In my blogs, I attempt to sort through things that I happen to be sorting out with Jesus on spiritual matters. In no way, do I believe that I have the end-all answers to these matters, I am merely musing through the process with Him and then writing out the process.
I wrote a while back about the subject of Sanctification and Justification—words that get bandied about in Christian circles but which, if asked, most believers would be hard pressed to define. Recently, I was thinking again about this after talking with someone who was struggling with the issue of another of those tricky Biblical, sort of doctrinal, subjects—the subject of Works! This person recently came back to the Lord after walking away. They had walked away because they had become bogged down in the mire of “working” to live up to the standards and the mold that they felt was imposed by the Church, but was in fact imposed by themselves upon themselves. Once the standards become higher than God’s expectations, it is only a matter of time before we flee from the Christian life—failing too often at living up to the standards is a cumbersome burden to bear.
Having tasted of the bona-fide grace of God in returning, as the prodigal, and being welcomed and embraced by the Father who ran to meet them, this person experienced, perhaps for the first time the real love, forgiveness and mercy of Jesus. It was exhilarating. Never again do they want to return to their old works-based patterns. This of course can lead, if not checked, to a spirit of fear—the fear of returning to “working” to follow the rules of the Christian life—and failing. It is a paralyzing kind of fear which causes one to shut down I think.
Salvation is Free!
I also wrote recently on the subject of laboring to enter into rest (Hebrew 4:11). There is a dichotomy in the idea of “making an effort to settle down,” which is how the Greek reads. Now another layer of this seems to be unfolding in my mind and I am wondering if God is showing me a deeper meaning to all of this. This is how it seems to be unfolding to me: Salvation is free. Absolutely, unequivocally free. There is nothing I could ever have done to merit the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross for my sins. It is the very thing that separates religion from Christianity. All religions are works-based—us, working our way to God, hoping in the end that our good works will outweigh our bad works. Christianity is God reaching down to us. No works are involved. I am very, very humbled and grateful for this.
Salvation is received; Sanctification is surrender!
Sanctification is also free. But in a way, it is also optional. God delivered us from hell, but not to leave us here to grope our way through life in darkness; His purpose is always to restore, redeem, renew, and reconcile us to Himself and to others. We come into our new life in Christ carrying a lot of baggage, and that baggage gets in the way of our relationship with Jesus and with others. So, Jesus begins the gentle process of allowing the baggage to surface, allowing old wounds to open, so that He can clean them out, and let them heal from the inside. Sanctification is always redemptive. It may hurt, it may feel like we are being punished instead of healed, but it is worth all of it when the healing happens. Trust me on this. I have had a lot of baggage. I say that sanctification may be optional because a lot of believers have chosen to remain in their infant state, and are content to be good Sunday Christians, following the rules yet resisting going too deep with Jesus. They don’t want to be too radical, they keep a tie with the world as plan B. 2 Timothy 2: 20-21 talks about two kinds of “vessels” in a great house: those made of gold or silver and those made of wood or clay. One is an honorable vessel, fit for use; the others are dishonorable, useless. But it says that we can be cleansed from the latter and made into the former, which is a great promise! Paul calls this cleansing process, being sanctified and made useful for the master, prepared for every good work. Cleansing oneself is a choice we make in sanctification. We can choose not to be cleansed from our love of the world system and the things of the world, and our love for our self or we can choose to allow His gentle hand of sanctification and cleansing—being conformed into His image.
I have made both choices at times in my life. I no longer want to choose the wood and clay vessel. We don’t work at sanctification—he offers it to us, free of charge, but the price is dying to self, dying to all of our rights to our self, our rights to be offended, our rights to keep a part of ourselves separate from Him, our rights to have life go easy and according to our plans. I say it is “free” because we cannot sanctify ourselves, we can’t decide what needs to be sanctified—all we can do is surrender. Salvation is received. Sanctification is surrender.
Relationship–Free or Work?
