CHAPTER ONE: The Ruins*
You live in a broken, run-down house. You’ve been here as long as you can remember. You know nothing else. For a while you were able to at least keep it looking nice on the outside, but it’s always been falling apart.
The landlord seemed like a great guy at first. (2 Corinthians 11:24) He allowed you to skip rent. He let you host all the parties you wanted – he even helped fund more than one. Sure, your friends trashed the place, but you trashed theirs, so it all seemed fair in a messed up kind of way.
But you slowly realize that the landlord is a hard owner. You thought he was your friend. He isn’t. The landlord keeps promising that you will have a better house and a better life if you will just do one more thing: fix the roof, mend some pipes, hang new drywall, repaint, rebuild the foundation that keeps sinking further into the sandy soil. But all those things cost money that you don’t have, so you borrow money from the landlord. Nothing ever pans out. You end up spackling over holes in the wall and wrapping duct tape around leaking pipes, but you know your house is going down. (Jeremiah 19:13)
It doesn’t help that you are really sick. You feel as run down as your house looks. Maybe it’s the asbestos in the walls, or the lead in the paint, or the leaky pipes in the stove. There’s something toxic about this house. It’s killing you. But as far as you know, this is all you have. This is the only place to live. You hate the person you have become in the house you’ve allowed to fall apart.
Your house is in ruin. Your life is in shambles. And to make things worse, you realize one day that somebody is following you. Literally. He’s one step behind you everywhere you go. When you are finally able to catch a glimpse in a mirror, you realize… it’s you.
Not just like you, but a zombie version. You look like one of the Walking Dead. By the end of the day, he’s got a hand on your shoulder. The next morning, he drapes his arms around you and makes you carry him everywhere you go. He stinks. He’s dead weight. (Romans 7:24)
You call your landlord hoping he can do something, but he already knew. “Yeah, they always show up in my houses.”
“Who is it?”
“It’s you. It’s just the real you. The dead you.”
“Why did it show up just now?”
“Oh, it’s always been there. You’ve been dead for years. You just couldn’t see it. ”
There’s nothing you can do. The landlord doesn’t care. Most of your friends hang out somewhere else, and the ones that show up don’t know what you are talking about. They don’t see the dead you. They try to help do things like paint the siding that is falling off the side of the house. (Jeremiah 8:11) It’s tough for them to paint. They carry the dead with them too, and they don’t even know it.
CHAPTER TWO: Bring Out Your Dead!**
The next day a man, a stranger, walks onto the porch. “Bring out your dead!” he calls cheerily. (John 11:25)
You don’t watch Monty Python, so you don’t get the joke. “What makes you think there are dead here?”
“I can smell it on your breath; I hear it in your words (Romans 3:13); I see it in your eyes. Oh – and it clings to you like a monstrous burden. This house has killed you. Your landlord cracked the gas lines and installed the asbestos. Your landlord made sure there are no detectors for smoke or gas. Your landlord likes his tenants dead. But you were meant to be alive. (John 5:21) And I can get rid of that body of death and make this house livable.”
“How can I trust you?”
“Why do you think you even know that you are dead? You thought you were tired and sick. I showed you what was real. I opened your eyes. You needed to know. (2 Timothy 2:26) You can trust me because I bring you truth that will set you free.”
“Why not you? I care about you. I seek and save people and situations that seem hopeless (Luke 19:10). Plus, I would like to move into this house (1 Corinthians 6:19), and where I am, there is no room for death and ruin,” the Man said with a twinkle in his eye (1 Corinthians 15:55).
“Where would I go?”
“Why would you want to go?”
You sit quietly for a long time. Your father always said you got what you deserved and never helped with your house or your health. Your landlord pretended to be your friend while guiding you down a road to death. Your friends had taken their dead selves to their dead parties on dead city streets.
You look around at the shambles all around you. You remember the landlord’s harsh, condemning voice (Revelation 12:10). You feel the dead weight of your sins, failures and inadequacies on your back (Isaiah 43:24). You’ve never known anyone who seemed to care about you and your life. He offers a new start. He offers a new identity. He offers to make all things new (Revelations 21:5).
Finally you whisper, “I have no future. I have no hope. Everyone offers me death. There is nowhere else to go. You are the only one who has ever offered me life (John 6:68). So…yes. Let’s do this. I and my house are yours.”
The Man stands up and lifts my dead self off my back and onto his. “Well done. You have asked for resurrection, and I will give it. I’ll pay what you owe and get the deed to the house. I’ll be back in three days, because resurrection is neither cheap nor easy. But when I return, I will show you what life is supposed to look like.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)
You watch him until he is out of sight. You wonder what he is going to do with all the dead he takes upon himself as he walks through the town. Then you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
When you awake at dawn three days later, you know everything has changed.
