What does it mean to be Christian?
One might ask, what are God’s words through Christ? Where is evidence of God’s voice that we can hear? Well, Lord Jesus said to his apostles, “He who hears you hears ME… He who rejects you rejects ME.” (Luke 10:16) So, for one: A Christian should believe in the words of the prophets and the apostles as the Living Words of God.
Now those same prophets and apostles, as well as the Lord Jesus Christ himself (as in Matthew 4:1-11), taught us to believe in Scriptures as the Living Words of God, and their words are also contained in Scriptures, so, secondly: A Christian should believe in the words of the Bible as the Living Words of God.
We Orthodox are fortunate to have a liturgy and faith that can be traced back to both the apostles and Scripture. So if we believe, then that implies, We should believe in the words of the Orthodox church, liturgy and Faith, as the Living Words of God.
To believe does not mean to question, to doubt, or to prod with curiosity. We have numerous lessons about doubting – Peter sinking in the water (Matthew 14:31) – and curiosity – Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:5); the very nature of these acts is evil. So, if someone wants to live on Earth as in Heaven, that person should lean on God as Father and have total faith and trust, as in, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and might” - which the Lord said was the greatest of the Ten Commandments (Mark 12:31).
The person should also be humble, that he or she does not know everything and is a recovering sinner, and so should lean on him - not to be brash or brazen - but to gain wisdom, understanding, and comfort. When we Christians are confused about something, we should direct our hearts to him, asking Him to comfort us and save us from a tempting or distressing thought – of curiosity, doubting, or otherwise. At the same time, we should try to occupy ourselves in something else. An old and faithful saying is that the devil loves idleness, so we should pray and also try to occupy ourselves when we notice we are starting to “sink” as Peter did.
Belief in progress
It is clear to see how belief naturally progresses towards outward action. If we believe that the Lord took flesh and died and rose for our sins, then we keep ourselves from sin and do good works. So, when a pure belief takes root, it will begin to show as outward action that perhaps you or other people begin to notice.
In a similar sense, when someone disbelieves, it progresses into outwardly action – The seed (intentions) are not pure, so neither is the fruit (actions). For instance, you have a seed of wrath, and this seed grows and bears such fruit as swearing and fighting. In this way, we see the importance of the spiritual things – what is inside of us – having a lot of significance in what we portray. So if we say that when we have a seed of belief, in that the Lord took flesh and died and rose for our sins, and this is where good fruit comes from; likewise, the parts of our hearts that do not believe this fact are why acts of sin are still present among us. If we totally believe in the Lord’s truth, with all our hearts, how can we be fighting and bearing wrath? So we have to continually work to keep our hearts pure, for our Lord’s sake.
For when we have our hearts totally open to him and ready to repent, and we are leaning on Him as a father. Then, when we notice a small seed of disbelief in our hearts, we immediately lower our heads in shame, and then immediately raise our heads from our shame in an act of total faith and trust in Him and His wounds. Thus, that bad seed never becomes burdensome because our faith rejects the bad seed before it takes root. When our sin takes root and it starts pouring out into our actions, then we have to fight ourselves a bit to purify our hearts back to the Lord and it is a little burdensome.
Going yet a step further, if we wait to repent even longer, and those seeds sprout, grow, and bear fruit without restriction, i.e. a curious thought leads to lustful fantasy, which leads to lewdness, which leads to sex before marriage, etc. It may take a lot of prying to completely uproot any trace of that seed of disbelief, and we may be marred for life. Thus, we will always feel burdened by it and always be repenting of it whenever we want to draw near to the Lord, because the remnant of that disbelief disables us from truly leaning on the Lord and living a pure Christian life with Him. One such error is when a person purposely turns away from the Lord and says, “I will return to Him later when I am done sinning.” This is like the boy who cried wolf – When you seek to return, how sincerely will your words be taken? You may be able to feign closeness to the Lord, but you will not truly have it, and the consequences may be eternal (Hebrews 6:4-6).
But, as the Lord said, with Him, nothing is impossible, and it certainly is not His will that the soul of the sinner perish, but rather, repent (John 3:16), so if you truly desire to rid yourself of some impurity, believe it is “with Him” and His will, and, thus, possible. That is not to say that anything is possible, because certainly, there are things that are not “with Him” and thus against His will, but if we seek, He said, we shall find. Believe, follow, keep yourself from sin, and His yoke will be easy. Stray, and you will suffer for a while as St Peter said in his epistle (1 Peter 5:8-10), but hang on, repent, take confession, and be patient. Persevere, and your joy will be full. Your pastures will become greener and wider. And you will again dwell in peace and safety with the Lord.
What way to choose
Something should also be mentioned here about teenagers because adolescence is a critical phase in a person’s life in terms of choosing the way to live. It is during this time most people get asked the question: Do you want social status? Fleshy pleasures? “Good times”? Pride of life? …More than the Lord? A person may come to a crossroads of choosing the way of the Lord or the way of this world. The people who persevere and wholeheartedly choose the Lord during this time are those people that are truly prepared and ready when the time comes to be an adult. Peace will follow them and they will be lights in this world. The people who do not persevere are those people who potentially never grow up; their road to recovery will be long, arduous, and may look impossible because their lives are surrounded by thorns. While you are still young and still have an opportunity to choose which way to go, turn with all your might to what is right. Be patient and persevere. Your time will come.
By: St Mary’s Group, in St Mary's Church in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, USA