LEARNING TO THRIVE
At the Bible studies in the prison chapels where I teach, the next verses at which we will look are these:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 1:1-2
It will be heartening to explore together the fact that the call to offer ourselves to God is grounded in and made possible by the mercies of God, and I’m hoping to convey that we are not only being redeemed FROM something but that we are being redeemed TO something - to the good that belongs to His will and character.
These considerations brought to mind again Pastor Ted Donnelly’s teaching on CALLING at the 2004 RP International Conference, which I count to be some of the finest lessons I’ve ever been privileged to hear.
In the lesson on the call to be holy, Pastor Donnelly spoke of how the idea of holiness sometimes gets bad press, as though holiness were made essentially of deprivation, hair shirts and grim demeanor. This he documented by a quote from journalist/satirist H. L. Mencken (1880-1956). Mencken’s perception:
“Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.”
But as Pastor Donnelly came to God’s direct words of imperative…
“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16
… he spoke to us in this way:
My friends, get this. It cannot be a contradiction of our humanity. The medieval theologians said, “Grace does not destroy nature.” It is a renewal of our humanity. It is a discovery of our humanity. Humanity is God’s idea. God invented humanity. That’s what it means to be made in the image of God. And so to become God-like is to become more human than we have ever been before, not less human. It doesn’t mean being ethereal and purely spiritual, no.
To be holy means to find ourselves for the first time. It means that all our potential comes to flour, that our deepest needs are satisfyingly fulfilled. And that’s the perspective in which we should look at ‘cross bearing’, at self-denial, at ‘plucking out’ and ‘cutting off’; it’s the removal of what is harmful, the removal of what is damaging, the removal of what is limiting. God will never ask you to give up anything that’s good for you. That can’t happen! If he asks you to give it up, you’re better without it.”
After a reflective pause, he went on…
Now I’m not saying that holiness isn’t a scary thing. It is a scary thing! It’s rather like going to a new dentist. And you settle in to the chair, and the dentist says to you, “Now, let me introduce my policy and philosophy of work.” He says, “Above all, I aim to be faithful to my patients.”
And you say to yourself, “Good, that’s what I’ve been looking for… a faithful dentist.”
And he says, “This means… this means that every atom of decay I will grind from your teeth. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care how deep I have to go. Screams, pleas, tears and writhing will not move me! I will not falter nor fail until your teeth are perfect.
…well God’s like that. “I’m going to make you holy. I’m going to make you holy. I love you so much, I want this beauty for you. It’s my purpose for you to make you perfect, and whatever it takes, I’m going to make you perfect.” …
…Have you the faith to believe that he knows what he is doing?
Years later, I was blessed again by a portion of Pastor Donnelly’s book Heaven and Hell.
"The story is told of a thief in Japan who became a Christian. He knew practically nothing about the Bible, but on the first Lord's Day after his conversion he went to a place of worship. All week long he had been wrestling with his life-long habit of stealing. He realized that, as a new creature, he should give it up and yet he was not sure he would be able to. Thieving had been his way of life and he knew no other way to spend his time. How could he change the ingrained behaviour patterns of so many years? On the wall of the church building into which he entered were painted the Ten Commandments. The new convert had never heard of them. But, as he walked in, the first words on which his eyes fell were, 'You shall not steal'. In his ignorance he did not realize that this was a commandment, but took it instead for a promise. His face filled with gladness and he thanked the Lord in his heart for the assurance that he would be delivered from his sin. Was he entirely wrong? Is it not true that, in a sense, every one of God's Commandments is also a promise? These laws do, of course, set out the standard at which we are to aim. But they are in addition a thrilling description of what God intends to make of us."
May we receive God’s call to obedience not as an oppression or burden but as a restoration to meaning and to thriving, and all for the sake of further discovering His goodness.
Walter Marshall (1628-1680) described the tragic condition of continuing in sin as being all the while “deformed by the image of Satan”. The gift of our salvation is better news than to leave us in that condition.
Ephesians 4:21 …you have heard about him (Christ) and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.