Monday, December 23, 2013

What We Die To

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3)

I am corresponding with a blog reader who is struggling to find a word to describe "living for one's self; living without God or any independent authority; blindly doing what everyone else does because it's fun and we don't even reflect upon it."

I write that you could call this

Ego-centrism, willfulness ... Paul himself gives it the word sarx in Greek, usually translated "flesh" in English.  He opposes the life of sarx to the life of the Spirit - the one leads to death and the other to eternal life (as you know, I refer to this on my blog a lot).  The "sarx" life is what you're describing, the notion that "I'm sufficient unto myself.  I can make my own decisions and choose my own morality.  No exterior being or principle has any authority over me.  I will satisfy my desires and placate my conscience as best I may".  We all naturally live that way; that's the Old Adam in us.  The New Man, the new creation, is born from death to the old self and from recreation in Christ - and this happens sacramentally and supernaturally in baptism, and temporally and naturally by being lived out over the course of our lives.
But even "flesh" doesn't really work as an English equivalent of that word, for it implies that the body is wrong and should be rejected, which is not what St. Paul meant.  "Carnality" comes closer, though the Elizabethans would have simply used "will" - meaning self-centered volition.

Then I pulled up Strong's Greek, which nails it ...

4561 (sarks) is generally negative, referring to making decisions (actions) according to self – i.e. done apart from faith (independent from God's inworking). Thus what is "of the flesh (carnal)" is by definition displeasing to the Lord – even things that seem "respectable!" In short, flesh generally relates to unaided human effort, i.e. decisions (actions) that originate from self or are empowered by self. This is carnal ("of the flesh") and proceeds out of the untouched (unchanged) part of us – i.e. what is not transformed by God.

Now this is central to our Faith - but it's something you never hear in homilies or even in catechesis.

Becoming a Christian does not simply mean trying to be a good person (commendable as that is).

Becoming a Christian means death.  It means not simply renouncing the ways of our fallen nature; it means killing it, dying to it.  Kill the petty tyrant within and hold vigil for the return of the king, the true king, the King of Kings.

It is that death and rebirth that makes us carry the name of Christ - Christian.  Without that we are simply people with a set of beliefs and a few odd ethical notions that we mostly ignore.  Without death to self - without the cross - we have not come anywhere near the Reality of the True God.

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