Christians sometimes seek their identity in all the things they “don’t do”. They don’t commit adultery, they don’t lie, they don’t cheat, they don’t steal, they don’t eat meat on fast days, etc.
They think their asceticism
will save them.
But more is required than just “avoiding bad behavior”. To be followers of Christ, we must also be abundant in good works, demonstrating love for our neighbor.
In Matthew 25, we read Christ’s parable of the Ten Virgins. Five were wise, and five were foolish. Five kept plenty of oil for their lamps, while the other five did not bring enough oil. The first five made it in to the bridegroom’s wedding feast, and the other five were locked outside.
What is signified by the oil in their lamps?
Those ten virgins, whom the Lord compared with the kingdom of heaven, were set up as an example for all virgins. They went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. This means that they had received the grace of the Holy Spirit. They had come forth as virgins never stained by sin and had left behind earthly matters to meet Christ and the church. “But five were foolish and five wise. For the wise took oil with them along with their lamps. But the foolish did not take oil.” Thus they were foolish, because they were not prepared for the future but only for the present. Thus they were foolish, because they did not have works of compassion. For the oil is compassion. But the wise took oil with their lamps. Thus they were wise, because they took these things not on account of people but on account of God. Thus they were wise, because they were virgins not for the sake of the present but the future. Thus they were wise, because they had works of compassion. Thus they were wise, because they were virgins in spirit and body.
~ Epiphanius the Latin (Interpretation of the Gospels 36.16)
But if it is good to abstain from the unlawful excitements of the senses, and on that account every Christian soul has received the name of virgin, why then are five admitted and five rejected? They are both virgins, and yet half are rejected. It is not enough that they are virgins but that they also have lamps. They are virgins by reason of abstinence from unlawful indulgence of the senses. But they have lamps by reason of good works. Of these good works the Lord says, “Let your works shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Again he said to his disciples, “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.” In the “girded loins” is virginity. In the “burning lamps” is good works.
~ St. Augustine (Sermon 93.2.19)