© John M. Connan
Living for an extended period with grandchildren is fun! It’s all care – and no responsibility! What’s sad is realising how much you’ve forgotten about the way children develop.
What’s fascinated me is the inherent struggle between them knowing what they should be doing and doing just what they want to do. Sometimes they’re testing the boundaries. Sometimes it’s part of the process of learning to be an independent human being with the right to make personal decisions. Or – just as likely – it’s sheer perversity and defiance!
There’s a childish innocence – original righteousness, it’s been called. But there’s also what the Early Church Father, Augustine, called original sin.
Poor choice of words that! As you observe what’s going on in your grandchildren, you come to the realisation that’s there’s not much original about their defiance, perversity or sin. We saw it in our children. And if we had the ability to think back to our own childhood, we’d know it as part of ourselves.
We knew what to do: we just didn’t always do it.
It may be childhood behaviour – childish behaviour. But it’s behaviour we seem unlikely to outgrow in this life!
It’s not as though we indulge in demonic evil. Most of our perversity, defiance and sin is rather petty. Maybe our upbringing made us careful enough to avoid outlandish and obvious social sin, and maybe the worst of personal sins. But we’re all aware of things we’d rather others didn’t know about – things we’ve done that embarrass us; things we said that we regret; thoughts over which we seem to have no control.
We’re not saints. We don’t wear haloes. We know what we are. We know what our behaviour’s like. If haloes or horns were our form of headgear, horns would be more likely than haloes.
We know what to do: we just don’t do it.
Whether we’re no Christians, new Christians or long-standing Christians that’s the way we are!
We know what should be in our lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we’re saints, the fruits of the Spirit would be in our lives.
We don’t feel like saints. We don’t act like saints. We don’t call ourselves saints.
But the New Testament does! Those who follow Jesus, those who are his - Christians – are saints.
Almost invariably Paul addresses his letters to the saints. Peter writes to “God’s elect.” John, the author of the Book of Revelation, doesn’t use the word “saint” but did write about heavenly beings “clothed in white.” And they were simply the followers of Jesus: people like you and me.
Those who follow Jesus – Christians – despite the all too apparent the perversity, defiance, the lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in their lives – are saints! Despite our imperfections, our inadequacies, our failures, we are saints!
It feels as though we can neither escape from bad habits, nor prevent ourselves from doing and saying hurtful things without thinking. It as though we’re bound not to be saints: as though we’re just not free to be saints.
We Aussies have always believed ourselves among the freest peoples on earth. We can do what we like – provided it’s within the law – and doesn’t frighten the horses! No one dare deny us the right to live life the way we choose.
Yet we’re more shackled than we imagine – tied down by habits – held back by timidity and fear – led astray by undisciplined wants, desires and lusts. And even if that wasn’t true, our lives are very much influenced by what happens in the world around us – globalisation, drought, pollution, terrorism.
We’re not as free as we imagine. Deep down we know it.
We know what we want to do. We know what we ought to do. We know what we’d like to do. We just don’t do it.
It’s not as though we’ve sold ourselves out to what have been called the seven deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth – though there are hints of all of those in all of us.
It’s not as though we don’t try to live by the old Stoic virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance – there are touches of all of those in all of us.
It’s not as though we don’t hold as our goal Paul’s list of nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We do try to avoid evil behaviour. We do try to live decent, honourable, caring lives. But when all is said and done, we find that what we’ve done isn’t always what we’ve intended.
We know what to do. We haven’t done it. We know what not to do. We’ve done it – again and again and again.
We’re not as free as we think! We could blame our genes; the way we’ve been brought up; learned behaviours; cultural conditioning; original sin: the fact is we’re trapped.
Escape from the trap is easy – so easy we’ve done it dozens of times – and found ourselves back where we began: trapped! Habits have us in their clutches. Time after time we find ourselves doing things we’d no intention of doing.
As for our good intentions – some we never do get around to. If it’s a matter of forgetting about selfish interests and self-interest, forget it! We’ll merely do the good, not the best.
How can we be free to be the saints God calls us to be? How are we going to be able to move through the world sharing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? How are we going to fulfil our calling as saints?
I should have had Alf read the good news in the 1st verse of the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia: “Christ has really set us free” (New Living Translation).
When we really do enter into a relationship with Jesus, when we allow him to take control of our lives, when we model ourselves on him, call him Saviour and Lord – and mean it! – we’re freed from those things that obsess us and enslave us. We’re free!
Some have been slaves to habits that crippled their lives and personalities – even drugs and sex. Nothing else could break their dependence. Nothing else could give them power over their lives. No one else could defeat the power evil had over them and set them free. Jesus could and did – and does. We’re free!
If Christ has set us free, we really are free – free to be the saints God has called us to be. If that’s the way it is for us, it’s because we have begun to live under the control of God’s Spirit. When we open our lives to the Spirit, model our lives on Jesus, live close to Jesus, then we live by the Spirit, we live freely, we live as saints of God.
After more than 40 years I still remember the way my New Testament lecturer paraphrased Galatians 5:25: “You are saints of God. It’s time to live like saints.” You can, when you live by God’s Spirit, when you have given power over your life to Jesus and he has set you free.
Until we understand that, all our striving toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all our good intentions for our own lives, all our best endeavours for justice, peace and social well-being will end in frustration, disappointment and disillusionment.
We do know what to do. We can do it – with the freedom we gain through Christ and the life we live in the Spirit.
You are God’s saints. You can live as God’s saints.
 Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1.
 1 Peter 1:1.