Work in Progress

This entry is part 51 of 55 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Tayeb MEZAHDIA from Pixabay

Has anybody over used the phrase, “In a perfect world…” The problem is that we don’t live in a perfect world. And we never will until Jesus comes back and makes the new heavens and new earth.

Perfect is the impossible goal that everybody strives to attain. But if you ever ask anybody to be perfect, they either have personal definitions or a list of things they think will make them perfect. It’s hard to be objective.

We all have goals for ourselves and things we think we should improve. But everyone struggles to reach these goals because we usually set the bar very high. After all, “perfect” should be impossible, right?

But what if I told you God has the same goal of perfection for each of us. And it’s not our definition or our list. It’s his. Jesus calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). This definition of perfect is different than ours.

God has a program in place that every one of his children will go through in this life. He predestines us to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29-30). Perfection is not an unattainable goal when his Spirit is involved.

Perfection means to become mature, to become like Jesus. And while it would take all of our lives, we will arrive at this destination. And when we do, we’ll find ourselves in the presence of God in heaven.

Nobody’s perfect. Any of us has used this at one time or another when we fall short of someone’s expectations. It’s not a lie. If we were perfect, we would no longer be here. But while we aren’t perfect, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make sure we get there.

But how does he accomplish this goal from God in us? We’ve all heard that he works from the inside out. We’re all works of progress, projects that the Holy Spirit dwells in us to accomplish. Let’s take a look at some of his process and how he gets it done.

Not by Works… Sort Of

Paul describes our desire to become wholly on our own, or to follow God’s laws to the letter so we will find ourselves approved by God. But we’ve got the cart before the horse. That’s not how it works in salvation, as we’ve discussed, and is not how it works in sanctification.

In Galatians 3:3,-5, Paul challenges the Galatians and us not to think we can accomplish salvation or sanctification on our own. It’s the Holy Spirit that works perfection in us. Our own willpower or any other resource we think will do it fails us.

Our “flesh” is weak. If we try to be perfect on our own, we will make ourselves in our own image instead of being conformed to Jesus’ image. So it’s nothing we can do on our own that brings us closer to God’s holy best.

This is why we must rely on the Holy Spirit in this process. He’s the only one who knows what the next step is and what the destination looks like. We must trust him instead of ourselves. So why are works a good thing?

Even though some of the reformers, like Martin Luther, didn’t take a shining two the book of James because he thought it taught works for salvation, James actually has a great point. He says that works without faith is dead (James 2:17).

But I just said works don’t save or sanctify us. I’m not trying to trick you. James spoke of works from an already saved point of view. So when he says that works verify our faith, it means that when we do works for God as Christians, they are at his command and in our obedience. They don’t save us. They show we have faith in God.

So it’s not about works when we don’t know Christ and try to be perfect on our own. But it is about works as we grow in Christ and listen to the Holy Spirit. These works show our faith to the world. They also show that the Holy Spirit is making progress in us toward God’s holiness.

Living on the Inside

When Jesus left this earth in bodily form, he sent the Holy Spirit in his place (John 16:7). He even said that it was to our advantage so that the Spirit could come. Unlike Jesus in physical human form, the Spirit dwells inside of believers.

The advantage is that he can walk with us daily as the Comforter or Helper (John 14:16), literally, “the one who comes alongside.” The benefits to us are tremendous as we grow in Christ. He speaks to us every day, convicting us if we go astray and confirming God’s Word in us.

Jesus calls us to love him by obeying his commands (John 14:15, 21, 23). Only through the Holy Spirit’s direction and power can we succeed in showing our love for Jesus through obedience. The Holy Spirit sets the standard for us and we obey him when we follow through.

The Spirit addresses a character flaw in us and tells us God’s expectation and how to reach it. But if we don’t obey his commands and put into practice what he teaches us, we set back God’s program of advancing toward holiness. The more we obey, the faster we approach holiness. The Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ teachings (John 14:26).

Spirit of Truth

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13). He guides us into truth about Jesus and about ourselves. We may lie to ourselves about who we are but the Holy Spirit keeps us on the straight path of truth.

When he speaks about us, it is true. Paul says he testifies with our spirits we are God’s children (Romans 8:16). So we know who we are because he tells us. And we can trust that he does not lie. And as we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit speaks God’s truth through his Word into our lives and hearts.

