A few weeks ago I came face to face with a horrific, toddler-made mess that definitely made my list of top five worst messes I’ve had to clean up in my years as a mother (so far that’s 4 1/2).
My son, who is two, decided, very knowledgeably, to take down the bottle of baby powder and disperse it quite thoroughly, all over his thick, shag carpeted bedroom. It covered a pile of stuffed animals, some plastic toys, the leather chair that sits in his room, and the side table.
I thought for a moment about the most efficient way to tackle the winter wonderland disaster, and I confidently whipped out my brand new vacuum with amazing carpet cleaning abilities. Within the first several passes it became clear (ironically amidst a foggy cloud of dispersing baby powder), that this mess was going to take MUCH longer to clean than I had anticipated.
This evening, now two weeks after the original incident, I spotted powder residue along the creases of the chair cushion. I had to laugh a little. I also realized this baby powder fiasco is a lot like my heart.
When the Holy Spirit uses the surgical power of the Word to examine my heart, I often realize the mess within is much bigger and scarier than I assessed .
I’m embarrassed by just how out of control the dirt has gotten. I’ve spent my energy keeping things tidy on the surface and have grossly underestimated the layer of grime in my heart.
Confronting spiritual filth is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and time-consuming. It is easier to procrastinate dealing with disorder until it is unavoidable. We know perfection is impossible this side of heaven, so the temptation is to lower our standard and avoid striving too fervently for fear of falling into legalism. But when our hearts remain unrefined by the fire of God’s Word, then they are going to be as thick with sin as that shag carpet was with powder.
As early as Leviticus, God did not mince words about the unique and uncompromised calling of his chosen people. Being holy should be a priority for followers of Christ.
“You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.”Leviticus 20:26
By the unifying work of Jesus on the cross, God has made himself a people from many nations (not just Israel). As believers we are part of a people set apart to live according to the standard set by our Maker.
When Jesus comes He makes it clear that even on New Testament terms the expectations for the people of God are high.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out a standard that basically one-ups everything anyone had ever been taught about what God required of them. I’m sure you are familiar with the oft quoted phrase, “turn the other cheek,” which comes from Jesus’ words, “if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39). His point is outward conformity to the law (cleanliness on the surface) is not true obedience (holiness). We are called to a much higher standard. Jesus makes it plain when he says,
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:17,19-20
Jesus completely redefines the Christian life and raises the bar far higher than we could ever hope to reach. Then he summarizes the whole mountain sermon in one final command:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
As disciples of Jesus, our calling is clear. But we shouldn’t be discouraged! Rather than calling it quits, we have every reason to press on toward the goal because of the power of the Spirit that is at work in us through Jesus Christ!
Peter says it beautifully in 2 Peter 1:3-10
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.
This may be a hefty list of qualities to possess, but the good news is that His divine power and precious promises are what supply us with everything required for life and godliness— for escaping the corruption in this world.
We are called to strive, to “make every effort,” but as Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 15:10, it is “by God’s grace I am what I am…I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me.” This is one of the glorious paradoxes of the Gospel! We are working out our “salvation with fear and trembling,” yet it is “God who is working in [us], enabling [us] both to desire and to work out His good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13).
It is my prayer that we would be more and more cognizant of the divine power of the Holy Spirit that is available to us as we strive with all of His might to reflect the holiness of our great God.
Perfection doesn’t have to be a scary mandate, a taboo standard, or an unattainable goal.
“He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”Philippians 1:6
The burden doesn’t rest fully on our shoulders. Our heavenly father is the one who began the work of perfecting us, and he will complete it.
This good work of sanctification (being made perfect) should not be chased in order to earn right standing before God—that is something we can never earn. It was gloriously earned for us in Jesus. He is our salvation. It is in His resurrection power that we work.
The temple curtain was torn in two because the power and presence of God is no longer cloistered away for priestly access only. That transformative power is ours.
Let’s get to work, asking God to reveal those layers of dirt so we can harvest the joy that comes in being truly alive to God, instruments of righteousness, new creations! That we “may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom [we] shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
The more we rely on God to help us do the hard work of deep cleaning our hearts, the more we will shine amidst the filth and sin that surrounds us, and the more God’s name will be made great. To him be all the glory.