Ultimate Authority

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost II – 10 June 2012

Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 130, II Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1, Mark 3:20-35

From the Book of Genesis:
Confronting Adam with his trespass, having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam defended himself saying, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. Then Eve defended herself with these words, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

From St. Paul’s 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians:
Speaking of eternal life, the apostle wrote, For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Jesus said, Truly…all sins will be forgiven…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness…

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

Many of you may remember the heady and tumultuous days of the late 60s and well into the 70s when theologians could make a name for themselves simply by being the most obnoxious spokesman for the latest challenge to the Truth of the Gospel. Sadly, this trend continued well into the 80s and early 90s – and still continues today in many academic and church circles.

This challenge represents one of the major reasons why our churches have so dramatically declined over the past 40 to 50 years. People placed their faith in the challenge and abandoned the Truth. Although this abandonment of Truth does not look like it in the surface, it amounts to the most egregious sin of all sins – a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit being the Spirit of Truth. Without Him, forgiveness is impossible.

As is always the case, serious sin rarely looks like the evil that it is. Challenges to the Gospel often pass as expressions of a keen intellect, of a perceptive mind, or of great intelligence or profound insight or exceptional wisdom. They are not. In fact, they’re usually just the opposite. Generally such challenges only make a name for the challenger, giving him or her a type of celebrity status in pseudo-intellectual circles and causing those weak in faith to weaken further. This results in identifying evil as good, lies as truth and damnation as salvation.

Well, in those not so good old days one popular challenger was a man named Harvey Cox – a Professor of Divinity at both Andover Newton Theological School and Harvard Divinity School. For all of his populist challenges he actually did get some things right although he usually contaminated what he got right with the pollution of Marxism, social action masquerading as Christen mission and redistributionist, economic sociology presented as obedience to the second commandment – to love thy neighbor as thyself.

One of the things he did get right – at least mostly right – was his analysis of the original trespass in the Garden published in a little book that he wrote entitled, On Not Leaving It To the Snake. You will remember that God had forbidden Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they did.

When God confronts Adam, he blames the woman. When God confronts the woman, she blames the snake. You see, in each case they blame someone or something else for their wrongdoing. They gave authority to someone or something other than to God, the only – the exclusive – the perfect and most certainly the ultimate authority. Only God Himself is worthy of absolute obedience.

Now, when Adam and Eve obeyed the snake, they gave ultimate authority to a creature lesser than themselves – lower, if you will, on the evolutionary scale. (I am using the term advisedly.) Now, that misses the point since the poor old snake did not tempt Adam and Eve to sin. Satan, disguised as the snake – Satan, who possessed the snake – offered the temptation – he, and not the snake, beguiled Eve and she wrongly obeyed. Adam followed her bad example.

But the moral to the story that Cox points out is mostly accurate. We must never leave our moral decision making to powers of a lower nature but rather, take responsibility for our own decisions and act accordingly. Now that’s the moral that I took away from the little book. But Cox then goes on to use this noble sentiment for the glorification of Marxism.

So, what happened here? Cox glorified an inferior claim to truth – the writings of Karl Marx – proven inferior because every time Marxist socialism is implemented, it fails – every time! – and abandoned or compromised the ultimate Truth who is God Himself – God the Holy Spirit. Looks like this might be a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And that it is.

The most important aspect in the account of the original trespass is that Adam and Eve obeyed a lesser authority. The sin is first disobedience and then the failure to take personal responsibility. Disobedience to God is the primary offense.

The crucial question is always this – Is The One True God your God or have you put something or someone else in His place as the ultimate authority in your life? That’s the question. And the answer can be dreadful; in fact, fatal.

Following the theme of obedience to a lesser life form we hear this frequently from atheists who claim that human beings are just animals and therefore obedient to their own built instincts. Such belief reduces or eliminates the possibility of moral accountability.

The church has clearly identified these forces that can operate as almost instinctual. Notice that I said almost – we as human beings are not subject to our instincts as are other animals. These almost instinctual forces are the forces behind the seven deadly sins – wrath, greed, sloth or laziness, pride or arrogance, lust, envy and gluttony. When one gives consent to any of these powers – and becomes obedient – one most certainly sins.

