March 10, 2013

An ancient text is right up to date!

Yesterday I had a look at the syllabus of my next course. (I’m finishing a degree online.) This one is a systematic theology study of Christ and the Church. Most of the readings are from old, even ancient sources. I’m to write briefs on all of them, and an essay on one that was written between 1265-1274. I read that one through and felt overwhelmed by the language. English has changed. Not only that, this piece had been translated way back when, and many terms were not even in an ordinary dictionary.

This morning’s devotion was also written many years ago. The author was Augustine* who lived 354-430 A.D. It was edited in the 1800s to more readable English than the reading for my essay. My first thought was, “How like God to give me this as an encouragement to my apprehension about trying to understand what these early church writers were trying to say.”

Actually, today’s reading is fairly simple. It is based on this verse and discusses one aspect of what it means to be born into sin…

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

Augustine says that “of the devil” means to imitate the devil because the devil has never fathered anyone or  created anyone. Yet in biblical terms, whoever follows and imitates the devil becomes as if he were his child.

The Scriptures speak in the same way about being a child of Abraham. Abraham did not father me, but the Bible says that because I have or imitate the faith of Abraham, I am a child of Abraham.

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:6–7)

Augustine repeats what the Bible says in several places that those who were of the lineage of Abraham by birth but did not imitate his faith and were put out of the inheritance promised to him. Instead, they because children of the devil, just as Jesus told them.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)

Those who “imitate the Devil in the way he became proud and impious against God, you will be a child of the Devil” and the “reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

Augustine says, “All sinners are born of the Devil, as sinners. Adam was made by God, but when he consented to the Devil, he was born of the Devil, and he fathered all as he was himself. With lust itself we were born, even before we add our sins; from that condemnation we have our birth. For if we are born without any sin, why this running with infants to baptism that they may be released? Then mark well, friends, the two birth-stocks; Adam and Christ are two men, but one of them, a man that is human; the other, a Man that is God. By the man that is human we are sinners; by the Man that is God we are justified. That birth has cast down to death, this birth has raised up to life; that birth brings with it sin, this birth sets free from sin. For this purpose Christ came as human, to undo human sins. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work.”

Besides the practical nature of this writing (who can disobey God and not see how serious that disobedience is?), Augustine writes with understandable simplicity, even a black/white tone that fits with the way I think. While other ancient writers may not be so plain of speech (and translation), God encourages me that at least one of them speaks loud and clear.

*Augustine was an important influence on the development of Christianity. His theological system dominated the church until the thirteenth century and its influence is still felt today. Many of his writings still exist. I read one of the most famous, Confessions (written about 397), and was thoroughly blessed. It is an autobiography but more like a long prayer of repentance and thanksgiving for God’s grace. During the first 33 years of his life, he lived as a child of the devil while his mother prayed with great passion for his salvation. Then Christ came into his life and he was transformed by grace into the God-fearing man that he became.

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