All right, we really have one more ring in the circle that we must talk about a little bit, and that is the social, and we have to understand that that is essential to our personality. And what goes on in that realm is so tremendously important.
Children are made in a social context, and they come into a world that is not dominated by respect and love. A few of them are blessed to come into a home like that, but most of our homes are broken, and what they experience in them is not what should be there, can be; and again I know I see children who are raised in Christian homes where Christ and the Father and the Spirit are present, and there is intelligent love, and it is a beautiful thing to see a child that is raised in that context.
But unfortunately it isn’t the usual experience of the child. And in the human context as broken, there are two things that dominate, and those are attack and withdrawal. [1:45] Attack and withdrawal. And sometimes the withdrawal is an attack, and attack always presupposes a certain element of withdrawal in it. And as a result of that, the little child comes to be fearful, not trusting, angry, and falls prey to all of the negative emotions that dominate in life, and they can become possessive, suspicious. Thanks be to God, it takes them awhile; little children are incapable of most of those emotions, but they experience the pain that goes with them, and that has lasting effects on them.
So, now, our homes are meant to be a place where a man and a woman come together in a way that is creative, deeper than their choices, built into their nature, and to create a matrix out of which human beings come. And if that matrix is broken, broken human beings come out of it. Children learn wrong behavior before they are able to mean it, and their habits are formed wrongly without intention. And that is a heartbreaking kind of thing.
But because we do not see what people are, we don’t see them as spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe, then we are not able to treat them as they should be treated. And one of the hard things of being a minister that I’ve found is officiating, as we say, at weddings, and then watching that relationship go bad. You see them—they come together in the situation of the wedding and the families and all of that, and there’s such tremendous hope, and then before long that’s replaced with anger. I met a young woman just the other day whom I had—I don’t normally do this, but I did officiate in her case because she was a dear young student of mine, she and her brother for many years, and so I did. And things are not going well. And that’s very sad.
Of course, marriage is a sacrament; that means that it cannot be what it’s supposed to be without God. [5:32] A man can’t trust a woman or a woman trust a man as they ought unless they trust God, and the Trinity is the only self-sufficient and holy community within which human beings can be all right. We try to calm our children by saying everything’s ok, but it’s not. And it’s only within the Trinity that everything is ok. We feel the need to reassure people, and we say everything’s ok. That’s a reflection of the need and of the possibilities, but until we are safely enfolded in the Trinitarian community, and that would express itself in a human community that is a part of that, ideally at least—until that is present, we can’t really have the relationships that we should have to one another.
So, attack and withdrawal becomes, almost, you could say, the routine and the social reality. And we are ready to attack and withdraw. It comes to be a part of our bodies, and that has to be redeemed.
So now, when you start talking with people about this, normally, concretely, it has to do with the family. And there’s a wonderful artwork by Oscar Kokoschka that shows a man and a woman enfolding one another in a stormy sea. And it’s just them. It’s a beautiful picture; thank God for artistic imagination. But it shows a picture of what it could be for people to receive one another. And again, those old wedding vows in the prayer book are so marvelous because they state, “For better or for worse, for sickness in health, for richer and poorer.” You don’t go there without God. You just don’t do that. You’ve got to have the sufficiency of God to deal with that.
And within the sufficiency of God, then, an attitude of respect and love and admiration is not just that attitude; the weight of that is not just on the individual. It’s on God. And I say for better or for worse, with God. And then I may even be able to understand the intentions, and willing and able to reach for the resources to carry them out. But that’s one of those cases where it’s a good thing God is involved, because we don’t really understand what we’re saying, but it’s important that we say it, because then that helps guide us into the richness and reality of that. [9:54]
The Weight Of Glory
C.S. Lewis has that wonderful passage in The Weight of Glory where he’s talking about us trying to “get in,” trying to make it “in.” It’s a theme of Lewis’s; it shows up in a lot of places. He says,
Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be [on the] inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fantasy, but the truest index of our real situation.
And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits, and also the healing of [the] old ache.
And he’s talking about how we have built into us a longing for unity with others. And you watch how that works in human life; it’s very touching, and he has another essay where he starts out with a passage from one of Tolstoy’s novels, Anna Karenina, which depicts this with all the power that someone like Tolstoy can come up—a young lieutenant who wants to be included. That desire to be included. You watch little children; it’s both a sweet and profoundly sad thing to watch little children. And I love to watch a child when another child comes into view, and how their attention turns, and how they look, and it’s a beautiful thing.
