Tag Archives: Sanctification

Reflections on the SE Exam

My practice exam… with my tickets for the real thing

A few days ago, I took the longest, toughest test of my life: 16 hours of structural engineering problems over 2 days. Reflecting on that, a few observations occur to me that I think are applicable to the Christian walk as well.

  • Know what you know. You can’t know everything about even one subject, and certainly not multiple subjects, but it sure is nice when you see a test question that you’ve already worked out many times in practice. You see it, and think, “I know this one!” and don’t even need to grab a reference book. That’s a great place to be in a major test because it’s almost like being rewarded  for your studies with bonus time to spend on the tough questions. Memorizing Scripture holds similar benefits. You may not be in a timed test like I was, but whether it’s a question from a friend, a challenge from a skeptic, or your own internal struggles, having the appropriate answer in mind right when you need it… is priceless.
  • Know where to find what you don’t know.  Just as it’s nice to see a problem you’re familiar with, it’s quite depressing to see that odd question out of the blue that you don’t even know where to search for a possible solution. I had just over 100# of reference books with me in the exam (yes, really), and several questions on bridge design seemed like they might be straightforward solutions… if I only knew where to look in the massive 4″ thick bridge manual. Don’t let that be the case for you with the Bible, which far surpasses in value anything you could possibly read in any reference books.
  • Exams are passed or failed in study rather than during the test. The actual test only proves the learning that did (or did not) take place beforehand. As much as I studied this year, it doesn’t appear to have been enough. We’ll see when I get my results back. But there are moral tests we face in life that are more important than any licensure test, and how you act when your integrity is on the line will largely depend on decisions made long before the temptation arises. What will you do when everything indicates you can “get away with it”? Let’s just take a couple of practical examples. The Bible tells us not to covet, and with good reason. You don’t have to watch too many documentaries on murder cases to start recognizing coveting as a common first step on a path that ended in murder. Granted, most people will never go that far, but it still doesn’t do them any favors. Don’t assume you’ll make the right decision if you spend all your time envious of someone else’s wealth, fame, or spouse, and then the opportunity presents itself to take what you’ve been obsessing about, at their expense. Likewise, the Bible warns us to “flee youthful lusts” [2Ti 2:22] and to think on what is honorable and right and pure [Phil 4:8]. Many a person has said they’d never cheat on their spouse, but then filled their mind with porn. At some point, the fantasy will seem more appealing than the real life commitment that real love requires. If the opportunity to live out a fantasy presents itself in one of those tough times, don’t assume you’ll suddenly be a beacon of virtue and moral fortitude if you’ve been acting out the exact opposite in your mind up to that point. The Bible sets guardrails in our lives for good reason, so if you want to pass the moral tests in life, commit to obeying God before you find yourself in the test.
  • God’s more interested in developing your character than getting you out of a jam. Did I pray for success on the exam? You bet I did. Would failing the exam impact my belief in God? Hardly. While “unanswered” prayers have caused some to stumble, I recognize that my imperfect requests may not line up with God’s perfect plan.  There’s nothing wrong with asking God for the things we want, but we have to understand He’s not some genie granting wishes. His purpose is to make us holy, not necessarily happy (although I would suggest you’ll find genuine happiness in holiness). Now, suppose God intervened and granted me photographic recall of everything I’d studied or even skimmed over during the last year, as well as supernatural comprehension of it all for a couple of days, so that I had passed with flying colors. But then, if I passed the exam without really being qualified, and I took on projects beyond my capacity, the results could be deadly for people living and working in the buildings I designed.  Or, what if I only became arrogant and condescending to those who hadn’t passed?  Not as deadly, perhaps, but it would still fall far short of His call to be a Christlike ambassador; and it would also fall far short of God’s better answers to prayer, which sometimes include things like “No,” “Wait,” and “Keep struggling through this.” I heard one of the other 2 guys taking the test with me tell someone the second morning that the first day was “humbling”, and he was spot-on. And that came from a more knowledgeable, experienced engineer than myself. Yet if we fail a test, but learn humility and compassion and perseverance in the process, then that is character development that can have greater impact on those around us than any professional development that might have been gained in passing it.

