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Part 5: Becoming Complete in Christ

 

Here you are, sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a motel conference room taking notes. The presenter is offering good material, no question. But you really want to be back in the office. In-service training is required in your line of work, so you're staying with it, trying to absorb the new material and hoping you can pass the test at the end of the day.

You have to admit that the day is not wasted. Just the same, you dislike the thought of doing this every six months. You have your degree. You've been promoted three times in the past five years. Is this in-service training business really necessary? Is the cost and the time worth it?

This question has occurred to many employees. And the same question, in a way, has probably occurred to thousands of good Christians: After being accepted by Christ, is there really any need for supplementary training?

Justified and Ready for Translation

Let's review our Christian life. We've learned that Christ can deliver us from wrong-doing and guilt, that He can bring peace to our troubled lives, and that He will forgive our sins unconditionally if we confess them. We are deeply grateful that His death on Calvary provides a new life for us now and eternal life in the hereafter. We follow Paul's instructions to crucify our carnal natures, and we publicly declare that we've died to sin by being baptized. When we arise from the waters of baptism, we enter "newness of life." This experience of faith puts us right with God. We're justified! We're ready for translation! Is there really any need for "an advanced degree"? Does the Bible speak of anything more in our Christian experience? Yes, it does!

One of the goals that God has set before us as Christians is: To invite Him to restore in us the image of our Maker. The Scriptures urge us to grow. With a focused purpose we are to engage the Holy Spirit to guide us in becoming like Christ. To illustrate, let's take a look at two common experiences in modern life: (a) clinical trials and (b) in-service training.

Clinical Trials in the Christian Life

The purpose of clinical trials is to advance medical science and thereby improve everyone's health. They consist of sets of tests that are designed to assure the value and safety of a proposed drug, a diagnostic method, a therapy technique, or a medical device. Participating in a clinical trial involves inconvenience and distress. Side-effects, such as pain, nausea, or loss of sleep may occur. The demanding schedule of "treatments" involves dedication and perseverance. Whether the results are positive or negative, they benefit humanity by adding to scientific understanding.

When my optometrist found that I was developing wet macular degeneration, he sent me immediately to a retina specialist. There I was given the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. I reviewed the protocol carefully and agreed. For two years I received eye injections (either the standard drug or the experimental drug) at no cost to me. I was delighted to help at the frontier of medical research on sight-robbing macular degeneration.

Clinical trials in the Christian life consist of facing hardships, experiencing loss of family and property, and confronting the temptation to think wrong and to do wrong. They test our perseverance in keeping in step with the Spirit. If we've bought into the purposes of our Master, we soon see that He is fashioning in us the character of Christ. If we cooperate fully, the results are always positive.

As Moses rehearsed the Lord's purposes for the Children of Israel at the close of their forty years of wandering, he reminded them of their clinical trial: "Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments" (Deut. 8:2).

Peter wrote concerning clinical trials: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. . . . If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name" (1 Peter 4:12-16). Two values stand out: (a) sharing in Christ's sufferings and (b) glorifying God.

Our commitment to God is comparable to my commitment in the clinical trial. Right after baptism, our Father allows tests to come to us to see whether we are committed to Him. Before we gave our lives to Christ, sin had dominion over us. But now we are dead to sin. Our Father wants to see whether we will soon recognize this fact: we cannot depend upon our own strength to live for Him, but must rely wholly on Him. Will we call on Him to help us develop resistance to temptation and to the inclination to sin? Will we cooperate with Him in bringing our characters into full harmony with His character?  "For they [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10).

In-Service Training in the Christian Life

In-service training is usually arranged by an employer and occurs during regular work hours. Its purpose is to increase employee skills. If the training is sound and you apply what you've heard, you have just become eligible for a promotion (whether your employer realizes it or not!). If you have bought into your employer's goals, you receive a great deal of satisfaction as you apply what you've learned. You and your co-workers are producing better results!

In-service training in the Christian life includes (a) setting aside quiet time each day to commune with God and meditate on Bible themes, (b) asking Him to apply what it says to your life situations (lab work), (c) praying with and for others, (d) worshiping and praising God with others, and (e) teaching others the Word of life. If you've bought into the purposes of your Master, you receive a great deal of satisfaction as you apply what you've learned and begin to experience victories for Christ.

In explaining how Christians work together to build up the body of Christ, Paul wrote that spiritual gifts are given "for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. . . . We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph 4:12-15).

Christ Is Looking for Volunteers

The Christian life is voluntary. Yes, the Holy Spirit seeks us out, pursues us, and pleads with us to walk with Him. But, in the end, we are free to choose. Those who respond are volunteers. All along the way, we choose voluntarily to gain new spiritual skills (in-service training). We choose voluntarily to accept hardships, disappointment, and temptations (clinical trials) that God allows to reach us. Always we choose. Jesus says, If you will; and we answer, Yes, I will, or, No, I'd rather not. Choosing, volunteering, is plainly portrayed in these words of our Savior: "'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23). That is, If you want to follow Me, if you want to be my disciple, you will need to volunteer to change your schedule and alter your wish list. You will need to be ready to bear burdens and suffer shame. Truly, to gain from in-service training and clinical trials requires more than that first commitment at baptism.

"If," He said. He is looking for volunteers. If we covenant with Him to continue walking in newness of life, He will provide the conditions necessary for growth. The agreement says that if we choose to engage in a clinical trial, we must meet our appointments. We must approach the experiment with dedication and sacrifice and obedience. What He did for us, He asks us to do for Him. What He is for us, He asks us to be for Him.

When I began the pharmaceutical clinical trial, I covenanted with the researchers to offer my eyes for two years. I made a fully informed choice. I committed to receiving about 50 injections on a strict schedule. To use the language of holiness, I set myself apart for a special purpose.

Our spiritual growth is not completed by one initial choice, one initial promise, one initial commitment. Sinners that we are, we hear the Spirit calling us to repentance and cleansing every day. In response, we come to the Source of grace again and again throughout our lives. We dare not deny our condition: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8, 9).

Results That Add Value to Christ's Inheritance

We can prove that sin-prone human beings can indeed show that the plan of salvation is effective. The spiritual in-service course consists of His "precious and very great promises." The result is that we become "participants of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:2-4), That experience addresses the goal of our Father: "To invite Him to restore in us the image of our Maker."

Through the grace of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our minds, we may become one of the assets in Christ's inheritance. Our part is to continue consecrating ourselves to God hour by hour and day by day. We can be sure that each in-service training course we take and each clinical trial we engage in will bring us closer to having the character of Christ reproduced in us.