Sanctification – Expectations and Behaviour

There seems to be a paradox between the process of Sanctification and the behavioural expectations within that process proposed by many Christians, as well as many churches. The result can be quite counterproductive and diss-heartening for the believer. This stems from preventable error.

Scripture indicates that the process of Sanctification and the subsequent presence of the Spirit will yield recognizable fruit in the Saint, namely “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” Galatians 5:22-23. These are clearly desirable and recognizable behaviours.

It is also implied elsewhere (and accepted by most) that part of the cost of the process of Salvation will be the exposure and working through of the parts of one personality, approach, etc. which do not line up with the emerging new self. This is part of the refining process, driven by the Spirit. Scripture, however, does not state or imply a time frame for the appearance of these attributes (fruits). Since we are never complete until Glorification in the presence of the Lord, this is a life long process, which will likely vary in intensity over time, and the appearance of the results will be progressive in nature.

The tone of the associated Scriptures implies that during the refining process, while difficult changes are being wrought within the Saint thought the work of the Spirit behind the scene, that person is nonetheless expected to strive towards the ideals of behaviour expressed in Galatians. That notwithstanding, most will falter at times in the normal course of events. In fact, Scripture characterizes the process as on-going and often difficult. Seeking the Lord in these times of challenge is an important part of developing dependence upon Him alone, in the face of worldly difficulty and the temptation of worldy solutions.

All fine, so far, but do you see the potential paradox that could be presented to the Saint, depending upon how this set of internal and external circumstances is spun by a Christian ‘authority’?

The difficulty arises in well meaning, but partial, presentation of the overall senario of Sanctification, as it relates to living in the world. In most cases, it occurs when the reality of faltering is forgotten or glossed over superficially, and only the requirement to exhibit the recognizable fruit becomes the sole communicated expectation.

Time and time again we hear preached the need (or even the requirement) for consistent, continuous, demonstrable, clear evidence of the fruits of change in the life of the redeemed. These results are expected to be obvious to all and sundry. Further, the presentation often also contains the implication that these results should be particularly obvious to the unsaved, for the express purpose of casting the best possible light upon Salvation. Admitedly this is not always stated quite that bluntly, but the implication is nonetheless there quite clearly.

There is high probability that this can set up conflicting expectations for the individual, and actually make the process more difficult.

On the one hand the Redeemed are being refined by the Spirit, likely experiencing a multitude of internal conflicts from time to time. In many cases this will make their remaining ‘flaws’ stand out all the more obviously. It may even in some cases precipitate behavioural miss-steps or at least a less than perfect image as they work through the situations of life with a completely new and emerging perspective, fueled by the Spirit. This will most likely not provide to the world a perfect image of the fruits of the Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it states that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (emphasis mine). This does not say that the escape will be without difficulty or struggle, or that it will be transparent on the surface in the individual’s life. In fact, if the process is of sufficient magnitude to require the Lord, then the most reasonable conclusion is that the upheaval will be obvious. And it may well produce a less than desirable surface appearance at times.

On the other hand, the Saint is exhorted (at least implicitly) on a regular basis to search for clear indication that they are exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. Encouragement to examine the changes and symptoms is positive, but then comes the problem. They are also exhorted that these fruits must be evident on the surface, and that the appearance they present is to attract the unsaved to the Faith. This clearly implies that it is then a responsability to present a face to the world as a saved person that will fullfil the world’s expectations of a Christian, in such a way as to attract them to the Lord (and in most cases the church). Also, and more incidious, it may be implied that absence of clear and obvious surface indication of these fruit most of time (pesumably as determined by those looking on) may be an indication that Salvation might be questioned. Though this may be simply missguided, I find it presumptuous, possibly even subtly arrogant, and in need of re-evaluation.

Having heard this exhortation to display positive results, and with often challenging problems occuring as a person struggles with the refining process internally, what is the probability that they would expose their real struggles within the exhorting environment, be it church or group? Very low to say the least!

Does this mean that the fruits of the Spirit should not be preached and extolled, that believers should not be encouraged to pursue behaviour reflecting the fruits of the Spirit, or that the behaviour within the body of believers should not be discussed or subject to due accountability? Not at all, as these factors are important. However, it does indicate the needed for a more balanced discussion and set of expectations. This would go a long way to increasing fellowship and actually assisting each person in their unique process.

Lastly, let us examine what might be considered the most serious underlying problem. One of the major stated reasons that is preached for the unvarying display of joyous Christian life, and by implication the implicit encouragement to supress anything else, is to entice the unsaved and unchurched into the fold. We have likely all heard that almost verbatim from time to time. In essence it is trying to ‘prove’ something to the unbeliver. This implies that our actions in this regard are a pivotal factor in the calling of the unbeliever to Salvation. When exposed, the implication is that if you we do not display the correct appearance, irrespective of what is occuring, the Salvation of the unbeliever willl be in jeopardy. This line of thought and action is not only counter-productive to the very openness that is the hallmark of legitimate assembly, but it implies serious error concerning the origin and motivation for Salvation. Their feelings for a particular assembly or group may be changed, but their call from the Lord is separate and beyond effect.

In “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” Ephesians 1:5, and “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” Romans 8:29, nor anywhere else does it mention any conditions for success related to the technique or perfect appearance of the assembly of believers.

Having said all this, what of the effects on the fellowship of believers, and on the unsaved in the assembly? We will hopefully get to that shortly…

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