A Work in Progress – Becoming What We Are in Christ
1 Samuel 16:7b NKJV. “… For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
2 Corinthians 5:14, 16 NKJV. “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; … Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”
Is this to say that we need not espouse the directive to become holy, that our sanctification is not to be manifest, that we never encourage or exhort or pray for one another, or that the life of Christ within us remains some sort of hidden candle that never brings its light to the world, or that it is OK to sin that grace may abound?
By no means!
What it does mean is that we do not judge according to our own standards of what we see on the outside of a person, as indicating what God is doing on the inside of a person, as to their spiritual progress. We are to regard them as someone for whom Christ shed His blood and thus they are His claim. What He works in them, or the time it takes is not up to us.
So often our regard for one another is according to the flesh. We need to “see” a different way. Paul points to a “mystery” here: that is, if One (Jesus Christ) died for all, then all died.
This is the feature of proclaiming the Gospel, so that all who died in Christ may hear and also join Him in His resurrection, as having been made new creatures in Him.
Let’s consider that in light of Ephesians 2:4-10. I’ll let you look that up rather than writing it here. Have you taken this reality to heart? It means to live according to the “vision” of already having died and made love in the death and resurrection of Jesus! It is in this reality that we live, move, and have our being – becoming what we have been made already – ever being cleansed and made whole by grace through faith, and that the Holy Spirit is ever cleansing us and making us whole – wholly – holy more like Jesus all the time.
We become what we are. Paradoxically. Choose into it and live out from it. That is the expectation of the Gospel!
Pick up an acorn from the ground, and say, “This is an oak tree!” And so it will be – when it is planted into the ground, subjected to being diminished and to dying to its current form. That must happen, if the “life codes” put in it by our Creator are to be awakened, and thus it may gradually become something other than a little nut. It involves a process to become what it is, that great big tree that we cannot see, except with the eyes of faith in God’s intention for the acorn.
Like the acorn, we are to become what we are, not just remain little nuts. That is the expectation of the Gospel! But, as Jesus makes clear, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24 NKJV. That is applicable to any seed, pit, or nut.
Here’s another way to see it.
As I write this, I can see a very large painting I finished some months ago, yet it was started over 25 years ago! There were clearly long periods of dormancy. Other priorities seemed to prohibit finishing it. It sat in the basement gathering dust for years after only the background had been painted. It had to be lifted out of its space in the dark, and put back on the easel. Cleaned up before the rest of the paint could be applied to it. Then recently, something prompted me to get working on it again, and it seemed urgent to complete it. So a work in progress, even though with many delays, had finally become what it was intended to be – after it became clear in my mind what the subject was really all about.
As I finished it, I realized that this is how the Christian life works. It’s always a work in progress. We are its recipients, thanks be to the Holy Spirit.
We should never give up on anyone, especially our fellow believers, as confused or problematic as they may seem to us! Jesus does not give up on us!
This is why we do not cease to give thanks and to make mention of one another in our prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and Father of glory, may give to us all the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This is a paraphrase from Ephesians 5 beginning at verse 15-23. It was how Paul prayed for believers!
This prayer is well worth adapting, to be prayed over all who name the name of Christ Jesus. We can include our sometimes discouraged selves! We cannot see what we are to be without the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it, and the “vision” will encourage and spur you on.
It’s important to get rid of the reductionistic, “linear” thinking that has beset the definitions of the Gospel. We have to see all that He has made available to us, in order to be all that He desires us to become according to His will – comprehending no one according to the flesh. In other words according to our human, finite opinions about where this one or that one ought to be by now.
The Holy Spirit used my painting to illustrate this to me. The chief Creator and Master Artist! He reinforced – with the encouragement of this project – an understanding about His work in me, and especially in others. It just doesn’t happen all at once. His grace is all sufficient! And He is patient beyond our imagining.
I have also noticed that some of the great classic hymns were not brought forth to completion overnight. Lyrics, for example, might have been penned by a Reformer from the 16th century, but the words were known only to a few of perhaps his contemporaries. Or the words may have been written by someone anonymous, yet having a good sense of being able to combine good theology with poetry. Yet a century later, someone else comes up with a melody. And a century after that someone translates it, and it is published and put into a hymnal – which you have the honor of holding in your hands. The truly worthwhile works seldom happen in the blink of an eye.
(And just an aside – this is also why I advocate for the use of hymnals: They put you in a prayerful posture, with your head bowed and your hands in a receptive position, filled with the word of God in poetic rendition.)
Nature and creative processes are works of God that don’t happen overnight. And so it is with those to whom God gives the right to become His sons and daughters, those who believe on His name. We are His workmanship, cast in the earth forge of affliction and trial, to bring forth beings of eternal glory and beauty and fitting us for the heavenly kingdom. This is an amazing gift!
Consequently we must be patient in prayer, even for those who may resist the Gospel as they live according to the world and the flesh. Prayer and patience will prevail. We see them and call upon God on their behalf, always remembering that the purchase price of their soul has been paid by the blood of the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world.
There’s also a time and a place for a truthful admonition, rebuke, or some encouragement, by the way.
We should also be ever prepared to present the precious foundational Gospel with this understanding: that which has been provided in and through the work of Christ Jesus must be entered into and lived, in repentance and faith, ever turning to Him Who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
Let’s never take for granted the “Great Commission.” “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ ” Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV. Pray, ponder, proclaim!
“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:8,9 NKJV.