The Pain of Progress

This week our youngest had major surgery to reconstruct her hips. I have been saying that she is being given hips that won’t lie. That’s the hope anyway!

As she has been coming out of the anesthesia and working toward pain management and her normal personality, I am struck by the pain in her progress. Of course, she would prefer to never experience pain – and as her father, I wish she would never experience it either! But this pain, on purpose and intentional, is headed somewhere. It is bringing her to healing, functionality, better mobility and flourishing. These few days of major discomfort and the weeks of struggle ahead are all ushering something so much better.

I am stuck that our sanctification works much the same way. Our becoming more like Christ, slaying the dragon of self and living for Jesus’ purpose and glory. It is not easy and we could often categorize it as pain or suffering. But just like Adia’s recovery, this pain is part of the progress.

We run after too much that we assume is “pain” free and that never gets us to where we desire to be. On the flip side, we fight against purposeful discomfort because frankly, we are comfortable in our mess, our inability to flourish. Jesus means to end all that and bring you somewhere worthwhile. To the place your identity in him secures, promises, and provides.

Maybe we should lean into trusting his strength and process. After all, he is tremendously good and he loves you. I know it won’t be easy, but it will be good.

I am praying for you as you face the pain in the progress.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)

In Christ You are Sanctified by Jesus

I have a confession to make. I am not good at all at making myself better. I read all the books (cliff notes really) and blog posts on how to hack my life and get just that much better. I hear stories of “holy” people and I think to myself, “man I would love to be that good.” But then I spend ten minutes with myself and it is abundantly clear; I have a long way to go and I am awful at making myself better. I am just not that disciplined. I too easily forget who I am and what has been declared over me.

Then I read these words: “For he who sanctified and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11 ESV).

Did you see that? He who sanctifies and the one sanctified have one source. Jesus.

Jesus is the sanctifier and source of sanctification. It is his work in me. The author of Hebrews does not say that Jesus provides help to those working out sanctification. He says, Jesus accomplishes, Jesus is the sanctification. In giving up my feeble attempts to improve myself and yielding to the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, I will be better.

Friends, it is okay to want to be better. Just don’t for one second think you can make yourself better. Know that in your union with Christ, at repentance and belief in him, he is the one, the source of your becoming more like him. He is sanctifying you. That is good news.

But there is more. Just as he sanctifies you, and because he sanctifies you, he is not ashamed of you. Let that sink in deep Christian.

JESUS IS NOT ASHAMED OF YOU. Ever. In him, he calls you brother. He calls you sister. And he is proud of it. No shame. No condemnation. Nothing of your own ability. All of him, he is the worker and the source. You are the one that is sanctified.

That sure sounds good to me, and I hope it does to you too.

Abide in the Vine

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9

Many of us are simply incapable of resting. No, not the sleeping or sitting on the couch type of resting, I mean spiritual resting. Resting in the completed work of Christ. And not just for your salvation (justification) but also you holy life. As the author of Hebrews says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV) This is awesome… He, Jesus, has perfected me for eternity, it is done, even in the midst of my being changed to be more like him. Notice I am not the one doing the work here. Don’t hear me wrongly; we are called to be obedient but we are not the ones making the change, doing the work of transformation. We can rest in that it is done by another, and he has a great track record.

If we learn to rest in this way then, what does it mean for us to “abide?”

“Yes, I know I need to abide in him, but what exactly does that entail? Should I pray more, relax more, obey more? What does this metaphor tell me about how to bear fruit? What can we learn from the vineyard?”

“…I overlook the truth that it’s his power that births and sustains the entire plant. He’s supplying all that’s necessary for my growth and fruitfulness. It’s his life, his purpose, his determination to be in union with me that’s the central point of this teaching. This teaching isn’t about what I must do. Yes, there is a command here, but it’s basically a command simply to receive. What does that little stem need to do? If it stays attached to the vine, it will naturally grow into a fruit-producing branch. If it is broken off, it will die. It needs to abide.”

“For a moment take your focus off yourself and what you think you might need to do and rejoice in the promise inherent in this passage. Your fruitfulness is assured. Because your union isn’t with a sickly, barren vine but rather with a robust and fertile one, you will produce fruit, the fruit he’s ordained for you (Eph. 2:10).”

Lenten devotion from Comforts for the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Day 20.

Permanent Perfection

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

Yeah right. Who let this one slip into the Bible?! We all know we are not perfect. Think of the little ways (and big ways) I have missed the mark even today in the small hours. I have let anger brew. I have been short with my children. I have coveted greener grass. And these things are not just hiccups in a perfect life. They are sin, showing the marring of my flesh and disobedience. But this author of Hebrews has the nerve to tell me that I have been perfected for all time in Jesus. Blah.

As if we have a hard time accepting this, to the readers of this letter, the truth may have been more startling.

“You have got to get an idea of the shock the early believers would have felt upon reading these words. Perfected for all time? How could those words be uttered about anyone? They knew full well the sacrifices required to atone for their sin: a young bird, a goat, a bull, a spotless lamb. They were well aware that their sins weren’t some minor blemish but were serious enough that a living creature had to suffer and die. This wasn’t merely a philosophical or theological persuasion. For their unbelief, warm blood streamed onto sticky stone; because of their covetousness, animals cried out in terror. And for those who lived in Jerusalem, there was the smoke that hung continually over the temple mount. Listen to hear the bleating of the soon-silenced lamb; smell the acrid stench of burning hair and flesh; see the white robes of the high priest darkly stained. They knew their imperfections – they were lawbreakers.”

“Jesus Christ, the ultimate high priest, had accomplished what no other high priest had ever even dared to attempt. On the cross he spilled the blood of God to appease the wrath of God. This blood was so precious, being the very blood of the infinite, incarnate God, that just this one sacrifice was completely sufficient to atone for and bring to perfection all who would believe in it. Just one sacrifice was necessary to perfect them, to perfect you.”

We don’t have sacrifices anymore but we do similar things to atone for our sin. We will “try harder” or “do better next time.” We sacrifice, or give up things for lent to prove how much we love God. We make reading the Bible every day into a new law so we can feel as if we have gained our righteousness. We each have something we run to when we need only run to Jesus.

“Jesus Christ offered one sacrifice for sin and in doing so he absolutely perfected those who are (still) being changed or sanctified… The Spirit assures us that we’re absolutely perfected right now” because of the cross.

“When we spend our days in an endless pursuit of self-improvement, trying over and over again to “get our act together,” or trying to excuse our sin because, after all, “nobody’s perfect,” we are, in essence, devaluing the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect man who is also God.”

Today we can rest and celebrate the perfection granted to us, for all of life, in Jesus.

Lenten devotion from Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Day 11.