Incomplete Christian

In the first reading for today, St. Paul met some men who, as William Barclay notes, were incomplete Christians. They had received the baptism of John but they did not even know of the Holy Spirit in the Christian sense of the term. Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus…When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)

There is something insightful and engaging about that expression “incomplete Christians.” The men were religious. They had responded to the call for repentance from John the Baptist. In Catholic theological thought this would be called prevenient grace, a grace that has us leaning into the desire for God.  These men needed encouragement to follow through on the journey already begun in them. When someone offered them the Good News of Jesus, they chose to become complete.

The men understood they were deserving of condemnation before God and so responded to the call of John the Baptist. They then understood the moral duty of being better and endeavored on their own to meet that demand. They likely knew the inevitability of falling short as they tried, dependent upon their own strength.

Completeness begins when they come to see that through the grace of Jesus Christ their condemnation may be taken away. They find that all their efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom they can do what they could never do by themselves. Now they knew the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Before their faith was a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace. The incident shows us one great truth–that without the Holy Spirit there can be no such thing as complete Christianity. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change them we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

It is only in the Spirit that we can be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” That is whole and complete Christians.

Image credit: Pexels-6589269, Ann H, CC 0

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