As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” (Romans vi. 19).
In this Epistle the Apostle exhorts us to two things firstly, to the avoidance of evil, As ye have, yielded your members to uncleanness; secondly, to the love of good, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
- On the first head, the Apostle assigns in this Epistle four reasons through which sin should be avoided.
(1) Because sin pollutes the mind to uncleanness. Their abominations were according as they loved. (Hos. ix. 10)
St. Paul reminds us that when we ‘were the servants of sin, we yielded our members from iniquity to iniquity.’ There are three dimensions of human nature that sin affects. First, it affects the body; second, the soul; third, the spirit.
Regarding the first we recognize that our sin has corrupted our bodies or made them unclean. This could be in the form of gluttony, covetousness, or lust. The mortal sin of gluttony is committed by those who eat too much or too little and thus have treated a need as an exaggerated god. The mortal sin of covetousness is committed by those who spend too much or too little because the god of mammon possesses them either with a fear to spend on and for the Lord because of selfishness, or a fear not to spend since the external and visible signs of wealth are needed to show the world how much they have and how far they have come. The mortal sin of lust is committed by both bitter celibates or profligate fornicators. Celibacy is not a sin, but it should be embraced as a calling which yields a deeper love of God. A resentful and bitter celibate is not celibate. Contrariwise, sexual intercourse is not a sin, provided that it is rooted and grounded in the intention to procreate within the honorable estate of Holy Matrimony. Otherwise it produces lust and Holy Matrimony is polluted and corrupted. For a man to be healed of any or all of these sins takes much time. They are grounded in spiritual illness and thus must be overcome only gradually as the Grace of God generates spiritual health by infusing those virtues that conquer them. Some men and women live into old age never having confronted and overcome these sins.
Regarding the second, we realize that we have corrupted our souls also. The chief sin of soul is acedie or acedia. This is spiritual or even bodily sloth that comes about due to an absence of zeal, passion, and ardour for the rule and governance of God in human life. It is full of despair that leads to sluggishness, spiritual and mental sloth, apathy, indifference, lack of care, incaution, and negligence. This comes about both from the sins of the body in one direction and the sins of the spirit in the other. The soul’s sins tend to link up the two. It is for this reason that anger, ire, fury, or rage might be located either here in the soul tending downwards into the body or upwards into the spirit. Anger is the harm that one man brings to another either mentally or physically. So Anger hangs uncomfortably between the soul and the spirit.
Regarding the third, we realize that we have corrupted our spirits. The two major mortal sins of the spirit are envy and pride. Envy begrudges another man any goodness and hopes that misfortune will befall him. ‘He loves the misfortune of his neighbor’. (D.C., Purg. Canto vii. 120) It is the sin of malevolence. It is closer to the body than the soul since another person has a grip and hold upon the envious or jealous man. The envious man’s malevolence and ill-will are driven by the goodness that is present in the life of another, and so the sinner wishes for a kind of ongoing unhappiness for his neighbor. Above envy is pride. Pride is the Queen of all sins since it really would rather that other men did not exist. Pride longs that his neighbor’s excellence be cast down and destroyed. So he treats his neighbor as non-existent. His own supremacy is wholly ensured only when all others are qualitatively beneath him and, with any luck, banished and annihilated.
(2) Sin should be avoided also because through it man ignominiously subjects himself to servitude, When ye were the servants of sin. Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. (St. John viii. 34)
When we sin the false gods rule us. They infuse into our lives habits of unholiness. The sinful habits govern and move us because we have indulged spiritual sloth. From the side of the body zeal and right reason have not ordered and governed it into the service of higher truth. From the side of the spirit zeal and faith have not inspired us to lovingly long for the rule and governance of God’s Word in our flesh. The net result: we are the slaves of sin, of ‘the Good’s Absence’, and thus of Satan.
(3) Sin should be avoided because of the great confusion that flows from it. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed ? O Lord, all that forsake Thee shall be ashamed. (Jeremiah xvii. 13)
When we sin, we forsake the right ordering of our bodies, souls, and spirits and thus welcome confusion and obscurity into our lives. We introduce elements of vice that compete for the rule and governance of Jesus Christ in our hearts. And thus we are not respecting and honoring the Image and Likeness of God in our natures. Every part of human nature has a role or function to perform in the pursuit of that holiness that leads to salvation. If the parts are not honored and used in combination with the whole person’s pursuit of God, turbulence and turmoil reign freely. Shame comes as a consequence of sin’s habituation in human life. It takes a good long time to work out the guilt, shame, and horror. Confessions must be followed with conscientious contrition and compunction for sin. It takes a good long time for Christ to work His healing Redemption in. Too many Christians try to run away from their past sins and thus are all the more spiritually sick and diseased. One should not, of course, mourn to the point of despair. But true sorrow is essential for the inner working of the Holy Spirit.
