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The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive

F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version

Trinity XI - 08/15/10
I Sam. 24:1-17; Psalm 33; I Cor. 15:1-11; Lk. 18:9-14

My title, The Glory of God is man fully alive, comes from Irenaus, bishop of Lyon in France in the latter half of the 2nd century Anno Domini. He was vigorously involved in countering the Gnostic heresies of the time, which denigrated the flesh as inherently evil and thus unredeemable.

I do not know the context of his remark, but clearly he did not believe that our being fully alive is the whole meaning of the glory of God. He would probably have been speaking in opposition to the Gnostic denigration of the flesh, and perhaps denigration even of an individual self at all. An anti-flesh religion would tend to float off into pagan mysticism, the total loss of the self as an individual. One later mystic said, "My own existence is a sin."

That is not at all the Biblical view of the matter. There is nothing in Scripture which revokes the observation of God at the creation of mankind, "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good." Not just good, but very good. God had no doubts about the matter. Even after the Fall, and the disaster leading to the Flood, God sets about redeeming what had fallen into such a terrible state of mutual violence and corruption.

So Irenaus would probably have meant that with respect to human beings, we most fully reflect the glory of God when we are fully alive. The glory of God is man fully alive, not man self-castigating, not man drowned in self-depreciation. Being fully alive does not convey that negative impression at all. It suggests a vibrancy, alertness, and joy spilling over.

 

At one of those late-night meals which some of us have after Wednesday evening prayer, one of those present, not a member of St. Luke’s, shared with us his journey from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy over the dilemma which he found in Western Christendom, which he expressed as: If you exalt God, you diminish man, and if you exalt man, you diminish God.

I perked up immediately because that was precisely what I had wrestled with growing up as a Christian. There was a sort of background noise which kept hinting that being a somebody was not a good idea, that being a self was, as the mystic said, a sin. I had grown up with the feeling that I had to cringe, at least a little bit, before God. I could not imagine myself standing up with confidence, that would have shown arrogance and pride.

One day, God told me, "My children do not cringe before Me. Stand up!" It was an order! But it took a long, long time before I began to really get over that tendency.

The negative attitude sends the message that God does not enjoy our company, that He is at best only putting up with us. That impression comes often when Christians talk of grace. We are told that we cannot get to heaven without the grace of God. That, of course, is true. I cannot even exist without the grace of God. My existence is totally a gift. I did nothing at all to earn it, ask for it, help create it. My existence is totally a gift from God to me. That is what God rejoiced in at the creation. He did not wince at the creation of Adam and Eve. He does not wince at my existence or being in His presence. He rejoices and encourages me to come closer.

Living by grace is not a put-down. We do not live by grace because we are sinners. We live by grace because that is the very natural way to live with God. God does not pour out any more grace upon me because I am a sinner than he does when I am living righteously. He is fully graceful all the time. That is the way God is, and the way we should be.

I am the one who winces, I am the one who draws back, I am the one who fears to be openly myself before Him. He has no revulsion against being fully Himself before me.

There is a passage in Habakkuk which gets badly misinterpreted. Chapter one begins with Habakkuk complaining to God that those Chaldeans, the Babylonians, "that bitter and hasty nation" -- "whose might is their god...," who were descending upon the Hebrews as a punishment from God, these people were more unrighteous than they, the Hebrews. How could God send a less righteous nation than they to punish them?

Habakkuk says, "Thou who art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on wrong, why doest thou look on faithless men, and art silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"

That phrase, "Thou who art of purer eyes than to behold evil...." is interpreted to mean (as I used to understand it) that God is unable to look evil directly in the eye, that it would somehow erode the dignity and purity of God to behold evil. So when God looks at us, He recoils in disgust, and looks the other way.

How would you feel if your human father treated you like that?

That might be the response of Aristotle's "unmoved mover", which was not even aware of the physical world because that would disturb its purity. But that is not the meaning of the Habakkuk verse at all. The whole chapter is about God rolling up His sleeves and going after the evil -- in this case, the evil perpetrated by God's own people. God is using that very nasty Babylonian bunch to do the job, but it is God who is managing the whole affair.

The sometimes painful discipline of God is filled with His grace. He never, never looks down His nose at us in disgust. St. John writes in his first epistle, "In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgement, because as He is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

It is not my perfect love that casts out my fear, it is the perfect love of God. And that means that the attitude of God toward me is one of a loving father, who has nothing but my good in mind, even, and maybe especially, when He is correcting me, growing me up.

It is all grace, yes, even, maybe especially, the correction.

God has purer eyes than to behold evil -- and not do something about it. That is the meaning of that passage -- clearly so if you read it in context. God will not notice your sin or your failure and look away with a contemptuous wave of His hand. He will get out His Holy Spirit brillo-pad, and start working on you. God is raising up persons who will be capable of being "fully alive". In our fallen state we are incapable of being fully alive, hardly alive at all, sometimes. Sometimes He has to treat us a bit roughly -- like the Hebrews out on the back side of the desert. But it is all grace.

 

So, what then is our part in cooperating with God in this process? What must we understand to work with Him -- rather than get in His way?

It has a lot to do with the lesson we have been working on about understanding ourselves. Who I am is not the same as what I do. Two very different, but completely complementary things. You cannot fully understand the meaning of the Gospel unless you understand this difference. Who you are, a creature of God, a son or daughter of God, is what God was rejoicing in as the creation finished with Adam and Eve. God was rejoicing in the personhood, the being of these two. They had been created in His Image, they were like Him in a very special way.

