When was the last time you dealt with your mortality?
Every person – from the most marginalized homeless person camped on a sidewalk in a modern, declining urban neighborhood to the POTUS who is whisked from the White House Lawn to the VIP Suite at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center – will likely find times when the demands of the moment give way to the considerations of the afterlife. Mankind – sensing their status as Imago Dei (made in the image of God) – looks beyond the limits of lifespan to the reality beyond.
Long before Paul of Tarsus was immortalized for his part in the rapid expansion of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, he used his time in isolation in Rome’s Mamertine Prison awaiting the executioner’s summons to ready himself for the punctuation that would signal his longed-for transition to eternal glory.
There is no woe-is-me tone to his self-summation of his 30 years of faith, the last half devoted to the fulfillment of his Calling: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
The third claim is today’s focus: “I have kept the faith.” The expression has become far too common among people whose grasp of the faith Paul referenced is somewhere between minimal and abysmal. What was “the faith” about which Paul’s claim of protection rose to the highest levels of lifetime devotion?
Within a couple of generations of Paul’s life mission, the diffusion of the Christian faith across the known world – without the benefit of digital communications and real-time vetting and editing – led to the need for the codification of the essentials of the Christian faith, as originally divinely inspired.
The result was later encoded as the Apostles’ Creed. In modern English, it draws the boundaries around Orthodoxy:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven; he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal) Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
History has confirmed the elevated value of those carefully chosen words: they’re worth dying for, and many continue to do so, today. False religions and counterfeit cults find conflict with key concepts captured within those power phrases.
Jude was one of the sons of Joseph and Mary, raised alongside Jesus in Nazareth. His short but essential comments ring with agreement: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 3-4).
In America today, the Constitution has fallen into disregard among people who want to contemporize it to accommodate modern culture. In similar fashion, the tenets of true faith protected by Paul and endorsed by Jude are being reconsidered and rejected, item by item. Jude saw this coming…
For Paul, that faith was worth dying for… and, he did. Does this dogma live loudly within you today?