You are Going to Fail, Make Mistakes and Fall Because You are Human; Some Thoughts on Evangelical Sanctification

This post is inspired by a phone call with a friend yesterday. I have been meaning to write a post about sanctification for a while. If you read this and you are human I have news for you…the reality is that at some point in your life you are going to fail and make mistakes. But when you fail look at it in the long term perspective.

“True love does not only encompass the things that make you feel good, it also holds you to a standard of accountability.”

Monica Johnson

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

John F. Kennedy

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first[a] to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

Yesterday I was out driving around when I got a phone call from a close friend. I love this guy a lot and think highly of him. Due to the nature of this post I am not going to mention his name. He wanted to ask some questions about pornography and accountability, and for a while we discussed the situation. We also discussed sanctification. That brief aspect of that conversation inspired today’s post in means of talking about failure, sanctification, and legalism.

 

You are Going to Fail Because You are Human

I have news for you if you are reading this…you are going to fail. You are going to make mistakes. This will happen because you are human. For each person that failure will play out differently. These are some examples that I want to highlight:

  1. Some of you are going to struggle with alcoholism and deal with that issue in your life. Some of you may be dealing with the effects of a DUI. And you are seeing it cascade and affect your job, losing driving privileges, and more.
  2. Others of you will make bad financial decisions and incur deep debt, max out your credit cards and have difficulty paying your rent or mortgage for a whole host of reasons.  
  3. Yet others of you will deal with adult pornography and have issues with this in your life. One or two of you may be fired for looking at pornography at work as that happens.
  4. In addition others of you will have serious anger issues that will create problems in your family and friends.
  5. Another factor is that some of you may be dealing with drugs or prescription medicine abuse. This is a major issue today.
  6. Others will have an affair and cheat on your husband or your wife.
  7. Others of you will deal with a food addiction and be morbidly obese and find comfort in overeating.
  8. Maybe none of those above apply, but you may be a workaholic who has become addicted to your job and slaving away in the situation. You don’t know how to say no to your company or your boss and its creating issues in your marriage.
  9. Maybe some of you are dealing the affects of bad relationships. For example maybe you married the wrong person when you were too young. Maybe in other situations you are single and in an anxious drive to be married got into a bad relationship.
  10. One or two of you out there accidentally got pregnant and out of being scared had an abortion in secret. You have never told anyone about this issue.
  11. Others out there maybe be picking people up in bars or nightclubs and you have hidden that from others in your life.
  12. Some guys out there are wrestling with their sexuality and may pick up someone at a gay bar or arrange for a sexual encounter over the internet.
  13. For some parents you may have been too fundamentalist and your kids are rebelling and rejecting your parenting.  You drank the Kool-Aid, and  you were hyper-legalistic and now your kids are reacting to that and you’re thinking to yourself, “What have I done?”

I go through all these different scenarios to say this…you are broken and you are sinful. In all of the above scenarios no one planned for any of that to happen. Who planned to become an alcoholic? Or a pornography addict? Who planned to make such mistakes? If you have not made any mistakes now…I say this from personal experience and in watching other people. You will make mistakes. Things will happen because life is harder, broken, and fallen far more than many churches have taught. Many people do not know what they are capable of in their life. People can be capable of incredible evil or making wrong moral mistakes. In my own life I am not perfect…I am fallen. Its hard for me at times to write some of what I have because I think of some of the stuff I did in college, or even this morning and I think…”who am I to write this?” But I write all this to say the following….your time is coming. You are going to make mistakes in your own way. For each person it is different and I believe its one of the reasons why we need God. Bottom line we’re sinful.

Another Way to Look at Repentance

When you fall and make a mistake what you need to do is repent. Tell God of your mistake and if necessary tell others. I approached 140 people because my faith crisis was so “violent” that I knew I had to approach people who I hurt and seek their forgiveness. There are two main problems I would suggest with repentance today. The first one deals with how churches teach repentance and the second deals with the fact that other churches are quite legalistic about it and use it in a crushing manner that paralyzes a person.

In the first example many churches don’t teach repentance today so people don’t know how its done. They don’t realize how freeing it can be and what is necessary and how repentance is a part of life. Repentance will vary for the situation and the person. It depends…for example if your sin directly hurts another person like adultery then that will involve repenting to your partner and friends who may be hurt. The more serious the situation the more key repentance is to healing and becoming whole. But I offer this key distinctive that I think much of evangelicalism has forgotten and lost. Repentance is not meant to be legalistic, it is not mean to be overwhelmingly difficult. Repentance needs go along with grace and this gets into my next point.  Those churches that stress repentance use it in a shameful and controlling way. Lets be honest…if you have made a mistake chances are you are living in your own prison. You are living in your own hell. You don’t need to have a necklace of shame or legalism placed on in addition to that, this is a major problem in other parts of evangelical culture. In these circles repentance is meant to keep you in the position that you are in and often to drive you away. This can happen in environments that are very controlling and extremely pastor-centric. Your sin should not be the end of you at all…if anything as a Christian it should be the gateway to new life when you say, “God I am sorry…will you forgive me” and you work on doing the right thing.

But to make repentance work it requires a community that needs a lot of grace and a lot of mercy. Repentance should also be looked at in the process of sanctification which I will get into below. But I am trying to offer something that is remarkably different and more helpful than what many churches are teaching or more importantly not teaching.