God then gave them simple instructions for their doing, that they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the tree of rebellion from God, the tree of independence from God, the tree of attempting universal knowledge, omniscience, so as to be no longer dependent upon God. Omniscience is, of course, not possible for any creature. It will fail, leading to disaster in the lives of those who try it. They would leap away from God into independence and find themselves ignorant, not educated, and foolish, not wise. They created a disaster for themselves.

But disobedience has to do with one's behavior, with what one does, not with who one is. God did not reject the being, the personhood of Adam and Eve because of their sin, He rejected their behavior.

But they, by their behavior, had rejected their dependence on God and their obedience to Him. That meant that they were now incompetent to live fully. They were no longer fully alive - literally. They had distanced themselves from their source of being, and from their source of moral direction, so they neither could be stable in their being, nor on-target with their moral direction.

So, the judgement of God was directed against their behavior, not against their being. God still wanted them to exist, to become again fully alive -- rather than die, as He told Adam they would. God does not rejoice in the death of a sinner, but rather that he might repent and live. But repentance has to do with one's doing, not with one's being. You repent of what you did, not of who you are. If you attack your being, you prevent repentance by undermining your stability of being.

Your being is an act of God, how can that be sinful? God made you to be you, a self, a someone. You are rejecting what God is doing when you reject your existence. That only exponentially multiplies your sin. In order to repent, you must first obediently accept your being from the Hand of God. Then you become more free to reject your sinful doing, sinful attitudes, sinful reactions.

 

The Old Testament lesson gives us a stark comparison -- which of the two, David or Saul, was more fully alive? Saul, son of Kish, the Benjaminite, had invited David into his court. David accepted, and then had winsomely attracted the admiration of the people, leading Saul's army into victory after victory against the enemy Philistines.

Saul, who had come from more well-off beginnings than David, began to have a spirit of jealousy, a fear of competition in the eternal struggle of the fallen world to be "on top". Saul had his dependency rooted not in God, but in the opinions of the people. When the fickle, and not very wise, people began to chant slogans praising David over Saul, he could not bear it. Public opinion, his ego support, was going against him. For Saul, that was a major disaster. David had won the loyalty of Jonathan, Saul's son, which made the matter only more offensive to Saul.

David tried his best to honor Saul, but he would not allow Saul to walk over him or use him unfairly.

Then came David's opportunity to do away with Saul, to seize the throne for himself. Saul had gone into the cave in which David and his men were hidden, to relieve himself. David snipped off a piece of Saul's robe. Then David's heart smote him because he had treated Saul with disrespect. But David went outside when Saul was far enough away and called to Saul, maintaining his innocence and professing his loyalty to Saul, yet at the same time rebuking Saul and telling Saul that he would not accept Saul's betrayal of him.

Who was more fully alive? Clearly David was. He was able to maintain his personal integrity in the face of extremely trying circumstances. Saul's integrity had been ground to pieces by his worship of public opinion, and by his jealousy of David. He began what looked like an honest repentance to David, but did not deal with the deeper spiritual issues of idolatry of public opinion, and of needing to put his trust in God for his future. He used his kingship given by God for his own personal ends. So his life became progressively less and less fully alive.

The glory of God is man fully alive, but Saul, so far as we know, was not able or not willing to glorify God in that way.

 

We see another Saul -- of Tarsus -- contrasted with Saul, son of Kish, the Benjaminite. Saul of Tarsus had his life transformed by a meeting with the Risen Lord. Despite his violent hatred of the Christian faith, of Christians, and of Christ Himself, something in Saul of Tarsus was open to the truth when he saw it. Unlike Pilate, he did not wonder, "What is truth...?" When he saw the truth standing before him, he repented and turned his life over to Jesus. Saul of Tarsus did not put himself down for his sins against Jesus, he did not reject his own being, rather he understood that his being had been rescued from his own bad behavior and had been given a new identity -- Paul, the Apostle.

In our epistle, Paul says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Listen to that phrase! Jesus is Yahweh, "I AM", He who Is, by whose grace alone we can be who we are. Only by the grace of God, we are who we are. When we separate ourselves from God, walk off the supporting Hand of God, supposing that we can establish our own ground, we begin to die. No longer fully alive, no longer who we are created to be.

Paul continues, "...and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Paul understood that his being came from God, that he had no existence independently from God. He rested his being squarely on the Hand of God, that rock upon which we are to build our houses so that the storms of life cannot wash us away into the seas of chaos.

 

And then there is that striking contrast in the Gospel lesson. Two men went to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a hated publican, a tax-collector for the Romans. The Pharisee bragged about his righteousness. He was not like the sinners, he did righteous things, he said. One supposes that he was imagining God to be smiling down upon him.

The publican (who knows what was going on in his imagination, except he knew that he was not liked by the people) -- stood afar off, and begged, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."

The Pharisee in the parable was exalting himself. He thought that he could earn someone's respect, earn his own worth, by what he did. He thought that he could create his own self-image. But he could not give himself life. The best he could give himself was a pose. That might impress others who were also living poses. It would not impress God, who wanted to give him the real thing, a real identity.

The Publican did not try to impress anyone. He knew that his life was in need of help, and turned to God to set it right. If he obeyed what God would respond to him, he would indeed be blessed, because he would be putting the weight of his dependency, like David and Paul, also on the Hand of God, and under the direction of God.

Humbling himself did not mean putting himself down, rejecting himself. It meant giving up trying to be a somebody in his own strength. It never works. It meant giving up his poses and letting God supply his needs for stability of being and moral direction. Whatever lifting up he might get would come from God, not from himself or from man. God would exalt him, to become fully alive, another testimony to the love and power of God.

What are we waiting for????

 

Lord, show us how to wait for You, to receive that power of the Holy Spirit to become fully alive, and to become walking testimonies to your Love and Grace.

Audio Version

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Date Posted - 08/15/2010    -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012