The Painfully Beautiful Truth about Sanctification

Here’s what most of us don’t like admitting about sanctification: It’s hard. Yes, it happens TO us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work on our part. The parallels between sanctification and working out are just a little too painfully true.

dogsandbikes
This is why Corgis shouldn’t ride electric bikes. Photo credit: me =)

I still laugh about the “12-Minute Test.”

Better known as “The Cooper Test,” this endurance exercise was designed to measure maximal oxygen intake. For ten minutes, the athlete warms up. Then for twelve minutes, they run as fast and as far as they can.

I hadn’t gone three minutes on the family treadmill before I had to slow down.

By the end of it, I was sweaty, panting for breath, and (to my dismay) scored in the lowest category, “Poor.” The “everything-less-than” category.

Here’s the thing most of us know and admit about working out: It’s hard.

One reason working out is so hard is because we know it is.

I know that every time I work out I’ll get exhausted. As a result, every time I know I should work out I have to fight against my desire toward ease and comfort.

That battle of motivation – toward work or ease – is a battle fought physically and spiritually. Why aren’t we talking about this more?

I Wrestle… with Obedience

We all fight this battle of motivation when it comes to following God. Just ask yourself: What holds me back from obeying God 100%?

The Bible makes it clear that there’s a battle going on inside every Christian.

Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

This daily battle to follow the Spirit over the flesh is called sanctification.

I tend toward comfort. If you’re human, so do you. As a result, we may not like sanctification when it shows up because it often looks like work.

I wrestle to live fully for God. It’s funny how the closer I get to Him, the more clearly I see my shortcomings. I think He does it that way for a reason.

The Perfect God of the Imperfect

My pastor once said, “You can’t do anything 100% to the glory of God.”

That’s huge. Do you realize what that means?

That means our perfect God calls us to act on His behalf, knowing we’re imperfect. Yes, perfect obedience is required to fulfill God’s law, but perfect obedience was done for us.

Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Only in Christ can God call us to something we could never achieve and look upon us with acceptance and joy. When God calls us to obedience, He isn’t surprised by our inability, only by our unavailability.

We have incredible freedom to obey God. The only thing we lack is an excuse.

Wrestle in Humility

At the heart of it is obedience – understanding that God doesn’t judge success like we do. He looks at our hearts. He sees our weakness and our double-mindedness. And He gives us the strength to fight, to wrestle, to run.

The painfully beautiful truth about sanctification is that we wrestle in humility. Know that God has called you to obedience, and you can’t do it on your own. Fight passionately to obey, knowing God works in you. The work is finished, and we now have the freedom to run.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

The True Meaning of Compassion

For a long time, when I thought of “compassion,” I thought of a child sitting in a slum in India (and he’s probably in black and white). Most people associate compassion with those who are disconnected from them: overseas, living in poverty, in dire need of help. What’s your picture?

Compassion
Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard via Compfight cc

A lot of us have been missing the true meaning of compassion. Sponsoring a child or helping an elderly man in India is right, but not exclusive.

True compassion requires two things:

1. Stepping out of your world
2. Stepping into someone else’s world

To step out of your world, you must invest physical, time-bound energy. More than that, compassion requires stepping into someone else’s world, exerting emotional energy. Literally, “compassion” means, “to suffer with.”

Compassion is intentionally shouldering someone else’s burden, expecting nothing in return. Compassion is nothing short of one-way love.

Compassion > love

Compared to compassion, reciprocal love is easy. It’s easy to love those who love us. We’re far more willing to sacrifice if we know what the outcome will be.

But that isn’t compassion.

I wish relationships were like business. The goals of business are to be both effective and efficient. Business is simple – you put a certain amount in, and you get a certain amount back. But that’s not how people work, and compassion is exclusively personal. Effective personal relationships often aren’t efficient.

Love may be a natural reaction, but compassion is always an action.

Giving for Gain

So far I’ve said “suffer with people” and, “give while getting nothing back.” I’d say I’m making a pretty poor sales-pitch for compassion.

But what we tend to forget – what I tend to forget – is that the true value of compassion is not in the virtue of what you give but in the reward of what you gain. 

