“Purifying Ourselves through God’s Grace”
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
Numbers 21: 4-9
Psalm 107: 1-2; 17-22
Ephesians 2: 1-9
John 3: 14-21
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We are here to know God and to make Him known. What does it mean to know God? We say, “I know God. I know Jesus.” The Creed says, “I believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth.” We say, “I believe in Jesus because He is the Son of God. I know Him. I have read about Him. I have heard about Him.” But what does it mean to know? In the Biblical sense, Adam knew Eve and she got pregnant. This means that they got into a close intimate relationship. This is what we intend to do if we want to know God – to have an intimate relationship with Him. Jesus said that to have this intimate relationship with Him is to have eternal life.
God wants to restore and to actually surpass our former zeal of us being givers and being prayerful. Praying and deeds of charity or giving is needed in our desire to grow in the knowledge of God. This is the direction for the Season of Lent.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Every Christian should know this verse for God so loved us. Verse 17 in the Voice Translation says, “Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction.” God did not send His Son to blame us, but to save us. Jesus came to right the wrong. This is what justice simply means: if there is a wrong, it should be corrected. The Message Translation says, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” Jesus came to get things back in order which is purely His grace.
Ephesians 2 says, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, not of yourselves. It is gift of God.” Our part is the wrong doing; Jesus’ part is correcting. God does not judge. If God does not judge, if Jesus doesn’t condemn, who is it that can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! St. Paul said in Romans 8:33-35 in the TPT translation, “Who then would dare to accuse those whom God has chosen in love to be his? God himself is the judge who has issued His final verdict over them - “Not guilty!”34 Who then is left to condemn us? Certainly not Jesus, the Anointed One! For He gave His life for us, and even more than that, He has conquered death and is now risen, exalted, and enthroned by God at His right hand. So how could He possibly condemn us since He is continually praying for our triumph? 35 Who could ever separate us from the endless love of God’s Anointed One? Absolutely no one.” No one is guilty and Jesus corrected the wrong.
Jesus’ Name in Hebrew is Yeshua, which means God saves or God delivers. From what were we saved? What is salvation? If we listen to Western Christianity, they will say that we are saved from hell, which they say is the consequence of sin.
I would like to offer you a different angle in the light of what our mission says of to know God and having an intimate relationship with Him. The angel said to Joseph, “You shall name Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sin.” Sin is something that is harmful to our relationship with God, to the knowing of God. Any behavior that is detrimental to our relationship with God is sin. We should not think that if we sin, there is a punishment, but rather, we will destroy our relationship with Him.
In a marriage relationship, supposed a husband cheated on his wife and the wife founds out about it. To save their marriage, they both underwent counseling. The counselor asked the wife to forgive his husband, and the husband was told to amend his ways. Do you think that the husband would think of committing the same mistake even if knows that his wife would be forgiving? If the husband is thankful for his wife for accepting him despite his error, isn’t it right that he would woo her to better their relationship and to gain her trust again and not think of how far he can go cheating on his wife and still stay married? The husband should not be concerned about the punishment for adultery but be concerned of his relationship with his wife.
In Christianity, we sometimes think in legal terms that if we sin against God, we go to hell or we are cursed. Instead, what we should think is: if we sin against God, it will harm our relationship with Him. Our reason for being in a relationship, especially of that with God, is to make it grow, to know Him and to make Him known to others. In a marriage, the husband should not be thinking of why it is necessary to go on a date with his wife, to communicate with her or even to go home to his wife. Translating this to being a Christian, we do not ask if it is necessary to go to Mass or to pray; rather, we see these as actions that could develop our relationship with God. It is not the abused of God’s grace of knowing that even if we sin, He will forgive us. If we love God whom we are in a relationship with, we will find ways to better our relationship with Him. We give all that we have just to know God because there is no one beside us, which is forever the hope in our heart.
Sin is not something legal, but something we don’t want to do because we wouldn’t want to hurt our relationship with God. We will do things that we think are not a requirement, but things that we voluntary do because we want the relationship with God to grow. We don’t ask, “Bishop, do I need to pray or to give?” Instead we say, “Praying and giving will help me grow in my relationship with God.” The Decalogue is not for us to see them as commandments for us to follow, but rather a tip on how to grow in our relationship with God. It is not legal but relational.
Romans 8 say that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I can think of two things that can separate us from the love of God: ourselves and our choice, of which can make us miss on the awesome opportunity of being in a love-covenant marriage relationship. We lose if we separate ourselves from God. One theologian said, “We can never run away from God’s presence. He is Omnipresent, therefore, we can never separate ourselves from His presence. We can never run away from His love, but we can live as if God is not present. We can live as if God does not love us, and this is the definition of hell.” We are experiencing hell if we live this way, as if God’s love is not available for us.
Martin Luther said, “Hell is being in God's presence unredeemed (rejecting His love.)” We desire to know God and to grow in the knowledge of the love of God. When we find how precious this is, when we see how beautiful it is to have a relationship with God, nobody would have to tell us that we should make Him known to others. If we have this attitude in our hearts especially this Lenten Season, Easter will be much more meaningful and alive. For that matter, all our days will be much more meaningful and our relationship will be that much richer.
As we grow in the knowledge of God, we naturally, voluntarily, and excitingly make Him known, and that my brothers and sisters is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.