Friday, November 21, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Growing Up in the Perfect Love of our Protective God

          There are some passages of Scripture that speak of our justification by faith, meaning the part of our Christian experience that is 100% complete in Jesus Christ. The moment we are “saved” we are 100% saved, 100% justified.
          There are other passages that speak of our glorification by faith, referring to things we will experience in the future. These things are 0% complete because we aren’t there yet. I don’t mean by this that our inheritance is not already waiting for us in heaven,[1] only that we are not yet in heaven experiencing what is promised for our future. We get the whole 100% of our glorification when it happens.
          There are also Scriptures that speak of our sanctification by faith, encouraging us to keep pressing on in ways that we are growing up to be like Jesus “from one degree of glory to another.”[2] While this growth carries on throughout our lifetimes, there is no way for any of us to gauge the percentage God would use to describe how far along we really are.[3]
          One of the struggles that is common among Christians is when people apply justification thinking to sanctification Scriptures. This is when people treat Scriptures as if they are talking about things that are 100% complete in Christ, when they are really speaking of things that will keep growing and improving in our lives until the day of our glorification when no further growth will be required. These things will be 100% complete one day, just not on this day.
          For example, consider how this Scripture would be interpreted through both justification thinking, and sanctification thinking. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”[4]
          If we interpret this only through justification thinking, we would have to say that every Christian has come into the perfect love of God, that perfect love of God “casts out fear,” so “whoever fears” is not a Christian. Justification thinking makes people think that this must already be 100% complete, therefore, real Christians have no fear, and anyone who has fear could not possibly be a real Christian.
          On the other hand, sanctification thinking would acknowledge that there is “no fear” in the perfect love of God. It would affirm that the perfect love of God casts out fear. It would agree that the fear in people’s lives is associated with the threat of punishment. And it would have no difficulty with the thought that “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” They would simply see this as something that every Christian can grow in until the experience is 100% fulfilled in their glorification.
          One of the simplest ways of determining if Christians are still able to have certain kinds of problems after they are justified is to ask Christians what kinds of problems they have going on in their lives. We can’t take Scriptures like above and tell Christians that this means that they can’t have fear in their lives even though so many Christians have fear in their lives.
          Instead, we address the wonderful gift of sanctification that gives us hope that we can daily change to be more like Jesus, including experiencing his perfect love in greater ways so as to experience that perfect love casting out even more of our fear. One day the unchanging perfect love will have changed us perfectly and fear will be gone. In the meantime, imperfect love covers over a multitude of sins,[5] and whatever nasty little fears are still tangled around our hearts.
          Another example of this is something the apostle John wrote down a chapter later. “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”[6]
          When this Scripture is interpreted through justification thinking, people conclude that everyone (100%), who has been “born of God” (100%), will not “keep on sinning” (100%), because God will protect them (100%), and the evil one will not be able to touch them (100%). In the justification mindset, every part of this verse has to be considered 100% fulfilled, nothing more to be improved during our growth in sanctification.
          Now, let’s consider this same verse as one more encouragement to our growing up in Jesus Christ our Lord “from one degree of glory to another.”[7] In that case it would mean that, “everyone who has been born of God” refers to our justification by grace through faith, giving us access into this grace in which we now stand.
          In fact, when Paul wrote, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,”[8]he addressed our justification (we have also obtained access by faith into this grace), our sanctification (this grace in which we stand), and our glorification (and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God).
          Yes, being “born of God” refers to our justification, but just as a baby’s birth is one thing, and the life they live afterwards another, so our new birth experience is done and complete, but the life we live while away from home is still in progress and incomplete.
          So, when we know that “everyone who has been born of God” refers to those who are justified through faith in Jesus Christ, what does it mean that such ones do “not keep on sinning”? Was John teaching sinless perfection, as some would claim? Or was he teaching that once we are born again we do not continue living the lives of sin we were in when Jesus saved us?
          John’s answer to this question seems pretty clear when he writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”[9]John was writing to Christians (my little children). His aim was that they would not sin. However, “if anyone does sin,” they were not to be treated as though they were not Christians. Rather, they were to be reminded that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
          Now, if “everyone who has been born of God does not keep sinning” means does not continue the life of sin we left behind in the world, what is involved in experiencing this kind of protection from God in which the evil one cannot touch us? Does this mean that, in this present lifetime, we are 100% protected from God, and the evil one has no ability to touch us? Or is this another sanctification Scripture that tells us what is available in Christ, and we must keep growing up in this experience “from one degree of glory to another”?
          I believe that there is good reason to treat this issue of God’s protection in the same way as we treat his perfect love. His perfect love casts out fear, but we are growing up in that perfect love now towards that day of glorification when his perfect love will finish its work.
          We can also consider that God’s protection means one thing in our justification, another thing in our sanctification, and something perfectly complete in our glorification. The evil one cannot touch our salvation once it is given to us in Christ (justification), but our sanctification requires us to put on the whole armor of God in order to take our stand against the devil and his schemes.[10] In the same way as some Christians have a better grasp of God’s perfect love, and so a better experience of fearless faith, some Christians have a better grasp of putting on the whole armor of God, and so a better experience of God’s protection from the evil one.
          I am writing this because I believe that there are painful divisions for Christians who are dealing with unresolved issues in their sanctification, but judged by others with the justification thinking that brands them as heretics for claiming that Christians can have such problems. On one side, there are Christians who feel that the devil has found a way to “touch” them, just as some would think that fear is in the way of their experience of God’s perfect love. On the other side of the division are those who say that these things were settled “at the cross” in their justification, so any claim of such experiences is wrong.
          Perhaps it would help in such cases if we would differentiate between what any given Scripture means in our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification, just to be sure we aren’t applying God’s wonderful truth in inappropriate and demoralizing ways.         
          For me, I want every Christian to know that what God’s perfect love accomplished in our justification gives us every reason to live by faith that this perfect love will continually cast out our fears until the day of our glorification when we shall be just like Jesus, we shall “know fully, even as I have been fully known,”[11] and be free of fear forever.
          In the same way, I want every Christian to know that what’s God’s protective power has done in our justification makes our salvation so perfectly protected that God will continue sanctifying us, until the day that every remnant of the devil’s touch is gone and forgotten, and we live in the perfection of God’s glorious presence forever.
          In the meantime, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with fear, ask God to give you brothers and sisters who will so exemplify the love of God to you that you will feel that his love is driving out your fears.
          And, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you are sure the devil has found some way to touch you that others have said could never happen, ask God to give you a spiritual family that will help you “wrestle… against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,”[12]until Satan loses his touch.
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I Peter 1:4
[2] II Corinthians 3:18
[3] I suspect that it is not as high as we might hope, and yet a glorious tribute to grace that there is any transformation whatsoever.
[4] I John 4:18
[5] I Peter 4:8
[6] I John 5:18
[7] II Corinthians 3:18
[8] Romans 5:2
[9] I John 2:1
[10] Ephesians 6:10-20
[11] I Corinthians 13:12
[12] Ephesians 6:12

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