Well, if you made it past the title then you are a brave soul. Lent is not a wildly popular topic among anti-liturgical evangelicals (though there are plenty who are sympathetic), and sanctification is a very theological word that either means confusion or frustration for many. So, congratulations, welcome to the party.
I was thinking about this yesterday and I wanted to bring it up briefly to do what we, in my Pentecostal denomination, call testifying. A testimony is a kind of self-revelatory offering to the world made by a person who is either in need of healthy exposure or is filled up with something that is already spilling out. Perhaps I fall into both of those camps at the moment, but, at the very least, I need to open myself to allow what’s inside of me to breathe.
I have observed Lent for the last few years by choice. I don’t believe I’ve ever attended a church that brought up the season of Lent, or that encouraged (or discouraged) its practice. I have not grown up in a high church tradition and so I’ve been more apt to hear about the “laying on of hands” than the “liturgical calendar”; and I say that not out of spite or frustration, just as a matter of fact…I’m not unhappy with the church tradition of my youth, I am merely offering context.
I’ve enjoyed the Lenten season, it has been a beautiful time of reflection and concentration for me. I know many churches that do some sort of corporate fast at the beginning of the calendar year, and I think that is great and it has its own points of benefit and merit, but for me, the fast that leads up to, and then culminates in the Easter celebration of resurrection and new life helps me to focus and really wring out the benefits of the fast. So, with all that being said, the simple reality that has weighed on my mind the last three days is this: I’m not the same as I was forty days ago.
I experienced no definitive sign from God through this period. There were no bushes burning, donkeys talking, angels singing, or theophanies of any kind. I had some intimate and tangible experiences in prayer, read some great books, finished my Bible reading plan, and made time for contemplation most days. However, none of those things are really very different from my regular, non-Lenten days. I am a firm believer in spiritual disciplines and so I don’t have to re-vamp my habits for a specific season of life. Basically I’m saying that there was no benchmark, watershed, or clinching moment of transformative brilliance during Lent for me. I didn’t climb the mountain of transfiguration and shine brightly for a season. I didn’t watch long-standing walls fall before my eyes. I found no specific example of tangible, touchable, or tactile metamorphosis during those forty day. And yet…
As is with much of Christianity, this is hard to explain. And maybe it’s not that it’s hard to explain as much as it’s hard to understand. It is two very different things to know that a seed, when watered and sunned, explodes into the beauty of a root and shoot, and then to know exactly how it happens. To know that a thing has taken place, or even that it will take place, is one type of knowledge. To know how that thing that is going to happen will functionally work, how the result will be wrought, that is an entirely other type of knowledge.
On Monday, the first day after the season, I didn’t feel different and I didn’t have any kind of different thoughts. But I was different. some of the things that I had given up, that were not evil in any way, held very little sway on me. I wasn’t really interested in “exercising my regained liberty”. It’s not that I was being super-disciplined, pious, or holy it’s just that I wasn’t the same. Again, there was no light switch or explosion that brought this about, just the slow steady work of the Holy Spirit. We in the church call this sanctification.
It occurs to me now, a few days removed from Lent, that sometimes sanctification is not needed as much to purge sinfulness, though it does, but for re-calibration. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven much of what He said had little (often nothing) to do with rules or deeming some action legal or illegal in God’s judgment. Much of what Jesus had to say dealt far more with how His kingdom was recreating the world. His miracles attested to this as He recreated the world one person at a time. One death reversed, one set of eyes opened, one gnarled leg straightened, one contagious skin condition cleansed, one by one by one. Though these were supernatural acts of God the messages that accompanied these miracles were far more earthy. He spoke of a world where wealth wasn’t defined by a coin and sin wasn’t defined by a deed. There was a different way of seeing things in this new kingdom, truly it was the way that the King saw things that became of first importance.
Jesus came, not only to forgive sins, but to begin the process of re-setting things to their proper state. Similar to dealing with an electrical problem, the Son of Man came not to curse the darkness after the storm as much as to find the world’s electrical panel and start flipping the tripped breakers and turning the lights back on.
There are things that we do in the dark, and I’m not referring to sinful things here. I have two small children, and that means that at any given moment my house can greatly resemble an obstacle course. When I get up, early in the morning, it is dark in the house. I don’t turn the lights on because sleeping people aren’t too fond of that, so as I try to navigate the bedroom and hallway I move slowly, I walk with short deliberate steps feeling in front of me with my feet to make sure I’m not going to crush a sippee cup or destroy a baby doll. I’m not walking improperly, I’m just walking inefficiently. What Jesus did, in part, in the first century, and what he did in my life throughout Lent this year, was not as much about dealing with sinful practices or problems as much as it was about turning on the lights so I (and the world) could move in greater freedom and with greater efficiency.
I almost feel forced to add this caveat: God still deals with sin, His ultimate mission isn’t merely to allow sinful people to walk in the light proud of their sin. I’m not reducing the work of God here, I’m merely talking about one aspect of it.
Sanctification, for me, is exactly this process. Because of God’s silent work in me, flipping the breakers in my heart and mind, I am different than I was. I was just as saved and passionate 44 days ago as I am now, it’s not the salvation or passion that has changed, it’s me. I feel as if a part of me has been re-formed (not reformed).
My encouragement, friends, is this, silence doesn’t mean inactivity. In some seasons of life we are changed without knowing we are being changed, and it is only in the aftermath that we realize we are different. This is why we do the things that we do. The silence of Saturday always gives way to the glory of Sunday’s resurrection.