Perfect But Not Perfected
Grace doesn’t at all mean the absence of effort. As we’ve mentioned, we must try. And when we try we will inevitably fail. And the trying and the failing are all a part how God moves us from self-reliance to the empowerment of his Holy Spirit. The great obstacle to be overcome is our thoughts and our affections. They are rooted in both the world and in our own need for self- protection. By the latter I include: self-esteem; fairness; social acceptance; social advancement and what not. When we’re faced with the prospect of blessing, forgiving and praying for those who’ve hurt us, the battle lines are clearly drawn. That’s where the effort comes in. We are instructed to do something not only counter-intuitive to what we’ve been told to think, we’re being told to go against our perceived self-interest.
I speak to you as one sick patient to another. Although I’ve been in treatment for a good while, I’m far from total remission. In fact, to press the analogy, I think treating worldliness and self-protection as a lifelong affliction is the more realistic approach. Just as a diabetic learns to live with diabetes, we must face up to the fact that the fury within can arise at any moment and quite unexpected. We rarely plan out our fury or send a warning memo. It just happens. It’s why Jesus told us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If evil, even self-generated, were not a live possibility then there would be little need to pray in that regard. But we’re told to ask for assistance to protect us not only from some metaphysical evil without, but from that which still thrives like a presumptuous squatter within.
The reason I bring this up is to challenge a sort of “one and done” theology that crops up now an again. If I understand these folks correctly, they seem to be saying that because of the cross we’re totally perfect with God – forever. Nothing more is to be done. If we’re talking about the security of salvation, I couldn’t agree more. But that’s not what they’re saying. They imply that any effort is fleshly – even that which makes us a bit more like Christ day by day. What they’re overlooking is the voluminous amount of Scripture that speaks of something called sanctification, or perfecting of the saints. That is the process by which we work out (not work for) our salvation – to uncover and bring to light what’s happened to us. And by working out I mean weeding out. We have a lifetime to clear out the rubbish. We need to die in order to complete the job. Even the most saintly of Christians will still be king or queen of an impressive County Dump landholding at the end. It’s only then that we rest from our labors. That’s when we needn’t bother with praying any longer the “Lead us not into temptation…” prayer.