My Relationship with Jesus Looks Terrible

Sanctification isn't a spiritual career measured by crowns, cities, or promotions. It's a spiritual relationship measured only by the faithfulness of love.

After six years of marriage, I have nothing to show for it. I can say I love my wife more today than the day we met, but I can't prove it. I don't write her more love notes, I don't buy her more flowers, and I don't take her on more vacations. You might say that our daughter is a tangible expression of our love, but that's like saying a 4 proves that two 2's feel affection for each other.

Yet even though I can't demonstrate a greater love for my wife, I'm not worried that my love is fake or my marriage in jeopardy. And my love for Jesus is no different.

I don't think the modern church sees it that way. They're obsessed with strong, mature Christians--Christians who have a measurably greater love for Jesus and his mission than others. Those metrics would include things like morality and ministry involvement.

Based on that criteria, I've backslidden dramatically. I used to be involved in everything at my church growing up: I played on the worship team, I taught during VBS, and eventually, I was leading the youth worship times and teaching a small group. For three summers, I quit my secular job and worked in full-time ministry at a Bible conference.

Now, I'm not involved in anything at church. I never used to curse, but now, things like the Ferguson and New York grand juries can loosen my tongue quicker than James would like.

I was a "better" Christian ten years ago than I am today. Thankfully, Jesus uses a different metric.

According to 1 Timothy 3, Christians mature enough to be considered for leadership have a number of requirements, most of which can be summed up by the phrase "above reproach." But all this establishes is that leaders are expected to not be immoral people (a rather obvious point to make). The less obvious point is found in verse 6:
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.
New converts can be just as moral as seasoned veterans, but they still can't be leaders. Why? Because spiritual maturity has nothing to do with morality or ministry involvement; it largely has to do with time.

Imagine being mentored spiritually by someone young in the faith. God has likely done some dramatic things in their life like he did when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt with a mighty hand. So their context is that God is a deliverer, and they'll lead others believing that God always delivers. They haven't yet met the God who brings us into the wilderness to wander. And when those times come, they may question the faith of others out of naive conceit.

But spiritual maturity isn't like a career where greater positions can be earned or skipped depending on how zealous you are. Spiritual maturity refers to our relationship with God which means it has more to do with love than service.

For example, the more time you know someone, the more opportunities there are to see them at their worst and like them less. Many marriages fail because the person you once knew has been shaped by unforeseen events into a person you no longer recognize. Only true love can see the worst in someone or be the worst to someone and choose to not give up. And the only way to prove that your love is true is by observing it over time.

That's why love is measured in faithfulness, not progress. Love is persevering through hard times together without concern for the benefits they might bring. Because those hard times don't always make us better. Sometimes they just test our resolve like when God tested Abraham with Isaac. Nearly killing your own son doesn't exactly make you a better person nor is it a personal victory in any sense of the word. But it can prove you faithful. And that's all sanctification really is.

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photo credit: Peter Kurdulija Down and Broken via photopin (license)