But then Lewis goes on to talk about the weight of glory that is in the other person, what we want to be united to. And he talks about how that other person has a glory. Now, let me not lose you here, because the relationship—the social relationship is predicated on us seeing the glory of the other person. It’s not just predicated upon us willing to love them, because there’s something here beyond the will, and something, which the will can only be based upon, and that is the sense of the glory of the other person.
And that goes together with this idea of being “in,” because what we are wanting and longing for when we long for acceptance is predicated both on who we are and who the other person is, but it’s twisted, and it becomes manipulative, and all sorts of things go wrong. The desire for status: “I will impress you, baby.” And so then I try to do things that will let me get “in,” and why do I care to get in? Well, it’s only because I sense the glory that is in you.
The value that is placed on the human personality, Chesterton says, is the hardest thing to believe in Christianity—the value of the individual. And as usual, the old guy is pretty good. Pretty good.
Some day, [God willing,] we shall get in. When the human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which nature is only [the] first sketch… Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites [me] to use.
And there is beyond nature a greater glory. And now we have trouble with being in, with reception of others, how to receive another person. One of the greatest gifts that anyone can have is the ability to receive another person—to receive another person. Lewis says it may be possible for us to think too much of our own potential glory; it is hardly possible for us to think too often or too deeply about the glory of my neighbor. “The load or weight or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back. A load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” And that’s exactly what happens.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, and to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw [it] now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and [a] corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
He encapsulates his discussion by saying, “There are no ordinary people.”
Now, when you think about that, and you look at that social circle, you realize there’s something really big here—something really big. And it is through the restoration of that, and not just some grudging allowance for another person—“I will put up with you. I will not see through your color or your sex, or whatever else; I will not see through that, but I will tolerate it, because I am a loving person.” That’s not there; that’s not it. It is to see the person who is not their body. A genuine, loving diversity is founded on the ability to see the person. I do not owe something to someone because they are of a certain color. I owe to them, no matter what color they are, because they are a human being. They are, dare I say, an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Ok? Now we’re getting somewhere! And that doesn’t mean that we set aside their particularities, it means we put their particularities in a context of God and his kingdom. That is how we begin to love them. That is how we begin to see that attack and withdrawal—it isn’t enough to say it’s stupid, it’s revolting. And on the other hand, to see how terrible rejection is, how badly it hurts, because it goes right to the core of the being, and it says, “You’re not in; you’re out.”
So it’s very important for us to think about this now, and to think about how that is to be redeemed. And to focus on that, and if we have habits of rejection and attack, and of course that’s where things like contempt and anger come in, because if I’m angry at you, I’m already ready to hurt you or to see you hurt, or to not be sad to see you hurt, and then that lines up with contempt, because if I have contempt for you it’s much easier to be angry with you. [20:03] And these mingle together around this issue of rejection, attack.
Now, we can get over that. And of course we start with Jesus, don’t we? I mean, that’s where you always start. By the way, that’s why we’re called Christians. We start with Jesus; we watch him. And when you begin to see this, one of the most beautiful things in Jesus is the amazing generosity of Jesus, and how he just goes out to people.
Old blind Bartemaeus, sitting by the roadside. He hears a racket—“What’s going on, what’s going on? Oh, it’s Jesus, coming down this way!” Old blind Bartemaeus, he’s got good sense. What does he do? He just starts to holler. “Jesus, son of David!” No protocol. No waiting for the invitation with a black fringe around it or whatever to make it look pretty, he just starts hollering. Everyone stands around and says, “Shut up, shut up!” But Jesus hears him. “What’s that? Who’s that?” And he calls blind Bartemaeus to him.
I love that story. That’s Jesus. Zacchaeus up his tree; Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. And Jesus picked him out. The song says, “Short people ain’t got no reason.” You know that song? “You have to pick ‘em up to say hello.” Not Jesus. Jesus shows us what it’s like to be generous, and that only comes from the richness of the Kingdom.