Take listening, for example. Most people wouldn’t think of listening as an act of compassion. But if you’re truly listening – striving to understand another – the you’re giving both physical time and emotional energy.

When we listen to someone, our act of listening doesn’t make them love us, and it doesn’t make us feel loved. Yet the reward of listening isn’t love, it’s trust. Affection may come and go, but trust is an established foundation that takes time. Building trust takes compassion.

Echoes of Eternity

A couple weeks ago, I was explaining the Gospel to a girl over email. After I explained the cross, she wrote back to me with a surprised question:

“Why would [Jesus] die for somebody knowing they might never love him back?”

Her question caught me off guard. I had always known that – yes – Jesus died for all people, but only some will believe in Him. But I had never heard the question phrased that directly.

Romans 5:8 is one of the clearest verses explaining the Gospel:

God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus died for us, knowing He might not get anything in return. God’s greatest act of love for us was compassion. What an incredible reason to trust Him!

In fact, the promise of our trust is the reason Christ died with joy. He went to the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2) – that is, us.

No one has a better example, experience, or motivation of compassion than Christians. We’re called to reflect that love by giving of our time and emotion to those who may not return our love. Our example is Christ, our experience is redemption, and our motivation is hope in future trust.

Sacrifice today – toward a family, friend, or  stranger. Show compassion, and your actions will echo the heart of God for all eternity.

 

For All Adrenaline Junkies of the Christian Faith

Welcome to the age of Christian opinion. In just a matter of seconds, you can find a Christian article (and counter article) on virtually every topic.

Photo Credit: RezaG! via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: RezaG! via Compfight cc

Even more impressive than the availability of Christian opinion is the appetite of readers. All it takes is a catchy headline about a topic we care about (or are made to think we care about), and we eat it up.

We’re restless to hear, know, and explore opinions similar and different than ours. We want to know why we believe what we believe. We devour media to help us shape our ideas, our ideals, and our identity.

A Lesson from Ezekiel

Today I read the opening three chapters of Ezekiel, and they left me silent.

In these chapters, Ezekiel sees visions of heaven, sees God on the throne, and is given words to speak God’s message. The verse that surprised me is halfway through chapter three.

Ezekiel 3:15
And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

The Hebrew word for “overwhelmed” can also mean “stunned” or “devastated.” Ezekiel didn’t hear from God and then erupt into prophecy. He sat, devastated by the sight and sound of God for a whole week.

And God didn’t correct him. He didn’t rebuke him. He didn’t tell him to get over it.

Listening for the Right Reasons

In today’s Pop Christian culture, Ezekiel could have made bank from a “Heaven Is For Real” knock-off. Yet besides the brief recounting in the beginning of his book, Ezekiel never mentions his heavenly vision anywhere else.

Ezekiel’s encounter with God left him in awe, and that was enough.

Contrast to that, I worried for a generation of Christians who are listening for the wrong reasons. I’m worried for those who listen only for the sake of speaking. I’m worried for those who bow their knee so that they can lift their voice. I’m worried for those who obey God for the sake of a great story rather than for the sake of knowing God.

I’m worried because I know that person is me.

I challenge you to stand in Awe Again

I challenge you (and me) to take a week without “Pop Christian” reading. I’m talking about articles shared via Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.

Adrenaline junkie, quench your thirst for the latest Christian opinion with the Word of God.

Don’t get me wrong – I truly value publications like RELEVANT, Christianity Today, Charisma, Prodigal Magazine, and more. I’ve been encouraged and challenged in my faith by each one of these.

But ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s about worshipping God – seeing how big and glorious He is – and standing in awe.

 

What do you think? What are the benefits and dangers of Christian opinion in a viral age? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Finding Jesus When I Back into a Car

Three days ago, I backed into a car.

FenderBender
(Thankfully, it wasn’t quite this bad.) Photo Credit: ChazWags via Compfight cc

No one was around, so I had to leave a note. The lack of closure only increased my anxiety.

The next day, I went to church, and the sermon hit home. The point was this – although life may be chaotic at times, God wants to be present with us wherever we are. 

