My good intentions never seem to last more than a few weeks.
Every year, I write down goals and plans that seem so attainable. I always think I will exercise consistently, manage my time better, and generally stay on top of things. My Type A personality draws up lists with bullet points and deadlines, confident that all my plans on paper will be followed to the letter. I know what areas of my life need improvement, so all I need to do is work harder, right? Armed with a self-help to-do list, I feel convinced I can make myself better.
Yet things never work out quite like I expect, and I have yet to meet my own goals and expectations. But the next year, I always write out another list.
Martin Luther seems to have also felt this frustration of grasping for out-of-reach perfection, but he has a much more poetic way to say it:
This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise; we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road; all does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.
Sounds like it could be a line from “Lord of the Rings.”
“We are not yet what we shall be.”
Beyond the cadence of the words, the meaning of this quote needs to find its place in the crevices of our achievement-focused hearts. These words remind us of one of the central truths of Christianity: God isn’t finished with us yet.
When God redeems us and makes us His children, we are forever different. But in some ways, we are depressingly the same. The sins and struggles we have faced for so long are still there. We aren’t changed completely overnight.
Whether we have been believers for a few months or two decades, it’s easy to be frustrated when we don’t think we’re as different as we should be. Why do I still struggle with the same sin I struggled with last year? Why is it still so hard to be humble or stop spreading gossip?
Welcome to sanctification.
“Not being but becoming.”
When I was 9 years old, I took three little tomato seeds I had in my salad and put them in some dirt outside. Despite my ignorance of all things gardening, the three seeds sprouted a few weeks later. Tiny little tomato plants pushed their way through the dirt and into the sunlight.
But they were so little. They had no flowers, much less any fruit.
As I watched my little plants and waited for growth, I never showed them a list of traits they didn’t meet or qualifications they didn’t have yet. I never gave them an itemized list of suggested improvements with corresponding goals. Those things would never help my plants grow.
Martin Luther’s words remind us that we are in a lifelong process of change. The sanctification God is working in us will take our entire lives — we can’t rush this process to finish early.
“And I am sure of this,” Paul told the Philippian church, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
As Christians, we are not called to make ourselves as perfect as we can in our own strength. We are called to live in a grateful relationship with the God who made us as we are and saved us as we are — but isn’t leaving us that way.
As imperfect as we know we are, God will one day unveil us as His perfected people (Ephesians 5:26-27). As Paul said, we can be sure that He will do it.
“This is not the end.”
I kept watering my little plants. The sun kept shining, and the Kansas wind kept swirling fresh air around their tiny stems. The flowers came a few weeks later, and the tomatoes not long after that.
It was a process. Processes take time.
“Sanctification is a work, not an act,” Rosaria Butterfield wrote. “We grow in sanctification over a lifetime of living in union with Christ, of denying ourselves, of taking up the cross, of following Christ.”
God is the gardener and He knows how to grow us into what He intends for us to be. As we follow His leading each day, we will be surprised at how deeply He changes us.
I still write goals. I still make plans. These can be helpful tools as I throw my energy into becoming more like Christ. But stressing about how far I am from where I should be is pointless (or, we could say, fruitless). As long as we live on this earth, we’ll fail at perfection. We can’t be perfect in our own strength.
When you feel decidedly imperfect, know you’re in a good place. None of us are perfect, but one day we will be.
God is making sure of that.