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.
I’m a people watcher. Not in the creepy way—more in the vein of the observer at the edge of the crowd. This is why I love airport layovers. With nothing but time to wait, I can watch fellow travelers as they rush to catch a connecting flight or as they pass the time with their amusement of choice. I gather scraps of data and string them together with fictional details to create a complete—albeit fictional—story.We may run from death’s certainty, but thankfully, death is not the only certainty of this life.
As I do so, a prominent thought is the brevity of life. Morbid, perhaps, but each person’s story, while unique, has one connecting truth: Every one of us will one day face the last page, the closing paragraph, the final word of the story we are living. This common end is the very thing that drives us in our living and binds us together with the same fate. Whatever story we are currently living—whether it’s one of plenty or want, sickness or health, success or failure—will end the same. Death comes to each of us, with no partiality. This certainty is no consolation though. We run from death and pretend it doesn’t pertain to us or those we love. At least, that’s what we do until death inserts itself into our living and forces us to acknowledge its existence. Death’s party-crashing ways are detailed in a new InterVarsity Press book by Russ Ramsey, titled Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death.
This is no sideline perspective, like the ones I partake in at airports. This is Ramsey’s personal encounter with affliction and death after a bloodborne bacterial infection attacked his mitral valve sending him into the early stages of heart failure. Struck is written in real-time narrative, detailing his diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, divided into four parts: Part 1: Affliction (Month 1); Part 2: Recovery (Months 2–5); Part 3: Lament (Months 6–22); and Part 4: Doxology (Months 23–24). Ramsey describes his aim:
I want to interrogate my affliction. What happens when a person stands at the edge of their mortality and looks out into the eternal? What happens when a doctor tells a man he is dying? If that person believes in God (which I do), what will become of his faith? Will the spiritual premises he trusted as dependable foundations all those years earlier suddenly fail? Will he require certain personal outcomes in order for his faith to hold? And if so, is that even faith? Or is that nothing more than a house of cards too easily toppled by the winds of suffering?
Does Struck deliver? In short, yes. Ramsey speaks bluntly of fear, pain, frustration, doubt, bitterness, self-pity, and sorrow that are an avoidable part of illness, part of living lives that eventually, certainly, lead each of us to death:
My affliction has provided something people rarely possess—objective data that my heart is failing. But in truth, my position is really no different from anyone else’s—not when it comes to the question of our mortality. The only real difference between us is that certain pieces of information about my current position in this world are known. But no one is promised tomorrow. Some of the very people who are afraid of losing me might well be taken from this world long before I go. Who is to say?
Yes, who is to say the length of our days? This the mystery each of us runs from as we bustle about our lives, just as I see in the airport microcosm. We may run from death’s certainty, but thankfully, death is not the only certainty of this life. God’s love and grace and mercy are greater still, and perhaps more pronounced in the face of suffering and death. We need to hear from those, like Russ Ramsey, who are facing reality head on, eyes fixed on the greater Reality. Struck gives us a lens by which we can live out these days that march us toward the certainty we can scarcely bare to acknowledge. Ramsey’s story gives us courage to look beyond the first reality of death to the greater reality of God’s very real presence that goes with us every step of the way. His presence in sorrow, in fear, in death, gives us courage to keep on.
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