There are timely UPS commercials airing during the NCAA March Madness, built on “The Shot” – the famous buzzer-beater in 1992 that sent Duke to the Final Four and Kentucky home. The commercials point out that while Christian Laettner’s fall away jumper is most memorable, it was “the logistics” of the pass by Grant Hill that put Laettner in position to win the game. “If there is no pass, there is no shot.”
When discussions of salvation arise today, most people fondly focus on the equivalent of “The Shot” – Justification. The memorable thing, especially to our evangelical congregations, is that their tickets have been punched to heaven. But like the lone voice in one of these commercials, I think of the logistics of Sanctification. That’s because I’m a Spiritual Formation Pastor and I spend my time, energy and passion helping people move toward Christ-likeness; and because in my 13 years serving in that role I’ve seen the undesired, natural consequences of a limited understanding of salvation.
As a person encounters the Good News of Jesus Christ through our churches, an endless supply of God’s grace mixes with the tiniest bit of faith and the individual is brought into a new relationship with Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that this person becomes a new creation, but misunderstanding abounds at this point. While the new creation is much like an infant who has been born again and requires much to mature, the individual identifies the “new creation” as the best parts of himself before he was forgiven, but with no concern now about judgment, guilt or shame. The person unknowingly says, “Thanks for the forgiveness God, I’ve got it from here. If I need a little more of that forgiveness, I’ll check back in.” This has catastrophic implications not only for the individual, but for the Kingdom and for those far from God who need to encounter Him through mature disciples. At this point the forgiven person resumes a life of self-governance, sitting on the throne of his or her life. Two possibilities then exist.
The first is Disillusionment. Here the individual quickly becomes aware that she DOESN’T “have it from here.” She realizes she is failing at the Christian life and vacillates between disappointment with God (for being impotent) and herself (for being too messed up to be a “good Christian”). The combination of putting people who seem to have it together on a pedestal and hypercritical assessment of her own life produces a defeated, jealous, bitter, joyless “Christian” who bears no fruit for the Kingdom. Ever met these folks? Ever been one?
The second is Delusion where the individual actually thinks he DOES “have it from here.” He looks down on others’ behavior while minimizing his own sin which produces a self-righteous, judgmental, mean-spirited “Christian” who bears no fruit for the Kingdom of God. Sounds like unbelievers’ stereotypical description of Christians, doesn’t it? Probably because they are encountering the ticket-punched, delusional tyrants we are producing.
We need to recapture a full understanding – a Wesleyan understanding – of Salvation that emphasizes both Justification AND Sanctification, and we need to instruct our people. An important first step, particularly in western cultures, is to emphasize the need for surrender. 1 Peter 5:6-7:
6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
When we humble ourselves and allow God to reign over our lives, we patiently wait for him to lift us up. When he does, our faith is increased and we fall back into his grace, becoming even more transformed into His image. This is what Paul means by “grace upon grace;” a process, which repeats over and over the rest of our lives. A process that produces Christ-like disciples full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Disciples who produce beautiful fruit for the Kingdom of God. But within each iteration is the threat that we will say, “thanks for what you’ve done, God; I’ve got it from here.”
We are particularly vulnerable to this threat because when we humble ourselves we are exalted in God’s timing, not ours. The time we wait is often filled with lesson-learning trials and tribulations that produce character in us, but also anxiety. I love that this Scripture implies God’s knowledge of our anxiety in those moments, and how we begin to wonder if He really cares. So we are told straight out – give that anxiety to God because He really does care for you.
Let’s help one another remember more than just “The Shot” of salvation, but the logistics as well; humble surrender to the Holy Spirit who produces mature Christians unleashed on the world.
Rob Mehner serves as Spiritual Formation Pastor at Lacroix Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1999, Rob left the marketplace, where he worked as a chemical engineer in a large corporation and as the GM of a mid-size company, and joined the La Croix staff. In 2006, he received his Masters of Divinity form Asbury Seminary. As Spiritual Formation Pastor, he provides leadership to ministries such as missions, education classes for adults, and small groups, as well as managing staff, and developing volunteer leaders. Rob and his wife, Kristy, have two children (Stefan and Casey).