“Yes, Jesus hung out with broken, messed-up people, but he didn’t leave them that way.”
This is often the response we hear to the argument that Jesus is near and not far off from the sorts of people rejected by ancient or modern religion – tax collectors, drunkards, sinners.
This response is something I struggle with. Why did Jesus heal people then, and why doesn’t he always do so now? Why did he tell a woman to “sin no more,” but then forgive Peter and have compassion on him the several times he stumbled and displayed his human frailty – even up to denying Jesus, something which Jesus said would cause him to be ashamed when coming in his glory? Why did he forgive Peter like it was nothing?
Why doesn’t Jesus just heal me now and make me a perfect person, if he’s so bent on earthly healing and sanctification, as many Christians preach?
Maybe he’s more concerned with the inside of the bowl than the outside. And the inside is radiant with His glory.
This makes a lot of Christians uncomfortable. We want to be rid of others’ external and tangible problems (and our own). We want the children of God to be people with whom we can live easily. We want forgiveness to be automatic and seamless. We want love to be our naturally expressed affection. We don’t want to be stuck until glory with stinky sinners and “lazy” (or…chronically ill?) people who can’t self-support. And we don’t want to see our loved ones suffer.
So it’s easier to keep telling people to just try a little harder to get sanctified and healed. Just have a little more faith…love a little more…forgive a little more. Then God will heal you inside and out. Then your life will be perfect.
This puts the burden of the work of God on the shoulders of his children. You’re doing something wrong; that’s why you’re in this mess. Clean it up so you can live a perfect life.
Sanctification is not about producing better outward fruit or looking holier as time goes on – primarily, if at all. It’s about becoming smaller and messier as God becomes bigger and more glorious in our lives. It’s about diminishing and decreasing as He increases. It’s about learning to rest in His work, His performance, His beauty, His finality, and the finality of His work.
Often, Christians will still try to work something of human effort into that. Yes, but his work in us produces outward changes and growth.
Ah, we’re always looking for metrics by which to define and evaluate the work of the Spirit.
We want to put new notches in our sticks of people “we” evangelized and saved.
We want to be able to define ourselves and others as increasingly…loving, self-controlled, impressive with spiritual words/jargon, nicely dressed for church, reading the Bible, preferring the right type of Christian music… and decreasingly cussing, dancing and playing with cards (depending on the culture), struggling with addictions and self-medication, struggling with chronic physical or mental illness…more obviously “Christian.”
And we tend to forget that there’s only one thing that does – and ever will – make us Christian – the permanent residence of Christ in us, and His covering over us. There is nothing we can ever do to increase or decrease that.
We don’t get our white robes until this life is over. And just like everything else we have been given, that white robe will be a gift, not something we have earned.
An interesting phenomenon I’ve observed in my difficult life situation is that sometimes, the less we have, the more we receive in compensation. My family and I are in a tight place financially right now, but we have been blessed to receive food and medical assistance (aids we once took pride in not needing) in a difficult time.
The kingdom of heaven works similarly.
And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.Jesus (Luke 6:20-26)
Who are those of whom many speak well? The self-righteous. Those who “have their lives together” and are the most “sanctified” people on the planet. Those who fit into the religious systems and dress appropriately and regurgitate all the things that they’ve been taught by religion and that religious people want them to say. They think that all of these things secure their tickets to heaven (or prove that they are “real” Christians whom God prefers or favors). Those who seem to actually be contributing something to society and to be important and influential.
Please understand, I’m not saying that certain life circumstances or choices disqualify someone from fellowship with God or from salvation. But it is a lot harder to consciously rely on God or understand how helpless we are to measure up, when we have finances to cover up and pay away all our problems, and the physical energy to keep forgiving and loving and to be a good conversationalist and work for our own food. And it’s a lot easier to judge others who do not have these resources and cannot keep up with expectations. When resources go out the window, so does all appearance of piety.
When we are deprived of finances and health (or whatever propped us up for a time), we realize how helpless and bare we always were before God. And it’s a freeing thing, if we’ll let it be. It means that we can stop trying to be and do what we never will, and remember and trust that God already is and did.