Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do Not Be Deceived

If you put your faith in Christ, are you automatically saved? And being thus “saved,” is it impossible for you to lose your salvation? Or are there things that can still keep a believer out of Heaven should he or she choose to practice them? Do not be deceived, says St Paul, there are whole lists of them. We’ll take a look at his two main lists here.

There’s a list in Galatians 5:19-21 and another in First Corinthians 6:9-10. The former are called “works of the flesh” and are the kinds of behavior that exclude one from Heaven if one practices them. The latter are categories of the unrighteous, that is, the kinds of people who do such things. St Paul minces no words about any of these. In Galatians he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Clear, no? In First Corinthians he says, “Do not be deceived; neither [he begins his list] nor [he completes his list] will inherit the kingdom of God.” OK, no room for ambiguity or qualification there. Let’s get on with it.

First, the works of the flesh. He begins with sexual sins, three categories of them: porneia (fornication), akatharsia (uncleanness, impurity), and aselgeia (lewdness, licentiousness). Our sex-saturated society ought to be put on notice, for many people are excluding themselves from Heaven through sexual immorality. Next comes eidololatria (idolatry, which takes many forms these days), then pharmakeia (sorcery; covers all manner of occultism, witchcraft, etc). It’s interesting to notice that etymologically—but not morally—pharmacists come under this category, I guess because they mix “potions” for the sick. But perhaps those who create contraceptives and abortifacients are sorcerers in a way.

So far we might be in general, if slightly uneasy, agreement that such practices keep us forever out of the presence of God. But the list is much longer, and includes things which we may find ourselves practicing occasionally or even on a regular basis: ekhthrai (enmities), eris (strife), zilos (jealousy), thumoi (outbursts of anger), eritheiai (rivalries), dokhostasiai (divisions), aireseis (factions or sects, from which comes the English “heresies”), phthonoi (envyings), methai (drunkenness), and komoi (revelings or carousings). Here is much material for examining one’s conscience if one would hope for Heaven. We can assume that it is not an occasional slip into these things that excludes us from Paradise, but perseverance in them, without repentance.

We’re not finished yet. Moving on to First Corinthians, we get a list of the unrighteous. Three of these types are repeated from the list above: fornicators, idolaters, and drunkards. The new list additionally contains: moikhoi (adulterers), malakoi (effeminate persons; the lexicon says, “prone to unnatural lust”), arsenokoitai (sodomites—let us not think that changing social or cultural tolerations reduce the force of the word of God), kleptai (thieves), pleonektai (covetous or greedy persons), loidoroi (revilers), and arpages (rapacious persons, i.e., the violent, or those given to robbery, extortion, or plunder).

There you have it. Now you know what keeps a person out of Heaven. Perhaps these lists are incomplete, and a careful study of Scripture will reveal more, like blasphemy, pride, hatred, and murder, but if we can avoid all that is on these lists, specially drawn up for this urgent apostolic admonition, we will be well on our way to the Kingdom—practicing, of course, all the virtuous counterparts to these vices. We must also be aware that repentance is the remedy for any and all of them. It is only the unrepentant that will be refused entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, but we have to work diligently now, because if vices become habitual, we either become enslaved by them or our consciences become so dulled and distorted that we don’t even recognize them as evil anymore and hence refuse to repent of them.

So do not be deceived—by slick self-appointed re-interpreters of the Bible, by the specious claims of those who don’t even believe in God or accept his righteousness, by the various political or social agendas of the day, by well-meaning but deluded or misguided people who tolerate evil in the name of tolerance, or even by your own "wishing things were some other way so that life would be easier" daydreams. If the word of God says that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, then those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven!

Let us pray for a great awakening of consciences, an enlightenment of minds and hearts, clear understanding of the wisdom of God, an abundance of genuine repentance, and a spirit of faith, love, and obedience to the divine commandments—for God desires all to be saved. But salvation, while a gift on God’s part, is a choice on ours.