I’ve thought about suggesting that to Pastor Joel for a new cutting edge name for our church. “A Church Distributed” is getting kind of passe—or perhaps “Believers Behaving Badly” would suffice. I got to thinking about this again when I looked at Steve Brown’s devotional for the day: “Only Sinners Welcome.” Steve’s point is that a whole lot of pre-believers are turned off by the sanctimonious posturing of many Christians and their churches. We act a lot holier than we really are, and I think that our behavior is often just too obviously inauthentic.
I recently heard about a local church that meets in a bar on Sunday mornings. That sounds like a brilliant sharing of resources to me. Most bars are closed on Sunday mornings. I’d give this church a try but it’s a 35-40 min drive and it meets at 9:00 a.m which is earlier than I care to engage my holiness.
But then there’s this doctrine called “Sanctification.” Contemplating what all that entails makes me feel guilty enough that it just might be THE TRUTH; it just might be how we’re supposed to be conducting ourselves as maturing Believers. Heck, I’d probably have to give up going to worldly movies if I were working on sanctification. Forget about worshipping in a bar, that would just be too weird. And I’d have to start paying closer attention to who I hang out with and with what comes out of my mouth. It kind of seems like there could be no end to this sanctification process, and frankly it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. I think it probably accounts for why the Puritans seemed so joyless; they were hard at work on sanctification.
In day 22 or 23 of “The Purpose Driven Life” Rick Warren says that sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ. One definition of sanctification is “to be set apart” for a special purpose. Becoming Christ-like and being set apart may sounds simple enough to some, but what it really entails is kind of mind-bending. In doing a little research, the doctrine of sanctification appears a bit of a tricky thing. One of its scriptural bases is John 17:17-19: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. . .” Sounds like an admonition to read Scripture, and not necessarily to abstain from this or that in an attempt to be more holy. First Peter 1:13-16 is a little more to the point: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” That passage echoes Leviticus 11:44: “Be holy, even as I am holy.” Also, in effect Hebrews 12:14 says that unless we are “holy” like Jesus, we wont be able to see Jesus. In some sense, we have to see Jesus with the eyes of Jesus. Try to wrap you mind around that one.
Graham Cooke makes an interesting distinction in how we hear Leviticus 11:44. Is it a stern command thundered from God Jehovah: “BE HOLY, EVEN AS I AM HOLY.” or is it an invitation, a gentle beconing to follow the Divine? Is it Jesus saying follow me and I will teach you about the lightness of my burden and give you rest (Mt. 11:28-30)? Or might it be both? Overall, the doctrine of sanctification seems to me like typical theologian-powered stuff—take a little here, add a little there and come up with a burden to lay on our backs or stuff down our throats. I’m always reminded of Bohoeffer’s statement that theology was invented by the devil when he asked Adam and Eve, “did God really say. . .?”
I think most believers, including me, generally see sanctification as something we do—an act of works–and not something we already are. We have fallen prey to the WHO of “who told you that you were naked.” (Gen. 3:11) It is the second question God asks mankind. I don’t know about you but the evil one whispers in my ear daily about what a colossal disappointment I am to God, how I do not now, and never ever will measure up, and so I might as well give up. Many days I hear that voice a lot clearer than the Lord’s voice. How easily we forget that we already have Jesus living in us and that it’s His Son that God sees when he contemplates us. Rick Warren makes the point that sanctification is a slow, agonizingly slow, life-long process, but that if we are intentional about it we will gradually change to become more like Jesus. It’s the intentionality that’s important. We gradually become what we have chosen to become.
Saturday evening in one of my home church meetings I was struck by this particular meeting’s perfection. For me it was a confirmation of the work of the Holy Spirit. It began with Ron quoting Genesis 3:11 and then giving his testimony. By any measure he’s had a rough life—one of abandonment and tragedy. He’s suffered immensely with shyness and low self-esteem, but he has persevered in obedience to the Lord’s call. Six or seven others chimed in with scripture and testimony. It all was wonderfully orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Chuck summed up the discussion by saying that the testimony of the Spirit was Jesus—not our sins, not our failures, not our low self-worth, etc. The sole function of the Spirit is to testify to the truth in Jesus. Our feelings of guilt and feeling “unsanctified” is from the great deceiver.
It’s a thought beyond comprehension: “Jesus R Us” We lose the battle every day it seems, but in the end we win because the war is already over.