(4) Sin is to be avoided because by sin man is led to eternal death. The wages of sin is death. The death of the wicked is very evil. (Psalm xxxiii. 22)
Sin leads to eternal death. If it has not been worked out of the human system through the Forgiveness of Sins and the Sanctification of the Holy Ghost, a man will not be saved. Some people delude themselves into thinking they have faced and overcome their sins. Cessation from sin is not enough. This is a first step. Next comes the process whereby the Holy Ghost heals the memory, understanding, and will of ignorance, false motives, ill will, despair, unbelief, and hatred. The process requires the sinful soul often to bear a cross for some time that he might be made more conscious of his utter powerlessness and need for humility and meekness. The process of healing takes time. The threat of eternal death should stir the soul to spiritual warfare against past sin and present sickness. The mind or soul is called upon to reunite the body with the spirit under the guidance and direction of God’s Grace that leads to eternal life.
- On the second head, it is to be noted, that likewise four reasons are given why good should be chosen. For men acquire four great things from the choice of that which is good.
(1) Good should be chosen because of purity of the mind or sanctification, which is cleansing: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (St. Matt. v. 8)
The good should be chosen because God’s goodness alone purifies the human heart of all lust, covetousness, gluttony, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. Purity of heart is the gift given to them who desire to be moved by God’s loving goodness alone. It is the desire and passion to love God wholly and completely and to love all neighbors in God and for God. It is that state whereby the human heart intends to please God with all of his life. Purity of heart means that love of God and love of neighbor are united in the Divine and Human natures of Jesus Christ. A man can never truly love until this combined love of Christ comes alive in his heart. This love alone leads to the vision of God.
(2) Good should be chosen because of the justice of the will to righteousness. For righteousness is a right will. Justice is rectitude of the will preserved on its own account. (St. Anselm)
Goodness leads to justice or a right ordering of the human will in relation to God and neighbor. Justice comes about when every part of human nature perfects its function for the good-ordering and operation of the whole human person. A right will chooses to use all parts of human nature in service of the pilgrim journey towards salvation. Justice orders the body, soul, and spirit in such a way that God’s will, His Wisdom and Truth, rule and govern human life.
(3) Good should be chosen for the liberty of the spirit. Ye were free from righteousness. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. (2 Cor. iii. 17) If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (St. John viii. 36)
A man can be truly free only when the meaning and purpose of human life are perfected for its ultimate end. True liberty is found when nothing hinders, frustrates, or distracts a man from his true natural and foreordained purpose. Man is made for the vision and love of God. Once a man embraces God’s goodness by the operation of Grace, he begins to be freed from all that threatens to destroy and kill his human nature. Sin kills man’s nature and prevents its ultimate perfection. Liberty is not the absence of restraint to do whatever one pleases. Liberty is found only when a man becomes a man, i.e. when he submits to the Goodness that has made him, preserves him, and always desires to save or reconcile him with his beginning. ‘In my beginning is my end.’ To return to the origin and source of our being, knowing, and loving is an act of true liberty because it depends exclusively upon faith in God’s Grace, or a voluntary act that says “Yes” to God. The rational creature then finds liberty only through a freely willed decision to become what the Maker intended him to be.
(4) Man should choose Goodness because by doing good obtains eternal life. The gift of God is eternal life. And shall come forth they that have done good unto the resurrection of life. (St. John v. 29) Those shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. (St. Matt. xxv. 46)
Choosing goodness comes with the reward of eternal life, pure and perfect resurrection from the dead, unbreakable union and communion with God. Life eternal here means everlasting joy and happiness that is found in the knowledge and love of God. Today friends, let us choose this Goodness of God, which alone perfects and saves us. Let us endeavor to be inspired with zeal to pursue passionately salvation and eternal life. Let us thus surrender to the motions of God’s Holy Spirit that our zeal may yield love, and our love may carry us into the everlasting embrace of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, our One God. Amen.