The idol of right action
Just because you’re going through the motions of the religious life doesn’t mean you’re living a spiritual life in Christ. In fact, it’s very easy to replace authentic spiritual life with a surface-level religious one and think you have it covered.
It might sound something like this: “Self, have you prayed today? Did you do your cross before you ate and when you drove? Go to Church this Sunday?” Check, check, check. “Okay great, I did what I’m supposed to do,” we tell ourselves.
We can get so wrapped up in trying to do things right that we miss the whole point. If our faith is about nothing deeper than fasting when we’re supposed to and crossing ourselves the way we’re supposed to, then our faith is probably resting on a foundation of fear: the fear of not being accepted by God. We try to take things into our own hands, to do things “right,” as if we need to earn God’s love rather than trust in His mercy.
This false view of a God who only loves conditionally affects the way we act, and turns us from spiritual people into religious people. We care more about dropping crumbs of antidoron on the floor than we do about the visitor that comes through our doors. In the words of Christ, we “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23) in favor of the idol of right practice.
But God doesn’t need our actions to prove ourselves or earn His love. He doesn’t desire our religious actions to become ends in themselves, as if they are the goals of the spiritual life. Our goal should not be the motions of Orthodoxy, nor even Orthodoxy itself, but Jesus Christ who is the “beginning and the end” Himself (Revelation 22:13). With Him as our goal, the right actions we take lead to relationship with Christ.
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