By Pastor Josh Kirk
“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” 1 Th 1:9
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Ro 8:13
The holidays are well and truly upon us. What is unique about the holiday season this year is that for many, New Year’s Day may loom larger and more exciting than Christmas. They are looking forward to the 12:00 a.m. January 1st when they can watch the year flip forward from 20 to 21, thereby putting the complications – and for some, trauma – of 2020 in the past. We look forward, plan changes for the coming year, write down resolutions concerning how we are going to change. The latest stats I read were that 60% of us are going to make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of us will actually achieve them. Intentions to change look really good until 2021 actually shows up at our doorstep and we have to put the plan into action. We have to make the choice not to eat that cookie, or read that book, or get up earlier to do that workout or run that extra mile. Plans and resolutions are great, but to be beneficial we actually have to get up and do them.
Paul says, “you turned to God from idols” and “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body….” We’ve already seen how God sanctifies us, his word sanctifies us, his trials sanctify us, and his people sanctify us. These texts, among others, show that we sanctify us. Powlison writes, “We turn – from darkness to life, from false gods to the only true God, from death to life, from unbelief to faith. You ask for help because you need help. You repent, you believe, trust, see, delight, walk.” (Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work, 67)
We make real choices that have real effects on our spiritual growth and our relationship with the Lord. We can put to death the deeds of the body, or choose not to. We can turn away from idols and to God, or we can choose not to. Though we need outside help, sanctification requires us to make active choices. Powlison again puts it well, “No one does any of this for you. You are not passive. You are not a puppet or a robot. You are 100% responsible, and yet you are 100% dependent on outside help. Any other way of putting it makes you either far too independent or far too passive.” (Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work, 67)
Once in a while we get a chance to speak with a spiritual hero of ours. Maybe they’re an old friend or pastor, someone whose visible life of holiness you have admired over the years. It always surprises me when I talk to those people about what has made the biggest impact in their lives over the years. Often, it is disappointingly mundane: “I get up early every morning to pray for an hour.” “I read through my Bible twice a year.” “I keep a journal of how the Lord is working in my life.” “I make it a point to ensure my wife knows every day that she is the most important thing to me.” “I have a great group of guys I’m brutally honest with about my sin.” All these little, seemingly trivial moments add up to the biggest changes over the long haul. Zach Eswine notes that it’s the slow, apparently insignificant things done over a long period of time that eventually yield the most significant gains.
Our choices matter. The choice to join a church and go regularly seems like a small decision, but it can often alter for better or worse the spiritual trajectory of our homes. The same can be said of Bible reading or prayer. They seem like such small things at 6:00 in the morning that you’ll never miss. But a week, month, or year of missing these little moments can put you in a spiritually dark place. Friends, redeem the little moments. They matter and God cares about them. Intentionally pursue Christ, putting off the deeds of the flesh and turn from idols. Worship God. Read and believe his Word. Endure under trials. Give yourself to His church. These are the little things that over time become eternally significant.
If you are interested in learning more about the process of Sanctification, I highly recommend How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. If you’d like to learn about what the community of the church looks like, check out Life Together or Compelling Community. You can also check out our previous blog posts or the audio from our last conference.