There is one thing we do work at. We don’t work for it; but we do work at it: That is relationship. Relationship does not happen by osmosis—relationship takes time and effort and love. He won’t force relationship on us, just as He won’t force sanctification on us; it is something we choose. Relationship happens as we “relate” everything in our lives to Jesus, as if He were really and truly involved in every detail of our lives and as if He really and truly desired to be involved in every detail of our lives. He does of course. Relationship doesn’t say a prayer in the morning asking Jesus to “help me with my day.” It says “Good morning Lord, I love you so much! The birds are singing outside my window this morning and You know how much I love to wake up to the birds singing, thank You. I have a lot of things piling up on me today and I can’t do it all; will You sort through all of these thoughts racing around in my mind and put them into Your file folders and open them one at a time as they come up?” And then going about the day, checking in with Him—“Should I do this now? Or wait until later.” “This is a difficult person I am about to encounter Jesus, will You stand in for me, in my place, so that they see You and not me, right this minute? Thank You, I believe that You will do this.”
Relationship is exactly like the relationship we have (or should have), with our spouse—and we all know that doesn’t happen by osmosis—we all know that maintaining a love relationship with our spouse requires a lot of effort, choices, dying to self, falling out of love and then falling back in love, arguments, disagreements, dry desert places. We don’t get married and then tell our spouse that we’ll see them on Sunday, ignoring them the rest of the week. How long would that relationship last? Relationship with Jesus happens as we open His word and instead of just letting the mind go blank as we read, actually asking Him to read it to us. It happens as we communicate with Him—not with our Church prayer voices, but as if He were really sitting there, listening, looking into our eyes and paying attention to what we are saying. He is, of course. Relationship with Jesus is real—it is likely the most real relationship we will ever have in our lives, and the most rewarding and satisfying—it is the only place where we can take off all of our masks and feel safe!
For me, relationship has been enriched as I read anything that draws me closer to Him. I love some of the new books and teachings coming out—by Francis Chan, Michael Wells, Beth Moore and so many others. I love to read the old saints—Chambers, Carmichael, Tozer, Torrey, Murray and a host of others, who have enriched my walk with Jesus at levels I could never imagine. These are my great cloud of witnesses, my mentors. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who have gone before, paving the way for me. We are all so connected really—I feel as if we are old friends. These have helped in the building blocks of my relationship with Jesus. I also love sermon DVDs or online teachings, and I can sum up my spiritual growth by pointing to three key figures who have helped me define the call of God on my life. Dr. Chuck Missler taught me Bible. There are few who can dig the deeper truths out of the Word of God like him. He taught me from the Hebraic style, pulling out the meaning of our Jewish roots and digging up the pictures of Christ in every book. I have studied through every book of the Bible with Dr. Missler as my teacher. And then I taught those things to Bible studies for years. Michael Wells taught me Jesus. His teachings on the Abiding Life in Christ took me to levels of relationship that I didn’t even realize I was missing. I am indebted to his folksy manner of teaching that “you never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have and that there is nothing the nearness of Christ cannot cure.” Mike called himself a one string banjo—pointing only to Jesus in every situation. He taught me to see Jesus in everything and that has changed my life. It is truth and His truth has set me free. And then there is Beth Moore, whose strong teachings have led me through emotional healing, reconciliation, freedom in Christ and living free in Christ, which have transformed my mind, will and emotions completely. All of these have been used by God to build me up and also to tear me down when necessary, so that Jesus could re-fashion me into His image, and prove to me that He is all, and that He is enough, no matter how hard life gets.
Studying with these saints has enriched my relationship with Jesus—which, as I said, does not happen by osmosis. It happens every time I choose to pick up a book, open up the Bible, listen to praise and worship music, listen to a good teaching, sitting quietly before Jesus with His truth, as I meditate on how He wants to mold that truth into my life, inviting Him to mold these truths into every fiber of my being. This is relationship. It is how the “mind” is renewed. It is laboring to enter into His rest and making an effort to settle down into Him. He desires our relationship more than anything else in the world—I’m not sure we appreciate that as much as we need to—He desires our company!
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36)