Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking backward to mark forward progress

After Jesus justifies us, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us to help us resist unholy desires, and to grow us in Christ-likeness. He helps us resist the "old man" (Romans 6:6) and creates in us a "new man." (Ephesians 4:24). This process is called progressive sanctification.

Progressive sanctification

"Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it....Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness." -John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Even as the old man fades away, the new man is budding. EPrata photo
Sanctification is hard to see, and it is easy to see. It is hard to detect because the Spirit's work is invisible. Like the minute progress of a blade of grass, you know it is growing but you can't see the actual growth as it occurs. All you know is that one day you drive down your driveway and you notice the grass and you say, "Gee, I should mow the lawn."

"The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace. Sanctification is a progressive, lifelong work (Prov 4:18). It is an amazing work of God's grace and it is a work to be prayed for (Rom 8:27)." ~John Owen, The Holy Spirit

On the other hand, the process of sanctification in a person is easy to see because His work bears fruit.

Does your life bear fruit? Evidence of sanctification? EPrata
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23).

I got a glimpse of it when I was looking up my Amazon.com account. I was searching for a book I'd ordered earlier in the year whose name I couldn't remember. Yes, that is evidence of aging, not sanctification! If I don't write it down it's gone forever, seems like. Anyway, then I saw that I could go back and review my orders year by year. Curious, I went backwards as far as my account went, for me that was from 2013 back to 1997. First of all, I was startled to see evidence that I'd been an Amazon customer for 17 years! Secondly, it is very interesting to look backwards at the journey I was making, unknown at the time, toward Christ. Here was graphic proof, in the form of dozens of book covers...

I was justified and saved by His grace in January 2004. (Well really late Dec 2003 but for ease of  chronicling purposes, say beginning of 2004).

In 1997, '98, '99 most of my purchases were of music. Mostly blues. Some Christmas presents were mixed in, and there were sprinkled in purchases my husband was making on my account also. If I bought a book, it was either politics, culture, or crafts. I was not interested in spiritual things, at least, not enough to buy and read a book about it.

In 2000, '01, and '02 suddenly my purchases were all on the topic of spirituality. I'd gotten got very spiritual. I was at first buying stuff about the Native American religions and bought a lot of books on that topic. Music too. Then the book-buys gravitated to nature/earth religions like shamanism and animal knowledge etc and the merchandise I was buying reflected that interest. Female power and goddesses and women wisdom. Then came the meditation and Buddhism phase. Lots of spirituality that was "inner" and Gnostic. Plus, candles. Oy.

In 2003 my purchases abruptly reflected a drastic turn for the dark side. I was consumed with books on demons and vampires and seamy mixtures of the two. Kundalini and serpent power and tantra and worse. It was stunning to see the rapid turn that my allegedly lighthearted former spiritual interests took into the hellish side. Of course, all spirituality that does not stem from Jesus IS from the dark side, but I didn't know that at the time. And it shows me it does not take long for satan to draw a person experimenting with "spirituality" ever deeper into bondage and away from the Light. I was sinking fast.

I believe 2003's purchases were graphically reflective of the spiritual warfare going on in me and all around me.

In January 2004 I was saved! Praise God in the highest for His grace. My book purchases started lightening up. I was still interested in unholy angels for a while, but from a more sanctified perspective. "Who are they? How did they get that way? Can they be saved?" Like that. There was a short spate of interest in modern-day prophets and books from false teacher C Peter Wagner, and 'creating your own reality', personal-power kind of books. Even as a newbie to the faith I rapidly discerned that books like those were not profitable. Thank you Holy Spirit for your discerning wisdom you impart! Then I was interested in holy angels, church life, and then abruptly, since 2005, my purchases became heavily theological- and centered on Christ.

Even then I can see the progression from light theology to deep theology. From "9 Marks of a Healthy Church" and "How to be an Expository Listener" to books about church history, to the Puritans such as Thomas Manton, "Counterfeit Miracles" by BB Warfield, and finally to this day, Jerry Bridges books and a LOT of books by modern day theologian John MacArthur. I think his "Because The Time is Near" is my all-time favorite.

For your New Year resolution, make a determination to look out with refreshed eyes from His inner position of sanctification through your life, your living space, your stuff. Sort and ruthlessly remove anything that could be a stumbling block. Because, they're there.

Every once in a while I go around the house and remove things which are not profitable, and this includes books. All the books I mentioned above I have long since thrown into the garbage. I review my bookshelf occasionally not only to refresh me as to what is there (and so I'll know what I can give away if someone mentions an author) but to remove anything that my increased sanctification shows is not edifying.

Progressive Sanctification

"True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you're alive you are going to grow, there's no other way. You'll improve. You'll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?" ~John MacArthur

Sanctification is a process by which the Spirit opens your eyes and conforms your self to Jesus. The Spirit's ministry is to point to Him, and away from ourselves and unholy things. Resolve to look with refreshed eyes at your wants and needs, but also your clothes, books, art hanging on the wall, knick-knacks, etc. If you are saved, you have grown. Look to see how much. So then you can praise the Spirit and thank the Christ and submit to the father and do it all over again. Pick up your cross daily, and, my brethren, grow by His Spirit!

Photo by EPrata
"The soul of a true Christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun's glory; rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness, that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this - to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child." ~Jonathan Edwards

3 comments:

  1. This is a great essay for me as I look back over the year and years past. Definitely inspired to go through my bookshelves and stuff. Love the concept of keeping only what is edifying. Thanks, Elizabeth. Melissa S.

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  2. Wow Elizabeth! I was fascinated with many of the same things, books included. I used to love reading Anne Rice, Stephen King and any self-help book I could find. Spirituality was just part of that. When I became a Christian in the spring of 2006, I jumped in head first into the Christian music life, and reading anything I could get my hands on. However, it wasn't the correct theology and luckily, we hosted three itinerant preachers and they pointed me towards John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon and the Puritans. I am so thankful that you are here, writing about these things. You're a blessing!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tara,

      Happy New Year! Thanks for commenting. I think it was a huge blessing that the Spirit sent you three itinerant preachers who really knew their stuff and pointed you in such a great direction! I am truly thrilled for you :)

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