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Bestselling author Bryant McGill once said “Real transformation requires real honesty. If you want to move forward – get real with yourself.” This is such a powerful insight. But it isn’t particularly novel. The truth is this is a foundational truth of ancient philosophy. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Our Orthodox Christian Treasure preserves wisdom like this: “You have a job to do, soul, and a great one: examine yourself.” St. Gregory the Theologian (Poem 2.1.78 “To His Own Soul”).

So, if this is a common understanding of the key to knowing yourself, why is this such a “new” discovery for many of us? Because the current society is desperate to distract us from this honest self-knowledge. Because if you can get us to not know ourselves you can exert control over the population. If a person is a stranger to himself, he is a slave to outside control and propaganda.

In fact, I’ll go further to say that if you ever hope to take seriously the invitation of Jesus Christ to become “like” Him through the wisdom of the Church, you are going to have to take the risk of an honest self-examination. This insight leads a person to a stronger ability to actually tame their passions and benefit most from the spiritual discipline of repentance and confession. You will be transformed.

Look at our lesson today in Galatians 1:11-19:

Brethren, I would have you know that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

St. Paul is trying to correct these Galatians. You see, someone has come to them and began to teach them that the Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians. Paul hears about this and hits the roof!

So Paul tells these Galatians his story. And it’s a story of an amazing transformation in Paul’s life.

First, Paul tells the Galatians that his message isn’t “man’s Gospel.” Paul wants these Galatians to know that he didn’t get his message from any earthly source. His preaching is the result of revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. He goes on to say that he did not “confer with flesh and blood.” Apparently, Paul had a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ while he was in Arabia grappling with the implications of his vision on the road to Damascus! (see Acts 9)

Next, Paul tells these Galatians that nothing less than this powerful encounter was enough to change him from the “Saul” who persecuted the Christians and even gave his blessing for the killing of the first martyr of the Christian Faith, St. Stephen, the deacon. (see Acts 6) Paul’s major transformation came not from clever arguments or convincing preaching, but from the Lord Jesus Himself. So, these Galatians are not just rejecting Paul’s message, they are in danger of rejecting Christ!

Finally, Paul insists that these Galatians must take seriously this message, this Gospel, of authentic liberation and wisdom SO THAT they will have the courage and the spiritual formation to stand for truth and for Faith in a society that so easily changes truths to fit their own desires. Abandoning the Faith that Paul taught them is an actual rejection of Jesus Himself. Big stuff!

By the way, there is an exception to the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority: Appealing to authority is valid when the authority is actually legitimate!

St, James, the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem is another example of a transformed life. He was a blood relative of the Lord Jesus, either a son of St. Joseph by his wife who died before he became the protector of the young Virgin Mary, or the nephew of St. Jospeh, as the son of his brother Cleops. Regardless, this close family connection with Jesus had him called St. James the Brother of the Lord. His other nickname was “Obliah” which means “The Just One.” This man was known to be very skeptical of the ministry of Jesus while the Lord was alive and he had the reputation among the Jews of being a just and honorable man in society. Being a relative of the Crucified Lord and knowing his reputation for being honest and just, the leaders of the Jews sought to have him address the people to stop the sudden growth of converts to Christ after His resurrection.

St. James was compelled to stand at the highest spot on the Temple Mount and speak to the people on the Feast of the Passover. St. James declared loudly and boldly that Jesus was the promised Messiah and sat at the right hand of the Father in heaven and He would come again to “judge the living and the dead!” The crowd began to proclaim “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” in agreement with St. James. But the leaders and the wise men in the Temple said “So, even the just one has been led astray.” The High Priest at the time, Ananias, commanded St. James to be thrown from the place, and that he should be stoned for proclaiming Jesus Lord. As this was happening St. James prayed for all his persecutors and asked God not to hold them guilty for his murder. Finally, the saint was killed by the blow from a club wielded by a certain Jewish scribe. St. James allowed the Holy Spirit to so transform him that he embraced Christ and served His Church no matter what the cost.

Today, we Orthodox insist that we stand on the firm foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with Jesus as our chief authority. We are given in the wisdom of the Faith all the tools and insights to go on this journey of self-knowledge that will transform our lives to make us like Jesus Christ. Everything we need is here in the Church and all that is left is the courage and the humility to be transformed by grace so that we will be able to Live a Normal Orthodox Life!

P.S. As the Lord’s disciple, O righteous One, you received the Gospel, as Martyr, you have unwavering courage, as the Lord’s brother, you have forthrightness, as Hierarch, intercession. Intercede with Christ our God, that our souls may be saved.

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