When I start giggling in the middle of a sermon or a small group discussion, you have two choices:
Ignore me and think, Wow, she’s strange.
Ask me what I’m thinking and hope it’s entertaining (and not heresy).
Usually, it’s some sort of off-the-wall analogy that popped into my mind in the middle of whatever very serious discussion is going on. (Either that or I’m thinking about which Bible characters would be cast as the Avengers. That might be it too.)
Sometimes my analogies make sense. (“Judas’ betrayal is like Star Wars Mafia.”) Sometimes they make sense, but only to me. (“Irresistible grace is like my hit list.”) Sometimes when I try to explain them…they actually make no real sense at all. (“Servant leadership is like my mom ordering a bacon cheeseburger without cheese.”)
One of these moments happened to me at the youth group retreat. Pastor Shawn was talking about the power of the gospel to sanctify us in the present, not just to save us in a one-time event that happened in the past.
To illustrate, he read Philippians 2:12-13: “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.”
So, you work out your salvation. But your salvation is not based on works, because God works in you. Which sounds like the most nonsensical thing since Starbucks calling small coffees “tall.”
How do we hold these two contradictory things together? How do we make it make sense?
Sometimes putting a story or a picture to it helps, or at least it does for me. So in our discussion groups later, I decided to try this analogy: sanctification is like the two main characters in the Disney movie The Princess Diaries.
Both Clarisse and Mia are royalty. But when you see Julie Andrews, you know she’s a queen. There is absolutely no doubt in your mind. Everything about her puts forth that impression: the way she talks, walks, gestures. The woman can be sliding down a staircase for goodness’ sake, and she still manages to do it regally because that’s who she is.
On the other hand, especially at the beginning of the story, Mia finds herself facing a long list of things a princess should do and ways she should or shouldn’t act. And even though she tries her hardest, it’s forced (and hilarious). She tries to mimic the actions of her grandmother, but there’s a very obvious difference between the two.
Julie Andrews is a queen, and her queen-like actions reflect that. Anne Hathaway is trying to become a princess by doing princess-like things. For example:
A lot of times, we try to be Princess Mia. We decide we’re going to be better Christians by doing stuff. Let’s make a list, a plan of action, a set of rules! We can claim the title once we put in the work.
That, my friends, is not sanctification. That is legalism. The two look surprisingly similar…for a while, at least.
Until the Christian trying to do everything by her own efforts collapses in exhaustion from the stress of a too-full schedule and the pressure of too-high expectations. Until she realizes her dream of doing great things for God has replaced her true purpose: living life with God.
Until she remembers that she is loved apart from what she does. That she has nothing without Jesus, and nothing in addition to him. That it really is—wonder of wonders—loving God and loving others that really matters.
Not that I have personal experience with this or anything.
The power of the gospel is what transforms your life, not your checklist-gold-star-God-helps-those-who-help-themselves efforts. If you are a Christian, you are royalty—a son or daughter of God. Live in that truth and let it shape the way you live.
(9:30 to the end is especially relevant.)