I grew up in the church, and never remember a time when I wasn’t a believer. My parents tell stories of me trying to evangelize the kids walking down the street when I was too young to go to school with them. Our two years of Bible study (known as confirmation) during junior high weren’t empty ritual for me. My religious compartment was strong and meaningful to me.
Age 16 was the first time I realized it was a compartment. I was with youth from around the city, and a speaker who I can still remember made the comment, “There’s no such thing as a Sunday Christian.” Really? Who knew? That was the first time I consciously remember inviting God’s love to transform other parts of my life rather than just spiritual activities like going to church and reading the Bible. When I was 18 I was leading our high school youth group on a national youth trip to San Antonio, with the theme, “In Christ A New Creation.” The verse from which the theme comes, 2 Corinthians 5:17, immediately became my life verse. I could look back over the last two years and see powerfully ways in which I had become a new creation – particularly in my love for other people (and myself). Ever since then, that’s been my first go-to verse when someone suggests a favorite.
Brief pause for some preaching – my current favorite way to describe sanctification is that it’s the process of God shining light in more and more compartments of our lives. We all compartmentalize to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s conscious – “God, you can have my morning quiet times, but what I do with my money is my business.” Other times they’re blind spots that we aren’t even aware of, places in our thoughts, words, or deeds that have been largely unexamined, where our old untransformed life still rules.
Back to my story. Transformation/sanctification became conscious at that conference at age 16. It was thrilling on my 18th birthday to look back and see tangible progress. That process continued through college, largely because I was intentionally exposed to Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds, rather than just my own. Looking back now, I can see plenty of remaining blind spots – but more and more compartments were being transformed by the light of Jesus’ love.
Until seminary. Where compartmentalizing was actually taught. And where most of my time was spent on a head trip, and that 18 inch journey to the heart was hardly encouraged, if not outright discouraged. And I’ve come to see ways in which my spiritual slumber continued significantly despite bursts of light at regular intervals.
Enter life verse part 2. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT) "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. The huge crowd of witnesses is what helps us discover our blind spots – when we’ve built relationships with believers different from ourselves, our maturity grows dramatically. I was quite familiar with the “sin that so easily entangles us” part, but it was the “weights that slow us down” part that caught my attention dramatically recently. It doesn’t have to just be outright sin: any morally neutral thing that is stealing time and energy and affection, that becomes a go-to place that should be occupied by God and God alone – those have to be stripped off. Those compartments have to be exposed. If we aren’t growing toward fewer and fewer unexamined compartments, then we’re at risk of tripping up in greater and greater ways.