Dealing with Spiritual Contradictions
John D. Telgren

It has been said that human nature is a web of contradictions. We are very aware of the obvious ones, such as the production of both beauty through art and music, and ugliness through murder and war. But we typically are barely aware of the spiritual contradictions. For instance, we sing of our ultimate dependence on God, yet our lives demonstrate a dependence on wealth, ability, or relationships with friends. Or we may say we believe that all are lost outside of Christ, yet we make little or no effort to share the Gospel with those who are lost. We declare we love Jesus as Lord of our life, yet he seems to get crowded out by our personal pursuits in life. We affirm Jesus teaching on servanthood, yet we avoid menial acts of service.

I used to think that the remedy was simply to try harder. But the problem may go deeper than this. The problem may be one of sanctification, a topic we do not dwell on as much as we should. What does it mean to be sanctified? Another way to express this is the phrase, "made holy." To be holy means to be different, or set apart. To be "holy to the Lord," means to be set apart for, or dedicated to God.

Who does the sanctifying? We usually think of sanctification as something that we do rather than what God does. Sanctification is first and foremost the work of God.

" ... God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thess 2:13)."

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30),"

Sanctification begins with God, but it is also something we must participate in through submission to his lordship (Rom 6:19).

" now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (Rom 6:19)."

Sanctification is all about transformation (1 Cor 6:11). We have become a new person through the sanctification in Christ (Col 3:1ff). We become a child of God (1 John 3:1-3). We become a branch in the true vine (John 15:1-5). We become an heir (Gal 4:7). We become a temple (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). We become triumphant through Christ (2 Cor 2:14). We become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). We become God's workmanship, created for good works (Eph 2:10). We become a citizen of Heaven (Phil 3:20). We become complete in Christ (Col 2:10). Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We are beloved and chosen of God (1 Thess 1:4). And the list goes on and on.

We are no longer who we were before. We are "saints," which simply means, "sanctified person." So, what is the problem when our lives don't look a very different? What do we do when we see contradictions in our spiritual lives? Do we simply try harder, or is there more?

When there are contradictions in our spiritual life, part of the problem may be that we have not gotten a handle on what sanctification is all about. Since it involves transformation, we are to see everything from a new perspective, especially our own selves. We are no longer defined by our parents, friends. job, or anything else of this world. That is freeing.

Let's look at Jesus as the supreme example. Jesus could have felt threatened by those around him. His own family didn't believe him and even seemed to ridicule him (John 7:1-5); many fellow Jews despised him for keeping company with sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:16); his hometown people looked down on him (Mark 6:3); the Jews accused him of having a demon (John 8:48); and they tried to stone him (John 8:59). Many people might be tempted to give in when faced with problems with family and peers. However, Jesus had a very clear sense of identity. He wasn't defined by his family or his peers, but by his relationship with God. He was more concerned with what God thought of him rather than what people thought of him because his identity came from God, not other people. That gave him the freedom to be confident, yet humble. It was no threat to his identity to do something as menial as washing feet. It was no threat to his identity when his family rejected him.

It works the same way for us. If our identity is tied up with Christ, then we will be free to rely on him and not material wealth. We will be free to serve others without our self-worth being threatened. We will be able to share the Gospel without feeling worthless when we are rejected. Being enslaved to God instead of other people's opinion of us is one of the most freeing aspects of the sanctification that God grants to us.

As you can see, there is a very real sense that servanthood and evangelism are acts of faith in that our identity is tied up with the God, whom we cannot see, rather than the world around us, which we can see. So remember who defines you. Remember who you are. Remember to whom you belong. Nothing on this earth can change that.

"If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? ... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39)."