The two couples sat in the living room enjoying some decadent dessert together. They discussed much of the Christian life. Struggles and difficulties and the men talked about the way that they used to be. The one shared about how he was a ruling, dominating husband. The other simply told a story.
This man remembered his dating years with his spouse. He had not been very far out of the gate as a believer and his girlfriend, now wife, went away for the summer to work at a Christian camp. She had lots of responsibilities there but enjoyed the hard work that summer. They called each other on weekends and sometimes would see each other. And he received a phone call from her at a not normal time. She was clearly upset.
She had been doing some work in the kitchen and thought that only one of the propane burners were lit…turns out they were all lit…and had been for a while. For those of us who know anything about propane, we know it can be pretty dangerous if you have a flame nearby. The building could have been blown up when she went to light a burner but by God’s grace it wasn’t. There was a big whoosh and she explained to her boyfriend on the phone what had happened and that she had been burnt.
There were lots of things that he could have said that would have shown appropriate concern and love for his frightened and stressing girlfriend. ‘Are you okay?’ would have been the appropriate other-centred words that came from his lips but those words weren’t said. Self-interest was on his mind in the brief nano-second that he had to think up something beautiful…but bonehead words came out instead. What came from his lips were this: ‘What do you look like?’
The inference of those words were all-telling. What he was saying was ‘I hope the propane blowup didn’t do your good looks much damage. I am a jerk of a guy and I can only accept someone being seen on my arm if and only if they are of the same extreme hotness that I am.’
To my shame, that’s my story. That ignorant man-child was me and that lightly singed gal is my now wife. She married me anyway. That’s over twenty-five years ago.
I have grown up a lot since those selfish early days but they still rear their ugly head from time to time where I think of myself, way more, and think of others, way less. But God ain’t done with me.
I sometimes think back to many of the stupid, foolish things that I’ve done in the past. Self-seeking things I have said, things I have done, things I have thought, but the beauty is that those things are becoming less and less. After the night over dessert with friends, it got me to thinking about sanctification. Sanctification is simply the progressive lifelong work of God and man that frees us more and more from sin and makes us more like Jesus.
 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
God’s grace has enabled me to change through the years. He’s got a long way to go with me. I need to be submissive and tender and sensitive and repentant. I need to be honest about where I am and where I want to be.
Many times, in our lives as believers, if we’re even somewhat sensitive to our sin, we see change in ourselves as close to non-existent. A long look backward may be helpful for you. To look back to the place where you were.
I wonder if John Mark ever looked back to his bailing on a missionary journey and thinking that by God’s grace he had come a long way. I wonder if Peter ever looked back at his three times denial of Christ and saw that God had brought him along in his faith. I wonder if Thomas ever looked back to his doubting days and saw the progressive work of the Spirit of God in changing him.
I wish I was further along than I am but at the same time I am grateful for the ground I have moved forward and the changes that I’ve made, empowered by the gospel. The Word and prayer and some of the other spiritual disciples are means of grace that have enabled me to move along in my faith. I thank God for those changes and long for more but I do know that sanctification is not an overnight transition…sanctification takes place over the course of this life. I wish it was a speedier process but I know that each night I can go to bed and sleep well knowing that one day I will be presented as blameless before the Father, not because of my work, but because of the work of Another.
 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25 ESV)