Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thy Will Be Done: Sanctification in the Christian Life

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 5:3
                I would argue that what a Christian becomes is more important than what a Christian does. Deeds are important. They are so important that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). However, one’s deeds are an overflow of faith and faith is a disposition. I am not talking here about Christian Existentialism, because the becoming of a Christian is far more than a becoming of the mind. It is a justified, sanctified, and, ultimately, resurrected and glorified self. Good works can only follow from this scheme and a concern for the future must begin with a concern for one’s own soul.
                Romans 8:28 is a passage that is often quoted in regard to God’s will for the future. When one considers the next verse (8:29), however, it seems more concerned about Christian growth than circumstantial providence. Or, it is probably better to say that the goal of God’s circumstantial providence is a great deal about personal growth.
                Romans 8:28-29 (ESV) says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
                It is clear that the “all things” in the passage is speaking of God’s plan for the future, but it is also clear that the “all things” are as they are in order that the Christian will be “conformed to the image of his Son.” In other words, God is more concerned that you become Christ-like than that you have a prosperous and successful future.
                In fact, Paul does enlighten his readers to some of the details about God’s will for the believer and they all have to do with being conformed to his Son. His plan for the believer in Christ is justification and sanctification leading to glorification (Rom. 8:29-30).
                It should also be noted that this plan of sanctification that Paul lays out is not without its fair share of trials. In fact, the trials are promised. Paul explains that we will become heirs of Christ “provided we suffer with him.” Being a Christian means guaranteed suffering with Christ. He also explains our present condition of this earth as likened to a woman in labor and that the whole earth is groaning for our redemption (8:22). After 8:28-30, Paul explains our assurance in Christ, but it is in the midst of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (8:35).
                Then, what sets Christians apart in this world, according to Paul, is not their circumstances, but their disposition about their circumstances.
                This has changed my life in the past few months. I tend to fall into anxiety at times over whether all of my circumstances are working out in such a way that I can be a pastor or missionary in the future and whether I will be able to go to seminary to prepare for that. My anxiety is such that I am sometimes tempted to compromise my moral judgment in situations to insure a certain outcome. What distrust in the sovereignty of God I sometimes have!
                What we often need is a healthy dose of perspective. We need a goal change. Yes, it is good to have goals, but our individual goals must never supersede our primary goal: loving God. Sometimes that lifestyle of loving God may have more to do with us being faithful or us being sanctified than it does with our future plans.
                I believe that this (accompanied by God’s effective grace, of course) is one of the keys to glorying in God in all circumstances.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” –Philippians 1:6
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
    Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
    To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire.
                         - T. S. Elliot, Little Gidding IV

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