Isaiah 48:9–11 (CSB)
9 I will delay my anger for the sake of my name, and I will restrain myself for your benefit and for my praise, so that you will not be destroyed.
10 Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
11 I will act for my own sake, indeed, my own, for how can I be defiled? I will not give my glory 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 (CSB) We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, 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 (CSB) Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin.
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 (CSB) What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under 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 (CSB) I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they will follow my statutes, keep my ordinances, and practice them. They will 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.
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 (CSB) “I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 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 share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
It is your faith, which is a gift from God, that makes you holy. Not only you are declared holy because God is holy, 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.
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.
Third, when we mess up, He will discipline us as a good parent would.
Hebrews 12:5-6 (CSB) And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him, 6 for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son 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. 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 and 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.
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.
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 wonderful fragrance gives life!