 

The Danger of Legalism

Legalism is a major issue in the evangelical Christian church. I would suggest its grown more with the resurgence of a fundamentalist view of reformed theology. But the truth of the matter is that legalism appears in all different forms all across the spectrum. One of the major forms of legalism can be accountability. I say this for the following reasons. One accountability often means putting power and control in one person’s hands. One person can have an awful lot of power and that alone can be intimidating and create immense problems. The other issue is that the person who has power…how is he kept in check? What measures of accountability does he have? I am writing about this in particular as I reflect on the phone conversation I had yesterday. I am still thinking and trying to find a way forward in so many areas. When you have been burned, or fried trust is a difficult thing to gain again. It takes time and it takes patience. But I will also say this…some people get so burned and fried that trust is permanently  destroyed. One additional thought, be careful about programs, I would also say this I think many evangelicals are addicted to the word addiction. Not everyone is addicted to everything. To throw that word around so loosely ensnares many people. For those who truly are addicted it also downplays the serious nature of their addition.

But getting back to accountability, if I were to try it here’s what I would do.

  1. Have communication open both ways and be working together.
  2. Shower the situation with grace in such a way that some people may think you are enabling. Bear with me when I say this because that is not the point. I want to present some thoughts on sanctification below which will help reveal the need for more grace.
  3. Show patience in the end and think of the situation from a long term perspective.
  4. If you are the person running the program share your failures and problems in your own life.

Its hard for me to write about some of this because I have such a bitter taste in my mouth based off past church experiences. But I write this to maybe give some perspectives and some additional thoughts. I write all this to lead to the last point which I believe is to be the most significant.

 

Life Long Sanctification

My views of sanctification have changed completely due to my faith crisis. In order for some people to grow in the Christian faith some are going to have to leave it, find themselves, fail and then come back. Isn’t that that what the story of the Prodigal Son is about? Leaving and then in the course of time coming back? Many evangelicals have bought into the idea that sanctification happens instantaneously. I think such measures reveal that people don’t realize how sinful mankind can really be. When it comes to sanctification I would present the following:

I would suggest that the healthiest thing the church can do is look at sanctification from a long term, life long perspective.

Sanctification is going to happen over a person’s life time. The reason I say this is because we are sinful and we will always sin. One day I will be in a nursing home 50 years from today and even when my body has wasted and I may have possibly lost control of my ability to walk, etc… even then in my dilapidated state I will still sin. I will still think thoughts I am ashamed of. I will still get angry. I will still make mistakes. But change happens over time and change takes a lifetime to occur. But I also think its important to remember the following. Life is harder, more difficult, filled with more pain and hardship then many people ever want to acknowledge. I hate to say this but reality is hard and the sooner people face it the better off they will be in the long term. In the process of sanctification remember this as well. Each person is created by God intimately and wired differently. The fact that each person is created differently really is a marvel of what God has created. Each person has their own way of responding, their own way of thinking and their own way of processing information and growing. No two people are alike. Cookie cutter approaches dishonor and create problems in the long run as each person is different. Ministry can not be a one size fits all approach. To do that I would suggest really dishonors the Lord. In each case people are different. What do I mean? Some people will go 5 steps backward before going 2 steps forward. Some people will grow in one area and develop problems or issues in another area. Some will go 10 steps forward and take 2 steps backward.  Others may have years of failure before they start to grow. The point I am aiming for is that each person is unique. The real key I believe is to walk beside and love them as they go forward. Don’t abandon or walk away from them. For some people sanctification also may include jail time for certain individuals. I am actually thinking of how Chuck Colson benefited from that and what he was transformed into as a result.

For my friend who I spoke to the other day I hope this helps you as you embark in a journey in your community. I reflected a lot on this before writing it, and I have wanted to do a post on issues with sanctification for a while. In a conversation yesterday I realized now is the time and I wanted to get my thoughts in cyber space to allow you to think, chew, and consider. As always I invite push back and am open to differing points of view. Again, I love you guys!

8 thoughts on “You are Going to Fail, Make Mistakes and Fall Because You are Human; Some Thoughts on Evangelical Sanctification

  1. May I say what an excellent post! A refreshing change from those who endlessly look at what’s wrong, especially with others, but never move on to trying to get some solutions or change, that is, be positive and encouraging. Negative warning and positive upbuilding, discernment of what’s wrong and enablement to be righteous are both needed, but the balance is not always maintained.

    It’s true you looked at varieties of human sinfulness, but didn’t leave it there but discussed sanctification or holiness, which is something positive to cultivate. Indeed without it, no-one will see the Lord.

    If you had been brought up in the UK and its evangelical scene, the word ‘accountabiltiy’ would have been conspicuous by its absence, and I often wonder quite why there is such an emphasis on this in American blogdom when the word doesn’t occur in the NT itself. Well it does occur in that leaders are accountable to God, and we are likewise accountable for what we say, but being accountable to each other as believers isn’t there, unless I’ve missed it somewhere.

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    • The sad reality Ken is that while people in the pews often have to submit to accountability in so many ways, many of the leaders are exempt. In the US I would suggest we have accountability backwards in so many ways. Often what happens is that the people are hammered while the leaders are let off the hook. It’s sad. I believe if you are going to be a leader you should be held to a higher standard. I write this from the perspective as a guy who pops up at church from time to time and sits in the pews.

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    • Thanks EJJ I wonder if many evangelicals place so much pressure on themselves that many are miserable and frustrated. Many I believe forget that sanctification happens over a lifetime. What makes it more difficult is that many people listen to testimonies and walk away frustrated, and disillusioned especially after hearing someone talk about how they “conquered sin.”

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      • Before he got snowed under with work and effectively stopped blogging, JMJ over at Christian Monist often wrote about how the Fundagelical dogma of “Instant Total Sanctification” upon Being Saved(TM) could really mess you up, individually and collectively.

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