Lent is traditionally a time for reflection and prayer. Over the next few weeks on the Church Society blog, we will be reflecting each weekday on some of Jesus’s first words, and his last words, as well as pondering what the Bible says about the spiritual life. That is, we will be reflecting on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, Jesus’s words from the cross in the Gospels, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, and the so-called seven deadly sins which the Bible speaks about in various different places.
In the opening of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us nine times what a blessed life looks like. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ he says, ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ These surprising and arresting pronouncements undercut worldly expectations (‘Blessed are you when people insult you’!), and teach us to live in a way that pleases God, always looking to the future where he will put everything right.
In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul contrasts the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The way of true freedom in Christ is about living in a way that keeps in step with the Spirit of God who has been sent into the hearts of his children. The world, the flesh, and the devil urge us to live for self, but the Spirit produces in us something which changes our orientation in life and bursts out of us with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul speaks about the acts of the flesh which oppose the Spirit as ‘sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.’ He warns us that ‘those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ The Bible also mentions other such eternally deadly sins, and over time the traditional (but not exhaustive) list of these became pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Protestants don’t need to follow medieval teaching on the differences between venial and mortal sins and so on in order to benefit from reflecting on these sins, which we are to crucify with all their passions and desires.
As he hung on the cross for us, dying to take the punishment which our sins deserve, the Lord Jesus is reported to have spoken seven final times. The famous last words of the God-man, who lived the most truly blessed life that anyone ever lived, help us better understand what our priorities should be. Christ exemplified the blessed life of the Beatitudes; full of love, joy, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, he offered himself unblemished by deadly sins through the eternal Spirit to God. So we will reflect on his eloquent words from the cross, as we approach Easter, looking for his resurrection and the joy that was set before him.
I hope you will enjoy and be edified by the reflections to come. We’ve managed to assemble a great cast of contributors for the blog over these next few weeks, Anglicans from five continents (including writers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States, Chile, and the UK), men and women who minister as archbishops, bishops, parish clergy, theological educators, college or prison chaplains, or in various other ministries as gifted lay people. I pray that you will be blessed by all they have written, as we think together over these next few weeks about what a truly blessed life looks like.