Saturday, September 28, 2013

A desire for sinlessness - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God. He is to us a spotless image; to Him we are to try with all our might to assimilate our souls. He is wholly free from human passions; wherefore also He alone is judge, because He alone is sinless." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 2)
When we read through Clement's book we must always remember that when he speaks of the Instructor he is always referring to God in the person of Jesus Christ. In saying this he first shows us that, while the role of the Instructor has always been with God, it has not always been with mankind. Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our relationship with God changed from one of a son and daughter with their father to one of mankind with his judge. This difference was further expressed under the Old Covenant when, righteousness being codified in to laws, it became mankind's responsibility to improve his own soul based on his knowledge of good an evil that he might achieve, by himself, the righteousness demands of the law. However, with the coming of Jesus we have received a new covenant, one where righteousness is based on faith and our Instructor, no longer our knowledge of good and evil, is the Son of God Himself. Jesus has become our Instructor, not we ourselves.

Secondly, Clement reminds us that our Instructor is pure and holy and free from sin and passion. This is the image He desires to remake us into. His goal, and it should be ours as well, is to be conformed into His image; to become sinless and holy just like He is sinless and holy.
"As far, however, as we can, let us try to sin as little as possible. For nothing is so urgent in the first place as deliverance from passions and disorders, and then the checking of our liability to fall into sins that have become habitual. It is best, therefore, not to sin at all in any way, which we assert to be the prerogative of God alone; next to keep clear of voluntary transgressions, which is characteristic of the wise man; thirdly, not to fall into many involuntary offences, which is peculiar to those who have been excellently trained. Not to continue long in sins, let that be ranked last. But this also is salutary to those who are called back to repentance, to renew the contest." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 2)
How does one cease from sin? By degrees. Clement descries the four stages of achieving sinless in our lives. The first stage is to shorten our time in sin. For example, consider anger and unforgiveness. It is easy for us to relish in our sin and to let grudges and offenses grow into hatred and a desire for revenge. The goal of the first stage of sinlessness is to recognize our sin earlier and earlier and to repent sooner and sooner so that our time spent in sin will be less and less. The result of which is that the damage done to us and others by our sin is reduced. The sooner we can recognize our sin, the easier is our way out of it.

The second stage is to learn to avoid voluntary sins, especially those that have become habitual. We achieve this by dealing with the passions and disorders that are the source of temptation in our lives. Jesus said, "the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." (John 14:30) Unfortunately, the devil often finds much within us with which to tempt us and to lead us to sin. Passions and disorders of the soul provide the lour for temptation to drag us into sin. As James spoke of the progression into sin, saying, "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." (James 1:14-15) Lust leading to temptation leading to sin leading to death. Much of the work of the Instructor is concentrated on achieving success in this stage of sinlessness.

In the third stage of sinlessness we must steel ourselves against involuntary sins. Clement speaks of these as those sins that happen suddenly such as what was refereed to in the Law regarding the priests. "But if a man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his dedicated head of hair, then he shall shave his head on the day when he becomes clean." (Numbers 6:9) Clement describes the act as sudden and the sin as irrational. There are times when we find ourselves in situations we are not prepared for. We are in a business meeting and our boss has just fabricated the truth and then turns to us to confirm his untruths before the client. What do we do? Our boss' actions were sudden but will our reaction be irrational or rational? Will we lie or speak the truth? The only way to prepare our souls for such sudden and involuntary sins is to be disciplined and trained in the ways of God. Over time, we will condition our souls for every holy response no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

The final stage of sinlessness is actual sinlessness; not to sin at all. While Clement acknowledges that we normally assert this to be the prerogative of God alone, the good news of the Gospel is that we can be sinless. The good news is that we can now say "No" to sin and "Yes" to God as Paul tells us. "But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." (Romans 6:17-18) For those desiring to live godlike lives, this is truly good news!

David Robison

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