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Vigilant Soul

 

In this season of heightened spiritual warfare, God is emphasizing the necessity to be vigilant over our soul like never before. As the glory of God moves closer to manifesting on earth, the opposition increases and the battle for our soul ever rages. Guarding our soul from the vices of the flesh, especially the weaknesses the Lord has already revealed to us, and pursuing virtue are the acts of a vigilant soul. The Early Church understood the need to guard our soul at all times from falling into the trap of the vices of the flesh. They taught that the more we abstain from sin and pursue truth, the less our soul will have the inclination toward the flesh, and the more we will naturally desire holiness. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes vigilant as: “alertly watchful especially to avoid danger”. (1) Synonyms for ‘vigilant’ are watchful and alert, but neither are as descriptive as “vigilant” which suggests intense, unremitting, wary watchfulness. (1) Vigilance is a proactive state of mind, a heightened alertness. Scripture tells us “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) This is Apostle Peter talking to the fellow brothers in the faith, not those who do not know the Lord. He is warning them that the battle does not stop when we confess Christianity, but we must be continually watchful over our soul and resist the flesh. The Apostle James confirms that the war we must fight is within us: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1). 

Apostle Paul describes in more detail the war between the flesh vs the spirit, and what the works of the flesh are: 

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:16-21, emphasis added)

He explains the vices of the flesh are everything opposed to the nature of God. He goes on further to explain the replacement, which are the virtues of Christ, or better known as the fruit of the Spirit: 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:21-25, emphasis added)

Apostle Paul states that those who have died to the fleshly desires such as lust, jealousy, selfishness, envy, and who have obtained the fruit of the Spirit, are the proof that we are true Christians. Gaining the fruit of the Spirit, or the virtue of Christ within us, does not come without a battle as we have clearly read from Peter, James and Paul above, but it is possible with God (ref Matthew 19:26). The battle of guarding ourselves against falling into sin, especially in the areas that God has already unveiled to us is paramount. For example, if God has already unveiled to me that lust, or jealousy (insert any of your struggles you are aware of) is an area I struggle in, that is an area I particularly need to abstain from indulging in. Furthermore, this is an area I need to pursue healing through the truth, the Word of God (ref John 8:32). 

Origen, second-third century Early Church Father, expounds in detail how our soul becomes wounded through sin, and how we are often numb to the damage we are inflicting:

“Suppose a wound is inflicted on the body or a bone is broken or a nerve center ruptured. Wounds of this sort usually happen to bodies in the space of one hour, and then are barely healed with great pain and suffering over a long period of time. For how much swelling and what great pain arises from the wounded spot? But now, suppose someone is repeatedly wounded in the same spot, or suppose the same bone is broken more than once. By what tremendous pain and agony can this be healed and cured? And by what length of time is this brought to healing, if indeed it is even possible at all? And scarcely ever will one be cured in such a way that he avoids a physical infirmity or a nasty scar. 

Pass now from the example of the body to the wounds of the soul. As often as the souls sins, just so often it is wounded. And lest you be in doubt that it is wounded by sins, as if by arrows and swords, listen to the apostle when he admonishes us to take up “the shield of faith by which’ he says, “you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” So you see that sins are the “arrows of the evil one,” which are aimed at the soul. . . Well, how long do you think it will take for these wounds and others like them to be cured? Indeed, if we could only see how with each sin our inner man is wounded, how bad words inflict a wound! Have you not read the words: “swords inflict wounds, but not as much as the tongue.” The soul is wounded, then, even by the tongue. It is also wounded by evil thoughts and desires, but it is fractured and shattered by the works of sin.

If we could see all this and feel the scars of a soul that has been wounded, we would certainly resist sin unto death. But now, just as those who are filled with a demon or the mentally insane do not perceive it when they are wounded, because they lack natural senses, so is it with us. Since we have become crazed by the desires of the world, or intoxicated with vices, we cannot feel the extent of the wounds or the extent of the grief we are bringing on our soul by sinning. (2)

Origen implores us to understand the severity of indulging in sin and the weakness of our flesh, and what harm it is causing to our soul. He explains that the sin is made up of not just our actions, but our words and our thoughts; these create wounds, or fractures in our soul. He likens bodily injury to our soul being wounded through sin. Origen explains how constantly indulging in the vices of our flesh is likened to injuring a certain area of our body time and time again, or fracturing a bone again and again. Physically, the more injury we suffer in an area, the longer the healing takes and will often be an excruciatingly painful process of healing. Origen states that if we could see the damage we are doing to our soul when we indulge in sin, we would do everything in our power to resist, but because our soul is invisible to the naked eye, and our spiritual senses are so dull, we are unaware of the wounds we are constantly inflicting on our soul. This is the action of an immature, or unregenerate soul. Just as children do not understand the consequences of their actions due to their immaturity, but through experience and knowledge gain wisdom and maturity, becoming more disciplined, we too, through paying attention to the areas in our soul that we are weak in, abstaining from those vices, and pursuing wisdom from God, can mature in these areas and be healed. 

