A Life-Long Process

All parents can attest to the wonder that is their child. Mom is especially tuned in when she figures out she’s going to have a baby. This months-long process occurring within may happen somewhat gradually, but not unnoticeably! At first, of course, mom can’t ignore the obvious physical signs taking place in her body. And eventually, the life within lets her know he’s alive and kicking—literally!

Finally, the day arrives, and so does baby! So tiny, so fragile! She easily fits in one arm; occupies a mere cubic foot of space, if that. Her communication skills are most rudimentary, consisting of a crying scale ranging from a relatively minor whimper to an ear-piercing all-out scream. Interestingly, long before baby understands a single-syllable word in her parents’ world, they figure out her language!

I have a few memories of those first weeks at home with our first child. The sleepless nights, incessant diaper changes, sleepless nights, bouts of crying fits, sleepless nights…. When parents are going through this period, it seems interminable. It surely did for us. But we soon learned what all parents have learned for millennia—it’s part of a process. This stage will end soon enough and ease its way into another. Before they know it, mom and dad are looking into the eyes of their newborn grandchild as their own child—the tired, proud parent—rests nearby. They can’t help but wonder where the time went, marveling at the process.

In the natural world all around us, processes like this abound. We see them not only in human life but in plants and animals…seasons and weather patterns…daytime and nighttime…everywhere!  Given what God has revealed about His workings in this world, it’s to be expected. God delights in employing processes to accomplish His purposes. He did so in creation itself; He’s done so in the lives of characters recorded in the Bible.

As I wrap up this miniseries of devotionals, I find it helpful to acknowledge God’s use of processes even in the spiritual lives of His children. The New Testament indicates salvation itself is a process. To many Christians, this may seem a foreign concept. “I thought I got saved on September 13, 1973!” they remark, suggesting that salvation was an instantaneous event in the past.

In reality, Scripture uses “salvation” as a sort of “umbrella” term that covers three tenses of a process: past, present, and future. Let me explain.

Just as physical life with its processes begins with conception in the womb, so spiritual life begins with the imparting of life by the Holy Spirit—the “new birth,” we call it. This is what Jesus was talking about when He spoke with Nicodemus and said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(John 3:5-8)

This new birth begins the process in the past. But it continues in the present and will do so throughout the Christian’s life on earth. Note the present-tense verbs Paul used in these verses:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

(1 Corinthians 1:18)

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved….  

(1 Corinthians 15:1-2a)

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved…

(2 Corinthians 2:15a)

Clearly, this process of salvation is an ongoing one, but it’s leading somewhere and does have a termination point. Once again, hear Paul:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood [salvation in the past tense], much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

(Romans 5:9-10 – emphasis added).

Another term for the process of salvation—the “being saved,” present-tense part—is sanctification. It’s a process that involves transformation effected by “beholding.” Here’s how Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (again, notice the present tense verbs in italics):

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

And do you remember that little baby you held in your arms so many years ago? What happened to him or her? Strange, isn’t it? They ate some food, got a bit of exercise, and grew!

Well, a similar but spiritual thing happens in the process of sanctification. We eat and grow! Peter exhorts his readers of this need in a couple of places:

But grow [literally, “be growing”] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(2 Peter 3:18)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation…

(1 Peter 2:2)

There comes the point in a child’s life when he stops growing physically. He reaches adulthood, and all the maturation of the body reaches an apex. Indeed, he’ll keep growing in other ways, but not physically.

So, too, the process of sanctification—it will reach a point of full maturation, of perfection if you will. At that point, the dual process of sanctification and salvation reaches its climax. John the Apostle tells us when that will be.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

(1 John 3:2)

As we reflect on this ongoing process occurring in the Christian’s life, I believe it helps to consider the implications in everyday life.

Since God delights in processes, I need to appreciate those He uses to shape and mold me. In his book Finding God in the Ordinary, Pierce Taylor Hibbs notes,

God loves to craft our lives. He wills the long and sometimes painful process of shaping us into the image of Christ.

Hibbs even applies God’s love of process to our work. “To find true joy in your craft,” he suggests, “you must learn to love the process. You must learn to love not being finished.” Perhaps this applies to some of our hobbies, too? Like the shelves of books begun but not yet completed?

What processes are at work in your family? Your parenting? Your marriage? Your career? What is the interplay between the Lord’s process of sanctifying you and those arenas of life?

In our culture that tends to reward instant gratification—or at least stimulates an endless desire for it—God’s children find a measure of contentment and even joy in the processes leading us to glory.


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