Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the Great Work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.” He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.” Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach
—-Abba Anthony of the Desert
There are several very biting suggestions made here by the old Monk. Perhaps we can use his advice to bring us a little closer to God. I am convinced that all men seek closeness to God. Some call this closeness getting in touch with their inner bein., Others may call it karma, but I just call such closeness prayer, and prayer allows me to know God. He is my creator, friend and redeemer.
Our first step is to take blame for our own sins. A good expression for this is “owning up.” We live in a world of excuses and explanations, but raw truth is always best. I confess to being amused when I heard the expression”alternative facts” this past week. Anthony tells us to simply take blame for our own failures. The scripture says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” That is the beginning of our path to heaven and peace on this earth.
He reminds us to expect temptation every day of our lives. On face value that is very depressing, but temptation drives us to the grace of God. The scripture reminds us that we have all sinned but it also says,“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Simply put, temptation drives us to a choice – God or self satisfaction. God created us with a free will and salvation is a choice, a serious and demanding choice that we all have to make. Our easy, comfortable and pleasure seeking world resists the concept of choices that limit our “freedom.” For those that choose Jesus, there is no greater freedom to be had.
Allow me to chase the “sin rabbit” for just a moment. God offers forgiveness and the world offers forgiveness. There is, however, an astounding difference between God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world. Convicted felons who have served their time and even expressed genuine remorse for their crimes are excluded from voting and holding public office, have limited credit privileges, can be denied a job,cannot serve on some juries, and are excluded from other rights in ways that vary from state to state. They have served their time, but their crime is not forgotten. ALL of us, whether we admit it or not , are unable to forget the sins (we may forgive and even move on) of those that have offended u., Only God can do that. God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation is the one that we can’t pass up. No one, I mean no one, offers such a gift but God.God says, “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” God is so good to us!
Now back to the monk, “do not trust your own righteousness but control your tongue and stomach” The tongue has the ability to destroy others and ourselves. When we utter a false wittiness against some we have the potential of denying that person so much. With our tongues we can cause people to lose their relationships, reputations and in some cases their lives. In World War Two there was an expression,”Loose lips sink ships.” The importance of keeping confidences and telling the truth cannot be underestimated. Control of the stomach is an analogy for controlling our carnal nature. We should think before we use our bodies in ways that dishonor ourselves and God. Control your carnal nature or it will be the end of you.
The great work of man is to trust God and control our nature with the tools He provides. I found a poem that calls this an act of wisdom.
He, in whose bosom wisdom’s seed is sown,
To waste a single day was never known;
Either he strives to work God’s will,
Or else exalts the cup, and works his own.
O Lord as I embark on my great work this day I do so fully aware of my dependence on you. Walk with me and keep me aware of your company. Rebuke when I need rebuking. Give me encouragement when I am down. Most of all remind me when I have moved into my own path while forgetting your path. In doing these things you give me the richness of your grace and the benefit of your remarkable love.