Who are the great ‘followers of God’? Who are the people setting the pace for godliness? Who do we esteem and venerate as the ‘giants of the faith’?
It’s the people who obtain PhDs and publish books …right? It’s the folks wearing suits and showing us quantifiable versions of piety …right? It’s the people who show no signs of sin …right?
True sanctification emanates from thoroughly accepting the fact that, even though you’re evil, you’ve been accepted by God. God’s paradigm of true sanctification is revealed in His story about the two sons. The son who defies the father, and wanders off to indulge in wickedness is the one showing us THE WAY OF SANCTIFICATION. Not that God is saying, “Deliberately sin so grace abounds,” but God is emphatically insisting that we embrace the fact that “He has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.” The wicked brother returns home palpably aware of his wretchedness and perversion; and he is received by his father with the sentiment, “You are my son with whom I am well pleased.” This makes us nervous (and it makes some of us gravely concerned). We are scared that such a story might cause people to think that God commends sin! It is a profound mystery, and we must be clear about the fact that God absolutely hates our sin, and at the same time we must wholly receive the eclipsing and supplanting fact that God is pleased to save evil people via the exclusive imputed perfection and infinite atonement of His Son (2 Corinthians 5:21). The other brother in the story cannot fathom that he has been evil; he utterly rejects the idea that he has been consigned to disobedience in order that he might marvel at the staggering and scandalous mercy of the father! The older brother is indignant at the mercy of the father (like Jonah 4:1-4), and he anchors himself to “a strong sense of justice”; “righteously” insisting that to attend his brother’s ‘welcome back party’ would be irresponsible and displeasing to God. We intuitively agree with the older brother’s position, and we instinctively believe that the statement, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased,” is reserved for him. But we are absolutely wrong in this assumption.
But hasn’t the older brother been wronged by his younger sibling? Hasn’t the wayward sibling left his brother high and dry? Could it not be argued that the brother who stayed suffered abuse and abandonment at the abrupt absence of his self-indulgent sibling? Sure, all of that is true, and these are the primary reasons the victimized older brother refuses to embrace the grace and mercy of God. The older brother knows not the personal guilt and shame of the evil criminal, and therefore the older brother remains aloof and detached from grace.
We have a voracious appetite for talking about how we’ve been wronged. But how do we feel about the fact that we wrong God and others? We police and punish others with our criticisms, but how do we feel about the fact that we ourselves are criminals? When it comes to our criminal history we employ a twofold strategy of hiding and penance. We do all we can to keep our crimes from ever being exposed, but occasionally our depravity manifests so flagrantly we simply cannot keep it under wraps; and then we proceed with penance.
What if – when caught in our crimes God commanded us to come to Him as children? What if, instead of demanding reparations, God decreed that we desperately depend on Him like nursing infants? What if, instead of berating us, God sang songs of elation over us as His treasure? What if, instead of wallowing in shame and guilt, God insisted that we embrace the fact He loves us no matter what?
What if we seriously considered what it means to thoroughly accept God’s commitment and command in Isaiah 66. God commands you to rejoice and be glad (Isa. 66:10). Perhaps it is intuitive for you to rejoice in things like summer vacation, Ted Lasso, craft beer, vintage wine, home renovations, “being right”, dinner with trusted friends, and accomplishing personal goals; but bear in mind that – in Isaiah 66 – God is commanding a people with a stout and sundry criminal record to take up rejoicing even though they’ve committed heinous crimes! The inclination for people like us (i.e. criminals) is to attempt penance …rejoicing feels inappropriate and reckless to us.
However, our impulse toward penance is ruled completely out of order, and is absolutely eclipsed by God’s edict that we become like nursing infants; partaking of consoling breast, drinking deeply with delight from God’s gloriously unmerited promises (Isa. 66:11)! God compares us to infants, but unlike infants we have long-since ceased being cute and cuddly …our treachery against The Maker and our track record of gross selfishness suggests that seeing ourselves as helpless babies might be offensive and abhorrent to God. But God knows our depravity far better than we do, and nevertheless He insists that we embrace His offer of parental peace – nursing, being carried upon hip, and bounced upon knee (Isa. 66:12). Can you imagine a well-dressed, highly-educated, religiously-elite Pharisee actually accepting the invitation to nurse and be bounced upon God’s knee like a needy, playful, baby?
Here’s what’s crazy… We feel like it’s irreverent and inappropriate to actually accept what God is saying to us in Isaiah 66:12-14 and Zephaniah 3:16-18. We feel like God is being too generous, and a truly “religious person” would humbly decline such lavishness. But here’s the deal, God’s not asking …He’s commanding. And if ever we are truly religious (in the best sense of that expression) …if ever we actually walk in the way of robust sanctification – – – > it will be the result of having first whole-heartedly embraced God’s command to become like children!