Monday, October 20, 2008

The SLOOOOW Process of Sanctification

I often wonder why the process of sanctification has to be so slow. Have you ever wrestled with that? I see the pattern going something like this: a believer either reads the Word alone or sits under the preaching of the Word, and is convicted of sin. The Holy Spirit and the Word work together to produce genuine repentance in the believer’s mind, emotions, and will. The repentant believer truly despises his sin. He turns from it in disgust and wishes with all his being that he would never sin in that way again. He makes no excuses for his sin; he owns it completely. He is utterly humbled. And then he reads that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). And if there has ever been a time when he misread the meaning of grace, thought that it meant money or health or freedom, he understands its true meaning now. He knows that the grace that God gives the humble is unmistakably the ability to conquer sin, and he knows he’s in just such a position to receive it. So this is looking simple: conviction leads to humility which leads to grace.

So…each time we are convicted and humbled and receive grace we should be over that sin forever, right?

I’ve heard it said that there are some biblical “scholars” that believe that when Paul wrote in Romans “I do what I do not want to do” (Romans 7:15) that he was writing about what he was like before he became a believer. These commentators do not believe that after people are saved, they struggle with sin as Paul explained.

I want to meet one of these people. I want to go spend some time with them in their home and see them interact with their wife and children. Better yet, I want them to come over to my house. Let’s see what you write in your Bible commentary after you spend a day running my household. I want to see that person who thinks that believers don’t continually struggle with sin, how quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry they really are. I want to see them living this out.

We women from Village Seven returned home to our families from our retreat humbled. We heard a message that applied to every single woman, no matter what her stage of life or circumstances and not one of us felt like it didn’t apply to us. But we also recognize that God doesn’t normally change us instantly through mountain-top (literally in this case) experiences. I think that everyone of us wishes that He did work that way. We wish that we could go on a retreat every year and knock out one more area of sin to never struggle with again. And I wonder why He doesn’t; we know he despises sin. We certainly know He can cure us of sin instantly if He wants to.

Here is my guess. When we are absolutely humbled, (which is another way of saying we view ourselves realistically instead of our normal assumption of ourselves where we think so much more of ourselves than is true,) but when we see rightly, as God sees, and we see our dependence on him, our inability to conquer sin on our own, our desperate state without His help, our dire need for His enabling grace to conquer sin, then we are exactly where He wants us to be. In that spiritual condition, it’s real hard to get annoyed with others’ sins, self-righteousness is nonexistent, and getting on our knees and asking for help isn’t even a discipline. That is where He wants us to be and stay.

If after we hear His word, and we repent genuinely, and we confess our need for His grace, He were to pour out His grace in such abundance that the sin was barely even a temptation anymore, would we be back on our knees everyday in humility saying: “It’s me again, Lord. Yes Me, Again! Can you believe it? I need help again! At the retreat, Onilla opened your Word to us about how we are to use our tongues to bless and not to curse and to give life to all who hear. And I want to do that, but I’ve failed again. I need your help, or I can’t do this alone.” I don’t think we would be doing that daily; we would have moved on with life.

He wants us to conquer sin, for sure, but he wants us to learn some lessons along the way: The lesson that life of the believer is a life of repentance, the lesson of our dependence on Him to conquer sin, the lesson that we have giant planks sticking out of our eyes and we can’t see clearly enough to examine others’ specks.

And…there is such a thing as progress in sanctification (the husbands are breathing a collective sigh of relief.) And…of course God delights in mountain retreats where His word is mightily proclaimed. Maybe by next year, we can all look back and see how little by little Onilla’s pointing us to the Word produced buds, then flowers, then beautiful, genuine, mature fruit.


Andrea said...

This is good stuff! Thanks Leslie. I'm so glad we had more time together at the retreat.

B said...

I am right there with you, Leslie. I wrote about it on my blog, too, and I am sad to say that 2 days after writing that post, exhilerated by what God had done, I have seen so many failures. But what you said at the end is true, we should be encouraged by the small buds of growth we see in us and wait for him to bring forth real fruit over time. He will 'carry it on to completion...' -Beth