Since that message, I’ve asked the question in many everyday circumstances: What does it mean for God to be with me right now?

God Doesn’t Play Hide and Seek

When falling into sin, we tend to wait until everything’s “okay” before talking to God. When faced with a stressful situation, we tend to wait for relative peace before talking to God. When I backed into a car, I waited until I was safely in bed before really talking to God about it.

Why? The answer may be one of these:

  1. I’m ashamed
  2. I don’t trust God to give me peace
  3. I don’t want to bother Him with my problems

All are shortsighted.

We may hide like Adam and Eve, but God still comes and asks, “Where are you?” God is present, and He cares.

  • God is always with us (Matthew 28:20)
  • God never leaves us or forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • God is wherever you go; you can’t get away (Psalm 139:7-12)
  • God doesn’t condemn us if we are in Christ (Romans 8:1)
  • God is a refuge for us; we can be honest with Him (Psalm 62:8)
  • God keeps us in perfect peace when we trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3)
  • God knocks on the door of your heart, asking to come in (Revelation 3:20)
  • God reaches out to us, even when we don’t ask for it (Isaiah 65:1)
  • God is before us and beside us; we won’t be shaken (Psalm 16:8)

The Shepherd is Present

As I returned to my bed after backing into a car, I wrote the entire chapter of Psalm 23 in my journal. One verse stuck out out above all the rest:

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“I walk,” “I will fear no evil,” “You are with me.” See the progression? Right now, I walk through the shadow of death. Now and in the future, I won’t fear, because right now God is with me. He comforts me right now.

God is already with you wherever you go – whether finishing finals, changing a diaper, driving to work, or backing into a car. Don’t wait until it’s convenient to let the God of all peace be present in your life.

God wasn’t waiting for David on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death. He was there; He is here.

 

How has God reminded you of His presence in life’s circumstances? Share in the comments below!

 

Stop Being Scared to Admit This

Hindsight is 20/20, especially if you’re the people of Israel.

DesetWalk
Photo Credit: HORIZON via Compfight cc

Twelve spies go on a secret mission to explore the Promised Land. Ten come back terrified, warning the people not to proceed. Two beckon the people onward to embrace the promise of God. The people listen to the majority of the spies, and as a result, the nation of Israel spends 40 years in the wilderness.

The next day, the people of Israel say, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned” (Numbers 14:40). Then the people of Israel go up, and they get creamed.

Because We Want To

Why did the people of Israel sin? The answer is simpler than you think.

Because they wanted to.

Israel didn’t go into the Promised Land because they didn’t want to – there were giants there! Israel rose the next day to fight the giants because they wanted to – they didn’t want God to punish them!

Desire is the source of sin.

James 1:14-15
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The idea is this – disobedience comes from our hearts, resulting in our actions.

It’s All about the Heart

We need to start being more honest with ourselves.

We disobey God because we want to. And when we feel frustrated and vow to never fall into that trap again, we do anyway. Why?

Action is the product of desire.

No one says this truer than James:

James 4:1-3
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

The same way we pursue sin could be said of the way we don’t pursue God.

If you don’t want God, you won’t follow Him. If you aren’t pursuing God, it’s probably because you don’t desire Him.

And we need to admit that.

Be Transformed

Leaving it at that would be a pretty crummy thing to do. So let’s ask: How can we change our heart to desire God?

Answer: Ask.

You can’t do anything. Paul says that pretty straightforward:

Romans 7:18
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

A couple chapters later, Paul says this:

Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….

“Be transformed.”

The action is passive. Being transformed by God is something He does to us, not something we could ever do to ourselves. Without the Author of life, we can’t breathe. Without God’s work, we can’t desire Him.

Cry out to God. You can’t do anything to change your heart, but that God has done everything required to change your heart.

Francis Chan shared a simple prayer: “Dear God, help me to love you more.”

When we ask God to increase our love for Him, He answers! And when He gives us a greater desire of Him, we’re only led to ask again for an ever-increasing love for Him.

Ask, and be transformed.

John 7:37-38
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Why do we disobey? Because we want to.

Why do we desire God? Because – by the mercies of God – we want to.