It’s so easy to listen to our inner voice and be down on ourselves. But we need to be listening to Jesus’ voice instead. All the negative self talk we throw at ourselves discourages us. But the Spirit always speaks the truth by building us up through encouragement and conviction. Even when he challenges us, it is for God’s positive outcomes, leading us to holiness.

Character Challenges

One of the Spirit’s goals is to cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). Sometimes people think there are nine fruit of the Spirit. But there is one fruit. In the original language, fruit is singular, not plural.

This means that the nine qualities that are listed are all characteristics of the one fruit. He works one fruit and us with nine qualities to show that we are growing in his fruit. These nine qualities all speak to our character.

The Spirit often addresses one or two character traits at one time. He works on them, challenging us from Scripture and from real life experiences. We may see our character flaws when we monitor our thoughts, speech, and actions. But the Spirit works on these character flaws on a deeper level.

For example, if I steal something, I know I have violated one of God’s commandments. But I don’t necessarily do what the Spirit does. By sheer willpower I vow to never steal something again. But I don’t think about the character flaws that allowed me to steal.

But the Holy Spirit digs deeper into my character, calling me to not only holy behavior and actions, but to holy character, to imitate the character of Christ. My thievery brings the Holy Spirit to call me out for the deeper issues, such as a lack of trust in God as my Provider or perhaps issues with coveting. Whatever the underlying character flaw is, the Holy Spirit brings this to the forefront and calls me to obedience in that issue.

So not only is he cultivating his fruit in my character, but he examines my character and calls me to action, obedience that brings true character change. As he works on each character flaw and aligns it with Christ, he is making us holy as Jesus declared us the moment we followed him.

Round and Round We Go

The Holy Spirit works on each character trait and brings it closer to Christ’s. But let’s not think for a second that we will never deal with that character issue again. The Spirit fine-tunes our character and if it falls out of alignment, he addresses it again.

Discipleship in Christ is not linear. By this I mean that character development is not a one and done proposition. It’s circular. The Holy Spirit continues to revisit our character traits until we become perfect in Christ.

The moment I say to myself, “Look how well I’m doing with getting rid of my pride,” is the moment the Spirit once again addresses my pride issue. Even reverse humility is a sign that pride is once again rearing its ugly head.

The Spirit has no trouble re-addressing issues in my character. He calls me once again to obedience in that area of my life. And he will address issues over and over until God is pleased with my whole character.

But as the Holy Spirit returns to character flaws he has worked on in the past, he continues to be encouraging. We should never think less of ourselves than the Spirit thinks of us. He builds us up again and again. Our only job is to follow his lead and obey.

Training to Serve God

The Holy Spirit spends most of his time on our character. He works his fruit in us. But he also works on preparing us to serve God with our whole being. To this end, he gives every believer at least one gift to serve the church.

There are different categories for these gifts given by the Spirit. Some are called service gifts and they provide the church with gifts like leadership, administration, and other practical gifts. But there are also “The Spirituals,” Paul’s name for what we call spiritual gifts. Gifts like speaking in tongues, a word of knowledge or wisdom, faith and healing, are used in church gatherings by the Spirit’s leading and prompting.

There are also leadership gifts, like apostles, pastors, and teachers. All of the gifts of the Spirit, and none of the lists in the New Testament aren’t meant to be complete, are provided by him in the right situations.

He does all of these things to empower us for service in God’s kingdom. He will use not only are gifts and are maturing character but also our personality, wisdom, and everything else he is transforming in us for God’s glory.

It’s not about us and how well we improve or how fast. It is about glorifying God and being used by him for his purposes. We must never forget that to be great in God’s kingdom is to be the least by serving.

Conclusion

These are some of the changes the Holy Spirit is working “under the hood.” He works from the inside out, beginning with our character and ending with our deeds. And the whole time, he is gracious and building us up.

As he works in us, he transforms us into imitators of Christ and conforms us to the image of Jesus. He is making us perfect, mature in Christ. He is making us the holiest versions of ourselves.

What are some ways the Spirit works in you? How is he using you for God’s glory and kingdom? Leave a comment and describe his process of transforming you.

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2 Responses to Work in Progress

  1. As always, great article.

    • Jonathan Srock says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth. The Holiness Matters blog series is a companion to the book I am writing on Holiness. Each of these articles is supplemental material to the book itself. I appreciate your comments blessings!

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