Isaiah 48:9–11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
So, God saved us. Some of you might be asking the next logical question: Now what?
What do we do now? This life I was living before: lying, sexual deviances, pride, foolishness, rage, gossip—these are sins that I was dwelling in before, and I know how they are not pleasing to God. So do I go back to the way I was living?
Or maybe you are saying is that I don’t want to go back. This deal that I have received is much so much sweeter than what I had. I have dealt with abuse, addiction, disease, and sickness. I can’t go back.
For both of the newly minted Christians and everyone else in between, let us never forget that when God saves us, we are most certainly changed, but we are not instantly perfect. Like, my circumstances are still the same, and it takes so much effort and energy just to react differently than I did previously. And for some who suffers and had suffered from mental health issues like PTSD (like myself), your circumstances are maybe good, bad, or neutral, but God didn’t instantly heal you of your past trauma. So the triggers might still happen. For me, I was saved for several years and was in an unhealthy marriage where triggers were not stopped.
And just because God saved me didn’t mean everything magically gotten better. For some of us, it got a whole lot worse.
Now, I can throw the following verse at you, and take a moment to highlight the key phrase in verse to make sure you understand the nuance in the text:
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I think most of us get that. All things mean all things. All means good and bad. But exactly does that mean and what does it mean for me?
In other words, I signed up to be a Christian. What should I expect from God now that I am predestined, called, justified, clean, protected, regenerated, and adopted?
What we should expect from God is that we should bank on his absolute promise that we will be perfect in every way. Not “saved but still do some light sinning on the side”. No, we will stand before God, we will look like his Son.
We have a two-fold process. One, it is the wrath-absorbing death of Jesus Christ that produces a spotless robe so that God covers your sin. But it is the blood-drained body of that same Jesus that cleanses you from the inside—yes, even those wicked, sinful thoughts you have in your mind and heart. When you stand before God, you are going to be covered by Christ’s work and you are going to be perfect by the work of the Holy Spirit.
And this will take a lifetime.
For some I know who got saved, they were immediately broke free from crippling addictions. It happened to me. The moment I got saved from a decades-long addiction to porn. But what I learned later is that doesn’t mean the temptations doesn’t come after you. And it doesn’t say you won’t fall. I certainly did. But was the difference between my old self and new self? I got right back up. By the grace of God, I kept getting back up after every time I fell.
Proverbs 24:16 for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
Let us rejoice in the fact that this is not some absolute limit of how many times a Christian can sin before he is let go by God. What it does mean that the righteous ones of God will always get up one more time they all the times they have fallen. That is because of the strength, love, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Which is indeed true but I think we need to flip back over to his previous letter get a stronger point:
Romans 6:1–14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace.
In other words, that old self is dead. When God saves you, Christ took your old self with him when he died. However, unlike Christ who is holy and righteous, your sin, your old self, wasn’t raised from the dead. It remains dead. You are alive in Christ. Live in that!
Ezekiel takes it one step further and declares a complete heart transplant by God the Good Surgeon:
Ezekiel 11:19–20 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Notice the order. First, he gives us a new heart. Next, a new spirit. He does so by removing our stony, hard, cancerous sin-filled hearts and replaces it with a soft, healthy, fleshy heart. But it is only now we have this new heart, we get to walk in his statutes and keep his rules and obey them.
So you see, this is the work of God in your active obedience to God that He will transform you to the image of His Son. 1
But we just established that this process doesn’t often happen overnight but rather in a lifetime. I think we know our part: we see it in the Bible. But what is God’s part in all of this?
To know God’s part, we have to look at the promises he has for his children when comes to molding, transforming, shaping, growing, and renewing us to look like His Son.
First, he will sanctify, or that is, make us holy by our faith. Look at what Paul says when he gives a testimony of God saving him on the road to Damascus:
Acts 26:15-18 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
It is your faith, which is a gift from God 2, that makes you holy. Not only you are declared holy because God is holy 3, you will be holy because of your faith in the God who the angels in heaven declare is “holy, holy, holy!”
You are declared and made righteous because of your faith in God. If you believe in his word and trust his promises, you will live as though you believe. Not to do so is hypocrisy.
It is this very idea that separates the theologies and doctrines of the Roman Catholics and the Protestants: It is not that the little things we do that have no heart and no meaning behind them in order to pay for our sins, but it is that we, Protestants, believe that Christ took care of all of my sins once and for all and now, he sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. We contend that the righteous shall live by faith. 4
Second, he will continue to refine us by allowing us to be put into certain situations or experience certain afflictions so that we would grow and mature. God gave Paul a messenger of Satan to harass him so that “it would keep him from being conceited.”
We might think of that is insanity or even cruel. I am going to use a phrase that only the most serious gym-goer would understand: progressive overload. Progressive overload is the idea that for you to be faster, stronger, and have more endurance; you will need to keep increasing your weights, reps, and your time. In other words, you cannot keep going to the gym, keep doing the same thing over and over again. In fact, if you do, you will become weaker because the body is exceptionally terrific at being efficient.
Likewise, whatever God sends our way, even suffering, will produce not only endurance, and not only a godly character, but ultimately produces a hope that does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 5
Third, when we mess up, He will discipline us as a good parent would.
Hebrews 12:5–6 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
When we mess up, we are given the strength to get up that once more time. But our Father does not want us to suffer the sins that we keep committing. So sometimes, discipline is involved.
I hesitate to share this story, but I know that this is the clearest example I know of my Father disciplining me. I was dating a gal that I should not been dating. It wasn’t she was a harlot or nothing like that. I just knew I shouldn’t be seeing her. Despite all of that, I made the mistake of telling God, “Do your work in me”. And I cannot begin to tell you the immense amount of suffering that I endured including loss of job, losing a place to stay until we finally broke up.
So, what will all of this sanctifying conformation look like?
Some of it will look like suffering. To be heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, we will have to suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him. But we are not to consider the sufferings of this present time to be worthy of comparison to the glory that will be revealed to us. 6
Some of it will look like Israelites wandering in the desert (see the book of Exodus) but know it is God that drew you out in the wilderness but He also is the same God who will be closer than a whisper and will never leave your side. 7
Some of it will look like death as though we are walking through the valley of the stench of death but never forget that Jesus Christ is the lily of the valley whose fragrance smells of life. 8