Monday, January 02, 2006

No Provision

We’re beginning our journey into the new year. What shall we wear, how do we decide what to take with us? I’ll just give a brief passage from St Paul: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). To put on the Lord Jesus Christ should be the entire answer (see what this means in Colossians 3:12-17 and Ephesians 4:22-32). But here I want to focus on what it means to make no provision for the flesh.

In order not to make provisions for the flesh, it would be useful to know what the flesh is. I will offer a short explanation here with a quote from—myself. “When we look at what are described as manifestations of ‘the flesh,’ we usually find several terms related to sexual sins (from which comes the most common, but not entirely accurate, interpretation of ‘sins of the flesh’), but also quite a few others, like idolatry, sorcery, anger, selfishness, and envy. When you envy someone or act selfishly, do you consider yourself to have committed a ‘sin of the flesh’? The word of God says that you have. To live ‘according to the flesh’ is to live in a state of sinful rebellion against God, whatever the sin might be. Whatever is contrary to the will of God is ‘of the flesh,’ for ‘those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:8). You can be sexually pure and still be committing “sins of the flesh” if you are full of anger or greed, if you are factious, envious, uncharitable, etc. Walking in the spirit instead of in the flesh is the Christian way of life, the life of cooperation with grace, of obedience to the divine commandments, of bringing one’s body and soul into communion and harmony with God’s will and life. It is, in short, to live in love” (from the article “Works of Night, Armor of Light; Fruit of Light: Do What is Right”).

So if you think that if you are chaste or celibate you’ve made no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires, think again. To nurse a grudge is to gratify a desire of the flesh, as is also to heedlessly vent your anger or “put someone in his place.” Doing anything outside the purview of the grace and will of God is gratifying the flesh, so to live by the flesh is simply to live in sin—any sin. What Paul is saying, then, is make no provision for sin in your life!

That’s quite a tall order, since even “the righteous man is scarcely saved” (1Peter 4:18). But there’s a difference between a merciful consideration of human frailty and an actual expectation or “budgeting-in” of sin in one’s life. I had quite a tussle once with a penitent (I use the term rather loosely) in the confessional. He spent most of his time trying to justify his sin, or calling it something else, and basically seeking permission to continue with what he assumed would be inevitable. After a long interchange, and my practically pleading with him to see things clearly in the light of Gospel truth, he came around enough to acknowledge the sin, and he offered sufficient assurance of amendment (though just barely!), so that I could give him absolution. The point is that this fellow was making provision for sin in his life, and I, following St Paul, was not going to let him get away with it!

Too often people make provision for sin by saying things like, “that’s just the way I am.” (I’d hate to see them sliding down the chute to the fiery pit, while the Grim Reaper, with his ossified grin, stands by and says: Tsk, tsk, it’s just because of the way you were!) Or, if they are superficially religious, they might say, “God loves me as I am.” But they ought to remember the corollary to that statement: God loves you as you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay as you are! To make provision for the flesh is to settle for mediocrity, to stack the deck against your own feeble bid for sanctity—and perhaps even to lose your immortal soul.

To make no provision for the flesh or to gratify its desires, is to strive, with the help of divine grace, for virtue, fidelity, and righteousness; it is to have a deep desire to live in truth and love, and not to compromise along the way. Sure, you will fall, but like the just man who falls seven times, you will rise each time (Proverbs 24:16), confident in God’s mercy and loving encouragement, and you will not set your sights any lower because of your falls.

It is precisely because we put on the Lord Jesus Christ that we need not make provision for the flesh. For “if God gave up his own Son for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?” (Rom. 8:32). Our provisions will then be simply to do the will of the Father, “so there will be richly provided for [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Peter 1:11).