In The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, author Jerry Bridges focuses a great deal of attention on the process of sanctification. It is how Christians are gradually transformed in the direction of the likeness of God. It is not a cookbook recipe; the process is different for each of us, although there are some broad similarities.
There are some things that all of us do have in common in this process, Bridges says. It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. It involves our “wholehearted response.” And it involves the regular use of spiritual disciplines.
When I think of the process of sanctification, I think of the Mud Queen.
Years back, a friend of mine at church and I began to teach Sunday School. We started with second graders (we both had sons in this grade). For three years- -- second, third, and fourth grades – we taught these children. There were changes; some kids moved away and others joined the class as new members. But the central core of about 15 kids remained the same.
I should mention that my friend had an interesting approach to Sunday School. He thought it should be fun. And so we combined learning the books of the Bible in order with games that had candy bars as prizes. We sang. We acted up. We generally drove the Sunday School coordinator crazy, because we ignored some (most) of the rules. We veered off the required curriculum, because one can only teach Genesis so many times before teachers and students alike are stir crazy. The coordinators would occasionally talk with us in an attempt to bring us more in line, but what they couldn’t disagree with was our kids loved Sunday School.
My fellow teacher was a camper. He liked to camp out. And all three years, the conclusion to the Sunday School class was a campout at one of the local parks. I should mention that I wasn’t a camper.
The first year it rained. Hard. The campground resembled a sea of mud. In the “let’s make lemonade out of lemons” approach to life, my friend quickly invented a new game: the mud pit. The goal: who could become the most covered in mud?
The kids loved it. The adults, not so much.
In third grade, one of our new students was a little girl I’ll call Jennifer. The family had lived in a number of cities; her father was transferred almost annually. Jennifer was tall for her age and phenomenally shy. She’d watch the other kids in class activities, and it took the longest time to get her to join in. But gradually that happened; all kids, including Jennifer, liked candy bars.
She didn’t come to the third grade campout. That was beyond her, despite the pleadings of her parents. She had never spent a night away from her parents, and the idea terrified her. But she was making progress. She began to join in the games and singing. She answered questions. She laughed at jokes. And her mother told us that for the first time she looked forward to coming to church.
A year later, as the time approached for the fourth grade campout, my friend had one of those flashes of inspiration. We all showed up for class about a month before the campout, and the classroom had become a camping tent. Literally. He had erected a tent in the classroom, and it was so large and tall it required the removal of some of the ceiling tiles. The coordinators nearly had a stroke. But the tent was a gigantic hit; before that Sunday morning was over, nearly the entire church had come to see it.
For the class, we simulated a campout. We had our regular teaching, but we had a pretend fire, unheated S’Mores, games, and other activities. And my friend took Jennifer aside and casually mentioned that if she wanted to come just for the day part of the campout, she could do that. She wouldn’t have to spend the night.
Jennifer came. Her parents smuggled extra clothes and a sleeping bag in the trunk of their car, just in case she decided to stay. And she had a blast.
When her mother came to pick her up, Jennifer said she’d like to stay. The girls in the class quickly made room for her sleeping bag in their tent (they had a mom and one of the Sunday School coordinators as their chaperones). Her mom left, and Jennifer ran around with the other girls, made herself a S’More, played chase, and ran screaming from imaginary snakes.
The next morning, we had breakfast and our worship service, and then came the penultimate and final event of the campout: the Mud Pit contest. It had been clear weather for days, and so we had to make our own mud pit. And it was gooey and totally disgusting.
No child was forced to participate. We figured Jennifer might skip it. But here was a child who had just spent the first night away from her parents ever, and she was not going to miss this for the world. Into the pit she went, and coated herself head to foot.
Parents began to arrive just as the mud children headed back to the hose for washing off. Jennifer, unrecognizable in mud, starting yelling at her parents. “I’m the Mud Queen!” she screamed in complete delight.
Her mother burst into tears.
Becoming a Mud Queen isn’t the same process as sanctification. But it is, oddly enough, a picture of it. Jennifer started as a timid, withdrawn child, afraid to join in, afraid to do much of anything. Gradually, things happened and she began to change. By the time she finished fourth grade, she had been transformed.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. To see what others had to say on this chapter, “Transformed into His Likeness,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by Максим Кукушкин via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.