In another place, Origen adds: “But when we indulge ourselves more than what is sufficient and do not resist the first inclination of intemperance, then the enemy force, taking possession of the place of this first sin, pushes and drives in every way possible to try to increase the sins as much as possible.” (3). As aforementioned, the enemy is always on the watch, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Origen explains that each time we do not resist the flesh, the enemy seizes that opportunity to increase the sin in us. James exhorts us: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7-8)

Origen goes on to describe the process of punishment inflicted on us by God, which he explains, is the process for curing sin

And therefore it is perfectly consistent that the reckoning of the punishment, that is, of the medical treatment and cure, be extended over time, and that for each wound the length of healing be prolonged as well, according to the nature of the wound. So then, the justice and kindness of God will also become evident in those very penalties of the soul. Let the one who hears this who has committed sin come to his senses and sin no more. For conversion in the present life and a penance that is carried out fruitfully will bring swift medicine to wounds of this sort. For penance not only heals a past wound, but it does not allow the soul to be wounded further by sin. Or rather, I should add this: If, for instance, I am a sinner, will the same punishment be mine if I have sinned once in a matter in which I also sin a second and third time and even more frequently? It will not be like that, but rather, the measure of the punishment must also be determined by the manner, number and measure of the sin. . . Our task is to hasten to correction quickly, to be converted to repentance without pretense, to bewail our past, to be on guard for the future, to invoke God’s help; for immediately when you convert and groan, you will be saved. For you will find “an advocate, who intercedes for you to the Father, the Lord Jesus,” who is much more preeminent than Moses was, who nevertheless “prayed for that people,” and he was heard. And perhaps the reason it is written that Moses interceded for the sins of the first people and procured pardon was so that we might have much more confidence, since “Jesus our advocate” will undoubtedly procure a pardon from the Father. But this only applies if we are converted to him and if “our heart does not draw back,” just as John too says in his epistle: “Now I say these things, little children, so that you will not sin. But if one of you sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus the just, who intercedes for our sins:’” (2)

The more we indulge in an area of sin in our life, the more prolonged and difficult the healing will be. Origen explains that God does this very precisely, to bring us to repentance (penance), which is true medicine for the soul. Through our true repentance we will be healed, but only if we continue in pursuing truth and do not draw back. 

Third-Century Early Church Father, Cyprian, explains the cunning way the enemy tries to enter our soul at every opportunity, and how we can resist his advances and draw near to God: 

But, moreover, the Lord bade us be prudent, and charged us to watch with careful solicitude, lest the adversary, who is always on the watch and always lying in wait, should creep stealthily into our breast, and blow up a flame from the sparks, magnifying small things into the greatest; and so, while soothing the unguarded and careless with a milder air and a softer breeze, should stir up storms and whirlwinds, and bring about the destruction of faith and the shipwreck of salvation and of life. Therefore, beloved brethren, we must be on our guard, and strive with all our powers to repel, with solicitous and full watch-fulness, the enemy, raging and aiming his darts against every part of our body in which we can be stricken and wounded, in accordance with what the Apostle Peter, in his epistle, forewarns and teaches, saying, “Be sober, and watch; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking any one to devour.” (1Pe_5:8) He goeth about every one of us; and even as an enemy besieging those who are shut up (in a city), he examines the walls, and tries whether there is any part of the walls less firm and less trustworthy, by entrance through which he may penetrate to the inside. . . Vices and carnal sins must be trampled down, beloved brethren, and the corrupting plague of the earthly body must be trodden under foot with spiritual vigour, lest, while we are turned back again to the conversation of the old man, we be entangled in deadly snares, even as the apostle, with foresight and wholesomeness, forewarned us of this very thing, and said: “Therefore, brethren, let us not live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall begin to die; but if ye, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God.” (Rom_8:12-14) . . .  The mind must be strengthened, beloved brethren, by these meditations. By exercises of this kind it must be confirmed against all the darts of the devil. Let there be the divine reading in the hands, the Lord’s thoughts in the mind; let constant prayer never cease at all; let saving labour persevere. Let us be always busied in spiritual actions, that so often as the enemy approaches, however often he may try to come near, he may find the breast closed and armed against him. (4)

Cyprian also exhorts us to be vigilant and on guard with our soul, and warns that we can lose our salvation if we are not. He likens our soul to a city with walls and any sign of wear on the walls, or injury of the soul, the enemy takes advantage of and enters thus making it greater. He urges us to destroy the vices in our soul without haste and explains the way we remain vigilant and overcome the vices in our soul comes through meditating on the Word of God (which doesn’t come just through thought, but action reference Joshua 1:8). He explains that we are armed against the enemy through spiritual action

Vigilance of the soul comes through guarding ourselves against sin and pursuing truth. God does not show us the weaknesses in our soul for us to just be overwhelmed and have no way to overcome. His Word says that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can handle, and will always provide a way for us to escape that we may bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). If we are vigilant over our soul, watchful to not indulge in our weaknesses, and pursue God for the healing of our soul, He will light the path and give us the understanding we need (Proverbs 2:2-5; Proverbs 3:13-18). Picture the fiercest warrior standing watch over a tribe, showing no mercy to the enemy that comes to even survey the land, this is the type of mentality we need to have toward the vices of our soul in this hour. Blessings!

References:

1.     “Vigilant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vigilant.

2.     Origen, On Numbers, Homily 8 [emphasis added]

3.     Origen, First Principles [emphasis added]

4.     Cyprian, The Treatises of Cyprian, Treatise X [emphasis added]


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