Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Life of Knowing That Keeps On Growing

          This morning I was drawn to consider the aspect of eternal life that can only be described as, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”.[1] Eternal life is to know God. Since John 3:16 tells us how our believing in Jesus gives us eternal life, we need this focus, that eternal life is about knowing God.
          This means that, everything in our lives is about how well we know God. To be “saved” means to be rescued from the sin and death that keep us from knowing God,[2] to have this eternal life of knowing him.[3] So, how well do you know God?
          As I have sometimes shared lately, it helps to break these realities of salvation down into the three stages of our eternal life, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification refers to our new birth, glorification to our complete development, and sanctification to the growing and maturing that takes place in-between.
          It helps to understand that everything to do with salvation in the present time is less than perfect. The third and final stage of our salvation is our glorification, when the work of making us like Jesus will be complete. That comes later, when we see Jesus face to face.[4] We cannot have completeness now.
          What we do have now is our completed justification by faith, whereby we come to know God as Father through adoption.[5] Adoption is a once-for-all experience that is finished at the time it happens. We are fully and forever adopted. As a newborn baby is fully born, fully human even in its infancy, so our justification by faith makes us fully born again,[6] fully righteous in God’s sight.[7] We can now say that we have the first stage of this eternal life of knowing God because we have been adopted, and know God as our Father.
          What really helped me this morning was realizing (remembering) that the way I ought to think of my present sanctification is that I am growing up between my adoption, and my glorification. Nothing about my incompleteness minimizes that I have already been fully adopted, and will one day be completely glorified.
          What helps me is to accept that the very nature of sanctification is that it is a process, a journey. It is not perfect righteousness now, but growing up in righteousness.
          This is the way we are with children. We do not need them to be mature adults for us to treat them as fully loved, and fully ours, and fully part of the family. We love them and care for them all along the way, knowing that they will keep maturing until they are able to be adults, parents, and elders, in our families.
          In the present experience of sanctification, this journey of growing up to be like Jesus, we already have the eternal life of knowing God, just not in the way we will know God in our glorification.
          So, what are some things to keep in mind regarding our present journey of sanctification? If eternal life is to know God, and to know Jesus Christ, then experiencing knowing God in sanctification means constantly knowing him better.
          The Scripture that made this clear to me this morning is this: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”[8]
          What encouraged me so much was that the knowing God of our eternal life means growing to know him better every day. We must accept that this present life of sanctification will always leave us feeling "now we see in a mirror dimly,” and “now I know in part,” but in a journey that will one day lead to this glorious experience of, “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
          That is so beautiful when we consider it through the imagery of children growing up with their parents. In infancy, the little child has no way of comprehending that he or she is loved and adored by dad and mom. When mom looks adoringly on her child as she feeds her beloved, the baby cannot think relationally. It cannot consider how mother is doing, or how she is feeling, or what trouble these through-the-night interruptions cause her.
          However, as the baby grows up, the relating becomes more interactive. The baby not only knows that mother is looking at him or her, but looks back with its own early thoughts, impressions and feelings. The child becomes conscious of relationship.
          So too, in our growing relationship with God in the present time, the thing that should characterize our growth in Christ is that we are growing to know God better every day than we have ever known him before. It may sometimes involve coming across Scriptures we have read a hundred times, only to discover that this time it makes us feel like we just got to know our Father in a way we hadn’t known him.
          One of the things that really stood out to me in this is the connection between the two lines of Paul’s expression in I Corinthians 13:12. I have long had an appreciation for the parallelism of Jewish thought as expressed in the Old Testament beauty of the Psalms and Proverbs. Paul seemed to use that rhythmic part of his culture and heritage to drive home the point of what is ahead for us when Jesus Christ appears.
          The two lines look like this:      
“For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
          The two halves of each sentence are in parallel thought. In the present time, the time of our sanctification, “we see in a mirror dimly,” which means we “know in part.” In the future, at the time of our glorification, we shall know God “face to face,” which means, “then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
          I have spent so much time relishing in the wonder of the second part, that we will one day know fully, to the measure of how fully known we have been for all time, that I hadn’t considered that this is parallel to the “face to face” part of the expression.
          Today this description of how fully we will one day know God became the way I got to know him better this morning than I have ever known him before. I understand that the “face to face” part of this is “then”, in our glorification. And yet, this reveals God to us as a Father who longs to see his children “face to face.”
          How many parents have felt that desire? When our daughter was in Britain for nine months, nothing felt right until she was back home with us, and we could be with her face to face. When our son was living in the big city, we could never enjoy the same relationship as now when we get to see him face to face.
          And these are the words God chose to reveal to us our future. In the “then” of our glorification, we shall know fully, in a face to face kind of way, even as we have already been fully known, even as the Triune knows each other. God wants it this way. God wants us to know right now that this is waiting for us in heaven. Whatever dark days and disappointments face us here below, and whatever tarnishing of the brass mirror makes us feel that we see far more dimly than we ought to by now, there is this abiding hope waiting for us, that God is preparing the day for us to share a face to face encounter with him forever.
          The apostle John recorded very similar wards when he wrote, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”[9]
          In the present, in our journey of sanctification, “we are God’s children now.” In our justification, we have been born again, and in our sanctification, we are God’s children, growing up to be like Jesus.
          However, “what we will be” in our glorification, “has not yet appeared.” Jesus has not returned. Our inheritance of hope is still waiting for us in heaven. The coming day is still coming, but has not yet arrived. We are not yet fully like Jesus.
          “BUT!!!” (emphasis added by me!), “we know that when he appears we shall be like him.” And, why is that? “Because we shall see him as he is.”
          In other words, when Jesus appears, and we see him face to face, and see him as he is, we shall be like him. We shall know as we have been fully known. We will enter into perfect relationship just as the Triune has been in perfect relationship forever.
          Today I rest in the wonder of what my Father has stored up for me in heaven. However, I also enjoy the wonder of what he wanted me to know today. That little bit of information, telling me he wants to see me “face to face,” has increased my experience of God’s will that I “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”[10]
          While it may still feel like my knowing the love of Christ is like seeing in a mirror dimly, this prayer is answered in incremental ways Paul described as, “from one degree of glory to another.”[11] For now, I will enjoy the degree of glory that came as I welcomed the revelation that my Father wants to see my face to face. I wonder what that will be like.

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] John 17:3
[2] II Corinthians 4:4
[3] II Corinthians 4:6
[4] I John 3:2
[5] Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5
[6] John 3:1-21
[7] Romans 4:5
[8] I Corinthians 13:12
[9] I John 3:2
[10] Ephesians 3:19
[11] II Corinthians 3:18

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