Transcending Moralism and the Freedom of the Spirit

This has been an interesting past couple of days.  My post “Grace, Moralism and Unmoral Christianity” generated more “views” than any of my postings for the past few months, no doubt due in large measure to Fr Stephen Freeman’s recommendation over at his blogsite Glory to God for All Things.  Fr Stephen’s December postings on “unmoral” Christianity have generated a goodly amount of internet discussion.  Clearly some are uncomfortable with his presentation of the Christian life as something radically different than being-good-with-the-help-of-divine-grace.  Fr Stephen has his own distinctive and illuminating way of speaking of the mystery of our new life in Christ.  The influence of John Zizioulas, Christos Yannaras, as well as Elder Sophrony, is fairly clear and has been noted by others; but what seems to have gone unnoticed is the influence of the Apostle Paul. Indeed, the discomfort that some have expressed with Fr Stephen’s proposal of Christian unmorality reminds me of the discomfort that many expressed in the first century with St Paul’s Torah-free gospel.

“For freedom Christ has set us free,” the Apostle Paul declares; “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Articles upon articles, books upon books have been written expounding the meaning of this freedom for the Apostle. Many of his opponents accused him of antinomianism. Paul responds to this charge in the sixth chapter of Romans: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). He does not backtrack and withdraw his emphatic affirmation of freedom in Christ: he reiterates it by reminding his readers that in Christ we have died to sin. We are no longer the type of people who desire to live a life apart from God. We have acquired an eschatological mode of existence—freedom in the Spirit!  We are a new creation! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). In Christ we no longer live for self but for the Father in the power of his Spirit. The only cure for our sin is the rebirth and new identity given to us in Holy Baptism. Each day we return in penitential surrender to the baptismal waters to rediscover our eschatological freedom and wholeness. This, I propose, is the New Testament meaning of repentance and the ascetical life—the free reception, appropriation, and celebration of the free gift of freedom.

“For freedom Christ has set us free!”  Free from the fear of death.  Free from the bondage of self.  Free from guilt and shame.  Free for the future.  Free for love.  Free for service and sacrifice. Free for our neighbor.  Free for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now that we are free, what shall we do?

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6 Responses to Transcending Moralism and the Freedom of the Spirit

  1. Dallas Wolf says:

    Fr. Kimel, I think this puts the exclamation point on the very important discussion that you and Fr. Freeman have had on the difference between external rules-based morality and the internal spiritual transformation of authentic Christian conversion. As you point out, Paul was the first to teach on the new mode of spiritual existence of the transformed Christian believer. This is not New Age; this is not Far Eastern philosophy; this is foundational ancient Christianity. I really enjoyed reading this exchange, though many of the comments point to the fact that the church (inclusive) has not done a good job in teaching this important distinction over the past two millennia. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”

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  2. brian says:

    Both sad and funny how many Christians are uncomfortable with the Gospel. It’s almost like they don’t even really know what it is.

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  3. Pingback: Morning coffee 2014-12-22 = Eschatological existence | Mangy Dog

  4. tgbelt says:

    You are officially a rock star. 😛

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  5. Mike H says:

    “This, I propose, is the New Testament meaning of repentance and the ascetical life—the free reception, appropriation, and celebration of the free gift of freedom.”

    Wow. I need to chew on that.

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  6. A.J. says:

    Father Aiden,

    I have seen you and Fr. Freeman continuously challenged by “where in the Fathers does it say” such and such about morality. I was challenged recently in the same way regarding these thoughts.

    I wanted to share the following ideas from St. John Chrysostom.

    Homily II on Philippians verse 11:

    “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are Jesus Christ unto the praise and glory of God; i.e. holding, together with true doctrine, an upright life. For it must not be merely upright, but filled with the fruits of righteousness. For there is indeed a righteousness NOT according to Christ, as, for example a simple moral life.

    Homily 23 on Matthew:

    “And by the figure of false prophets, here, I think He shadows out not the heretics, but them that are of a corrupt life, yet wear a mask of virtue; whom the generality are wont to call by the name of impostors. Wherefore He also said further, For among heretics one may often find actual goodness, but among those whom I was mentioning, by no means. What then, it may be said, if in these things too they counterfeit? Nay, they will be easily detected; for such is the nature of this way, in which I commanded men to walk, painful and irksome; but the hypocrite would not choose to take pains, but to make a show only; wherefore also he is easily convicted. Thus, inasmuch as He had said, there be few that find it, He clears them out again from among those, who find it not, yet feign so to do, by commanding us not to look to them that wear the masks only, but to them who in reality pursue it.”

    Homily 73 on Matthew:

    “For this became a cause to them of all their evils, namely, that they did all things for display. This both led them away from the faith, and caused them to neglect what really is virtue, and induced them to busy themselves about bodily purifyings only, neglecting the purifications of the soul. So therefore to lead them into what really is virtue, and to the purifyings of the soul, He makes mention of mercy, and judgment, and faith. For these are the things that comprise our life, these are what purify the soul, justice, love to man, truth; the one inclining us to pardon and not suffering us to be excessively severe and unforgiving to them that sin (for then shall we gain doubly, both becoming kind to man, and hence meeting also ourselves with much kindness from the God of all), and causing us both to sympathize with them that are despitefully entreated, and to assist them; the other not suffering them to be deceitful, and crafty.

    But neither when He says, These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the others undone, does He say it as introducing a legal observance; away with the thought; neither with regard to the platter and the cup, when He said, Cleanse that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also, does He bring us unto the old regard for little things, but on the contrary indeed, He does all things to show it to be superfluous. For He said not, Cleanse the outside of them also, but that which is within, and the outside is sure to follow.
    And besides, neither is it concerning a cup and platter he is speaking, but of soul and body, by the outside meaning the body, by the inside the soul. But if with regard to the platter there be need of that which is within much more with regard to you.

    But ye do the contrary, says He, observing things trifling and external, you neglect what are great and inward: whence very great mischief arises, for that thinking you have duly performed all, you despise the other things; and despising them, you do not so much as strive or attempt to perform them.
    After this, He again derides them for vainglory, calling them whited sepulchers, Matthew 23:27 and unto all adding, ye hypocrites; which thing is the cause of all their evils, and the origin of their ruin. And He did not merely call them whited sepulchers, but said, that they were full of uncleanness and hypocrisy. And these things He spoke, indicating the cause wherefore they did not believe, because they were full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

    But these things not Christ only, but the prophets also constantly lay to their charge, that they spoil, that their rulers judge not according to the rule of justice, and every where you may find the sacrifices indeed refused, but these things required. So that there is nothing strange, nothing new, neither in the lawgiving, nor in the accusation, nay not even in the comparison of the sepulchre. For the prophet makes mention thereof, neither did he call them merely a sepulchre, but their throat an open sepulchre. Such are many men now also, decking themselves indeed outwardly, but full of iniquity within. For now too there is many a mode, and many a care for outward purifications, but of those in the soul not so much as one. But if indeed any one should tear open each man’s conscience, many worms and much corruption would he find, and an ill savor beyond utterance; unreasonable and wicked lusts I mean, which are more unclean than worms.”

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