I love the story of the Last Supper where they ain’t gonna wash one another’s feet. And Jesus sees what’s going on, and so he gets a pan and a towel, and I love the way that’s described. It says, “Knowing where he was coming from and where he was going, he arose.” See, that was the source of Jesus’ generosity, and that’s what allows us to be generous, is knowing where we’re coming from and where we’re going.
Knowing who we are, and that allows us to stand and to receive, to not withdraw when everyone else is withdrawing, because we’re standing in the Kingdom of God. We’re not standing in the Kingdom of Men. And all of the attacks and the withdrawals and all of that that come with standing there, we lay aside. We lay aside all of the staid routines that people have of showing deference and rejection and who’s in and who’s out. You hear people say, “Well, I’m out of the loop.” Yeah, thank God! That loop you don’t really need. But if you’re in the Trinity loop, then you’re in good shape. Right? [25:58]
So that’s where you want to stand. Well, it’s very important for us to recognize the problems at this level and to be able to begin to make progress. And of course there are many things that we might do. Serving people is a good way of learning how to receive people. Serving people. And you see, this is something you can do when you still have got some resistance in there. So you can serve people, and learn what Jesus taught us.
See, he said, “You should wash one another’s feet,” and forthwith, they decided to wash feet. But he wasn’t talking about washing feet. He was talking about serving people. So the pope every Christmas goes out, finds some guy on the street, drags him in, and washes his feet. Well, that’s not a bad idea, but that’s not what Jesus was talking about. See, Jesus was talking about serving people, serving one another. And that’s what foot washing stood for. I don’t mind, you know—I’ve been around people all my life who did foot washing, and that’s not bad. Some of us need it more than others, but…it’s ok. It’s like baptism. Baptism, if you mean water, that’s ok—that’s good. But that’s not the whole deal.
And foot washing is a way of receiving people. Actually, in Jesus’ day it was an act of hospitality. There wasn’t anyone there in the room where they were to do that, and everyone sitting around, they were not going to do it, and so it didn’t get done. So what Jesus did when he washed their feet was a simple act of service. Their feet needed washing, and he washed them. Now, when we want to begin to break the hold of the withdrawal/attack mode of social relationship, a good way to do that is to serve people. And serve some people that people might think it very strange you were serving them, because of the way the social structure stacks up. But you know better. And out of the generosity of the Kingdom, you’re washing their feet, see.
And in the end it just comes down to simple respect and love. Paying attention to people. Listening without thinking about what you’re going to say when they get done. I tell you, that’s a wonderful exercise, is to listen to people. And there’s so many people in this world who just think no one ever listens to them. And they’re probably largely right. One of the greatest services we can do is to listen. If someone comes to us to receive prayer, listen first. Let them talk. Hear their story. That’s great. You can do that; we can all do that. Those of us like myself who sort of are paid to keep talking, you know we have to take special steps. Shut up and listen!
See, that’s a way of respecting and loving people. That’s paying attention, and really the first act of love is attention. Pay attention to people. That’s one of the deepest ways of receiving. And then when we respond, maybe not try to straighten them out. Maybe learn how to say things that will ease them into something better without them necessarily knowing it. I think Jesus did a lot of that.
And it is especially important to listen to children. You know, there’s this awful saying that children are to be seen and not heard; you ever hear that? That’s one of the meanest things I ever heard in my life. Jesus didn’t feel that way. Don’t hinder; let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not, because such are the kingdom of heaven. [31:25]
The Heart That Jesus Gives Us—Continued
All right: that’s all I’m going to try to do with that. And now I want to talk a little bit about kind of what it might look like. I’m going to go back to one of my previous visual aids, and just quickly finish it up. This is the Sermon on the Mount again. Now, we talked about having lives free of anger and contempt, free from domination by sexual lust and disgust, free from the desire to dominate and verbally control; we talked about that, but I just want to point out: free from grudges, from “fairness”—for us, from paying back.
Now, you don’t do that unless you’re standing in the kingdom. So all of that change. Now, these are just illustrations, you see, of what it’s like to be beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees. And you have to be standing over there in the Kingdom, interacting with the Trinity, learning from Jesus. And then you become able to do all those things that Jesus mentioned.
But you mustn’t make those legalisms! This is getting at a heart. Think of it like this: the person who has the Kingdom heart characteristically loves their enemies. That’s because God loves their enemies, and the best thing I can do for people is to love them and do what’s good for them, ok? They bless those who curse because they’re full of blessing. That’s what they have in them. They don’t try to tack blessings on. They just got a belly full of blessing, and when you hit them, what comes out is blessing.
In the sixth chapter we get into two big topics: one, performing for human credit, and the other, trusting physical substances. That’s what chapter six in the Sermon on the Mount, about that. Don’t do your righteous deeds to be seen of men. Now, this is a big step, because of what we’ve already talked about: the need for approval, to be received. And so when we don’t have that need met in the right way, then we go for it in other ways, and its “look at me.” Jesus talks about fasting and about prayer, and all of that is about getting off of human approval. That’s what that’s all about. It’s not about your good deeds being seen; it’s fine for your good deeds to be seen. It’s not fine to do them to be seen.
See, that’s the difference. It’s ok for people to know you pray; you can pray in public, and all of that. Jesus doesn’t forbid that, but you’ll find people who’ll say that, that you shouldn’t pray—should you pray in public? Jesus said, blah de blah. He didn’t say anything about praying in public. He said something about praying to be seen of men—the same way with fasting. And of course he’s really undermining the human kingdom there, because you see, if people are doing things for approval, they become manipulable [35:41] and they become people who are living off of the approval of other human beings, and that’s a miserable way to live, to tell you the truth.
And then trusting physical things, money, and provision of various kinds. Jesus warns us about that. Also goes on to talk about, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to put on. God will provide it,” and that’s in the Kingdom. So don’t trust money. Don’t trust physical substance of any kind. Just store up your treasures in heaven.
Now, there’s a bank in heaven, and you can put your treasures there, and then as you need it you can draw it. And that’s not about after you die, it’s about now. You put your treasures into God’s hands now, and you can draw on it. That’s an old story, isn’t it? The proverbs say that if you hear the cry of the poor, God will provide for you. And there is a bank where inflation has no effect. The stuff doesn’t go bad and worthless because it’s the generosity of God, and you live in that relationship now.
Now, you have to be willing to trust him. So we pray, “Give us today the stuff we need for today.” Not what we might need tomorrow. The manna only lasted for a day, and if you tried to keep it, it stank. That’s what money does if you start trusting it. So, all of that’s taken care of.
Last thing I mention here is, don’t manage others by condemnation. It’s what I call “condemnation engineering.” That’s what you pick up on in Chapter 7; you don’t try to get people to do things by condemning them. And the reason is, it won’t help people. They’ve already got plenty of that; most of it they dish out to themselves. And they’re full of condemnation. And if you condemn them, they’ll just give you some of it back.
And that’s what we see between our groups—political, religious, family—people condemning. And they all do it with the idea, “Boy, if I just condemn them it’ll do ‘em some real good! Well, maybe it’ll do me some good.” But that’s the stuff about the pigs and the dogs. Don’t give pearls to pigs! And that’s not saying anyone is a pig, that’s just saying you want to give people things they can use. Pigs can’t use pearls, no matter how beautiful they are, they can’t use them. Give them something they can benefit from, and that isn’t going to be condemnation. Don’t give your dog a Bible to eat. The fact that it is an especially holy book won’t help the dog in the least. And Jesus is teaching us how to move out of that human way of trying to manage people and move to the domain of simply asking people, speaking to them plainly. Also asking God, so when he finishes his discussion about pearls and dogs and pigs and things like that, he says, “Ask. Seek.” That’s how you approach people. You want them to change or do something, ask them. Don’t try to harass them into it. Just stay with them. That’s on a continuum with asking God, and you see in the middle of that, Jesus saying, “Whatever you’d like people to do to you, you do the same to them.” [40:33]
You know, asking is a wonderful act. It’s a very powerful act. But it wants to be genuine asking and not a veiled threat. When I ask someone something, I acknowledge them; see, I acknowledge them, I acknowledge their power. And asking is very, very powerful; and you want to remember that when you think about prayer. Asking is very, very powerful. And that is why God has set up our world like that. And we all experience—I know people who would cross the street to avoid a beggar. Why? They don’t want to feel what they feel when the beggar asks. Right?
