Excuse me, your Gospel zipper is undone

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The “middle” part of your salvation, what theologians call “progressive sanctification,” is more important right now than either justification* or glorification*.

Go ahead. Label me a heretic. It’s okay. You can use the hashtag #BenReedTheHeretic.

image via Creation Swap user Mirian Trinidad

It’s all talk

We tend to talk a lot about the beginning and end of salvation.

We love to (rightly) look backwards and remind ourselves of our sin and our story. Remind ourselves of our beautiful Savior.

We also love to (rightly) look forwards with hope, anticipating eternity in heaven.

But the most important part of your spiritual growth is not in looking back. It’s also not in looking forward. It’s in what you’re going to do now. 

In looking back on who Jesus is, what He did, and growing to understand his love and grace more doesn’t propel you to live differently, what good is it? ** If this dreaming back doesn’t leave you more generous, loving, forgiving, and full of grace, then has it done anything?

Looking backwards isn’t as important right now.

 

In looking forward with great hope in the second coming of Jesus, to the day when there will be no more tears or crying or pain, doesn’t mean you take more faith risks, then you’re just an idle dreamer. If you’re not consistently breathing hope into the life of others with your forward-reaching dreams, if you’re not progressively becoming more loving, more gracious, more hospitable, and less bitter, then what good are your mere daydreams? They’ve become a sort of twisted self-pleasing fantasy.

Looking forward isn’t as important right now.

The Glorious Middle

What’s important right now is the “glorious middle,” that part of your salvation that’s overlooked because it’s not sexy. It’s sexy to talk about what’s coming. It’s sexy to talk about what has passed. But what’s now is what we’re all experiencing, the doldrums of existence on earth. It’s picking the kids up from school. It’s being late for work. It’s getting sick. It’s dealing with loss and pain. It’s being financially strapped. It’s dealing with difficult relationships. It’s not ever having enough time.

It’s in those, shockingly normal activities, to which Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) How do I know that Paul’s referring to the mundane, everyday life here? Because he follows this command with, “Do all things without grumbling…” (Philippians 2:14) Nobody grumbles about heaven. Nobody grumbles about the great sacrifice Christ paid on our behalf. Either of those will get you kicked out of a deacon’s meeting faster than if a couple of poker chips were to fall out of your pocket.

Think deeply on who Jesus is, the depth and filthiness of your sin, and the glorious forgiveness that God offers us in Christ.

Think deeply on the promised life to come, eternity spent in the presence of God.

But don’t neglect the “glorious middle,” the glorious, yet unglamorously normal life that God has called you to right here and now.

That’s more important.

Don’t leave your Gospel zipper undone.

* justification – the moment when God declares you “just” before him, as a judge declares a criminal just and free. This happens the moment you place your faith in Christ.

* glorification – this will be your nature after death, where you will be made whole for eternity, in heaven with God.

** I’m not advocating salvation by works here. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone. I’m talking about ongoing, progressive sanctification.

 *** image via Creation Swap user Mirian Trinidad

 

 

Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Joey Reed

    Glad to see this emphasized. Methodists hammer on it as “sanctifying grace” and put it in line after prevenient and justifying grace (the grace that prepares and the grace that provides forgiveness, respectively).

    The humdrum run of discipleship before we enter into eternity is all too often de-emphasized. Thanks for bringing it back to the forefront!!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      “The humdrum run of discipleship before we enter into eternity is all to often de-emphasized.” Amen!

  • http://www.the-white-stone.blogspot.com Brian Owen

    Your post is timely, as I was talking about this very topic in my men’s group this morning.

    I wonder if part of our problem with ignoring the “glorious middle” is partly due to how we define the gospel.  When sharing the gospel, we talk about the past and the future but we often neglect the present:  the gospel is reduced to having your past sins forgiven so that you can go to heaven when you die…all wonderfully true…but the word gospel means “good news” and news is information about the present…i.e.  I watch the evening news because I want to know what is happening right now.  

    The gospel is an invitation to an eternal kind of life that begins right now and goes on into eternity.  It is an invitation to trust Jesus, not simply trust what he has done (die on the cross for our sins).   It begins with trusting what he has done for us on the cross and continues with trusting him as our leader and teacher.

    When I understand and explain the gospel this way, there is a much more natural connection to discipleship and sanctification.  These days, I find myself becoming more and more evangelistic about discipleship.

    Why wait to go to heaven when you die when you can go there right now?  You can begin to experience an eternal kind of life before death, not just after death.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Good thoughts, Brian. I don’t separate the Gospel from evangelism OR discipleship. It’s the thread that runs throughout, the meat of both. 

      I love your approach…making sure to emphasize the Good News (present tense) when you’re sharing your faith. Love that!

  • Kyle Barton

    Salvation is a continual process that encompasses our entire Christian experience.

    1 Cor 15:2- being saved
    Heb. 2:11- being sanctified
    2 Cor 3:18- being transformed
    2 Cor 4:16- being renewed

    Sanctification involves all the mundane things of life IN WHICH we
    experience and enjoy Christ’s saving life. It’s not a default that we
    will be experience sanctification. As you point out, we need to work it
    out by cooperating with the inner operating God.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Well said, Kyle. I agree.

  • http://www.nosuperheroes.com Chris Lautsbaugh

    Very well said. Too often we try to compartmentalize every part of life. We cannot separate the present from what Christ did. It’s our very reason for obedience and love. We cannot discount the hope to come, it gets us through the less than stellar times on earth. The Bible did not compartmentalize life and neither should we You presented the issue well, affirming both the past and future, but challenging in the present.
    And you had a stinking great title! Well Done

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Haha…thanks Chris!