To Become, You Must Do

St. George the dragon-slayer

St. George the dragon-slayer

An axiom is set forth: “to do you must become, to become you must do.” An axiom is a proposition. The worth of it is self evident. I have used this axiom in sermons, papers, and as a guide for my own life for many years.

Let’s look at its first half: “to do you must become…” This involves an initiation. The initiation for the Christian is baptism. St. Paul informs us:

Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism [dia tou baptismos] into death, in order just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, that also we might walk in newness of life (Romans 6: 4).

Thus, St. Paul teaches that when united to Christ though baptism, the sacramental agent of this union, we are to walk (live) as Christ himself lived. We have become, and we are in Christ. From this point of initiation we move further into the life of Christ, and are nourished and enlivened by Christ by reception of his Body and Blood of the Eucharist: “Therefore, Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves’” (John 6: 53). We are in Christ and have his life in us by the faithful reception of the Eucharist, and the relational union we have in him is also empowered by the Eucharist. We are empowered that “we might walk in newness of life.”

Regarding this newness of life, it is not a disembodied existence. Walking, or living in Christ involves action. St. Paul writes regarding our active Christian life: “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance, that we might walk in them” (Eph 2: 10). St. Paul also writes,

So then, my beloved, just as you always obeyed, not only in my presence but now even more in my absence, with fear and trembling work out your own salvation. For God is the one working in you [energon]— both to will and to work in behalf of his good pleasure (Phil 2: 12 – 13).

In the above the “working” God does in us is a divine work — his work which transforms us!

So, we are moved to the second half of the axiom: “…to become you must do.” Our union in Christ is also strengthened by faith’s works. Christ is formed in us by faith’s works. By “doing Christ” we become Christ-like. We must move, work, and do as Christ before the entirety of creation.

This brings us to a Christian ethic, specifically an ethic of being. This means that if I want to become compassionate, I must be compassionate. I must do works of compassion. If I want to be truthful, I must tell the truth. If I want to be grateful, I must express thanks. I must choose to act and do. This is how any virtue becomes a reality in one’s life. It is how Christ becomes our reality: “…to become we must do.”

Yet, there is an inner struggle to attain godliness and virtue. It is not with any ease that Christ will be formed in us by our faithful actions. There is all too often the voice of doubt and selfishness which would have us turn harmfully inward — a turn to spiritual atrophy, and even death. St. Paul speaks of this struggle in the seventh chapter of Romans. And so does a contemporary commentator on the virtuous life, the actor/author Ethan Hawke in his new book, Rules for a Knight in his brief chapter on solitude. His wise words conclude this posting:

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between two wolves that live inside of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied: “Whichever one you feed.”[1]

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

[1] Ethan Hawke, Rules for a Knight, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 14, 15.

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