Thoughts on Sanctification
|"This is my journey through recovery, showing how my Creator is using the the 12-Step Christian recovery model to give me relief from the behaviors that bring me pain." --Sid|
Jesus says, "I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see." (Revelation 3:18 )
When I ask myself, "Do I want God to remove my defects of character?", my first thought is, "Of course I do! Just take them away, Lord!" But, as I continue to ponder Rev 3:18, I realize that there will be pain involved in this transformation of my character. Just as gold is purified with fire, so my character is tried and purified with the fire of trials and affliction. Is that really what I want?!
This makes character transformation harder than it first appears. But wait... is it really...? In holding on to my defects, I sacrifice "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7 ), for temporary pleasure. But, in choosing to let God work in whatever way is best for me (Philippians 2:13 ), I "buy" my eternal happiness by being "tried in the fire" of trials now.
Since the beginning of my recovery (1994), I have many times been through the "fire", and I can testify to you today that the pain is truly worth the gain :-) God is good! "The Lord... is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." (2 Peter 3:9 ).
The apostle Paul reminds us too, that when the going gets real hard, God carries us: "The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure." (1 Corinthians 10:13 ).
I don't know about you, but I want a character of pure gold, and if that means sacrificing current pleasure for an infinitely bright future, then so be it. Lord, I come to the foot of the cross, asking that your will may be done in my life today...
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13 )
"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character." (Step 6)
I remember well how hard it was to admit my issues when my recovery process began back in 1994. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. After my first real victories in the Lord, I began to get a clue as to how bad my behaviors had become.
As I confessed these things to God, I believe it was Him who convicted me that I must also confess my problems to another human being (James 5:16 ). You see, at that time, I knew nothing of the 12-Steps and I had a negative opinion of the program. Yet, there was this incredibly strong force within convicting me of my need to talk about my issues with another person. But, the fear of doing that was nearly overwhelming. Much of my dysfunction was hidden to most everyone. So the idea of coming out of that isolation was very frightening.
When finally I became willing to talk, it took hours to make my confession, but it wasn't because my list was long. It was because every word that came out of my mouth was strained with fear and enveloped with sobs of sorrow.
One might wonder, "Is it really worth all the pain?" Looking back on that experience now, I have to say that I don't believe that my recovery process could have continued without it. So yes, it is worth any cost.
This is just one way in which I have co-operated with God in His extreme makeover of me. All the credit and glory go to Him. He's not finished with me yet. This extreme makeover is the "progressive work of a lifetime"(3SM 202)-- sanctification(1 Thes 4:3 ). I can't do it without God and He won't do it without my co-operation.
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." (Step 5)
Over a period of several weeks, I began to feel more and more pain in one my teeth. Eventually, the pain spread to one whole side of my head. All of this pain, I found out later, was caused by some damaged tissue in one of the three roots of one of my molars. It was such a small part of my body, but it caused me a great deal of pain.
Now, what do you think would have happened if I had chosen to only medicate the pain, using stronger and stronger pain reliever so I wouldn't feel the pain, but never getting the cause of the problem fixed? I suspect that infection would spread and I would lose that tooth. Eventually it may even become systemic, leading to my death.
For many years, I medicated my emotional pain with addictions, stuffing my feelings deeper and deeper, never fixing the cause of the problem. It was a dreadful downward spiral with the addictive acting-out, due to the pain, leading to temporary relief, leading to even greater pain because I acted out. The infection was becoming systemic and I was dying.
But shortly after I began to learn to cooperate with God, surrendering to His will, He brought me to a place of looking inward, beyond the pain to the root causes of my pain. With my permission, it was like He opened a peep hole in the top of my "tooth" so that I could begin to see the damage inside. As I recognized my issues, I confessed my sins (1 John 1:9 ), became willing to have God dig that mess out of my "tooth", and asked Him to perform a root canal on my life. What a relief it was to get that damaged "tissue" out of that "tooth".
The Heavenly surgeon gives us this promise: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26 )
The surgery brought its own pain. It was hard to let go of a piece of my body, in the case of the physical root canal. And, it was hard to let go of a piece of who I am, in the case of the spiritual root canal. But I can tell you, without hesitation, that in both cases, the pain was definitely worth the gain!
Now, let's look a little deeper into that feeling of pain. Was the pain of my toothache bad, or evil? No. Without that pain, I would have never known I had a problem, until it led to even more serious problems, right? That pain was really a blessing to me, in that it told me that there was a problem that I needed to deal with -- kind of like a fire alarm.
