In 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1, St. Paul writes:
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The Word of God became incarnate as a human to unite earth to heaven and reunite humanity to divinity. Christ by becoming incarnate makes the salvation of the human race possible because He unites us to the Holy Trinity. This union of God and humanity already occurred in history.
For us Christians – our response to the incarnation – life consists mostly of removing from our own lives all and any of the obstacles to our union with God. Repentance, prayer, self denial, virtue, worship, participating in the sacraments, charity, forgiveness – all are the ways in which we remove from our selves those things which prevent us from experiencing God’s love and the life in God. God became incarnate to unite humanity to divinity. Salvation consists of our union with God – our accepting that union which God offers us in Jesus Christ.
In God’s plan for salvation, Mary, the mother of Jesus is the person in whom all obstacles to the union of God and humans are removed. God finds the way to unite God’s own self to us and this reunion occurs within the Theotokos. She is the person in whom salvation takes place. God’s plan for salvation is to unite humanity to God’s divinity, and this begins within Mary’s womb at the incarnation. God cannot unite Himself to humanity without a human person to whom God can be united.
We respond to God’s salvation – the restoration of communion between God and ourselves by embracing the Gospel. Baptism is part of the process by which we remove all obstacles to our union with God – by which we remove all obstacles to salvation. 1] First, the person hears the Gospel and moves towards God, to embrace God’s love and to be embraced by it. The person goes through catechism, to prepare themselves for union with God. They prepare themselves to lay aside those things which separate them from God, and they embrace all those words, actions and thoughts which make union with God possible. 2] Then the catechumen comes to confession and renounces their sins and repents of them – renounces all of their behaviors and thoughts which had separated them from God. Repentance is a stage in the process of turning away from those things which separate us from God in order that we might experience God’s embrace of us. 3] When the catechumen is ready for baptism, they come to church, and at the door of the church they renounce Satan and all his angels and all his service and all his pride. They reject everything in the world that separates them from God. This is the exorcism – expelling the darkness and all those thoughts and deeds which had in fact separated us from God. 4] Then before they are baptized, they remove their clothes, again removing anything which separates them from God – all that they have clothed themselves in from the world is left behind. And their clothes do symbolize all that they have taken on themselves from the world. They show in leaving behind those clothes that they are ready to embrace a new life.
5] Then in the baptismal font, they are washed of their sins, not so much a physical washing but a spiritual one, again cleansing them of anything which separates them from God , and making them capable of being united to Christ and of receiving the Holy Spirit. Everything in their life which separated them from God is now left behind – the way of the world in their discarded clothing and their sins in the baptismal font. Now God enters into them and they put on Christ – clothe themselves in Christ. Nothing comes between them and God. They are purified and sanctified and are holy and wholly united to God. 6] It is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them. They now are chrismated, receiving the Holy Spirit as gift, the Spirit of God who comes to abide in the newly baptized Christian.
When we hear the Gospel we realize that just living a better life is not sufficient for salvation. If it were, then Christ would not have been needed. The Jews already had God’s law, if simply keeping Torah was enough for God to unite Himself to humanity, Christ was not needed. The Gospel itself tells us something more is needed by humanity than simply doing more good deeds. So in Luke 6:31-36, Jesus teaches us:
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
Just doing good is not even all that special – even sinners know how to be good, especially when that behavior benefits them. God, for His part, loves expecting nothing in return. God gives rain and sunshine and all manners of blessing to the entire world, not as a response to us humans or as a reaction to us but purely because God is love. If we want to live in communion with God, we need to lay aside all those behaviors and thoughts which separate us from God, and to behave as God does – being merciful and generous and kind. We need to work on remaining fully united to Christ Jesus our Lord.