Yesterday, we heard about putting on the New Man and the work of sanctification. In Colossians 3:12-17, St. Paul gives us more detailed advice for how to put on Jesus Christ.
I believe that God is the Creator of all and that Satan can only corrupt. I imagine Him looking at what God has just ordered and saying, “I’ll have the opposite.” For every fruit of the Spirit that God gives, Satan offers a rotten counterpart.
Therefore, when we find that we are struggling with doing the works of the Old Man, the antidote is to put on the New Man by putting on the fruits of the Spirit. If you have a problem with pride, put on humility, and pride must flee. If you have a problem with worry or anxiety or agitation, then put on the peace of God. And if you are not content in life, then put on thanksgiving [how appropriate at this time of year!]
I don’t think that we as Christians and churches do a very good job of teaching people how to do this. We expect that sanctification will just happen. But the sad truth is that what “just happens” in this life is that if we don’t actively seek God, we will slowly drift back to our “default mode” of serving self.
To me, the secret of sanctification is found in Colossians 3:14 and 3:17. “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
When I attempt, even by faithfully asking the Lord for His help, to attack the sins in my life, I find that the Enemy is crafty. A typical scenario is that the Lord brings to my attention one particular sin that is in the way of my relationship with Him and others. I concentrate on that particular sin. I set up a 24-7 sentry and spend the next few days standing at attention.
And then Satan attacks with a different sin that I wasn’t looking for, and suddenly I have a two-front war – or more. What happens when there is too much to work on at once? I don’t believe it is usually wise to concentrate on more than one or two specific things in the spiritual life at a time, lest they are not properly planted and rooted.
I find that two simple rules that end up being one are what keep me focused and make sense out of sanctification.
The first is the commandment to love (Colossian 3:14.) In the Old Testament, there were 613 laws for the Israelites to keep track of. Some of these would have been so embedded in the culture that they would have become automatic. But it must have been difficult to keep track of all of them and make sense of what God was really after. Jesus tied them all together when He repeated the first and second greatest commandments: to love God and to love neighbor. Every one of those 613 commandments related to either loving God or loving neighbor (which are intimately related.)
If we could cultivate the habit and fruit of love, then all of our other works of sanctification would be easier, because love is “the bond of perfection.” Whatever other commandments there are, they are summed up in love. Seek God by seeking love, which is the good of God and others, and you will be putting on the New Man.
As a young boy I had heard many times about how I should love and how important it was. I remember actively meditating on ways I could actually love, but often being unable to think of anything. I remember once when my Mom was temporarily overwhelmed one day. At the end of a string of unpleasant events, she had dropped a porcelain dish. God put it in my heart that though I didn’t know what to say to her, I at least could quietly go and clean up the broken dish, as a gesture of fellowship and love. That one incident stuck with me and helped me to always be on the prowl for a way to act in love.
The other secret of sanctification is to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (verse 17.) Again, for years I had little idea of how to practically do this. In fact, there are many, but the one that I have found the most effective for myself is to make it my goal to turn to Jesus with every new activity in the day. When I get up in the morning, before I eat breakfast, before I sit down to write Give Us This Day or my sermon, etc., I try to pray that God will bless my activity and be with me in it. I try to allow even insignificant events like taking a shower or going to the bathroom serve as reminders to me to turn to God. I have been doing this very imperfectly.
I like numbers: they make sense to me. A motivator for me, a sort of ascetic training wheels, is to write down a little tick mark every time I have consciously turned to my Lord throughout the day. This encourages me to do it again, and it helps me to build a habit.
I find that this practice of doing all things in the name of Jesus ties together all my other attempts to work on not getting so aggravated with the kids, for example, or with the burdens of being a pastor. When God blesses me, I am now more ready to return thanks. Regardless of which direction the Enemy attacks from, I am more ready for him. I also find that it ties together all of the other, more formal, times that I turn to Him: Holy Communion, evening prayer with the family, Give Us This Day, and grace before meals (which itself is a form of doing all things in Jesus’ name.)
Another name for this means of putting on the New Man is “praying without ceasing,” or, in the title of a famous book by Brother Lawrence, “practicing the presence of God.”
However we choose to pursue this practicing the presence of God, we need to be seeking love and to be doing all things in the name of the Lord. If we do this, we will not only have put on the New Man who is Jesus Christ, but we will also have put to death the Old Man.
Prayer: Lord God, I ask your help in putting to death the Old Man within me. I know that only You can do this for me and ask that You give me more of Your Son, the New Man, that the Old Man might die. Give to me today Your love and peace, and give me a thankful heart. Finally, bless whatever means I have vowed to use to do all things in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to find one practical way that I can cultivate the habit of love or doing all things in the name of the Lord. There are many ways to begin doing this, but I will choose one that suits me. It may be beginning every activity with prayer, meditating on a Bible verse throughout the day, the habit of thinking about God as you do your work, cultivating the habit of love in your heart, or any habit that will serve this holy purpose.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson