Nothing about the new life in Christ is realistic. Everything about it pushes the standard limitations we place on what is possible. Approaching the word of God and how it applies in this world is completely unrealistic from the reality established by the world we have been raised by. Everything about the new life in Christ calls us to expect what our world teaches us to never expect. The world leads us to believe that certain things are not to be expected, that certain things are out of the range of possibility, and certain things simply cannot be. The concept of genuine selfless love for another is clouded by our belief that the limits of our human hearts can neither handle nor be expected to exhibit such unrealistic love. The concept of complete abandonment to an authority that has the power to permanently change us from paralyzing insecurity to confidence and contentment is not realistically possible. We are wary of anything that might tempt us out of the real world and into a mere fantasy state.
There is no synchronicity between the new life in Christ and the life we were born into in this world. The two lives are in a state of constant contradiction. The more one is overcome by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the more one begins to perceive oneself as a “stranger” in this world. A stranger that has a home somewhere else, but is nonetheless in this world with a job to do. That job is not to reproduce or replicate the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. That job is to simply bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our own life. One cannot simply share the expectations of the Gospel with another and expect that those expectations be received, followed and cherished. Rather, they are completely unrealistic and should receive an adverse reaction. If one is listening and understanding the implications of the words of the Gospel, these words are not liberating. To begin with, they are crushing by the magnitude of what they expect from us. They are unrealistic and impossible. They should not be taken seriously— if the words are the only witness.
However, witnessing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the life of another suddenly opens the door of possibility. The real-time power of the spirit of Christ in man is the only witness that can effectively lead a person from utter desperation in the face of the Gospel’s expectations to complete satisfaction and hope. We are not meant to read the words of God as one reads literature. Literature is from man and for man and thus will be received by man as man would naturally receive it. The words of God are from God, for man. They will shake us, press us and ultimately change us. Our expectations when standing in the presence of God must only be to expect something entirely different from ourselves. However, what we should expect to find is beyond our reality and supernaturally good.
There is something radically different in the way a person is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus the way they naturally mature or alter their behavior over time. As people age, inevitable changes occur. These changes can vary from the slight to the dramatic, but they can be followed with relative ease. Observing a person’s growth over a given period of time is like tracking a sequence of interconnected dots. There is a well-established understanding in human development that while some changes give cause for some consideration, there is often a relatively simple explanation as to how or why the change occurred. This is not to belittle the change; it is simply to address the fact that human change is relatively predictable. But a person confronted by the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ who yields to the authority of said truths experiences a transformation rather different than the traditional course of maturity or human development. The transformation of a person by the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing short of supernatural. The changes in the person are inexplicable. They defy logic. Moreover, these changes are real. They do not come and go like a phase. They are roots that are planted deep and yield consistently good fruit. As the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms a person, the desires and interests of their old self are radically transformed as well. The desires that used to satisfy now fall pitifully short of satisfaction. While the old self clung to certain idols of the heart with stubborn persistence, the new self becomes aware that these old desires never truly satisfied and only bring distance from the God that has satisfied the self so completely. True transformation by the Gospel can be measured in many ways, but one way is in how ready we are to hold on and how ready we are to let go. If the desires of our old self continue to convince us of their power to fill our cup, we have not yet made room for God to fill it. If the desires of our old self become to us slithering snakes or poisonous spiders that we are quick to let go of, we can be encouraged that the truths of the Gospel are in fact transforming us.
The Holy Spirit works dramatic and undeniable transformation in the lives of sinners. The Holy Spirit does not do adjustment or alteration, but complete redesign. This new design in the new self finds its only parallel in the life of Jesus Christ. His character is the only one that resembles the radically new desires of our heart and ensures that these new desires are meant for permanent display. When testing the work of the Holy Spirit, the only standard must be the life of Jesus Christ.
Claiming to have met God and to know him stands for nothing if the fruit of his spirit is not represented in the new self. Any and all efforts to lead others in the way of Jesus Christ will be fruitless without the leadership and spirit of Jesus Christ being made anew in the new self. Leadership of self is stubbornly juxtaposed to the leadership of God. A person led by the world for success in this world will not and cannot lead compatibly with the will of the Lord. The ways of the Lord are holy and righteous, and the ways of man are sinful and self-serving. Therefore, as one person assumes a leadership role over another, whether in a marriage, a friendship, a profession or a church, the standard must always be the life of Christ and his authority over the lives of sinful man. There is no acceptable worldly authority in any human relationship that can unleash the healing power God intends to unleash. This feat is impossible for man. It cannot be accomplished. It cannot be realized out of human effort. The leadership that does not oppress, does not neglect, does not harm and does not destroy can only come from a model that has never done such things. The leadership of Christ is love, peace, strength and healing. Only by complete submission to his leadership can one ever lead others in this world and produce the same fruit that his leadership does.
The process of sanctification is ongoing, and once begun, cannot stop. The basis of sanctification is the radical departure from our sinful nature into the complete and holy nature of God the Father. This process does not happen overnight nor does it happen without challenge and suffering. This process is often slow and often arduous. However, although each step is a painful tear from the world with which we have until this point been so comfortable and satisfied, each step also reveals more and more validation that the process is not only necessary but is ultimately liberating. As we move closer and closer into a union with the spirit of Christ himself in our daily lives, we likewise move closer to the realization of the hope towards which we ultimately strive. That hope is the realignment of this world as it is with how it was intended to be. That hope is also the realignment of our spirit from its current state back to its created purpose. This original creation was intended to be one with the Father in every aspect.
The process of sanctification cannot be rationed; it is always more. To be merely content with where God has brought us “so far” is a loss. Resigning to the fact that he can do little more with us is absolute failure. The spirit born anew in Christ always strives to go farther and search deeper than before. This desire for more does not arise out of a desire for mere activity. It arises out of the realization that the more we align ourselves with the spirit of Christ the closer we will be to him. This closeness is what produces the “wings of eagles and feet of deer” in us that allow us to soar above and beyond, or run gracefully through, the suffering of this world. This closeness has the power to calm every storm. The desire to do more and more with Christ is not just busywork. The desire to do more and more is proximity. The more we strive to be like him, the more will be one with him.