So real talk. I grew up in the church, heard bible stories, sang songs, did Awana, all the things. But until my early twenties I didn’t actually understand that Saul was Paul. I was reminded of this on my visit to Rome last summer, where Paul spent some of his time as documented in Acts and in his letter to the church in the book of Romans. It was interesting to see where that reflection led and how there’s some major tie-in with a concept God has been teaching me for the last eight years or so. The Saul/Paul faux-pa of mine reflects the major theological concept of sanctification in two different ways.
The first was personal. For most of my life I was showing up to church and encountering the truth of who God was, but wasn’t being transformed and changed by what I was learning. It wasn’t until different trials, encouragements, relationships, and even ego-shattering events lead me to desire God more deeply. Only then did I begin to realize there was more to the Bible than just reading the words. There was more to my relationship with God than just showing up to church on Sunday.
In Christianity, the transformation that comes as we encounter Christ, obey him, and seek to live our lives based on His call to holiness is part of an important process called sanctification.
This new knowledge changed many aspects of my Christian walk. God continued to show me how important it was to truly study and understand his written word. Not just plug in pretty verses, or magical 8 ball bible flipping when I was in a struggle. But like ACTUALLY study it. Then ACTUALLY put it into practice – However God led, through conviction to change, encouragement to do something more, or clarity to align what I may think was true to what he says is true through the Bible.
The second reason my Saul/Paul realization is borderline comical, though, is because of the documented sanctification process that Paul went through in the New Testament.
It’s a concept revealed throughout the Bible, but I’d never really noticed it before: God never leaves a life unchanged after encountering Him and surrendering to His truth.
Paul’s dramatic testimony as a man who hunted down and murdered early Christians transformed into a man dedicated to supporting early churches and writing at least seven books of the New Testament is an extremely encouraging example. He didn’t just meet Jesus and follow him, his life was truly changed by the truth he learned.
So why does this matter?
It’s important because we can get half of the full truth by studying scripture certain ways. This not only affects our understanding of the Bible, but our personal walk with the Lord. How we study the sanctification process and it’s biblical implications forms our outreach, verbiage, and most importantly, our understanding of who God is.
One of the major taglines I hear in current church culture is, “Come as you are.” One of the closest verses I see in the Bible that talks about this is in Matthew 11:
“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
The verse is such a comforting and loving picture of how Christ knows we’re struggling and how He wants us to come to him for rest. It’s beautiful.
It’s easy to walk into churches that proclaim, “Come as you are” in an effort to reach people who desperately need Jesus, who need rest, who need perfect love, and feel encouraged by this response to just come. All are truly welcome. But focusing on only one side of this scripture and concept can leave out the very important other side – We are also called to be transformed. The Bible isn’t a halfway picture, and further reading reveals more of the complete story. Matthew 11 continues with:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11: 29-30, ESV).
In this passage, Jesus describes how we’re to learn from Him, do as He does, encounter and take His yoke upon us. We’re to lean in close with Him and walk through life learning from His ways. In being called to change and learn from Christ, we don’t stay in the same place. We leave different than who we were when we first came.
Here’s what’s on my heart: There’s grave danger if we leave out half of the picture when reading or studying the Bible. Claiming to simply “come as you are” doesn’t reflect the change encountered when we allow God full access to our lives. I’ll save touching on specific topics, but we could insert any hot button people group and it would reveal why this tagline can be popular to relate or invite people in. It’s so very broad.
In reality, all of our lives and sins fit into what needs to be conformed into God’s ways.
God doesn’t leave us unchanged once we encounter Him. We’re called to learn how Jesus lived, learn how God calls us to change through studying the Bible, obey the truth of His precepts, and surrender to the sanctification process.
And let me tell you, it is amazing.
And it is painful.
But it is part of God’s design and the wonderful work He does as we learn how to live life the way He wants us to.
God’s perfect love doesn’t just call us to come as we are, it calls us to not stay the same as we go.
Seeking change alongside,
About the Author: Amanda lives in Portland, Oregon and is a cardiac ICU nurse. She has a heart to live out the Great Commission in both her workplace and in the city at large. She loves the Bible, and wants to see her own and many others lives continually transformed by the solid truth of God’s word. She enjoys hot tea, baby goats, and adventures in the mountains. Seeking & serving Jesus while being made in His image is her core desire.