And yet. What do I see and experience? Am I being stretched by growth pains? Am I really all that different today from who I was two or ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Has "Christ in you" (me) (Colossians 1:27) radically altered who I am, how I think, what I say, where I go, how I spend my time and money, or what I live for? And yet.
Transformation of our lives is to be the norm for Christ-followers - "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29); "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18); and "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). Conformed, transformed, formed all point to the same spiritual reality - there is to be less of Tim and more of Christ in my life as time goes on.
The painstakingly slow process of spiritual growth can be discouraging. Recently I was reminded of a theological truth that provided encouragement. I was reading J.C. Ryle's classic book on Holiness written in 1877. In a section of how justification and sanctification differ Ryle writes, "Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives." Ryle wants us to realize that justification is instant but sanctification is gradual.
Ryle again, "Let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below. At our best we shall find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation, and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour. The more light we have, the more we shall see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinner we shall find ourselves as we go on; renewed, pardoned, justified - yet sinners to the very last. Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is on reason why we should long for heaven."
Don't mistake Ryle as someone who is soft on sin. He takes sanctification just as seriously as he takes justification. He works hard not to confuse the two. And all through Holiness he persistently fixes our attention upon Jesus, "The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people's souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them , but also to sanctify them."
I am thankful for these good words from J.C. Ryle!