Placing yourself now in such a situation, begin to bring out onto neutral ground the various thought processes that keep you in blindness, and subject them to a severe and unhypocritical judgment.
Contenting Yourself with Saying "I am a Christian."
Contenting Yourself with Saying "I am a Christian."
I am a Christian, you say, and content yourself with this. This is the first deceit — transferring to yourself the privileges and promise of Christianity, without any care to root true Christianity into yourself; or to ascribe to yourself that which can only be acquired by your strength and inner worthiness. Explain to yourself that it is illusory to hope in a name, that God can raise a son of Abraham from a stone and can take away your promise at any time if the conditions for participating in them are not soon fulfilled. Mainly, clarify to yourself what it means to be a Christian, unite yourself to this ideal, and you will see just how stable is this buttress to your blindness.
"After All, We Are not the Worst."
"After all, we are not the worst; we know a thing or two, and if we judge anything we are after, we will be able to judge correctly. We conduct our matters not without thoughtfulness or tact, as others do." This is how some are deluded by their psychological expertise. Others to the contrary are deluded by physical perfection — strength, beauty, form. Both one and the other are more sharply blinded the higher they stand above those around them. Assure yourself:
1) that natural perfections have no moral value whatsoever, because they are not our own accomplishment, but are given to us by God; everything natural is of even less value in Christianity, because nature was corrupted by the fall. Sanctify all your good qualities with faith in Christ the Saviour and a life according to that faith, and only then view it as good.
2) Again — have you done everything you can and should according to your gifts? You are responsible for more, because you have been given more. The concern is not abilities, but their application. Do you have anything to show for them? Does the profit correspond to the expenditure?
3) As for any physical or incidental advantages there is nothing to say. St. John Chrysostom somewhere exhibits one man who praises another for his good looks, stateliness, wealth, nice house, his excellent choice horses, etc.; and then directs the following speech to him: "Why haven't you told me anything about the man himself? All that you have described is not him."
4) But there is no reason to look at others — let us look after ourselves. Everyone shall answer for himself. Look at your own self and, cutting yourself off from others, judge yourself only without comparing yourself to others. But if you do want to compare yourself with others, then compare yourself with the holy God-pleasers. They are the living Christian law and example for those who wish to be saved. If you judge yourself in comparison to them, you will not make a mistake.
"We Are not so Bad."
We are not so bad: It seems that we are not doing anything disgraceful, and others do not view us as bad, do not deprive us of their respect and attention. And at that, these are not just everyday people, but important individuals. The thickest and
murkiest veil of blindness is the good appearance of external behavior and external relationships! Make it clear to yourself more impressively that the external is worthless without the internal. External good behavior is the leaf, while internal good disposition is the fruit. The fig tree leaves promised fruit, but the Saviour, not finding any on the tree, cursed it. It is the same with any externally well-ordered person who stands before God's face without a sincerely good and God-fearing heart. Son, give me thy heart (Prov. 23:26), said the Lord to the Wise One [Solomon]. From the heart comes all good and all evil. As you are at heart, so are you before the Lord. If you are proud at heart, then no matter how humble you act on the outside, the Lord will still see you as proud. Thus it is with everything else. And the judgment of others is deceptive. Other people do not know us but relate to us well, either because they suppose that we are good, or they follow the rules of decency. Does it not happen that those who are near us see our badness but do not hint of this to us for their own reasons? Does it not also happen that other people, seeing the bad in others, praise them for it and thereby ascribe a certain zest to misbehavior? Their foolish listener goes on without stopping, sinking deeper and deeper into evil and badness; for when a person sees those around him smiling with pleasure at his actions, he continues in his evil ways with a certain self-satisfaction. Would we not also do the same if we should listen so carefully to other people's judgment of us?!
"So, there is Badness in me — am I the only one?"
"Well, so there is badness in me — Am I the only one? So-and-so is the same way, and so is that other one, and even this other one. And there are plenty of bad people, even worse than me...." Thus do we blind ourselves with the ordinariness of sin around us. Explain to yourself that the large number of sinners does not change the law of righteousness and does not relieve anyone's responsibility. God does not look at numbers. If everyone has sinned, He will punish everyone. Look at how many people were born before the flood, and all perished except for eight souls. In Sodom and Gomorrah five cities were consumed by fire from heaven, and no one was saved except for Lot and his daughters. The torments in hell will be no easier just because so many are being tormented there — on the contrary, won't this only intensify the suffering of each one?