My favorite illustration of that is eating a sandwich in front of a dog. And the dog doesn’t even have good sense; it just looks at you. But you feel that pull. And see, that is an essential law in the kingdom of God, that if you want something from another person, you ask them. It’s ok to seek, and you may even want to knock, but you don’t manipulate them, even with something very, very holy, like, “God said to me.”
Whatever Is Good…
And so these things transform human life. And then Jesus goes on and talks about the importance of hearing and doing and so forth. But that’s kind of an outline of what life in the kingdom of God would look like. It’s not all of the details; there’s a lot that’s not on the list, and that’s because it’s not law.
See, when you read these great passages, like you’ve been working I think on Colossians 3:1-17, well, you can kind of flip that over and you find something in Ephesians that looks a lot like that, and parts of it in Galatians, and you know what you notice about them? They don’t say the same thing. Now when you’re doing law, you say the same thing, right? You don’t mess around with that. You say the same thing. And if there’s any variations, then the law is in question.
But if you’re talking about a life, you don’t have to say the same thing. And so there are various ways of putting these things. What Paul says in Colossians 3, he doesn’t say it the same way in Ephesians. That’s because if you get any of it, you get it all. See, because it’s going down to the sources of behavior. It’s going down to the sources of behavior and in that connection it is actually dealing with everything that is concerned. Because now you are at the level where if you change the attitude, if you change the way of thinking, if you change the emotions, the set of the will, as you will have to do to do any of it, then that will carry over to whatever else needs to be dealt with.
In general, we’ve learned to focus on what is good. And we fill our minds with that. And sometimes people seem to think when you say you’re not going to live for your desires; they seem to think, well, what are you going to live for then? And the answer is you’re going to fill your life with good things. And here in Philippians we have the wonderful wording that Paul gives as he’s sitting there in a prison, and he’s talking about the sufficiency of God, not to worry about anything, be anxious for nothing, the peace of God as you live in request and putting out your needs to God and to others that are around; then you are kept by God. And now, in that condition, peace of God surrounding your heart. Now, he says, finally—what are you going to do with your life? Well, he says, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good report, is there any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on those things. [45:51]
So you don’t just empty yourself of what is not good. You make a point of filling your life with what is good. And I want you to know this; because this takes us back to the essential point that our life in the Kingdom of God is not religious. Notice, “whatever is true.” Ok, what would be a case of that? He says, let your mind dwell on whatever is true. Can you think of anything in your life that you could do that with, whatever is true? Well, you live in a community. There are truths that form the basis for your life together in community. You think on what is true; that’s a part of love. You don’t rejoice in iniquity but you rejoice in truth. You remember that? From 1 Cor. 13. You rejoice in—see, here’s a person just rejoicing in truth. Well, actually truth is pretty good stuff. And the human mind is made to rejoice in it. So all kinds of knowledge is truth. Do you enjoy knowledge? You do, don’t you? Ok, you enjoy knowledge. Even Aristotle says, “Man by nature desires to know. This is proven by the delight he takes in his senses.” The human mind hungers for truth.
So to be a servant of truth, to be a teacher, to be a lawyer that stands up for truth. Ok? We all adore To Kill A Mockingbird. Well, what’s so great about that? That man stood up for truth. He stood up for what was honorable. Anything honorable? Well, ok! So what am I going to be doing if I’m not getting drunk? Gee, my life will be empty. No. you’re going to have good things that fill your life. And you’re not going to miss getting drunk a bit.
See, we do the bad stuff to fill the vacuum, which is left when we desert the good. And in the process of restoration it isn’t just that we become perfect at avoiding what is bad; it’s that we become so absorbed in what is good that we don’t even think about that other stuff. Or if we think about it, we say, huh! What a shallow, cheap way of living that is—that I’ve got to get some magazine, or some picture, or some drug, or something to fill my life. Well, bless your heart. See, the positive side of spiritual transformation is finding the superabundance of goodness that God has put in our world, and living there. [49:23]
And of course, one of the main devices of the enemy is to rob us of that. And so the most common saying written on university walls, other than what is written with spray paint, which varies with the season—of all the things that are put in concrete and stone are the words of Jesus, “The truth will set you free.” But the people in the university will not touch truth with a ten-foot pole. It is a mockery. And I enjoy working on my students and suggesting they might try asking their professor in another field, “Do you teach the truth?” You know, just to stir the pot.