CHAPTER THREE: ReBuilding***
You have a hard time believing the changes. No more debt. No more creditors knocking at your door. Now the rain stays outdoors and the plumbing stays in the pipes. Your front door actually latches now. It’s…amazing. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
But the Man – you’ve started calling him the ReBuilder - has a bigger plan than you realized. He wasn’t going to just uncondemn the house and sweep up the garbage. He is planning to turn your shack into a mansion. When he first told you, you said, “Awesome! Go right ahead!” But the ReBuilder smiled and said, “Not without you. It’s our house. We work together. You need to give yourself to this project” (Romans 12:1)
You’ve got nothing to offer once again, but the man is ready for that too. He gives you a blueprint and all the tools you need. He gives you a fund to draw from for building materials, expert advice and help, etc. Since he’s the architect, designer, builder and inspector, He will be available every day – leading, guiding, protecting, correcting.
But you have to set your alarm, get out of bed, put on the tools, pick up the lumber, swing a hammer, get splinters, and break and rebuild a few things. You are going to invest some sweat equity into this house (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Some days are better than others. You notice other houses in the neighborhood that are also being transformed by this… ReBuilder… and it’s easy to be jealous of other houses that look nicer– or proud of the ones the look less advanced. The ReBuilder just shakes his head. “Build your own house with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I’ll worry about the others.”
You get hurt; you get tired; you put walls at the wrong place and shoot yourself with the nail gun. You question the ReBuilder’s blueprint. You argue when He shows you something that is not up to code.
You sometimes think it was easier just to have the old house. You occasionally find your old landlord crouching outside your door (Genesis 4:7), wondering if he can hang out for a while. “Take a break,” he says. “Don’t take life so seriously.” Some days you actually invite him in and you hang out. It sometimes fun for a while, but it never ends well. You feel worn down again, almost as if your dead self was back, hand on your shoulder, whispering emptiness and loneliness into your ear. Your landlord always ends up roaring through your house, demolishing everything. (1 Peter 5:8)
But the Rebuilder helps you resist, and the old landlord has to leave. (James 4:7) More than once he has picked your sneaky Dead Self up by the collar and thrown him out on the street. You apologize to the ReBuilder when this happens. He hugs you. He doesn't yell (1 John 1:9). His forgiveness is a gift too (Ephesians 1:7).
But you have to spend days –even weeks - cleaning up the mess. You pick up all the stuff you can, and the Rebuilder gets the places you can’t reach and corrects the damage beyond your ability. He helps you make a plan to resist and avoid this situation the next time (Ephesians 4:27; 2 Corinthians 2:11).
There are some days you wonder why the ReBuilder even puts up with you. But he never leaves you on your own. He remains true to his word. He holds you to the code but patiently helps you when you miss the mark. He teaches you how not to shoot anyone with the nail gun. You know you are in this together, that he is for you, that he will restore you and help you even when you are at your weakest (Psalm 51:10-12).
So every day you arise and build, and you find increasing satisfaction in the affirmation of the ReBuilder and the pleasure of a job well done (Nehemiah 2:17-18; Matthew 25:23).
CHAPTER FOUR: ReBuilt and Alive****
It’s not all work. He fishes with you on still waters. You both shoot hoops at the YMCA and join friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for March Madness. Being around him restores your soul (Psalm 23) even while your callouses thicken. You realize that you are absorbing his ideas, his language, his priorities, his way of living life abundantly (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Others join you. Some bring their dead; some have been set free. Some still live in shacks; others are working with the ReBuilder on mansions. The Rebuilder welcomes them all. He didn’t come to condemn the dead to their bare cold shacks. He came to save them and rebuild their lives (John 3:17). You invite even more to hang out with you. (1 John 3:10)
And slowly but surely, your house is becoming a mansion (Philippians 1:6). You find that you easily congratulate others whose houses are flourishing, and you compassionately help neighbors who are struggling. The blueprint makes more sense than it used to. You look forward to your alarm clock. The old landlord still comes around, but more than ever you see through his lies (John 8:44). He rarely makes it past the bottom step of the porch. Your Dead self stays on the sidewalk.
You notice a neighbor starting to work on his house. He looks miserable. You take him some water one hot, miserable day (Mark 9:41) and find out he found a blueprint. “Oh,” you say, “Did you meet the ReBuilder?”
“No,” says your neighbor. “Why would he want to help with my house? It’s horrible. I am going to fix it up enough so the ReBuilder will notice. I think I can make mine nicer than yours. Once I make it good enough, I’ll be ready for the ReBuilder.”
You say, “This isn’t Field of Dreams. This isn’t, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ It doesn't work that way. Put your tools away. Stop trying to do it yourself (Isaiah 64:6). Unless the Rebuilder builds it, your labor is useless (Psalm 127:1). It’s making you angry and annoying your neighbors, and the next big storm is going to put you back at square one.” (Matthew 7:24-27) He returns to his works. His Dead Self turns and smirks at you as you walk away.
You find that, the longer you work with the ReBuilder, more than a few note that you are starting to look more and more like Him (Ephesians 5:1). You are humbled and encouraged; your friends used to comment on the eerie similarity between you and your former landlord (John 8:44; 1 John 3;10). This is much better.
“But,” they say, “what’s with the ongoing work? You told us this was a gift.”
