Hi. I’m Joe.
I grew up under the guidance of godly parents and belonged to a good church. From childhood, I saw Christian service modeled all around me. My context facilitated spiritual vitality.
I’ve walked with the Lord for almost twenty years. I’ve been involved in ministry on and off since high school, serving in staff positions for just over seven years collectively.
I have a Master’s of Divinity degree with a specialization in Christian Thought, and I’m three semesters into a PhD in theology.
By this point in my life, I expected to be further along spiritually than I am. But I still don’t always get it.
I still forget that grace exists, that God is not just the justifier but also the sanctifier of our souls.
I still forget that growth in godliness comes not by my own effort but by my submission to the Spirit.
I still forget that God is sovereign, that he is good, that he is love.
I still forget the lessons I thought I’d mastered, still make mistakes I thought I’d overcome, still fall after years spent learning how to walk.
I still forget that sanctification is an ongoing process.
Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification, the growth in godliness ranging from the moment of redemption until the end of a believer’s earthly life, may be compared to a purifying fire. Proverbs declares, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). God disciplines his people for their good, showing his love by his reproof (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:3-11). Because he loves us, he makes us holy.
I used to assume the sanctification process resembled a test in school. You had to study for the test, spending more time on some lessons than on others. The studying might be difficult, stressful even. But you eventually got past the test. You would prove your proficiency and would set aside that material, moving on to other subjects and different lessons. But sanctification isn’t quite like that. While some lessons feel new, many lessons feel like repeats. God opens my eyes to areas in my life where I need growth, and I feel a bit of a sting as a recognize the study material from past seasons. Despite how much I’ve done, I haven’t completed the lessons. I still have more to learn, more to understand about my soul and my sin and my God. The process is not complete, and, no matter how far I’ve come, I’m still far from finished. And I think that’s alright.
Paul expresses confidence in God’s ability to complete the work begun at salvation (Philippians 1:6). As Scripture shows over and over again, God will not forsake his people. He remains faithful through our weakness and failure and unfaithfulness. So we can follow him boldly, our hope secure in his goodness. We can trust him to continue and to complete the sanctification process in our hearts. And we can rest, knowing that he is continuing to test us, mold us, and sharpen us for the work of the kingdom. He does indeed cause all things to work together for good for his people (Romans 8:28). We can remind ourselves of his promises, confident that they remain true in spite of our forgetfulness. We can persevere in doing good, knowing that our labor for him is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9). And we can find joy in our trials, trusting that he is using them for our good and for his glory (James 1:2-4). Though the road may be difficult and our slow progress may be discouraging, let us take heart that none of it is in vain.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Andrew Peterson wrote a song that describes these thoughts and feelings far better than I could. Check out “After All These Years” to hear his reflections.