My friend and I were on holiday last week, and between sight-seeing and Kindle-reading, we ended up having a good old deep-and-meaningful, sat on some beach boulders and staring out over the Mediterranean Sea. We grew up on different sides of the world, but both of us did it in Christian homes, and decided to commit our lives to Jesus a long time ago. And yet, there was this deep despair in both of us that we just… haven’t got there yet. Why is this taking so long?
Wikipedia (my old friend), says that sanctification is ‘the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy’; yet I’m over a decade into this process, and my holiness-rating still feels about as healthy as my bank balance: there are brief, beautiful moments of being in credit, but I’m generally significantly in the red.
Having decided to become a Christian at 13, which despite what I thought at the time, is young, I can’t help wondering if my commitment and baptism really represented much ‘death to old self’. I’m sure I squabbled with my sister, and have been short-tempered or greedy sometimes, but that’s being a child, isn’t it? My main encounters with the Seven Deadly Sins in 2003 were that super-chocolatey ice-cream range that Magnum made. And while I don’t regret getting baptised then at all, the tough stuff hadn’t happened yet. It’s not like I had a lot of baggage I needed to get rid of – so it wasn’t the big sanctifying act it often can be. The temptations were yet to come.
What it meant is that I’d already decided what I had to do in the face of temptation before I had any clue what they would be like. At 13 it’s very easy to say you won’t sleep with someone before marriage – you’re not really sure you ever want to get that near to a boy at all. But at 20, when you’re consciously not having another drink with that guy at that party because you know where this is going, it’s a different matter entirely. This isn’t about sex – that’s just an easy example – it’s the same with pride, jealousy, one-upmanship – all these things weren’t things I’d experienced when I got my new life with Jesus at 13.
Maybe there’s a part of me that wishes I could have lived a bit, made my mistakes, and had my fresh start at, say, 21? Then I’d really know what it was to have a big conversion, to repent of my old ways, and be made holy once and for all, right? It just feels like despite having been ‘made clean’ back then, there’s so much new stuff that keeps coming up that means I’m not holy any more: new temptations and new mistakes. And, because I was meant to have died to the ‘old life’ back then, an old life that I hadn’t even lived yet, I feel the guilt and uncleanliness as I try not to live it now. I feel significantly less holy in those areas now than I was before I made that commitment, which feels like I’ve moved in the wrong direction.
Why does sanctification have to take so long? The truth is, I’m impatient: largely with myself for so often walking in circles, but often with God too for not just sorting me out. But I guess there are always going to be things that distract us from God, regardless of how young you start. While I might want sanctification to have been a one-off act that happened when I was young, keeping me holy and on-track for the rest of time, the reality is that it is a regular process, like a morning shower, that is making me holy each day, washing off the new dirt I’ve acquired. And I have to choose to engage in that process every day, not just once.
So as I persistently continue this process of becoming more like Jesus, I’m really trying to say as joyfully and optimistically as Rend Collective do, ‘you’re not finished with me yet’.