“Working side by side with the ReBuilder is also a gift,” you say (1 Corinthians 1:9). “I don't deserve to be his apprentice. Who am I to swing a hammer on this house? Who am I to cut expensive trim, and build a strong chimney? I brought nothing to this project, but he gives me everything I need to build great things (Colossians 3:1-12).
“ He has given me far above what I could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). I just wanted to know Him and understand what kind of person gives grace to the failures and life to the dead (Philippians 3:10). I just wanted to be near him and be like him. And then all these things,” (here he waved his hand to show his house, his tools, the work of his hands, the campfire where he sat with his friends) were added unto me (Matthew 6:33). This, my friends, is what happens when obedience responds to grace. This is life” (John 10:10; Romans 8:12-14).
Among other horrible things that happened during Bible times, captive soldiers were sometimes forced to carry a dead body until the rot of the corpse killed them. The Roman poet Virgil wrote: “What tongue can such barbarities record,
Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword?
Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled. Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined;
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay,
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!” Commentators note that, when Paul was looking for an analogy about how much he hated the part of him prone to sin, he most likely built from this image when he wrote:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24)
Christ sets us free from that dead weight that’s been killing us. Why? Because He can, and he loves us. We just need to ask. Then we are set free from that body of death. Here’s how Paul explains it in Chapter 6 (beginning in verse 2).
"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin… "
Sanctification is Spirit-driven obedience as an act of worship.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
But a living sacrifice wants to get off the altar sometimes. That old body of death is hanging around.
“On the one hand, I serve the law of God in my mind; but on the other hand, the carnal side of me follows the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)
This is an image for the process of sanctification. Initially, we are set apart (sanctified) when we are justified by Christ. It changes our identity. We are no longer spiritually dead, enslaved to sin. Now we are alive and renewed. In an ongoing manner, the justified person who submits to God's will is becoming conformed to the image of Christ. Colossians 3:1-12 gives a great description of how the process takes place:
“Since you were raised from the dead with Christ, aim at what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think about the things in heaven, not the things on earth. Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. Christ is your life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory.
So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. In your past, evil life you also did these things. But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you.
This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. In the new life there is no difference between Greeks and Jews, those who are circumcised and those who are not circumcised, or people who are foreigners, or Scythians. There is no difference between slaves and free people. But Christ is in all believers, and Christ is all that is important.
God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
See this tension? Though we are freely justified, we still have some work to do. Fitting the mold of goodness doesn’t come naturally. God will continue to do a work in us through the Holy Spirit, but there are some things we do as well. We see this tension other places in the Bible as well.
- God works in us for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
- God helps us bear good fruit (John 15:4).
- God equips Christians to do his will (Hebrews13:21).
At the same time the Bible also states:
- We must work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12).
- We work to supplement our faith with virtue and good works (2Peter 1:5-7).
- We commit to abounding in the work of the Lord (1Corinthians 15:58).
Justification is a declaration, but sanctification is a process.
"We died to our old sinful lives, so how can we continue living with sin? Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ when we were baptized? We shared his death in our baptism. When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life… We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin... “ (Romans 6:2 and following)
Baptize meant to "put into" or "immerse" so that the thing baptized takes on the properties of the thing into which it was baptized. Garments were "baptized" in dye so that the garments took on the color of the dye. Cucumbers were “baptized” so that they became pickles. Christians absorb the righteousness that comes from Jesus’ death and resurrection. But part of devotion is making a choice about to whom you will offer yourself.
“Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him. In the past you were slaves to sin—sin controlled you. But thank God, you fully imitated the pattern of our teaching. You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to goodness.” (Romans 6:16-18)
This “pattern of our teaching” refers to melted metal cast into a mold and conforming to the impression that is sunk or cut in the mold. They used to pour themselves into sin, and they conformed to its pattern. Now they are choosing to pour themselves into the truth about Christ, and they conformed to it. They looked like goodness.
"If we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him…You should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive with God through Christ Jesus. So, do not let sin control your life here on earth so that you do what your sinful self wants to do. Do not offer the parts of your body to serve sin, as things to be used in doing evil. Instead, offer yourselves to God as people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used in doing good. Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law but under God’s grace." (Romans 6:1-8; 11-14)
“To live” in something was to be wholly given to it. An ancient writer, Aelian, wrote: “The Tapyrians are such lovers of wine, that they live in wine; and the principal part of their life is devoted to it.” Not only do we soak up righteousness (which is a passive word of transformation) We can be wholeheartedly devoted (an active verb).
Building on a previous definition, Sanctification is Spirit-empowered obedience as an act of worship in response to grace. When we see our righteous works as responsive worship to a God who so deeply loves us, our obedience, our righteous acts, become a profoundly personal expression of trust in God. Conformity to the image of Christ follows commitment and obedience. We aren’t obedient in order to be justified; we are obedient so we can increasingly enjoy the life we have been given in and through Christ. Sanctification reminds us:
- We need renewal and transformation all the time. Be humble.
- What we choose to do matters. Be purposeful.
- God does not coerce; God invites. Invite others.
- God’s Spirit and ongoing grace are vital. Be dependent on Him.
- A sanctifying God loves unsanctified people. Extend this grace to others.