SERMON FROM TODAY’S APOSTOLIC READING (Galatians 2: 16-20
“It Is No Longer I Who Live....” Sunday September 15, 2019
Dear Ones, Today is the Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-giving Cross, and with this in mind, I’d like to look at the Epistle reading appointed for today. It’s taken from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, and in fact, I’m only going to take one verse from it. Here it is:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
What does St Paul mean when he says: “I have been crucified with Christ?” He wasn’t literally there, on Golgotha was he? He wasn’t nailed to a cross like one of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ, was he? No, of course he wasn’t. So what does he mean “I have been crucified with Christ?”
We have a clue from another epistle of his. In Romans 6 he writes: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be rendered inoperative, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6: 3-6). St. John Chrysostom says: “In these words, ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he (Paul) alludes to Baptism” (Hom.II Galat.). Was Paul baptized? Yes he was, by Ananias, one of the 70 apostles and first bishop of the city of Damascus (Acts 9: 10-18). By extension then, Paul is suggesting that all of us who are baptized into Christ, are crucified together with Him. He took each and every one of us to the Cross with Him, and there He put sin to death. Again, St John Chrysostom says: “by death he signifies not what is commonly understood (i.e. biological death), but a death to sin.” This is why even the form of baptism is an image of death and burial. But of course, no one is left submerged under the water, are they? No, we are raised up to newness of life. What does St Paul say next, in this morning’s Epistle?
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” What does it mean? It means that because I have believed and been baptized, the old “me,” the sinful “me” is put aside, “unplugged” if you will. Now, in its place, the “new me” lives, the “new me” who has put on Christ, and the “new me” in whom Christ lives and dwells by means of the Holy Spirit. St. John again says: “if you remain dead to sin, you live to God, but if you let it (sin) live again, you are the ruin of your new life” (Ibid.). In other words, if I go and re-plug-in my old sinful life, my old sinful ways, then I abandon the “new me,” the “old me” is revived, and the Holy Spirit flees from me. Do you remember what King David prayed after his terrible fall into sin? “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me!” (Psalm 50/51 lxx). What a terrifying thought! We can literally drive away the Holy Spirit!
To continue, the Apostle next writes: “and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” St. Paul is saying that “even though I am still living in this earthly body, I live a heavenly life due to the grace granted to me because of my faith in Christ.” Everything that I have and everything that I am has been given to me by my Lord Jesus Christ. Why does He do this for me? He does it because He loves me. In fact, He loves me so much that He died on the Cross for me. King David in another Psalm once asked the question: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?” (Psalm 115:3 lxx). The question is a rhetorical one, because there is nothing that I can repay to God for all His goodness toward me. That doesn’t mean that I do nothing. First I must work to increase my faith. It is by faith that I am able to lead a heavenly life. It’s by faith that the “new me” can prevail over the old, sinful me. St Mark the Ascetic says: “Everything good is given by the Lord providentially; and he who has faith that this is so will not lose what he has been given.” So, number one, work on bolstering your faith.
And number two, give thanks. St. Nikolai Velimirovich says: “For if God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things?” And what do we sing at every festal Vigil? At the polyeleos, the Полиелей, we sing: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, Alleluia; for His mercy endureth forever, Alleluia!” (cf Psalm 135:1 lxx).
And third, share with others what good things God has done for you. Do you remember the man who was delivered from the “legion” of demons? He wanted to be a disciple and follow Jesus, but what did the Lord say to him? “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). So what does that mean for us? St. Isaak the Syrian tells us: “Be a herald of God’s goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are; for although your debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting any payment from you, but from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you” (St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 60). Thank you God for your kindness. Thank you God for your goodness. Thank you God for your loving providence toward us all. Amen.