one of fear but one of Sonship.
St. Paul then continues in verse 16-17 with something that is very important to our discussion, ‘it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, PROVIDED WE SUFFER WITH HIM IN ORDER THAT WE MAY ALSO BE GLORIFIED WITH HIM’. There! That’s it! That’s the bombshell. Why didn’t he stop right at the beautiful promises of being heirs, why is there a condition, and what is that condition? A bed of roses? NO! SUFFERING!!!
By the way, St. Peter also develops the idea and necessity of suffering in 1 Peter 4. In verse 1 and 2 he says, ‘Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, FOR WHOEVER HAS SUFFERED IN THE FLESH HAS CEASED FROM SIN, SO AS TO LIVE FOR THE REST OF THE TIME IN THE FLESH NO LONGER BY HUMAN PASSIONS BUT BY THE WILL OF GOD.’ And in verse 12 he continues to say, ‘Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.’ Really, he says, it’s not something strange, you should rather, ‘rejoice in so far as you SHARE CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS, THAT YOU MAY ALSO REJOICE AND BE GLAD WHEN HIS GLORY IS REVEALED’. (v13). So even Peter taught us that we are meant to rejoice at suffering and not behave like it’s something strange to Christianity, like some pastors today preach, but that we should be happy because Christ living in us, our sufferings are therefore a share in his.
And so not to daunt us, St. Paul goes on from verse 18 of Romans 8 till the end of the chapter in verse 39 trying to convince us that the suffering we would undergo is nothing compared to the glory ahead (v18), that in the end it is us who win for creation is awaiting our glorification, which must come through that suffering for God has ordained it so, so that out of the futility and decay we may would be set free and then enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God(v19-27). He then reassures us of Christ’s love for us, and how it is God’s will that everything in the end would work together for our good, he tells us of how we have been predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, something I have mentioned earlier, such that the life of Christ would be reproduced in us. He also assures us that it is not the suffering we undergo, of whatever kind, whether tribulation, or peril or persecution that would separate us from the love of Christ, nothing of that nature separates us from the love of Christ. For in all these things we are more than conquerors, for the love of Christ for us is too strong, stronger than any principality or power or angel or height or depth. (v28-39).
Do we now see that even Paul understood and clearly taught what we have been talking about? But not only Paul, St. James too, the brother of our Lord, clearly taught that for our salvation it was not just that Christ had died and it is finished, it is not even faith alone, but also our works too, that count for our salvation. In James 2:24. The holy apostle wrote, ‘You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’. And this is precisely where Martin Luther, the protestant reformer got it wrong in teaching faith alone, and this is where many protestant denominations get it wrong. St. James asks them, ‘What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?’ (James 2:14). In fact, dearest friends the phrase ‘faith alone’ does not occur anywhere in the bible except in James 2:24 and there what we see is ‘not by faith alone’.
Precisely why does a Christian’s work also save him? Because now it is not just his weak human nature alone doing the work, it is Christ in him doing the work in and through him, such that his work has taken up a new dimension, a supernatural dimension, as it were Christ in him, that soul being in a state of grace, that soul can gain merits, not only for himself but also for his brothers and sisters with whom he shares solidarity, merits that are profitable unto salvation.
Brothers and Sisters, Christ has done it all, Christ has paid for our salvation on the cross. But the merits which he won for us on the cross still needs to be applied to our souls by the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us by reproducing in us the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, such that our weak human nature takes on new strength, new life in Christ, in order that now being conformed to him, we might fulfill the just requirements of the law. And this sanctification wrought by the Holy Spirit involves suffering, it involves mortification and penance, putting to death the deeds of the flesh, it involves charity, which St. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8, covers a multitude of sins. All these and more we still need to do, and we can only begin that journey to our ultimate sanctification, perfection and salvation if we have faith, for without faith we cannot please God. (Heb. 11:6). This is what the Bible teaches.