Paschal Light Spiritual Formation
Discourse 1: In Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
We welcome to you to our Spiritual Foundation group. The objective of this programme is to lay a solid foundation of the Christian spiritual life and there can be no better starting point for this than a detailed examination of baptism.
If you are already a practicing Christian this will serve as a good refresher and it is quite likely that you will encounter some things you have forgotten or even that you did not know before. If you are exploring Christianity for the first time you will learn what the Christian spiritual life is all about. As a beginner you may encounter some terms you are not familiar with. If so please look them up or ask in the Forum. Spirituality is about seeking and finding, learning and growing, so asking questions and discussing different perspectives is not only a good way of finding answers but is generally spiritually invigorating as well.
We will be basing our discussion on teachings found both in the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP dates back to the sixteenth century and, since then, it has been at the heart of the Anglican (Episcopalian) tradition. This may seem like a very dated source to use but there are two reasons for doing so. First, it is solidly based on Biblical teachings, has always informed Anglican doctrine and rests on a sure and unchanging spiritual foundation. The second is that some variations in liturgy and practices are found in the different Provinces or regions of the Anglican Church across the world. All, however, remain based on the BCP, so this prayer book provides a unifying root source.
Baptism marks the first point of entry into the Christian life. Many children of Christian families are baptised while they are babies but it is not unusual for adults to seek baptism. In the Anglican and some other denominations baptism is followed at a later stage by confirmation. The main reason for this that at baptism infants are accepted into the Church and are sponsored by godparents whose role is to nurture the child in the Christian life. Confirmation is postponed until the child is old enough to decide on the Christian way as being their path through life.
So then, baptism is the commitment, later confirmed in Confirmation, to turn away from darkness and actively seek the light of God. It expresses the desire to move from a state of spiritual death to new life in Christ.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)
At the very beginning of the baptismal service in the BCP it is stated that: all men are conceived and born in sin; (and that which is born of the flesh is flesh,) and 'they who are in the flesh cannot please God, but live in sin, committing many actual transgressions'. This is a fundamental doctrine, based on biblical teachings, which is not only prominently expressed here but is continued throughout all the offices of the Church. Yet it is a teaching that a great many people struggle with and which some are even prone to reject today. This is largely due to it being misunderstood, so let us look at it more closely.
The first part of the statement speaks of original sin while the second addresses actual sin. ‘Original sin’ refers to the imperfect spiritual state in which we have each been born. If this were not so we would each be as spiritually perfect as Jesus Christ was. ‘Actual sin’ refers to those things that we say and do which are out of harmony with God’s laws.
Another way of understanding sin is by appreciating that we all have a natural desire for ‘things of the flesh’, that is for worldly rather than spiritual values. The flesh always lusts for things that are contrary to the spirit. Unfortunately the phrase ‘lusts of the flesh’ is usually associated with sexual urges but it really refers to a far wider range of desires than this. These worldly values or lusts not only include such things as the desire for wealth, fame and power but also an affinity to the lower moral values such as pride and selfishness. The spiritual journey is one that leads to gradually putting aside ‘the things of the flesh’ and replacing them with ‘things of the spirit’.
Paul explains this to the Ephesians:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that from now on you walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ; If it is that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That you put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:17-24)
So we can see that Paul draws a contrast between the un-spiritual and the spiritual states. There are various terms used to refer to this or different aspects of it, and here we are five of them: 1) ‘things of the flesh’ and ‘things of the spirit’ 2) ‘the old man’ and ‘the new man’ 3) the ‘un-renewed’ and the ‘renewed’ 4) the natural man and the spiritual man’ 5) Being ‘dead to sin’ and being ‘alive in Christ’. Then we can refer to the process that changes an individual from one state to the other as ‘regeneration.’
The Un-renewed State
The Scriptures provide three general characteristics of the un-renewed:
1) In the first place, the Scriptures represent the un-renewed person as spiritually blind; and this blindness is manifested in ignorance of the perfections of God. These perfections are to be found written everywhere, not only in the Book of Revelation, but throughout the Bible. Yet the un-renewed person closes their eyes to them. Such a person feels comparatively little sense of adoration, love or devotion towards God. They are also largely blind to the many precepts that teach how to live a more upright and spiritual life.
They assume that they see and know everything, while the reality is that they are groping around in thick darkness. They are blind to the attributes of God, ignorant of themselves and cannot see to their own imperfections.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own conceit? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov. 26:12)
This is true for everyone, to a greater or lesser extent. We are all on a journey from darkness into greater light. A Christian should recognize this and actively and continually engage in seeking greater light. Paul exhorts us to this:
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in debauchery and lustfulness, not in strife and envying. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. (Rom. 13:11-14)
Let no one deceive you with vain words: for because from these things comes the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproached are made visible by the light: for whatever becomes visible is light. Therefore he says, Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. (Eph. 5:6-14)
2) The second thing that the Scriptures tell us is that the natural person is alienated from God: having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. (Eph. 4:17-18)
This can even be seen in some Christians who, deep in their hearts, remain afraid of God; this is as a result of their sense of guilt regarding past and present actions. The remedy for this is not to endeavour to forget the sins or to try and convince oneself that there is no sense of guilt but by gradually finding inner freedom by learning to overcome sin.
In extreme cases the individual does not seek the communion of God, does not delight in his presence, and dreads the sound of his voice and the light of his countenance.
3) The ‘natural man’ (as scripture puts it) or our natural state is one that is lacking in moral and spiritual values but never in all of them. Each person has a variety of ‘sins and transgressions’ and falls short with each to varying degrees. Sometimes particular failings are obvious to others, sometimes only to oneself and sometimes a failing may be so hidden that it requires deep probing in order to be recognized.
The Book of Common Prayer represents all these characteristics in its liturgies. It also recognises the Biblical scheme of salvation. This is what we will look at in our next discourse.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 1