How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison, Free for CAPC Members
David Powlison dispels the myth that there is a “key to sanctification” and then lays the biblical groundwork for spiritual growth.
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is my go-to prayer-song on my morning commute. Without fail, it makes me cry, even as I sit at a light before driving into an L-shaped parking lot shaded by trees and a tall brick building and walk into work.Perhaps hashtags, righteous anger, piles of stones, watchtowers, and Ebenezers aren’t man-made testaments of our outrage for God to remember where God intervened but the way God asks us to remember: this is the world without me.
Perhaps I cry because the line “streams of mercy, never ceasing / Call for songs of loudest praise” brings to my mind the power of grace, the way it washes dirt and sin away, causing me to weep like Mary Magdalene did at Jesus’s feet. Or maybe it is the beauty, wonder, and other-worldliness there is in this life that punches me in the gut as I recite, “Teach me some melodious sonnet / Sung by flaming tongues above.”
Or maybe it is that line “Here I raise my Ebenezer” where I feel my heart tighten up and my vision goes blurry. The lyric touches the sore spots in my soul, the wounds, the testaments to the ways God has worked in me, fought with me through struggles big and small, battles won only by his divine intervention, by raising Ebenezers.
From years of listening to sermons, I know that Ebenezers in the Bible were stones that the Israelites constructed to mark significant battles and places where God met his people. There’s the pile of stones by the Jordan River that the Israelites built after God parted waters for the second time. Abraham and Isaac built altars and Ebenezers all over the desert to mark places where God spoke or made promises. Jacob and Laban built a pile to be a watchtower between them when they parted ways. The prophet Samuel built Ebenezers before the Israelites and the Philistines went to battle.
Ebenezers, then, are de facto monuments to mark occasions when God shows up. And today, Ebenezers are everywhere, thanks to the digital age and social media. The year 2014 was named the “Year of Outrage”—a year we trusted that God showed up again and again. Terrorists attacks, kidnappings, disease, missing planes, and all forms of injustice. So far, 2015 is turning out to be much of the same. It is hard not to look on Facebook or Twitter or Buzzfeed and not see a hashtag and a new outrage that spirals our emotions into the swirling winds of unrest, tragedy, sorrow, and confusion. Outrage, online outrage—is it a sign of help, an Ebenezer? A cry for hope and for intervention, preferably godly, preferably fast, and preferably soon?
In December 2014, Slate posted a good roundup and analysis of the “year of outrage.” Katy Waldman, in her post “‘Outrage’ is not ‘Rage” writes that “Outrage [is] the subjective experience of being furious at something that crosses a perceived line. Outrage, the shocked or indignant reaction, spontaneous or calculated. Outrage, the pickup, amplification, and acceleration of that expression on social and traditional media. Outraged: one answer to the question of how to be” in this current day and age. Paul Ford writes in his piece “Outrage and the Endless Thanskgiving that “cultural gaps and chasms that previously we never crossed we now cross by default, all the time.” The ability to have information and news at our fingertips and in our pockets has made it easier to cross boundary lines in all senses of the word. Geography no longer inhibits us. Proper emotional reactions no longer inhibit us. Awkward, painful, bullying conversations usually reserved for tense family gatherings (what Ford calls “endless Thanksgiving”) happen any time one opens the comments section on an article. We read of boundary lines crossed in all parts of the world and society on social media and our phones. We then cross lines again when we react with an email, Facebook share, or retweet.
God, show up here. Here’s an Ebenezer.
Ford also writes in his piece that “online anger is hardly new, and plain old anger is even older.” He is right. Anger is not new. Outrage is not new. There was outrage in ancient times and in ancient Israel, too. Instead of internet sharing and rants and clickbaits, ancient peoples and prophets usually reacted by going to war when outraged. In Judges 20-21, we read about one such account.
During the time of Phinehas, (the head Levite priest two generations away from Aaron, Moses’s brother), there was a certain polygamous Levite whose concubine (or secondary wife) returned to her father’s house due to a quarrel. The Levite goes on a journey to win her back and wins her back and the happy couple embarks on a journey home. They unfortunately stop in a town called Gibeah and the “men of the city” want to “know” the Levite in the biblical sense of the term. The Levite sends out his wife to them instead and when he wakes the next morning he finds her dead from gang-rape.
It’s an ancient variation of the 2012 bus rape in India. The Levite, in outrage, cuts up his wife’s body and sends the pieces of her limbs to the twelve tribes of Israel. In response, enraged, the nation of Israel assembles. The tribes call for the men who committed the atrocity. The tribe of Benjamin refuses to hand over the men responsible and Israel goes to war. Hundreds of thousands of men from the eleven tribes of Israel fight against a couple ten thousand left-handed Benjamites. The battle is fierce. The Israelites win, but only after the Ark of the Covenant comes to their aid and after they appeal to the Lord for his judgement. It’s a gruesome civil war; the Israelites don’t want to fight their own but don’t understand how they cannot. How could they not respond to such an outrage?
With the battle won, there is remorse. Israel has almost destroyed one of their own tribes, another outrage. They decide they can’t let the tribe of Benjamin die out, but then they don’t want to give their daughters to them to repopulate. To solve the dilemma, they decided to abduct hundreds of virgins from one town that didn’t show up to fight and give the virgins to the remaining men of Benjamin. Abduction of these virgins, involves killing everyone in the town: mothers, fathers, friends, little brothers and sisters, and, yes, babies. Outrage upon outrage. Defending the honor of the nation via military action to massacring citizens, Israel proclaims loudly its fickleness.
Thousands of men killed in battle over the rape of one woman. An entire village destroyed for virgins. Whether outrage in 1100 BC or outrage in 2015 AD, there’s physical and emotional torture at the nonsensical actions and injustice. I start throwing stone after stone onto a new Ebenezer, turning my face up to the sky, asking God, “Why? Are you seeing this?! Did you see that then?”
Stone. Stone. Help. Stone. Help us, Jesus. Lord, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus, and have mercy.
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21). And I realize my outrage isn’t the only outrage.
Perhaps hashtags, righteous anger, piles of stones, watchtowers, and Ebenezers aren’t man-made testaments of our outrage for God to remember where God intervened but the way God asks us to remember: this is the world without me. This is the world without me as King. I am the Lord your God, and I am outraged. To remember what God wants us to remember about this world—and about who he is.
“And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The nature of God is such that he wants us to arrive safely at home with him. It is his good pleasure to have us home, even if it meant his son had to die, too. The concubine, the virgins, the virgins’ families, the soldiers: how many people have had to die because of the folly of this world?
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
And that is perhaps why I cry in my car on my way to work. God’s nature is such that despite all the wrong, he still is working to bring us all home. He calls us to be a part of that work and he gives us that hope that we will one day get there.
There will be more outrage tomorrow. There will be another #FreddieGray or #Garissa, Kenya or conflict in the Middle East. There will be another #SandyHook and another #Ebola-like epidemic. And more tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. Yet we know that there will be an end to human depravity. We know who wins in the end, who will cross and uncross all the boundaries, who will reign with justice, mercy, righteousness, and compassion. In the meantime, let’s pray, sing, cry, and do the hard work of building the Kingdom: “Here’s my outrage, O take and seal it, / Seal it for Thy courts above.”
Image by Neil Williamson via Flickr.
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