What about emotional pain? Is it really any different? Can there be something evil about the way I feel? Or, are my feelings also like a fire alarm, signaling me that there are some deeper issues that I need Divine help in rooting out. I've heard that when we "stuff" our feelings over a long period of time, we are likely to contract one or more of quite a long list of physical ailments, including Alzheimer's disease (of course there are other causes too). I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.
I've been thinking a lot about the connection between feelings and temptation. I once had a pastor friend who told me that, when I am tempted, it's because I have already sinned. Of course, the Bible is pretty clear that this is not true: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15 ). But, I'm wondering if we might be saying the same thing as this pastor when we think that of our feelings are sometimes evil.
Let me try to explain what I'm thinking, by example. Let's say that I'm feeling attracted to someone other than my wife. Is that feeling evil? Would it be a sin for me to be attracted to another woman? Or, does it just lead to temptation? It seems to me, that when temptation comes, I have a choice to make as to what I am going to do with that feeling/temptation. If I choose to lust after her, certainly it is a sin, because Jesus said, "... anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28 ). Another choice I could make is to deny that feeling -- pretend it doesn't exist -- stuff it. But wait... that would be like ignoring the pain in my tooth. That can't be good! A third choice I could make would be to admit to myself, to God, and possibly to a trusted friend (James 5:16 ) that I'm having this feeling. Then, as I surrender my will to God's, asking Him, "... Lord, what would you have me to do?" (Acts 9:6 ), He gives me the victory over my temptation -- without sin.
Keeping in mind that anger is a feeling, I wonder if the apostle Paul had this principle in mind when he said, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:" (Ephesians 4:26 )? Maybe...
I believe that my feelings are the result of my past experiences and choices (both good and bad). I can't change my current feelings, because I can't change my past. However, as I deal appropriately with those feelings, surrendering my thoughts, feelings, and actions to God, I can change (by the grace and power of God) my future feelings. I praise God for that! He is Awesome!
Some may ask, "Why is this important?" It is my belief that the forces of evil will use everything they can to shame us for what we've been tempted by, even though it was them who tempted us! Understanding the difference between feelings, temptation, and sin will give satan one less foot-hold into our lives.
"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." (Step 4)
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." (Step 5)
Jesus, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." (1 Peter 2:24-25 )
As a sinner, I stray away from the Good Shepherd, seeking to do my own thing in my own way. But because He is the Good Shepherd He never stops pursuing me, continually seeking to lead me back to His fold of safety.
Without Him I am powerless and can never find my way back (John 15:5 ). But, because He pursues me, I am able to choose to follow Him. It's that "choosing" that's the hardest part because when temptation comes, it tries to lure me away from the safety of the fold. That "fold" is the place where I trust and obey. It's the place where I choose to follow Him, not knowing what the outcome will be. It's the place where I "die" to my own ideas of how to deal with problems and live with my life hid in Christ -- the Shepherd and Overseer (Bishop) of my life.
The beauty of the "fold" is in its safety and power, because as I choose to do the good that I am unable to do, the Good Shepherd wraps His loving arms around me and gives me strength (Philippians 4:13 ). "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3 ).
"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." (Step 3)
In our early years, the only God we knew was our parents. Ideally, parents are servants of God and are godly role models for their children. But, all too often, this is not the case. Many children are seriously abused, even by parents who are professed Christians. As children, we could not readily discern whether our parents were following God, or not, in the way they treated us. In fact, our parents were as gods to us, when we were very young.
As a result, many have grown up with a skewed view of God. But it didn't end there. As we became older, we've seen other professed Christians acting in ways that that just didn't seem right. They may have even been abusive toward us. With all this evil coming at us from role-models that have largely formed our view of God, is it any wonder that so many have turned to gods other than the God of the Bible?
Many spend a lifetime searching for peace and joy in all the wrong places, because of a skewed view of the one and only God who can give them peace, joy, and a life of fulfillment -- the God of the Bible -- the God of true Christianity.
"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19 ). He says, "... I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5 ). "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ). "... and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20 ).
With a God like that, maybe it is time to make a disconnect between the behavior of our former (maybe even present) "role-models" and the character of the God of the Bible -- the God of the Universe. The character of this God is what defines the word 'Love'. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:10-24 ), maybe it is time for us to come home to our loving Father who is waiting patiently to see us turn toward Him, so that He can run to us with arms open wide. He longs to envelop us in His love and to cover us with the robe of Christ's righteousness (1 John 1:9 ).
"I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
or a bride with her jewels.
The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere." (Isaiah 61:10-11 )
"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." (Step 2)
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