Thursday, November 3, 2016

The twin poles of life in the Kingdom. . .

The work of grace can appear both quick and slow.  Grace in the work of justification is instantaneous.  The expression of God's kindness forgiving our sins for the sake of Christ and declaring us righteous in Him happens in a moment.  Surely the thief on the cross found such instantaneous grace in the sudden declaration and promise of Christ.  Although few of us have such a dramatic and profound encounter with the grace of God that forgives and at once justifies us, that does not mean that this is any less a sudden and quick work of God in our own lives.

At the same time, grace is also slow.  Its work within us that proceeds from our justification is slow and perhaps frustratingly so.  Each day God is at work bring forth in us the fruit of His gracious work through repentance and forgiveness.  In this way we “work out our salvation from day to day in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  That sanctifying work of grace has a decidedly slow character.  Even though we look for signs of improvement, for marks of holiness and righteousness, faith does not see them clearly.  What we see clearly and know confidently are the holiness and righteousness of Christ that have become our baptismal clothing.  Though this may be frustrating to us, it is not a bad thing that this growth in righteousness is mostly hidden from us.  Surely we would begin to trust in this over Christ's atoning work if we could point out the marks of our holiness achieved.

The tree is slow growing and its fruit bearing takes time -- time that cannot be short circuited.  There is no quick and easy path but only the slow and deliberate path of God's grace at work in us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives and manifest the good works of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light.  Not a few have lamented that this process seems so slow and plodding.  We surely do live in an impatient culture in which quickness is always deemed to be good.  We eat fast food, we pay for a fast internet connection, and we shop online with 2 day shipping.  We set ourselves up for things to happen on our schedule but the sanctifying work of God does not punch a time clock nor is it governed by our own will and desire.  Just the opposite, it is the work of the Spirit to transform our wills and desires.

For this reason patience is also a mark of the Kingdom -- not simply patience that awaits God's own kairos or proper time but patience that trusts in what our eyes do not see and we cannot control with our own wills and powers.  I must admit that this is something which has become even more apparent to me in my 62nd year but not necessarily something easier for me to accept.  Patience remains the salutary virtue of the Spirit that accompanies our confident trust that the Lord will, indeed, bring to fruition all that He has begun in us in our baptism.

All our lives are slow and our desire for something quicker.  It takes a long time for a baby to become a child who walks, talks, and goes to the restroom without help.  It take even longer for a child to grow up into young adulthood.  All the while the child is usually wishing he or she was older -- the pace of maturity is most often too slow for us.  There is a time, however, when we bemoan just how quickly life has come and gone.  In those moments perhaps we regret that what appears to be slow is really very fast -- a brief life here our portion and lot.  And in those moments patience again is what we need and we pray to know (usually with some urgency attached).

As much as I rejoice in God's quick work of justifying me the sinner by His grace and distributing to me what my Lord has won in agony, suffering, and death, I am growing more and more content with the slowness of grace that works to bring forth in me the good fruits of this redeeming work.  While some would turn faith into a decision, a sinner's prayer, and a life now dedicated to all things new, I see it quite differently.  I spend my whole life literally trying to become the person God has brought forth from the living water and the individual God has declared me to be.  It is great foolishness to think the life of the sinner before the grace of God a simple or easy thing.  It is certainly not.  Jesus takes great pains to prepare us for the difficult path of salvation and reminds us over and over against that the path of salvation is endurance, patience, and faith.  Nothing less will do.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

The work of God's grace in the life of the believer is indeed day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We have cycles of peace and comfort, times of assurance, and feelings of close communion with Our Lord....and then....we face spiritual warfare again and again. The problem of sinful thoughts and actions, repetitious besetting sins derived from the weaknesses of our spiritual armor, and thus we often feel depressed and defeated. We wonder if we are really saved at all. We despise the predictable cycle of sin, confession, and repentance, which marks our life journey through this fallen world. But the good news is that one of the means of Grace given us comes through sanctification, the specific role of the Holy Spirit, the Conforter. The process of sanctification and the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit are firmly beside us throughout this journey. It is something I remind myself every day...that we are never alone, and Christ does not leave us to battle Satan and our own sinful nature without His omniscient presence. Blessed Assurance is found in His grace, and sanctification never stops until we cross over that deep River to join the Saints in glory.

Glory said...
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