“Get a Chesapeake Bay Retriever,” they said. “They don’t shed,” they said. Lies. All lies. In the past year since we adopted our bear-sized Chesapeake, Drake, I am pretty sure I’ve eaten more dog hair than some dogs grow over their lifetime. It feels like there is dog hair in everything, on everything, from the carpet and the furniture, to our clothes and the kids’ toys. Dog hair. It’s inescapable. Why, Lord? Why?
Lately, I’ve been noticing some things in my self, some less-than-awesome “stuff” in my heart. Jealousy. Anger. Impatience. And some days it feels like dog hair. No matter how much I brush it off, how much I shake out my clothes, it clings. And let’s call a spade a spade here. It’s sin. And my sin, it’s sticky.
Sin is like that though, isn’t it? Sticky. In your face, in your hair, in your life, kind of sticky.
The question that I find myself asking, and the question that I think a lot of people of faith find themselves asking is, is this it? Is this salvation? Is this the best I can hope for in this life? I know I’ve been forgiven of my sins, but am I doomed to muddle through? Brushing off that clingy dog hair of my sin until the end of time? Is this as good as it gets? Forgiven by not free? Pardoned of sin, but still plagued by it?
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, they tend to talk less about needing pardon from sin, and more about needing healing from the plague of sin. They named it, what I feel it. The plague. I feel my own need, not only of pardon, of forgiveness, but of healing from the effects of Sin that have so misshapen my heart and my love. We are so wounded, are we not? Sin-sick, the consequences of living under our own lordship.
Our wounds, they are so abundant. The hunger for something that we cannot name that leads us to binge on all the wrong things. The fear that we are alone, that we are inadequate, that we are not enough. The insecurity, the sense that we are not loved as we are, and thus must ensure our place through power and assertion. The lack of satisfaction, no matter what we consume, no matter the quantity or the nature of our sexual exploits, satisfaction eludes us. Our loneliness persists.
And our sin-sickness sends us scrambling after a host of unholy remedies. If we are hungry, then more is better. If we crave physical satisfaction, physical pleasure, more is better and in whatever way strikes our fancy. If I’m afraid, I can fight back the fear with pleasure, or with walls, or with oblivion through endless, mind-numbing entertainment. If I am insecure, I can drown it out by shaming and controlling others.
It is painful to be confronted so starkly by our wounds, the wounds of our own making and wounds inflicted upon us.
But here’s the thing I have learned about God: God never highlights a hurt unless he is ready to heal it. God never shows us our sin without offering us a way forward.
So what is it? What is the way forward for us, sin-sick sinners that we are? What is the cure for this sin-sickness? For our selfishness, for our insecurity, for our fear, for our preoccupation with pleasure, for our insatiable appetite, for our ache?
The remedy for our sin-sickness is sanctification, being made holy.
Now, if you’ve grown up in the church, that word can carry some pretty major baggage. Like pay extra fees at the airport levels of baggage. At some point along the way, that word got hijacked and turned into something else altogether, usually a list of “to-don’ts.”
So let’s be clear about what it’s not.
Sanctification is not a magic wand moment where God bops you on the head like the Fairy Godmother of Cinderella and turns you into a sin-free, temptation-proof Disney Princess…or Prince as the case may be. Ain’t happening. Sorry.
But sanctification is also not a spiritual fitness program. Just work yourself into the ground with these 17 spiritual habits, and if you do it just right, BAM, you’ll have a spiritual six-pack in 90 days or less. (Works righteousness, anyone?)
No. That’s not sanctification. The call to holy living is not some other-worldly spiritual experience. It’s a current-reality promise. Sanctification is not a divine magic trick wrought upon us and it is certainly not a hardcore spiritual fitness program that we must stick to religiously (pun intended).
So what is it? What is sanctification? What is this holiness to which God has called us?
Sanctification is saying yes to Love. And Love has a name, Jesus.
Saying yes to Love changes everything. It introduces the cure to out sin-sickness into our system.
Love expels sin. When we continually say yes to Love, the sin that was crowding it’s way into our hearts, taking up at that real estate inside gets bumped to the curb. Love, soft and full, has moved in.
Love drives out fear, the fear that chokes us and drives us to behave in ways contrary to God’s design. Love strips away the fuel for fear’s fire.
Love creates boundaries, not to contain us, but to guide and correct us. Love clears paths for us to follow for our good.
The most amazing thing happens when we say yes to Love. When we say yes to love, we become more and more human, made holy and whole. We begin to embody holiness, the God-way of being and living in the world. We begin to live and love as we were made to live.
Like I said before, God does not call us to deal with something, to address wounds or confront sins, without providing the means of our healing. He is so faithful like that. This same God who has called us to holiness is the same God who gives us the Holy Spirit, the empowering , energizing, enabling Spirit of God, to live into that calling.
We are sin-sick, pardoned from sin if we have asked no doubt, but still plagued by the power of sin. But God in God’s generosity has offered us the means of our healing: sanctification, saying yes to Love, if only we will respond by participating in our own healing, living in the boundaries graciously provided to us by Love himself.
I for one am tired of the plague, fatigued by the plague, exhausted from brushing dog hair off my clothes at every turn.
Help me Spirit. Help me say yes to Love, yes today, yes tomorrow, yes for eternity.
Sanctification is saying yes to Love, and Love has a name: Jesus.