Saturday, November 21, 2009

Before and After

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6.9, 11)

Solution and Solvent

I once saw a great spoof of TV spots featuring an “ordinary” housewife’s laundry detergent testimonial. She points to a grimy t-shirt and says, “I never believed I could get the stains out of Bobby’s shirt.” Then she points to a pristine t-shirt. “But just look! Here’s the same shirt after I used new and improved Cleanse-Away.” Obviously, they’re not the same shirt and the irony gets big laughs. Thinking of it less as a send-up of marketing moxie than a metaphor of transformation, however, removes the irony. Our past and present coexist. Who we were lives on in memory while who we are exists in actuality. That allows us to contrast them side-by-side, looking at the grime we once sported and seeing the miraculously clean condition we now enjoy. Paul describes the before-and-after comparison in 1 Corinthians 6.11 as, “This is how you were. This is how you are.”

“You were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by God’s Spirit,” Paul explains. In terms of the detergent analogy, belief in Christ is the perfect cleaning solution for our unsalvageable state. In Romans 10.13, we’re told, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (v13) Thus, salvation isn’t a mystery. But its cleansing effects are, since God’s Spirit functions as the solvent that removes the residues of self-indulgence and recklessness. Once it cleans us up, it remains active to keep us clean. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life,” Titus 3.5 and 7 read. Faith in Christ makes the difference. The Holy Spirit makes the difference happen. And acknowledging the difference between how we were and how we are makes us grateful.

Works in Progress

When we restrict our concept of salvation to the moment our faith reached out to Christ, our reasons to thank Him end up limited to what He’s done. But when we realize salvation initiates constant cleansing, we’re able to thank Him for what His Spirit is doing. While this has no impact on “before”—how and who we were doesn’t change—it significantly alters our understanding of “after.” How and who we are tomorrow will look different, hopefully better, than how and who we are today. Each day’s improvement generates new reasons to thank God. As we grow, our thanksgiving also grows.

We are works in progress. Daily, God’s Spirit refines us into purer reflections of His image. This inspires us to monitor the process closely—to note which impurities have been fully removed, which are fading, and which are resisting His cleansing. What this does for us is most amazing. It alerts us to lay aside guilt we shovel on ourselves when we fall short and turns our thoughts to how far we’ve come. An anonymous songwriter captured this mindset this way: “I’m not what I should be, but I’m not what I used to be.” Waiting until the work’s complete to offer God thanks cheats us of the joy and confidence we can gain by expressing our gratitude for what’s been done so far. Worse still, it totally paralyzes our desire to thank Him for what He’s presently doing.

Grateful on the Go

That’s why we remain grateful on the go, rather than beating ourselves down for not yet being where we should be. If we commit ourselves to thank God for every advance we make—whether a tiny step or a giant leap—we also commit to noticing every improvement His Spirit makes in our lives. We constantly contrast before and after, always thanking Him that “after” keeps getting better. We become aware of stubborn thoughts and habits steadily losing their grip. How we are looks less and less like how we were.

Resentments and prejudices that stained us are vanishing. Desires and ambitions that sullied our appearance are weakening. Shame and fear that convinced us we were unfit to be seen are fading away. If we withhold thanks for these things, we’ll lose track of how much smaller and less significant they already are. Yes, we thank God for His finished work in our lives. But as we enter Thanksgiving week, let’s also thank Him for unfinished work. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion,” Philippians 1.6 reads. What’s not done will be done, and more gets done day by day. For that, we’re truly grateful.

Unlike classic “before-and-after” ads, the Spirit’s cleansing is continual, and “after” constantly changes. It gets better all the time. So we thank God as we go, rather than wait for the final results.

(Next: One in Ten)


Fran said...

This is a wonderful post - rich in imagery! Your words go far beyond the Tide ad!

Tim said...

Fran, once again, you bring big smiles of cheer (no pun intended, BTW) my way. Thank you so much.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling a little "stained" for not having got over to your place--and everyone else's--lately. But I have a most wonderful excuse. A dear, dear cousin whom I've not spent time with in over a decade has been visiting us with her daughter. It has been glorious and I've just let it soak up every available moment!

I'll be back on track next week, just swimming with delight in all the riches I've missed!

Much, much love and many blessings,