Examples of sin abound. I will mention just two this morning – two not frequently cited primarily because they are not as exciting as some of the others but are just as deadly as any other force operative in the unredeemed soul. The two are envy and sloth. And the example that I will cite is not generally talked about for the same reason – not all that exciting. But deadly indeed!

I motioned that Harvey Cox adapted the account of the original trespass to the principles of Marxism, Marxism being the classic form of the socialist / communist economic philosophy and theory. He, as well as so many others of his generation, participated and proclaimed what was called the Christian / Marxist dialogue in an effort to reconcile theistic Christianity with atheistic Marxism.

They failed. Or rather, they succeeded. Which is it – failure of success? Actually, both. They failed in reconciliation but succeeded in massive corruption of Christianity – one that continues today with devastating consequences. It’s called the social gospel or liberation theology.

The failure of this social effort results when people remain faithful to the One True God. If so, they will reject all other authorities for in their faithfulness they will discern the evil and the deception.

But the success came and comes by those who believe that we can make up the Christian faith as we go along – that simply by liking or admiring Jesus Christ, we’re Christians and as such can then believe whatever we want or whatever serves our purposes. This, in and of itself, easily – effortlessly – grows into a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The true Christian does not just like or even love Jesus Christ but loves Him as the crucified and risen Incarnation of God and obeys Him in all things. Being an admirer is, in and of itself, insufficient. Jesus Christ, 100% divine and 100% human – is not merely a great teacher, a nice guy, a good example of what it means to be human or even a miracle worker who can cast out demons. Although all of these things, He was – and is – and will be forever – God made Man who destroyed the powers of sin and death. But I am ahead of myself.

Back to the sins of envy and sloth. All socialist theory is based on envy – class envy. Envy, or covetousness,
is forbidden in the Tenth Commandment – Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. In socialism, covetousness functions as a righteous motive. One guy has more that I have. I want what he’s got. I am equally entitled to have it. It’s my right. So I will take it. Or so the thinking goes. Class envy results in class warfare. Envy, rooted in arrogance, blossoms into theft and murder.

Jesus taught the opposite. The deadly sins function as demonic forces in our lives. Envy would be one of the demons to be cast out of every life.

Sloth is envy’s kissing cousin or even fraternal twin sister. Sloth is the force behind the notion of entitlement – that one is entitled to anything or everything that anyone else may have by some kind of inherent right. Working to achieve something or to improve one’s life plays little or no role in accomplishing an otherwise noble ambition – when that ambition comes under the Lordship of Christ.

Well, when all is said and done, the Truth – God’s Truth – personified in the Holy Spirit – always prevails. But not automatically. Sadly, deception rules the day for all too long and such great evil results before the Truth wins.

God created us for His Truth. St. Paul assumes this in his Epistle to the Corinthians- a place in which all of the deadly sins abounded. He instructed them – and continues to instruct us – that everything in this life is an earthly tent – something that will disappear. But God has built for us an eternal home in the heavens that cannot be destroyed.

God created us for eternity. But the bad guy attempts to steal us away. God’s intention is clear. He created us for heaven – not for hell. This assumption underlies all of St. Paul’s writings. And he is, of course, correct in his assumption.

Right from the beginning, the bad guy sought – and continues to seek – to divert us. Hence, he beguiled Eve – and Adam followed. Everyone repeats their original sin all the time. Only faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ can reverse that process.

Faith in the saving grace of God delivers us from all the unhappiness and misery of this world – all the sin and death – and offers us joy and holiness in the eternal life lived in the house that God has built for us. Jesus said, In my Father’s house are many mansions – well there’s a mansion there with your name of the front door. Taking occupancy depends upon just one thing – faith in the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind.

Hence, as believers, knowing that none of us ever has perfect faith but must depend upon our Lord’s saving grace, we can cast out the demons that can take possession of our hearts, our minds our bodies or our souls.

We can rise above all lesser powers and give ourselves to the perfect power of the One Holy God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Acknowledging Him as the ultimate authority in our lives wins the day – wins all the days – wins eternity. When He takes possession of our souls, we can take possession of our eternal homes.

Simple as that.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to give ourselves to you every day that we live. Deliver us from beguiling deceptions and charming deceivers. Fill us with the power of your Holy Spirit that His Truth may rule in our living. And, we pray, that by your grace, you will bring us into eternal life in your heavenly home.
We ask this in Christ’s name,

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