Having warned His disciples against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who used a mask of spirituality to hide their lust for power and worldly ambitions, our Lord then began to teach them not to fear the persecution of men, and to inspire them instead to the fear of God. “Fear not them that kill the body and afterward have no more that they can do… Fear Him who hath power to cast into hades…” The death of the body is something that will happen to all of us, in the perspective of eternity it is nothing to fear. What is more important than the fate of the body is the fate of the soul and we should attend to the One who has the fate of the soul in His hands.
Lest His disciples fall into an unreasoning fear, our Lord follows these words immediately with the comforting assurance of God’s love and provision for each one of us – numbering even the hairs on our head. And so we see that God, Who is our judge, Who holds the eternal disposition of our souls in His own hands, also loves us and cares for us and provides for us – giving us each every opportunity to avoid condemnation and eternal punishment. Note that we are called to fear not the One Who will condemn the soul to hell, but rather the One Who has the power to do so, leaving the door open to the mercy, compassion and forgiveness of our God.
What then do we do to attract the mercy and compassion of God and to avoid the punishment of the soul. Again our Lord tells His disciples the very simple truth that shows the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. He says, “Whoever will confess Me before men, I will confess before God, and he that denies Me before men, shall be denied before God.” Thus, the question comes down to this, “How do we confess Christ and in what way do we deny Him?” If we confess Christ in our lives, then we live entirely according to His will and with complete trust in His care and providence. We recognize that all that we have in our lives comes from Him and that our purpose is not to achieve success or comfort in this life, but rather to prepare for our life in eternity which is our true and proper place. This means that in everything we give thanks to God and to give Him the credit and praise for all the good things that we receive in this life as well as to bear, without complaint, the burdens and sorrows that we encounter in this life.
To confess Christ in this manner is opposed in us by three great enemies – each one amounts to denying Christ in some way. These three enemies are: pride, despair and complacency.
It is the tendency of our fallen nature to take credit for every good thing that we acquire, for our every accomplishment and success. Egocentricity is the natural state of our fallen and sinful condition. The soul hungers for the recognition of others, for respect, for praise. We want others to think well of us and order our lives in such a way that we garner that positive attention. I become the cause and means of everything good in my life. There is no room to give the credit, the praise, the recognition to anyone else, especially Jesus Christ, for all that I have acquired. If indeed I acknowledge God at all, it is to note that He has given me all these good things as a reward for my virtue, my accomplishments, my success. No longer do I confess Christ, but I confess myself.
The remedy for pride, is, of course, humility. The humble person recognizes that in himself there is nothing good or praiseworthy, but that all comes from God alone. Therefore, ask for God’s help in everything that you do no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. And in everything give thanks. To pray before every task, before every action saying simply, “Lord have mercy,” reminds us of our moment by moment reliance upon God’s help and provision. To give thanks for every accomplishment and for everything that we acquire in this life, no matter how small, reminds us that all things come from God. This constant awareness of God’s help and provision breeds humility in the soul and resists pride.
The second great enemy of confessing Christ is despair. Despair is on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from pride. While pride is an exaggerated and inflated opinion of one’s own importance and competence, despair is the conviction that one is beyond help and beyond hope – that even God does not or cannot help and so no matter what one is doomed. Such an attitude denies the love of God for each person, the same love that is expressed by our Lord when He says, “the very hairs of your head are numbered…ye are of more valued than many sparrows.” It also denies that God is indeed all-powerful and that there is nothing that He cannot do. It is, as it were, the belief that God did indeed create a rock so big that He Himself couldn’t move it and I am that rock. Whereas the proud man makes himself the highest point in the universe, the despairing man makes himself the lowest point in the universe – either way it is all about the self.
Faith is the answer to despair and the prayer of the father of the possessed child becomes the prayer of the person tempted to despair, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!” To pray constantly in this way, confessing one’s own unbelief and lack of hope creates a lifeline of complete dependence upon God which makes Him the only thing which is greater than everything else that overwhelms oneself. The more one prays in this way, the stronger that confession becomes until we know that there is only one Helper, only on Hope and that is God Himself.
The third great enemy of the confession of Christ in us, and perhaps the most dangerous and insidious, is that of complacency. In the Apocalypse, the angel of the Lord says to certain Christians, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. … So then because you are lukewarm, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” The complacent man is content with his life in this world and he does not concern himself with eternity. He is comfortable and so long as that is the case he does not feel any need for God. God, after all, is only necessary for those who are either great sinners or suffering in some way and he feels that he is neither – life is “good enough”. The complacent man drifts along in this world willingly blind to the great truth that man was not meant for this world, but his true destiny, his true purpose in this world is to prepare for life in eternity. He does not confess Christ for to him, Jesus Christ is irrelevant to his daily life. If pressed he may admit that he has some kind of vague belief in God, however that vague belief has no immediacy and doesn’t impact his daily life other than a conviction that he is a “good person” and hasn’t done anything really “bad” in his life.
To live a complacent life towards God in this world is to sleepwalk through life, never (or rarely) lifting the eyes of the heart above that which is mundane and temporary to see instead the whole of the spiritual realm. Of course the remedy for this is to WAKE UP! Remind yourself daily, even every moment of the day, that your true purpose, your true destiny is in the spiritual life and that this world only serves as the arena to develop the spiritual virtues and qualities that will be necessary for life in the Kingdom of God. It is necessary to stir oneself from the lethargy and inertia of living a “good enough” life so that one might strive for a life that rises to become like Christ. It is too easy to slumber through this life, unaware of the greater spiritual life which surrounds us. We must develop and encourage within ourselves the perspective that there is more to life than just being “good enough”, just being comfortable. We must tear our minds and hearts away from the fixation on this world and raise our eyes to see that which is greater than the world – eternity, of which we are a part.
Fear God, for He has the power to cast into hell. He loves each of us and desires that no man perish but that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. To that end, He gives us every opportunity in this life to confess Him before man. That is, by our lives to demonstrate our complete dependence and our constant hope on Him. Wake up therefore and do not be found sleeping or unprepared. Now is the time of your salvation, now is the moment when you must begin to work to develop an awareness of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to foster in yourself, humility, hope, dependence on God. Do not lose any more time, but from this moment forth confess Jesus Christ before men in every aspect of your life that He might also confess you before God.