When I was teaching my youngest son to ride his bike, he would fall often. When he would fall, he would at times look at me and say, “I’m sorry” and act in such a way that made me certain that he thought I was displeased with him. I wasn’t. I was trying to help him ride without falling but he was too busy trying to please me.
It is clear that God wants us to ride without falling. His call is to holy living and fruitful character change. But we fall so often that we wonder if what we are called to do is at all possible.
Then we are told, rightly, that change is God’s business, that ‘sanctification’ is a work of God’s Spirit. What a wonderful truth that is!
But then, we puzzle, why is it that some seem to change more radically than others? And we struggle with why change seems such a dim reality for us. Further, we puzzle over the passages of scripture which tell us to do certain things, and we wonder if there is a role for us in the matter of sanctification after all.
These are the puzzles brought to me by a correspondent last year which I have been trying, in my own way and from my own wrestling to answer. I trust this has been helpful. (If they have been, tell a publisher. Okay, just kidding.)
I have suggested that there are things which a Christian ought to ‘do’, but not what we ordinarily think of doing. Many falsely assume that the path to change is to, well, just change. Scripture and experience suggest that change, real heart change, is not within our reach. Only God can change us at the level we need change.
So what can we do? I suggest five interlocking actions. Click on each and you will be taken to the post where that has been previously discussed.
But even after all of this, we will fall. And when we fall, we will look up at our heavenly father, and say, “I’m sorry” and wonder if he is yet pleased with us. He is. And that is the truth which must be kept before us. So a critical part of our sanctification is one that seems to have nothing and everything to do with it:
5. Rejoice in the gospel
God has done a most amazing thing. While I was a sinner and before I evidenced any desire to be delivered from that sin, he became a man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. Knowing the darkness that would define my heart, he gave his son, Jesus, to die in my place, to die the death that I deserved, to suffer the displeasure of God in HIS body, the displeasure that MY sin evoked. While I was far from him, and showing no inclination to serve him, he raised Jesus from the dead, pouring life into him which, in him, I am privileged to share. And while I was walking away from him, he sought me, profligate with blessings, he loves me when my sin would make me unlovable.
This is the gospel. (And if it is foreign to you, please make it a point to download and listen to the sermons listed under ‘gospel’ on this page.)
This is the gospel which tells us that no matter how many times we fail him, in Christ God is always pleased with us. He is not blind to our sin like some self-deceived wife who chooses to overlook her husband’s infidelity pretending that it does not exist. He is well aware of our failure, but does not count it against us since the full punishment of it has been born by his Son. His work is finished, and we have been made his forever.
The prophet Isaiah says that he ‘remembers our sin no more’. This does not mean that God has a faulty or altered memory. It means that because that sin has been fully dealt with by Jesus, he chooses not to bring it to bear against us. He cannot love us less than he does now.
Knowing these things (as poorly as I do) has two results. The first is that I am awed and struck with a wonder of great refreshment. I know at this point the ‘hug’ of God. At the same time, I am deeply sorrowful that I do not live up to what he has made me to be. His love for me is a far greater motivator to holiness than any threat of judgment or hint of displeasure.
So, what we must do in our struggle against sin is rejoice in this gospel of God’s grace to us. I pray often that God would restore to me the joy of His salvation. This is what David prayed after his failure with Bathsheba and it is what we should be praying. When I fail, I have to return to the cross and be reminded that Jesus died for that sin, as well as all I will commit. I need to be reminded that God loves me no less for that horrendous failure. I need to be reminded that God brings glory out of my weakness, and that I who have sinned have yet to see what wonder he will produce out of it and in me.
What you need to know and think deeply on when you fall down and look up to your father is that you name is ‘son’ not ‘exile’.
How do you do this? I don’t know how else other than to worship. We need to be in a community of believers who celebrate the gospel. We need to hear the gospel preached. We need to sing songs which emphasize the gospel.
Yes, Christian, there are things you can do. You can call to mind who you are. You can pray earnestly that God would change you. You can diligently put yourself in the way of grace and you can dutifully mortify sin. But your ultimate hope lies not in effort or act, but in the faithfulness of God displayed in the Gospel.
Rejoice in that gospel.