Friday, June 28, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - The Repentant Life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"Forgiveness of past sins, then, God gives; but of future, each one gives to himself. And this is to repent, to condemn the past deeds, and beg oblivion of them from the Father, who only of all is able to undo what is done, by mercy proceeding from Him, and to blot out former sins by the dew of the Spirit." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 40)
When we come to salvation in Christ, our lives are divided into two part: that part that was before and that part which is yet to be. Over our past God pronounces forgiveness of all our sins; we are forgiven for all we have done and our slate is wiped clean. This forgiveness can only come from God for it is against Him we have sinned and He therefore alone has the power to forgive us of those sins. No amount of good works on our part can overcome our evil works without the intervening power of His forgiveness. However, while our past belongs to God, our future belongs to us.
"So that even in the case of one who has done the greatest good deeds in his life, but at the end has run headlong into wickedness, all his former pains are profitless to him, since at the catastrophe of the drama he has given up his part; while it is possible for the man who formerly led a bad and dissolute life, on afterwards repenting, to overcome in the time after repentance the evil conduct of a long time." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 40)
Our pasts do not determine our futures, good or evil. We could have had an evil past yet end up with a good future, or we could have had a good past and end up in an evil way, the choice is ours; the choice is our to choose the future we wish to have, regardless of the manor of life we lived before coming to know the Father.

Clement makes it clear that, in his estimation, one can start out well by walking in the kingdom yet later throw it all away by pursuing an evil course; not as one loosing his salvation, but as one giving it away. Its not our sins that give away our salvation but our choice of paths. If we start out on a path of faith then we will do well, but if we later turn to a path of unbelief, all the gains we have made under faith are at risk of being lost, with the possibility of our greatest loss, the loss of our salvation. The key to not erring on our way is to emulate a life of repentance.
"But it needs great carefulness, just as bodies that have suffered by protracted disease need regimen and special attention. Thief, dost thou wish to get forgiveness? steal no more. Adulterer, burn no more. Fornicator, live for the future chastely. Thou who hast robbed, give back, and give back more than [thou tookest]. False witness, practice truth. Perjurer, swear no more, and extirpate the rest of the passions, wrath, lust, grief, fear; that thou mayest be found at the end to have previously in this world been reconciled to the adversary. It is then probably impossible all at once to eradicate inbred passions; but by God’s power and human intercession, and the help of brethren, and sincere repentance, and constant care, they are corrected." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 40)
There is a great difference between being forgiven of our sins and the extirpation of those sins from our lives. Most of us feel guilty when we sin and desire forgiveness that we might be released from the feelings of our guilt. However, few of us proceed further to seek to remove those sins from our lives that we might no longer need forgiveness for those self same sins. Forgiveness happens in a moment, however, repentance can take a life time to work out in our lives; to work out a repentance that is a true turning away from our sins and a turning towards God. Such a repentance is not easy and will take constant effort on our part, but we are not alone. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

God is asking us today to adopt for ourselves a life of repentance; to not only seek forgiveness of sins but to achieve in our lives an abandonment of those sins; to grow in repentance to the place where forgiveness is required less often and victories over sin become more common place. While such a life can be hard, and may be harder for some than others, its rewards are eternal.

David Robison

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