4. Cease Making Excuses in Sins and Work on your Blindness.
With these and similar thought processes, hasten to disperse the mist of prejudicial reasoning which keeps you in blindness and does not allow you to look at yourself as you should. Make this the goal of this chief work on yourself — to bring yourself to the point of realizing your dangerous condition. You will come to this naturally when you begin to take away one false support after another for your blindness. Little by little you will begin to destroy the empty hopes about your own self or anything of your own; little by little you will cease makingexcuses in sins, that is, the tendency to justify yourself always and in everything. Assure yourself that your Christianity does not mean anything; that if you are bad, your mental and physical perfections reproach you rather than justify you; that your good external behavior is but a God-hating show if your heart is not in good order; that neither the praise of others nor your wide circle of friends in sin will protect you from God's judgment and wrath. Little by little you will separate from your thoughts, and there will remain only one — one thought before the gaze of your mind and conscience, which will speak loudly against you, especially after you have united yourself with that which you are expected to be in Christ. You will find that you have strayed far away from your first-created image. Subsequently, if your consciousness does not work evil against you, you will naturally become timid about yourself. Cut off from everyone and deprived of all your supports, you should be stunned by the sense of danger you are in. You should strive in any way you can before this extreme state to work on your blindness. The renewal of this feeling is always the threshold of sin's retreat, just as in war the wavering of enemy ranks is a sign that they will soon flee.
5. How to Soften your Insensitive Heart.
At the very onset of even a slight sense of your sinfulness and the danger of remaining in it, delve ever deeper into yourself, and with even greater force of thought conquer yourself with threats and sobering ideas; using them, shake up and soften your insensitive heart, as a heavy hammer softens a rough stone.
Remember your Fate.
Remember your fate. Say to yourself: "Alas, soon will come death. "Another man you know dies; any time it could be your hour. Do not estrange yourself from this hour of death. Convince yourself that the angel of death has already been sent; he is coming, and draws near. Or imagine yourself to be a person who stands with a sword drawn over his head, ready to cut it off. Then imagine clearly what will happen to you at the time of death and afterwards. The judge standeth before the door (James 5:9). Your secret sins will be reproached before all the angels and saints. There, before everyone's face, you will stand alone with your deeds. They will either condemn you or justify you. And what is Paradise, what is hell?... In Paradise is indescribable blessedness; in hell is torment without consolation or end — it bears the seal of God's final rejection. Feel all this vividly and force yourself to remain in it until you are filled with fear and trembling.
Turn to God and place yourself before Him.
Then turn to God and place yourself, defiled and weighed down by many sins, before the face of Him, the omnipresent, omniscient, all-gracious and long-suffering! Will you still offend the eye of God with your loathsome, sinful appearance? Will you yet turn your ignoble back to Him Who bestows all things from all sides? Will you yet close your ears to the fatherly voice that mercifully calls to you? Will you yet turn away the hand stretched out to receive you? Bring this absurdity to your senses and hasten to awaken and strengthen within yourself godly pity and sorrow.
Ascend in thought upon Golgotha and Crucify Yourself.
Remember that you are a Christian, redeemed by the blood of Christ, cleansed with the water of Baptism. You have received the gift of the Holy Spirit; you have sat at the table of the Lord and are nourished by His Body and Blood. And you have flouted all this for the sake of sin that destroys you! Ascend in thought upon Golgotha, and understand what your sins have cost. Will you really still wound the head of the Lord with the thorns of your sins? Will you still nail Him to the Cross, pierce His side and mock His long-suffering? Or perhaps you do not see that by sinning you participate in tormenting the Saviour, and thereby share a part in the tormentors' lot. But if you abandon sin and repent you will partake of the power of His death. Choose one or the other: either crucify Him, then perish eternally — or crucify yourself, and inherit eternal life with Him.
Consider the Sin you Cling to — abhor and Reject it.
Consider further what that sin you cling to is. It is an evil more disastrous than all evils. It separates you from God, wreaks havoc on your soul and body, torments your conscience, brings upon you God's punishment in life and at death; and after death it sends you to hell, closing Paradise to you forever. What a monster it is to people! Bring to your senses all the evil of sin, and force yourself to abhor it and reject it.
Look at Sin from the Devil's Point of View.
Finally, look at sin from the point of view of the devil, who was its first creator and propagator, and see for whom you work by sinning. God has done and will do everything for you, but you do not want to please Him. The devil has done nothing for you, only tyrannizes you with sin, but you willingly and indefatigably work for him. You befriend him through sin, and he does evil to you through it. He entices you to sin by promising its sweetness, but those who fall into sin he torments and tortures. Here he convinces you that your sins are nothing, but there he will present them to your reproach, as major points. He trembles with evil joy when someone falls into nets of sin and gets stuck in them. Realize all this and arouse yourself to hatred for this man-hater and all his works.
When you will thus press into your heart one after another contrition-producing and softening feelings — horror and fear, sorrow and regret, repugnance and hatred of sin — little by little your heart will warm up and begin to move, and after it your enfeebled will will begin to strain itself and spring into action. As volts of electricity communicate a certain tension and stimulation to the body, or as the cool, clean morning air communicates freshness and energy, so does this feeling that fills the soul awaken slumbering energy and renew the call and willingness to escape your dangerous condition. These will be the beginnings of your active care for your own salvation. Rush decisively this very instant.
An Excerpt from "The Path To Salvation" By Saint Theophan The Recluse.