Truth is wonderful. It’s one of the most joyous, good, solid things in all creation. It used to be that you could write a poem about loving the truth. I like to ask my students, “Do you love the truth? What would you sacrifice for the truth?”—because you see, we’re in a system that pushes truth away.
Honorable; that’s in question—all of these things that Paul’s mentioning. What is honorable? What is right? What is pure? What is lovely? What’s left when you leave out all of that? Who’s going to help people do this? Well thank goodness, you know, a lot of parents do. Because parents often regardless of what they may believe, by and large, they know there is something right here. And I think sometimes they have to read little stories to their children, and the stories are all about this. They’re all about this. You don’t get children’s stories out of the news. And that’s because at that level what is really good in life is so close to the surface.
Now, Paul’s position there was one of guiding his people, and he used what he did to guide himself. And that’s why he is able to make these stunning statements such as you find in 2 Cor. 12: “Therefore I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake.” Second Corinthians 12:10. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When he’s weak, God is there. When he’s weak, Christ is there. When he’s weak, things happen that are beyond human ability. And he knows that. He lives there. And he watches for it, and he turns his mind to what is good. [53:20]
Now, the second phase of your program in the Institute concentrates more on how you do that. But we want to just conclude this little session by saying the mind is primary. We already said that your first freedom is where you put your mind. Did you notice that the verse I read from Philippians is about where you put your mind? And you put your mind above all on Christ, and your feelings follow.
Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast
But greater far thy face to see and in thy presence rest.
You see, our disciplines do that. We go into solitude and we sit before Jesus. We go into silence and he speaks to us. It’s all about Jesus. And however we think about this progression, we want to understand that sanctification is simply a matter of staying in relationship to Jesus. [54:49]
Sanctification. That’s a stage in spiritual progress. It is not easy to nail it down, so that you can say, well, I’m going to get there and then I’ll be sanctified. But you can tell when you’re getting close, and you can tell when you’re walking in it. It’s kind of like heating a cup of coffee. There’s a point where it’s not hot, but it’s getting warm. And there is a point beyond which it’s not only hot but it will burn you. And then in between that somewhere is a point where it was hot. And you probably won’t be able to nail that down very closely, but you can tell about where things are in the progress. And you can tell at a certain point the presence of Jesus with you in all that you’re doing, in all your work, in all your play, and all your relationships, that he is there. He is with you. And now then, that fills your life.
And it fills your life with good things, and the way you devote yourself to him is through the good things that you can do, and forward, and advance in your life. The good you can do is the expression of the love of God that has now taken over your life. And all of those dimensions that we put up, now, are different. What is in your mind? Different. How you feel? Different. All of that, how your body is ready to behave, that’s different, because now it has become a part of you. And now it’s Christ in you. It’s Christ in you that dominates everything in your life. [57:00]
Well, let me just put up one more screen here: well, two more, sorry. There are two more. I’m going to pull that together for us. What is sanctification? It is relationship, consciously chosen and sustained relationship to God-with-Christ. See, I want to conclude by talking about where we get in the process of transformation, and that’s where we get “consciously chosen and sustained relationship to God with Christ. That is sanctification. One in which one is able to do and routinely does what they know to be right before God.”
And that includes not just the religious, but also the moral as well as the prudential. Wisdom. You remember these words from your memorization? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom”? You remember that? Wisdom comes as you learn to do this—wisdom about practical matters.
You find so many Christians that have hurt themselves financially because they have not been wise. Often it was because they have been overreaching and trying to make too much too fast. And Paul says those who would be rich cause themselves a lot of trouble. Prudentially: wisdom. That relationship with Christ keeps them in the path of wisdom. Morally: moral understanding and moral wisdom: what’s good, what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s bad. And moral understanding comes with sanctification. It’s not an experience, though experiences may be involved; they certainly will be involved. It’s not a status—“oh, I’ve got it. I’m sanctified.” It’s not an outward form. Doesn’t matter how you dress, within limits. So, we are troubled by these varying ideas, that outward forms mark sanctification. They don’t. That’s one of the other things that Jesus teaches us about. See, Jesus could be anywhere. He could eat with unwashen hands. The proprieties didn’t bother him because of his relationship to God. [1:00:14]
So now, it does become a “track record,” and that’s important. You walk in that, it becomes your way of life, and that gives you confidence. It also lifts the burdens of false guilt off of us, enables us to do justice to the good and the right and the strong that is our part. And it becomes a habit, so we don’t have to always be thinking about it: “what am I going to do to do the sanctified thing?” It becomes substance. It just becomes who we are. It comes about by spiritual formation, but then the result of that is substance. That’s sanctification.
