My friend Allyn Sawyer once created and gave me a framed cross-stitch of this. I love it! It’s so true.
Before we consider being “finished,” i.e. perfect, we need to think about sanctification.
That’s an odd English word, not one we use every day at home, on the job, or in conversation with friends. It comes from the word sanctify, another odd word.
Simply put, it means to set something apart for one use. I’ve written about that before. https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/bush-burning-holy/
In the Bible that word means set apart for God’s use; consecrated to God; holy. The word saints means sanctified ones. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), he addressed them as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.
Being set apart for God’s use means God gets to use us. We get to cooperate. Simple.
I once read a book by a minister who taught that sanctification is a second work of grace that makes a Christian sinlessly perfect, an event that can happen in an instant. I have no idea what event had happened to him — every Christian I know continually strives to be sinless; I don’t know any who would say they’ve achieved that goal!
Being set apart for one particular use is quite understandable to me, however. It’s like a large silver spoon I keep in my kitchen drawer, it’s only for serving food. (Not for digging in the flower bed!) It’s an ongoing separation: as long as I serve food, that spoon will be set apart for that use.
Whatever else it is, sanctification is an ongoing process — an improvement process.
We learn, and grow, and mature. We get better at hearing God’s voice and being led by his Spirit. Better at understanding the scriptures. Better at exercising faith, in praying, or in sharing a testimony with friends. Even better moms, dads, friends.
Better at becoming perfect, as Jesus and the Holy Spirit go to work on us. Like sanctification, perfection is an ongoing process.
“Wilson’s characters included Reverend Leroy, materialistic pastor of the ‘Church of What’s Happening Now,’ and his most popular character, Geraldine Jones, whose line ‘The devil made me do it became a national catchphrase.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_Wilson)
I remember seeing Flip do that sketch on the Ed Sullivan Show. So very funny, people adopted that phrase wholesale to excuse their bad behavior. Nothing is ever their fault! Although Flip died in 1998, the attitude lingers on.
Today there are books on the market that say many (if not all) of a Christian’s imperfections, sinful habits and weaknesses are caused by the devil — by persistent demon influences, or emotional scars from past sin or abuse done to us by evil people. Some authors offer personal deliverance or “how-to” advice on self-deliverance, for a fee (cost of the book or conference).
While I don’t believe everything in that book is wrong, I have a problem with some of it. Where in the gospels did Jesus teach those things? Jesus performed countless healings and deliverances. He showed them how, then sent the disciples out to do likewise — and they did.
We’d all like to be perfect, free from all hang-ups in a flash when we’re born again, never to sin again, but it seldom works out like that. The gospels and the epistles give us many admonitions, good things to learn and practice, because we are born again as baby believers, not as mature Christians.
We have to grow up.
Sometimes it involves seeking help from mature Christians who know more than we do about overcoming certain struggles. The book “Beauty for Ashes” by Joyce Meyer helped me a lot some years ago. (http://www.joycemeyer.org)
I discovered that the growing-up process isn’t automatic – it involves work. Dependence on the Holy Spirit, time and patience; trial and error, too.
Consider these verses: (NIV unless indicated)
- Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)
- Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
- Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith… (Heb. 12:2 KJV)
- His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:3-8)
- He (Christ) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Col. 1:28)
- If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:8, 25)
- The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23) (Fruit doesn’t appear instantly; it grows.)
Does that mean we have it made now?
Obviously not, because so much of Galatians chapter 5 is admonishing believers what not to do. Even the apostle Paul struggled with this. (See Rom. 7:15-25.)
But the Holy Spirit enables us to “just say no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right things. It takes cooperation with him, obedience to God’s word, and practice! “Practice makes perfect” eventually, if we don’t give up along the way.
(Updated; originally published May 16, 2014)