Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings – 1 Peter 5:8-9
Happy New Year! I hope everyone was able to get some time off and some much needed rest. 2017 had some many exciting challenges and lots of spiritual growth, and I am hoping 2018 will be even better for me and for you. Now that the vacation is over I will begin to resume posting more frequently.
I thought I would write on this important topic to start the year. I was thinking about this on my drive into work. I have heard and read about this topic frequently but today it struck me a bit more deeply so I will share some thoughts on this.
I am often amazed at the strength and virtue of the saints of old. When you read through their lives in scripture or in some other work, it is amazing to see the power of God working through them. I often thought that once this level of holiness is obtained in this life that the spiritual warfare, the fight against evil, would be easier and less harsh. To me, this seemed like a reasonable thought and we can see this parallel with say a weight lifter, who once obtaining the strength to lift a weight will be able to lift the same weight with ease over time.
We can see in the example of the weight lifter that it does in fact truly becoming easier with time to lift the same weight, for the strength of the weight lifter increases over time. So lifting a 50 lb dumbbell will be easier overtime as the weight lifter continues to get stronger. Eventually, the weight lifter will reach a peak in their strength and will be unable to lift more. It would seem fair to assume that this would be the case with our spiritual nature as well. I thought that if we constantly strive for perfection and once we near perfection in this life, the fight against evil would be easier than it was before and our spiritual regime does not necessarily have to get more rigorous. I am of the opinion that this is not the case with respect to our spiritual nature. I believe that the spiritual battle that we must contend with will be a daily struggle until we leave this life. As a result of this, we must always exercise vigilance in our lives to ensure that we do not allow ourselves to fall into sin.
As we can see in the passage from scripture, the enemy is constantly looking out for someone to devour. Satan is our enemy and will do whatever it takes in order that we should stumble and fall. Even our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan, why would we expect no less? If this is the reality of our challenge here, it further stresses the importance of being vigilant against sin and always striving for perfection by the means provide to us by God, for this is not a battle that we win by our own effort, but by the grace. Unfortunately for us, this really means no breaks in our spiritual warfare. Now, the Lord does grant consolation and relief to souls and we need to count this as a blessing. This does not mean however that the battle is over, for as quickly as those consolation appear, the hardship will quickly follow. If we allow ourselves at all to get tepid or lax in our spiritual growth we run the risk of being tripped by the enemy and falling into mortal sin. It really is a great danger and we can even see that St. Paul was not spared many challenges and temptations in his life as well:
…Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated – 2 Corinthians 12:7
God really does test His holy ones, even those who are doing His will actively and leading others to Him. Even these souls cannot rest as we see with St. Paul. Now, all of this is done in order that we may come into a deeper relationship with the Lord and this is not something the Lord wishes to torture us with. For those who are rooted and dependent on Jesus Christ will be able to persevere but those who rely on their own strength and are caught off guard run the risk of falling into sin. These temptations only serve to strengthen and test the elect. If we fall to these temptations it only reveals how we still are not rooted deeply in Jesus Christ as we may have thought.
Be mindful that even though you may have conquered a challenging mortal sin many years ago, you may still have to wage war against it some time in the future. The temptation may come when you have gotten lax and will throw you off. Be very vigilant and trust in the Lord greatly. The enemy does not rest but through the Jesus Christ we will overcome the challenge. Be mindful of this and you should be fine. Sometimes these temptations are necessary in order to remind ourselves of how utterly weak we are without Christ, and that through Him we can do all things. It can be a bit discouraging at times and very fatiguing to live a life of virtue but if we love Jesus Christ, we will heed His words and follow Him. He assures us that it will all be worth it in the end and nothing done for the love of Jesus Christ will not go unrewarded in the next life.
With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life – Proverbs 4:23
St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory, pray for us that we may have the grace to not fall into temptation!