What Can Churches Do?
Now, I have one more thing to say to you, and that is what you can do in our churches to help. Is there any sort of regular plan that we could adopt and use in our churches? And I just want to suggest three things. And that is, watch out for your gospel. Make sure that you focus on preaching and teaching about entering and living in the Kingdom of the Heavens now. That’s foundational.
You will think back to the VIM pattern—that’s vision. You have to have the vision. And that is where most of our difficulties are rooted, is in the vision. And character comes eventually out of the vision. So we can do that—we can choose to emphasize that. Now, we don’t need to get hung up on the language, and for many people Kingdom talk is fighting language. And they’re ready to fight you about it. So if that’s a trouble, talk about life in Christ. What does “in” mean? That’ll get you in the same place. And many people who haven’t been used to the Kingdom language have taught life in Christ. Right? Now that’s going to get you where you need to go if you just stay with it. But you have to work out “in,” and as you work out “in,” you’re going to get everything that comes witih Kingdom. Remember what Kigndom is? Well, “in Christ,” now, you’re talking about the king and his activity. So when you’re in a specific ecclesiastical context, let’s say, you have to watch out for the language. But you can say the same thing in different language, and there’s lots of room in the Scripture to work that out. But the message is what is crucial. And so let’s focus on that.
Then, secondly, make sense of discipleship. And I would say the single most important thing of that is first of all to understand that it is a continuing relationship, a path of knowledge and growth, a continuing relationship with Christ, and that it relates to your whole life. That’s where you want to say discipleship is not a religious thing, it’s a life thing. [1:04:32] and you can raise the question, “Whose disciple are you?” and whoever you’re talking to, they’re somebody’s disciple. And probably more than one. And very likely contradictory. Who are you learning from? Who do you take guidance from?
See, we can help people confront that and deal with it, and then we can invite them to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God with Jesus, and now we’re talking here about in church, and one of the things we can do is take just a few things Jesus taught us to do and help people learn how to do them. Just a few things.
A couple of guys up by Stockton in California have used something in their church that they call simply “One Thing.” One thing. And their idea is take one thing and teach it, and then invite a group of people who want to learn how to do it to come together and start meeting, talk about it, come to understand it, begin to observe it in life, come back and talk about it, begin to understand what are the roots of the behavior, identify it in themselves and others, then ask the question what can you do to change the roots of the behavior. Now that covers everything; it doesn’t really matter what it is. Pornography, living beyond one’s means, inability to pray; any of those things. Inability to witness to others. Just take one thing, and talk about it, teach about it, invite those who are interested. Don’t push it on anyone. Invite those who are interested, and say, “You know, I would really like to learn how to do that.” Some are longer projects than others; you’ll need a little more time with prayer than you will with learning to bless those who curse you.
So you use your wisdom, and God will guide you, and institute this practice of teaching people something. You know, just something that Jesus said. And you know, once you cross that line, then it’ll all open up, and you’ll know you can really do this. And it’s important to say again this does not require an extra budget. You don’t have to have money to do this, you don’t have to build a separate building or have a room. You don’t have to have a course, an education of some sort to do it. Really, all you have to do is just decide to do it.
Now then, if you don’t have the vision, you won’t be able to do that. Your church is just like an individual. They have to have a vision, they have to make decisions, they have to implement means. And spiritual formation is meant to go forward in the context of the local group. Sometimes people have to go it alone, and you do the best you can. But it really doesn’t work well unless you’ve got a group of people gathered around that project. And saying, “this is what we do.” And then you can see it go forward.
So announce to your community that you’re in the character business, and you teach people how to live from the abundance of God in the Kingdom of God in the way Jesus would live where they are if he were they. That’s spiritual formation.