“I only want a little bit of steadiness!”
This was me six years ago: desperate, wailing to my pastor and his wife. I was a baby Christian and it felt like every week was a new high or a new low. Not only was I tired from struggle with miring sin, I was also exhausted with the constant watchfulness of a person who has been entrapped often by false truth. I was tired of being so simple and immature that anyone could say almost anything to me and I would feel my emotions and ideas swaying.
Like a reed in the wind. Like a swimmer during hurricane season.
My pastor laid this passage of Scripture out before me that day:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:11-16, emphasis added).
“This is the goal for you in your sanctification,” said my pastor. “You will not be a child forever. You won’t be tossed to and fro by the waves forever. You won’t be carried about by every wind of doctrine forever.”
I wanted to be a full grown Christian, someone with steadiness of purpose and steadiness of faith. But I couldn’t see my way forward. How could I get there? How could I generate maturity out of thin air? Faith out of thin air?
The questions I was asking had to do with sanctification. Sanctification is God’s promise to us, his commitment to us when he adopts us as his children. It’s a commitment to make us holy like his Son, and to not quit until the job is done. “And I am sure of this,” says Paul to the Philippians, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
It’s a promise he will keep despite our sin. For by sending his only Son into the world to live, die, and rise again, the Father has blotted out our sin and broken its power. The Son has removed all the barriers that kept us out of God’s family, and expanded that family to include you and me. Our sin cannot thwart God’s promise of sanctification—God has foreseen it and dealt with it.
It’s also a promise he will keep despite our weakness. “Likewise,” Paul wrote once to the baby church in Rome, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). What could be weaker than a person who doesn’t even know what to ask God for? We can’t even pray right. We don’t even know what we need—how can we ask for it? But that’s the beauty of being God’s adopted children and being gifted with his Holy Spirit. This promise is the birthright of each of us, the adoptees: he will actually ensure our growth. He’ll ensure that we ask for what we need—or that he himself (the Holy Spirit) will intercede and ask for us. Either way, we shall not want.
Whether planning, purchasing, or applying—God has entered into every step of the redemption process, and this process is one that he cannot abandon. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) Or as Paul says later in the same chapter, “And I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). And of course, all of this blood-bought security is built on the golden chain of redemption Paul has just laid out:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30).
This is a promise for steadiness. This a promise that God will be the motor under the bus that takes you from swimmer-in-hurricane-season to tree-planted-by-streams-of-water, yielding fruit in season.
He gifted us means for our transformation into fruitful trees. He gifted us the church, for one, which is the garden where Christians grow best. We’re trees that need roots, trees that need ordained gardeners serving under a Master Gardener. This is for a purpose—he intends to make us over into full grown men and women, who look and act and love like our big brother. We’ll attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” He wants to make us as grown as he is.
Then we will no longer be blown around. Our strength as men and women will be rooted in our knowledge of God’s goodness; this kind of knowledge is the knowledge of mature faith, not easily shaken by words or pain.
“We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” and the church body that we are universally part of will “grow so that it builds itself up in love.” This is a description of something that will happen, not a description of what ‘should happen, if everything goes well’. It WILL happen, because God has WILLED it.
Our steadiness is not just a hopeful pipe dream. It is a reality, the longer we abide in Christ the Son.
Six years after moaning those wishful words about steadiness, I can look back on the growth of five years and see God’s faithfulness so clearly. I worried, at times, that all I saw was steadiness arising from life circumstances. After all, if one has good things like job, family, home, and food, why wouldn’t that person see fruit that looks like the fruit of the Spirit? Imitations of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control could easily arise when somebody gets what they want in life.
Like a brick wall, my life has been surrounded by merciful scaffolds of safety—husband, home, work, children, parents, church—and at times, I’ve wondered whether my felt security, my steady hope in Christ was only a felt security in these human institutions. But here is the Lord’s gentle mercy to me: even amongst the gift giving, he has pulled different blessings away from the structure he is building in me. It has been Christ’s pleasing mission to show me himself. When I doubted my security, he has gently removed pieces of scaffolding, so that I can see the brick wall, unmoved and still under construction, but growing in sturdiness.
My church feels untrustworthy to me for a season. My joy in marriage is temporarily dimmed. My work gets shut down by writers block. He uses these times to show me what he is building, beneath the scaffolds. Rather than feeling rocked by waves, or blown by winds of strange doctrine, I feel the unchanging work of his construction.
This is what he intends to do in all of us, every one of his children. Beg him, ask him, plead with him for steadiness. And I am sure of this: he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.