Anxiety In The Church: Instant Sanctification

The word “commitment” is dangerously ambiguous between a historical act and a present state. Like “Giving your (Whatever) to the Lord”, it is anthropocentric language, making Fallen Man the agent and God the passive recipient. This has to make the new convert worry that he has done it properly.

At the same time such language must necessarily evoke the long road of Sanctification. For who can Give his Life to the Lord all at once? If surrender to God was within Man’s power, he would not require salvation from outside in the first place. Furthermore, many sermons and exhortations in the community are also about surrender, submission, commitment, letting go, putting your life in God’s hands, self-dedication and a host of other phrases all saying how this must be done anew every day. This is necessary because God is demonstrably not in complete control of the convert’s life yet, nor, probably, of anyone’s. In this sense, therefore, whatever else may have happened when he “Gave His Life to the Lord”, he did not give his life to the Lord!

What probably happened on that day is that he did the best he could; that, in another and far more responsible idiom, he “Invited the Lord into His Life”. The invitation language implies that God started work, and it is not necessarily the convert’s fault that he hasn’t finished.

We might say that the idiom ought really to be formulated in two variants, C for Conversion and S for Sanctification. Then people could ask, “When did you Give Your Life to the Lord (C)?” or “We all need to Give Our Lives to the Lord (S)”, and it would be clear what precisely was meant. But they don’t and it isn’t. What people actually do is to ask, “Have you really Given Your Life to the Lord, Brother?”, see above.

The bumptious man will interpret this question as an enquiry into the facts of his Christian biography, that is, whether he has been converted. He will thus reply in the enthusiastic affirmative, even if his actual surrender to God’s control is very tentative. The anxious man, on the other hand, will interpret the question as asking about his degree of sanctification. He will think of all the ways in which he falls short, of the extent to which his life is under the control of his own will, of his general and specific spiritual weaknesses. Then, because of the ambiguity in the idiom itself, he may feel that all this is due to the inadequacy of that original conversion. He did not sufficiently Give His Life to the Lord on that particular day. If he has been told, as he probably has, that the Lord wants “all or nothing”, this conclusion will be all the surer. For since he has obviously not given the Lord all, he must have given Him nothing.

Phrases like “Is Jesus Lord of Your Life?” do not explicitly refer back to the moment of conversion, but even more acutely conflate the end of sanctification with its beginning. One would think that to have one’s life entirely under the lordship of Christ was the same as being a great saint; and of course, the great saint would be the last to recognise this, much less admit it (“If you think you’re a saint, you ain’t.”) In other words, everybody’s answer has to be “Not yet, but He’s working on it”. Yet in practice even new converts get asked this question. They also hear others proclaiming “Jesus is Lord of My Life” as if this is the condition of getting properly started on the whole business.

In other words, the new convert risks being trapped into thinking that sanctification is a matter, not of time and grace, but of intensity of conversion. And Commitment then becomes, not the sum of concrete decisions in concrete cases, but a sort of emotional self-surgery. He thinks that what is wrong with him is the failure to experience the refiner’s fire, some overwhelming internal transformation by virtue of which he can leap from sinner to saint. It is as if a man should resolve to walk from London to Brighton, but instead of striding out towards the North Downs, he stays in London trying to compel the appearance of Brighton in his heart.

Confusion between “Giving Your Life to the Lord” as process and as event may lead the new convert into the hunger for the “quick fix” that jumps the gap between Is and Ought To Be. It is this hunger that is responsible for a great deal of overstrain, hysteria and play-acting.

Posted on January 7, 2010 at 08:55 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Soulbusters

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