There’s a few lessons I walked away with. What about you? Have there been tough tests in your life that have helped you gain new perspective? Events that have helped you recognize God’s work in your life in ways you wouldn’t have before? Times God used to teach you valuable life lessons?

Translating Christianese, Part 4

Translating Christianese 4Last week, in discussing atonement, I quoted Charles Spurgeon, a preacher from the 1800’s who described Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the “just Ruler dying for the unjust rebel”. The week before, I looked at righteousness, which can be defined as justness. What then do Christians mean when we talk of “justification”? Justification comes from the Greek word δικαίωσις (dikaiosis, meaning “the act of pronouncing righteous”[1]),  and can be defined as “an instantaneous legal act of God in which He a) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and b) declares us to be righteous in His sight.”[2] We can draw some important points out of this definition. First, this is something God does, not us. Only the judge has the authority to declare someone condemned or pardoned. The defendant has no say in the decision. Second, it’s a judicial declaration, not based on us earning it by good deeds. Third, declaring someone right is not the same as making them right. We are not made morally perfect people by this action, but rather declared as such in God’s sight because of us placing our trust (faith) in Jesus Christ to save us from the death sentence we were under, by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness. But if God is just, how can He ignore our guilt and simply declare us righteous?  One result of Christ’s substitutionary atonement discussed last week is “imputed righteousness”. Imputation is a “transfer of benefit or harm from one individual to another”.[3]  Imputation isn’t a common term, but there are some common examples of it in our daily lives. The actions of an employee breaking the law in the course of his job duties may be imputed to his employer. A friend’s accident in your car can be imputed to you. Below is an example from one state’s laws regarding imputation of driving negligence:

“Any negligence of a minor … when driving any motor vehicle upon a highway, shall be imputed to the person who signed the application of the minor for the license. That person shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages caused by the negligence.”

And so our sins were imputed to Christ, and He was held fully liable for them, while His perfection was imputed to us, in a merciful exchange that satisfied God’s justice even though we deserved punishment.

Going back to that important distinction earlier about God declaring us righteous versus making us righteous, one might wonder if we can simply continue on our selfish, sinful life journey after this atoning, justifying encounter with our Creator. That brings us to the term “sanctification”. Sanctification is “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”[4]  This definition brings up several points. First, this is a separate process from justification. While our efforts can never justify us, they do contribute toward making us holy, or “set apart”. Second, this is a cooperative work. We cannot do it without the power of God’s Holy Spirit in us, but He also won’t let us be lazy or apathetic and say that we can’t change or that we’re just waiting on God to change us. Third, it is a continual process. God uses our life events and our responses to them to mold us into who He destined us to be in this life, and to prepare us for an eternity in heaven. So this process won’t stop until the day we die. Fourth, this should not be an abstract concept, but should have actual results that others can observe and see there is something different about us. Read Corrie ten Boom’s account of the behavior of her sister Bessie in the Nazi concentration camps they were at, and you will get a beautiful picture of what someone farther down the journey of sanctification looks like. Fifth, because of our role in it, it will vary from person to person. I have had the honor of knowing some saintly people over the years, who, while not perfect, reflected Christ far closer than I ever have, and likely ever will. My humble prayer is that I could be half the servant of God they were. Sixth, becoming more like Christ will affect every facet of our lives. There can be no holdouts, no secrets, no private pleasures. But when we do yield those up to Him, He takes away our cherished mud pies and replaces them with gems of joy we didn’t think possible.

Today was a summary of a few of the many things that could be said on these two concepts. Tune in next week as we tie some of these ideas together and look at probably the 2 most common Christian terms: “saved” and “born again”. Enjoy!

[1] dikaiosis, www.Biblehub.com/greek, accessed 2015/02/08.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), p.723.
[3] “Imputation”, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Grenz, Guretzki, & Nordling, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1999).
[4] Wayne Grudem, ibid., p 746.