Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, April 03, 2009

The "S" - what is Sanctification?

In this verse, we read that we're to pursue "sanctification", and we're told that without it, we won't see Christ. But what is sanctification? Several wrong answers prevail in our culture. Since the word means holiness, it's possible that our immediate notion of the word will have to do with some list of behaviors, conspicuously unaddressed in scripture, that are to be avoided. "Holy people don't...." and then you can fill in the blank with a list of things that must be avoided. I'm not sure what's "on your list today" but down through the ages, nearly everything has been an impediment to some Christian's notion of holiness, from watching TV, to playing games on Sundays, from drinking beer, to listening to rock music. I'll pause here and say that I wonder if there are things on our list today that will be seen as equally ridiculous two decades, or even two years from now. If so, we need to uncover them, and bring them into the light, because just as movie attendance has nothing to do with Sanctification, so also does ____________ have nothing to do with it. There's a host of ethical issues that probably need to be laid out on the table and discussed right here, but it's not the main point of the post.

What then, IS sanctification? The word has do with setting oneself apart, devoting oneself to the purpose for which you were created. That purpose, of course, is to display the very life of God, for it was God's original intent that we bear his image in our daily living, so that God's character could be seen through humanity. Of course, our capacity to do that has been severely compromised by virtue of the sin.

Those who know Christ, however, have at their disposal the resources of His very life, living within them. As His life infuses our souls, personalities, and bodies, the promise of the scriptures is that people will see, in increasing measure, what God had intended that people see: His character, uniquely expressed through those given over to Christ (sanctified, set apart for His purpose).

Yes. But HOW? Effectively moving into the life for which we're set apart requires several things:

1. we must come to the experiential realization that the Christian life (not the legalistic, hypocritical, self-righteous, judgmental, isolationist behaviors that often pass for "Christianity", but the real thing - the very life of God expressed visibly) cannot be lived in the strength of our own best efforts. This is one of the grand narratives of the Bible. "You Abraham, 99 years old and surgically wounded, will impregnate your 89 year old wife and she'll have a baby. Do you think you can pull that off without my intervention?" And so it goes; all through the Bible, Old Testament and New, we see God calling people to accomplish feats and live lives that are beyond their capacity, whether that means winning a battle when vastly outnumbered or loving one's enemies. We're not made for such feats, at least not on our own. The sooner we realize that we're called to a life we can't live, the better off we'll be. Tragically, many choose instead to lower the bar, or pretend to live the life by wearing a veil of righteousness that hides chronic failure. Either of these are worthless. The truest thing Paul ever said was that he couldn't live the life to which he was called, and this created great struggle for him.

2. Though I can't live the life to which I'm called, Christ can live it, and He lives in me. Paul would explain this to the Philippians when he told them that he could do all things. He made it clear that the energizing source of these 'all things' was Christ. If I can manage to wake up each day and realize both my inability and God's ability, then I can offer myself to Christ, inviting Him to express His life through Him, and consciously give Him the freedom to have His way with my day. Not my will, His. Not my strength, His. Not my joy, His. Not my wisdom, His. You get the picture. For me, the practical sense of this is a relinquishing of my expectations and agendas for the day, giving these elements to God. When I do this (and I'm deplorably inconsistent at it), it leads to a third reality...

3. I can live with a confident expectation that Christ will bear fruit through my life, through my availability. Of course, Jesus Himself taught this, and this is the theme that Paul would later develop into his doctrine of 'sanctification'. I simply offer myself to Christ, and then relax in the confidence that, whether visible or invisible, global or local, dramatic and plain, Christ will bring forth fruit because when He finds an available life He will express Himself through it.

This is a modified form of the Keswick teaching of sanctification. I say 'modified' because it's surely true that the Keswick teachings too often lead to the errors of passivity. There arises a sense that, "sense I can't do anything, so I won't do anything." Then these misguided people lay on their beds (literally or metaphorically) and wonder why God isn't changing them. This is not what is meant by "I can't do anything". The Bible teaches that our actions, whether cooking a meal, studying for a class, making a decision, loving one's neighbor, or anything else, must be empowered, by giving Christ permission to express Himself through us in our endeavors. Then fruit comes. Otherwise it doesn't. So we're not called to do nothing. We're called to do things with the concious expectation that he will fill our doing with His life.

The other danger in the Keswick teaching is that some misunderstand it to mean some sort of instantaneous perfectionism. I don't think so. Paul taught this, and made it clear at the end of his life that he'd still not arrived. We're on a journey, learning to let Christ express his life through us, and when we do, a great adventure awaits us. Until we do, all we have are a set of rules we're trying to follow, or an enterprise that we're trying to pull off, in the strength of our own humanity. That's not adventure - that's frustration.

This understanding and practice of "sanctification" remains at the core of what I believe to the foundational mindset for me if I'm to grow and be fruitful, to enter into the life for which I'm created. I find the practice of looking to Christ and yielding to Him, though difficult at various times, delightfully freeing when I actually do it. I sleep better. I'm happier. I'm more centered and less nervous. I'm enjoying the ride.

Questions? Comments? What do you think?


At 3/4/09 13:36, Blogger NancyinAbq said...

Thank you for you very insightful blogs. I especially enjoyed reading today's entry as sanctification has become my most fervent pursuit. (I met you some 8 years ago when you celebrated the marriage of my son Nicholas and his bride, Danielle.)

At 4/4/09 07:55, Blogger ptr said...

Thanks for another wonderful post Pastor. For a guy who's unemployed and constantly asking "who am i
Lord? What shall I be?," this was a great reminder... be sanctified... let Christ fill every aspect of your being.

At 6/4/09 07:35, Anonymous Bill said...

My wonderful fiance Nancy passed this along to me, and it rings very true. As County Manager of a very large county in New Mexico, I am confronted daily with the opportunity to try to do things my way, rather than His way. I have been praying that He fill me so full of Him that there is no room left for any of my own stuff. Thank you for this message.

At 6/4/09 08:42, Blogger Kevin said...

Could sanctification simply be the acceptance of and response to God's offer of intimacy? This may sound like an oversimplification, but I think that what we are called to--more than showing the face of God to the world--is to be in intimate relationship with our Creator. That this action simultaneously expresses the character of God is accidental, in a way, for God does not necessarily need us as proxy. Furthermore, I would argue that the whole question of ability/inability be shelved, because the question itself is tertiary to offer of intimacy: when we are offered love and relationship, any doubt over whether or not we can reciprocate and bring our own love in return stems not from the possibility of our inability but rather or own fears and doubts themselves. We were made by Love, Itself. There is no question of whether or not we have the capacity to respond. Moving into this love, this intimacy, then, is exactly a "moving away from" and a "becoming set apart."


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