Degrees of Glory

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the certainty of where our story ends. There are ups and there are downs in the Christian life, and some of the highs are really high and some of the lows are really low. Just as your plane of vision changes while riding a roller coaster, sometimes we get confused on where we’ll actually end up, afraid one of those dips may not pull up in time to avoid disaster. How comforting, then, to look to the Word of God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that every one of us who belong to Jesus will also be made like him in the end. We can know this because sanctification is ultimately his work anyway – work that he has promised to do. Here are a few passages.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). There are some loud theological words in this passage that raise some important questions, like, “What exactly does ‘foreknew’ and ‘predestined’ mean?” But for this writing, these pursuits are not the point. The point is this – if you a believer in Christ, you will ultimately be changed into the likeness of Jesus. It is as sure today as it ever has been, regardless of what your recent or not-so-recent experience has been. It’s up to him, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is not constraining, it’s comforting.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). Everyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit (Rom 8:9). And if you have the Spirit, life is yours. There are no surprise endings.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). The Holy Spirit is God and brings freedom everywhere he goes, and your person is no exception. We all are becoming more like Jesus, from one degree of glory to the next. Progress may be unsteady from our wavering perspective, but it is as certain as the Word of the Lord. How do we know this? Because “it comes from the Lord.” Who, in case you forgot, is the Spirit.

“And I am confident of this: that he who began a good in work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). You have a role to play in your sanctification. You are to battle the flesh and “let not sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:11). God equips you “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). But in all these things, never forget that it is God who began the work. And it is God who will finish the work.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). The Shepherd takes care of the sheep, and he’s never lost any. Not even one.

“We eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). If you trust in Jesus, you are included in that “our.” By his own authority, Christ is going to make your sin-filled body like his sinless, perfect body.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life” (Rom 3:22). This is the clearest of all, perhaps. Man I love this verse. Easy and beautiful observations: 1) Sanctification has an end. 2) That end is eternal life.

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). The “Golden Chain” of salvation. This verse is sweet sweet sweet. It means that salvation is an inextricable web, a work of God from start to finish. No one has ever begun who has not finished. There are no exit ramps on the highway of salvation. You will arrive safely at glory.

All this is to encourage you and let you know that even though the struggle hurts, it doesn’t go on forever. If you’re at the top of the spiritual stratosphere right now, take the time to encourage another believer. And if you’re in the midst of the struggle, know that the struggle has an end. And, because of the grace and lovingkindness of God toward you, you will win. Until then, keep seeking that next degree of glory.


Losing Leverage

Anyone who has lived with their eyes open long enough to see clearly has lived long enough to witness one human being (or group) taking advantage of another. It is an undeniable symptom of a sinful nature that we will use as leverage whatever we can to gain advantage over another. “The rat race,” “keeping up with the Jones,” call it what you will – apart from the sanctifying work of Christ, life is an endless jockeying for position against your opponents fellow person. And the teaching of Jesus is diametrically opposed to this system. Jesus did the opposite, although if anyone ever had the right to use their station to their advantage, it was he. But instead of considering his station something to be LEVERAGED, he made himself nothing (Phil 2:6-7). It is impossible to understand this apart from the Spirit’s enablement. That’s why “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Cor 2 :14).

And while people have used anything they can get their hands on as leverage against others, I can’t think of anything that has been used more than race, economic station, and gender. In every injustice, far more often than not, the criteria that garnered undeserved discrimination has been the color of someone’s skin, their economic freedom (whether monetary status or freedom itself), or their gender. In America alone, we’ve seen all three of these in the last 150 years. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not white. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not free. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not men. If you find this history (and, in some parts of the world, present reality) to be repulsive, the word of God in Galatians 3:28 will be particularly delicious to you.

Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” You can strive all day long until your days run out to gain leverage over others, but nothing you get can gain you a single thing in your standing before God. All that ultimately matters is your standing in Christ, in whom there are no racial distinctions, economic distinctions, or gender distinctions (as it pertains to justification; concerning practical daily living, many of these distinctions are imperatively kept, as evidenced by Paul’s addressing each group one at a time in Scripture). Salvation comes by faith (Eph 2:8), not by leverage or coercion.

The Jewish man once proudly prayed a prayer each morning thanking God that he was not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. He literally thanked God for his worldly leverage over other people groups. To this, the gospel of our Lord says, “No more.” In Christ, there is no such thing as racism, no such thing as slavery, and no such thing as sexism. Rather, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11).

Christians hear all the time that the Bible inflames hate toward certain segments of the population. Groundless charge, I’m afraid, since the Author of the Bible created and loves every segment of the population. His acceptance is free, and his salvation is no respecter of persons.

Life is not a rat race. It is the race (2 Tim 4:7), won by Christ’s effort, not ours.


Read It Like You Should

It is commonplace for 21st-century Western Christians to over-spiritualize certain realities that should be a part of every believer’s life. Particularly as it pertains to everyday living, we don’t often read the Bible as literally as it’s meant to be read and applied. We often dumb down the events of the Bible into bite-sized principles (which can be a good thing!), but sometimes in doing so we lose the ‘realness’ with which the text should be understood.

For a case-in-point, take four short words from 1 Corinthians 15:31:  “I die every day!”

Now this is not Paul’s literal, earthly death; it is obviously less that that. Yet it is far more than just a general attitude of humility. Just because Paul is talking about a psychological reality instead of a physical one doesn’t mean his words are automatically figurative. A comfortable, Bible-belt Christian will read these words of Paul and understand “dying every day” to be the casting aside of one’s own agenda and adopting Christ’s agenda instead. Or distancing oneself from sinful desires, enduring that struggle painfully if need be.

These are accurate interpretations, to be sure. Dying every day certainly entails replacing one’s own personal agenda with that of Christ, and it certainly refers to a necessary attitude of humility in the daily life of a believer. But it refers to a heavier psychological reality than that alone. Remember, Paul had been shipwrecked, beaten, cold, naked, whipped, stoned, and hungry. He knew what it meant to be in need (Philippians 4). And when he says “I die daily” it means that he stared death in the face every morning and accepted it for that day. Not just by an attitude adjustment, but by a complete lack of concern for himself in light of his responsibility as a follower of Christ did Paul accomplish what he did for the eternal Kingdom of God.

Echoing the realness of Paul’s outlook is the story of a young British missionary who sailed from Liverpool to the African coastline many years ago. As he left the ship that had taken him from Liverpool to Africa, he boarded a coastal tugboat and told the captain his destination – a fever-infested region where he would spend the rest of his life. The captain, a local who was well-acquainted with the dangers of such an excursion, cynically looked at the young man and said, “If you go to that place, you will die.” Looking right back at him, the missionary replied, “I died before I ever left Liverpool.”

Christians, when we read and apply the Bible with the full weight of its power, our lives will be transformed and we will begin to carry out our purpose with the urgency that such a high calling demands. Don’t allegorize or over-spiritualize the directives of the Word of God – they are more literal than you think.