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Abba Anthony: No Temptation, No Salvation
Salvation requires struggle
Abba Anthonysaid, "Nobody who has not been tempted will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for take away temptations and nobody is being saved."
Many years ago, I got serious about landscaping. No more impulse buying. No more falling in love with vibrant blooming flowers without knowing where to safely plant them.
- I schooled myself in exposure, determining what kind of sunlight my patio pots and flower beds received.
- I learned about space, measuring how much growing-room I had in each zone.
- And I even researched the soil, discovering my county was full of fertile, but not very absorbent Houston Black Clay.
Armed with all of this, I made my investment, packing my backyard with Madagascar Periwinkles, Wave Petunias, Pale Blue Brunnera –– blended with my favorite ground-cover: lime green Sweet Potato Vines.
Did I miss my true calling, I wondered?
The next morning, I slipped out of bed, pressed start on my coffee maker, glided across the kitchen floor, and gazed out my living room window.
The flowers were gone.
Not stolen, eaten.
I forgot about the rabbits.
Though somewhat comedic, this story makes an important point: When we want something well-grown, we can’t just cultivate; we must fight. Entering the Purgative way, means we’re not just beginning a spiritual journey, we’re initiating a spiritual combat.
To put that in Abba Anthony’s memorable words, “take away temptations and nobody is being saved.” Salvation requires struggle.
When Anthony says “saved,” he doesn’t mean the narrow, one-time, forensic kind of salvation, so many of us grew up with in Western Evangelicalism. For desert Christians, salvation was an all-encompassing, gradual deliverance from habitual sin, a progressive liberation from self-centered thinking, speaking, and acting toward a rich other-centered consciousness that delights in the good of the other.
For Anthony, temptation is intimately linked to our salvation.
And here’s the link: when we repeatedly succumb to temptation, we learn to recognize our weakness, slowly embracing a more accurate picture of ourselves. This takes time, is unpleasant, but eventually helps us drop our heroic self-image.
This new found awareness not only nurtures compassion for ourselves, but also feeds empathy for others.
And it's that increase in compassion and empathy, that expansion of Christlike love, that offers us the strength to resist future temptations.
None of this makes us invincible, but it does make us stronger.
This is one of the primary ways we are progressively delivered from the habitual sin that makes it so hard to love like Christ.
In other words, it’s how we’re saved.
It’s a bit of a paradox: we can actually make progress in Christlikeness, not by always making right choices, but by responding wisely to the wrong ones.
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Anthony the Great, also known as Abba Anthony, was born in Egypt in the year 251 AD. He was raised in a wealthy family and was well-educated, but he decided to abandon his worldly possessions and devote his life to God. Anthony became a hermit in the desert and lived a life of asceticism. He became known as a wise and holy man, and many people sought his advice and counsel. Despite his fame, Anthony remained humble and never sought personal glory. He continued to live a simple life, focused on his relationship with God. He died in 356 AD at the age of 105, but his legacy lived on. Today, Saint Anthony is remembered as one of the greatest saints in the Christian tradition, and his writings and teachings continue to inspire people around the world.
Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers. United States: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2014.