“I wish that I was half the man I wish that I could be.” That is a memorable line from Andrew Peterson’s song, Mountains. I love that line because it expresses my heart so well. While none of us will achieve the perfect state in this life, every Christian can die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness. So, why don’t we resolve together to do just that? Let’s resolve in 2009 to become more conformed to the image of Christ.
You say that you have tried that and failed. Me, too. If your goal is to be perfect in 2009, you will fail again. However, while you will not attain total Christ-likeness this next year, you can become more Christ-like. You can become a lot more like Jesus. If you are a Christian, I can assure you with full confidence that you are not the exception to the rule. You can grow in godliness.
In pursuing holiness, we must be careful to avoid two equally destructive errors. The first error is simply sitting back and hoping that God changes you. After 40+ years of walking with Jesus, including 20+ years of pastoral ministry, I can assure you, that will not work. No one drifts into godliness.
The other error is what Bryan Chapell calls “Sola Bootstrapsus.” That is when you to try to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps through will power and self-discipline. Many Christians have tried or are trying this and it is corrosive to the soul. It will either cause you to feel crushed by your own sin or, even worse, turn you into a self-righteous religious jerk. Heaven knows we don’t need any more of those.
For those who think they can sanctify themselves, I remind them of the words of the old Puritan, Walter Marshall: “Men show themselves strangely forgetful, or hypocritical, in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms, and confessions of faith; and yet urging on themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of nay strengthening, enlivening means; as if there were no want of ability, but only of activity.”
To put it into contemporary language, Marshall is saying, "you are terribly deceived if you think that your problem in sanctification is that you aren’t trying hard enough. You not only lack the activity. You also lack the ability."
There is a third way: sanctification by grace through faith. Like the passive person who wants God to change him, this method of sanctification means depending solely on the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the bootstraps Christian, this, too, takes discipline. Yet, here it is an active discipline of dependence on Christ. That means you are making active use of the means of grace, not as a work by which you reform yourself, but as a means to grow in your understanding of grace and the majestic beauty of Christ.
To put it simply, you must discipline yourself daily to meditate on the grace and beauty of Christ, to understand that you are fully loved and accepted by Him, that you are not under condemnation, but under the reign of grace, that God has a future for you that is far greater and far more pleasurable than anything sin or this world offer you, indeed, have the Holy Spirit living in you, transforming you into the image of Christ. Because you have the Holy Spirit, and that you do indeed have the power to say “no” to sin and “yes” to godliness.
Therefore, you can grow in godliness by growing in grace. To do this, you must feed your faith and then live by faith.
Let me close with another quote from Walter Marshall: “Slavish fear may extort some slavish hypocritical performances from us, but the duty of love cannot be extorted and forced by fear, but it must be won, and sweetly allured by an apprehension of God’s love and goodness towards us.” Therefore, let us resolve to grow more in are understanding and wonder of God’s love and goodness towards us.