Of Being and Becoming

I’d like to offer a new term for popular consideration: snactification. The general idea is improving your life through snackage, but there is room for tweaking. What do you think? I think the idea has merit.

But in all seriousness, today’s topic is not snactification but sanctification, the process of becoming in the Christian life. Depending on which denomination you come from, you may disagree on what this process looks like, where it’s taking you, or whether it exists at all.

The first question I’d like to ask is what are you becoming? What’s the goal in the Christian life? I would think this would be the easy one: it’s basically being as much like Jesus as possible. That’s why our spiritual forefathers earned the nickname Christian, because we were trying to be little Christs. Now you and I won’t die for people’s sins, but Jesus did hint you might have to follow Him to a painful demise. Still, the emphasis is on living as Jesus lived and obeying His teachings.

Two questions immediately jump to mind: 1) which teachings of the Bible apply to me today, and 2) how do I have any hope of being perfect the way Jesus was in keeping them?

Last year I came here to Dallas with an acute sense that I was not living up to the teachings of God’s Word. I purposed to study them more carefully and try my hardest to be perfect. A good friend (who shall remain nameless) caught wind of this and strongly objected. He said I can’t be perfect and that’s why there’s grace. To try and keep the law as best I could would only leave me a legalist trusting in my own righteousness. I thought about this, and it seemed to make sense.

What made it worse was reading Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening for class my first semester. He wrote something along these lines: if grace doesn’t tempt you to take advantage of it, you don’t really understand it. Now in context he meant this to help us realize the freedom we who are Christians have in Christ: we are so free that if we wanted to we could sin all the time and Jesus’ work on the cross would still be big enough to pay for these sins and make us beautiful before God. He did NOT mean this to say we should give in to such temptation. This is a fact that I’m glad he showed me, but I fear I was a little too immature for the idea.

So the past year I have not been guarding my life as well as I should. I’ve been trying to just be myself and show God how much I trusted His finished work on the cross. This was all foolishness, and I could see so in my life; something wasn’t right. This wasn’t the life I’d been taught to live. So now more questions than ever began surfacing.

Thankfully, that’s when Dr. Holsteen came by to teach a course on this very subject at DTS.

I don’t have the time to lay out everything you would need to come to your own decision on the subject, because the theories are more numerous than I would have thought. So let me just explain what conclusions I drew and leave you room to disagree and discuss as you will.

To the first question, I believe the Old Testament law doesn’t apply to Christians in any way. Whatever you obey in this area is your own preference, but not the expectation of God for you. [Editor’s note: what I meant to say is the Law of Moses is not binding on Christians; this does not in any way negate the importance of the Old Testament in our lives!] Jesus’ teachings are a tricky subject that requires further study on my part. [Editor’s note: this is a dispensationalist conundrum; I meant in no way to downplay Jesus’ teachings!] The one set of teachings I’m absolutely sure we should obey are those of the apostles. They spoke specifically to the church on behalf of Christ, so we know if nothing else we can trust that they are speaking to us. (How much culture gets in the way is debatable, but not a debate I wish to enter now.)

As for the second question, let me remind you that we are in fact saved by grace through faith, that because we believe (which is itself a free gift of God) we are given grace to cover all our sins. Dr. Swindoll was right: that alone sets us completely free. And we have seen what we are to do with that freedom. But you and I didn’t instantly become better people, did we? I mean, we’re now perfect in a legal sense before God, but everyone reading this knows I’m not perfect now. And I’m not likely to start tomorrow.

So how do we live up to such a high standard? How do we love each other as Jesus loved us? How can we be holy as God is holy? Well, God did not leave us alone; He gave His Holy Spirit to everyone who believes, the One who empowers us, corrects us, and changes us.

The point is that when I decided last year to try and be perfect, that was a good goal. It should be every Christian’s goal! But let’s not confuse what perfect means, and let’s not forget who’s doing the work. When I stop trying to be perfect, I am saying I no longer care about obeying God, that I don’t fully appreciate what those sins cost. The standard now met no longer matters. When I try to be perfect but in my own power, I am falling into the trap I was warned about. But this trap is not legalism, it’s idolatry. Legalism is tricky to define and usually has to do with how you judge yourself and others. But that this is idolatry is clear: I am now trusting in someone other than God to save me… namely, me.

Instead, we need to work to be perfect in God’s power, which seems to be more of a mindset than a different form of behavior. I had a breakthrough in class when my teacher said this: whenever I act in a godly manner, I never act alone. Some people may say God does the work, others that it is man, but however it happens the truth seems to be both. So my job is to work hard to be good, trusting that God will enable me to do so, and believing that whatever good I do is because He is moving in me, not because I am now capable on my own.

You may find that you disagree with me on this, and I’m fine with that. I was amazed to see how many different views there are on this subject in the evangelical world alone. But this view seemed to make the most sense to me with regard to Scripture and my own personal experience as a Christian.

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