A New Beginning: What Not to Expect
Before I was baptized, I heard about a man in the church who used to be a smoker. All of his life he had been addicted to cigarettes. He said that on the day of his baptism God took away the desire to smoke! This was very encouraging for me since I was contemplating being baptized. I don’t for a moment doubt that God can do this, just take away the desire but, in a way, this is what I was expecting in my own life concerning the sins that I struggle with; that God would just magically take away the desire to sin. When you were baptized, you had certain expectations about what would happen the day after. Some of these expectations were healthy, others were not. Did you expect that your life would get easier? Did you expect that victory over sin would be easier? Did you expect to have power over sin that you did not have before? I think for me the answer to all of these questions was YES.
The difference between before your calling and after your calling is this: Before God called you, you struggled with sin and yielded to the temptation. You were basically a loser! After you receive the Spirit of God, your struggles will intensify, you will think, “What’s going on? This should be easier.” The Spirit of God that you now have makes you more painfully aware of the sin that has dominated the biggest part of your past. There will still be many failures, but over a process of time (years) the desire for the sin life will dissipate; the Spirit of God that is now in you will, over time, begin to edge out all those ugly things about you that you hate. Paul puts it like this: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Notice the inward man, that new creature in Christ, is being renewed day by day; however, the outward man is perishing. Getting old has been referred to as the golden years. Trust me, there’s nothing golden about it, but there is a benefit to getting old: Your “will” is also dying day by day. Yes, that very thing that has gotten you into so much trouble, your will. They say people who are addicted do not have a “weak will.” The problem is they have a “very strong will,” and that strong will gets them into a lot of trouble. Don’t get me wrong; your willpower can be used for good, but often it’s used to serve evil and sin. The good news is this: With the aging process, your willpower will dissipate and, over time, the sinful things that once seemed so desirable will lose their power over you.
The question we must ask is this: What is God really after? The answer is: total transformation. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). We see that the goal is to be conformed to the Image of Jesus Christ, but how does this occur? Not long ago, we had a nursing home call our church; there was a man there that wanted a minister to come by and see him. My brother and his wife went by to visit the man first. He was dying. He was 78 years old and a homosexual, and he told my brother that he was born that way. What he wanted was for a minister to lay hands on him and pray for his salvation. There was no remorse, no repentance; he just wanted to get saved. In our society, the concept of the sinner’s prayer and deathbed repentance dominates Christian thinking. What we understand in the Church of God is this: There will be no practicing sinners in the first resurrection! But how do we go from a struggling sinner today, where the lust of the flesh often consumes us, to a saint that has been transformed into the image of Christ? This journey is a lifelong process that began the day of your baptism. There will be many failures and setbacks, but the grace of God keeps us moving in a forward direction. At this point, it’s important to understand what God expects from us: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Revelation 2:11). How important is it to God that we overcome our sins and addictions? The awareness that we could be hurt by the second death, if we don’t overcome, should give us a clue.
I’ve talked a lot about what not to expect, such as not expecting that God will just magically make you a saint overnight. But what can we expect from God? We can count on God to do His part of correcting us and doing a complete makeover. Someone said God is easy to please but hard to satisfy. It’s OK to be pleased with ourselves, but we should never make the mistake of being satisfied with our current condition or our spiritual growth. The day of your baptism was just the beginning of this journey. Always keep in mind that it was God who started this journey by calling you, and God will finish what He has started. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). God started the process and God will finish the process. God will never let you down!