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Celebration Month: Saved for Sanctification

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 21, number 32, August 11, 2022

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” -James 1:2-4

When God bestowed His saving grace on me in late February, 1972 the Alabama Crimson Tide baseball season was to begin in a week or so. I was excited about my newfound faith and remember thinking to myself, “If I hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win a game, then I look forward saying to the Tuscaloosa News sports writer, “First of all I want to give thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for helping me hit the home run to win the game.” I rather naively thought being a Christian would guarantee me lots of worldly success. How mistaken I was. Almost from that moment, my baseball skills eroded significantly. It was a mystery to me. I was drafted in the tenth round of the Major League Draft in June, 1970 and chose not to play professional baseball, hoping to get a shot later. My dad, who played for the Boston Red Sox organization in the minor leagues, never went to college and I knew he really wanted me to get a college degree. I also had full scholarship offers to four or five other colleges, one of which was Vanderbilt University. On my recruiting trip the coach mentioned in passing that Vanderbilt had Saturday morning classes. I thought, “Oh no. They are way too serious about education. I can’t go there.” Not cool. So I thought I was really something. I split time as a catcher my freshman year with Glenn Woodruff who also was a tight end on Bear Bryant’s football team. I did not set the woods on fire my freshman year but I did okay, and I figured a year’s experience in SEC baseball would get me ready for my sophomore season. By late February, however, I was playing so poorly that I was redshirted. I played two more years after that but my game never came back to me.

Two weeks after Wini called on the name of the Lord to save her on August 17, 1972 she went to Tuscaloosa early to go through sorority rush. When she got there, however, she had prayed and sensed God telling her not to go through the process of joining a sorority. So she was on the Alabama campus early with nothing to do while all the girls she knew were going through the rush process. She cried for three days, thinking she was throwing away her life. Wini had been involved with gymnastics and cheerleading in high school, and all the while she was planning to try out for cheerleader at Alabama. Around one hundred girls tried out for the three open positions. The judges selected three cheerleaders and one alternate. She was named the alternate. One of the judges confided in her afterward that a judge hesitated in voting for her because Wini was not in a sorority. Ouch!

In a positive turn of events Wini was nominated by her dorm for the interview process to become a “Crimson Girl” which again was a wonderful position and opportunity to host visitors to the University. As I went with her to read the posted results, we both saw beside her name “Alternate.” No lie.. And finally, she thought she would give the cheerleading another shot. Same thing. Alternate again. God was getting her attention.

The senior staff woman for Campus Crusade for Christ had been challenging Wini to join a Bible study, and God provided the spare time to participate. Ha! Wini jokingly loves to give a particular talk to young women . . . “Life as an Alternate.” 

To be sure, these trials we faced as new believers way back in college were at most “first world” problems, but to us, at the time, they were huge. They were monumental. We both sensed great loss. I remember talking to my Uncle Benton during my fourth year at Alabama. Benton had a big impact on my early years as a Christian and I now know he prayed earnestly for my salvation for a long time. I was telling him how disappointed I was that I was not getting it done on the baseball field. He said, “You must remember that when God takes something from you, then He has something better in its place.” I have never forgotten those words. So God knew the idols both Wini and I held dear and in His goodness, He stripped them from us.

So Jesus saves us from sin but He also saves us for sanctification. You no doubt have heard people say that God is not really concerned with your happiness. What He is concerned about however is your holiness, and holiness brings joy. James the brother of Jesus, in what may be the very first book written in the New Testament canon, tells us to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials. These trials often come out of nowhere. Sometimes they are totally unexpected. Sometimes we bring them upon ourselves and sometimes other people are the catalysts for those trials. In whatever way they come James is telling us to count them all joy. Joy is different than happiness. One is not happy when his new born child dies at six weeks, but we are to count it all joy. I was not happy that my baseball career was going south. Wini was not happy about losing out as a cheerleader. However I must also say that at the time we were not joyful about it either. It would take some time to see what God was doing. My friend Alton Hardy told me a few years ago, “I wonder if anyone can really understand Romans 8:28 until he is at least forty years old.” Trials come our way. Lots of losses, lots of disappointments, lost jobs, lost money, lost marriages, and lost children are so often part of God’s plan for us.

Why does James say we are to count such trials as joy? By the way, a trial is a test from God to see if we will obey Him, if we will keep His commandments or not (Dt.8:2). We are to count our trials as joy because they produce endurance. Training as a world class 100 meter sprinter is far different than training as a marathoner who runs 26.2 miles. The former requires strength and great speed, while the later requires massive endurance. God wants us to serve Him for the long haul. The Christian life is not a sprint, rather it is an ultra marathon. The Christian life is beset by hardships and persecutions times without number. We need endurance to gain victory over them, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb.12:2). And why is endurance for the long haul so vital? Because, as James says, it brings perfection, becoming everything that God wants us to be for His glory and our good. Perfection in holiness is the goal, though none of us ever reach it. Paul tells us to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). In other words, we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet.3:18). We are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, and faithfulness (Gal.5:22,23). We are to add to our faith, perseverance, proven character, hope (Rom.5:3,4). We are to add to our faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-8).

So, you are not saved merely to go to heaven one day when you die. You are to grow in gospel holiness. You are saved for sanctification. Because of the Father’s love He will wean you away from the world. He will contend with your idols, all for your good and His glory. 

Why not take a moment right now and look back at your biggest disappointments or failures, even perhaps horrible things which were done to you at some point? Can you now “see what you see?” Can you see God’s work of bringing these trials upon you? Can you see what He has taken from you which you perhaps thought was so needed? Do you now realize you have all you truly need—life in Jesus, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of one day being perfected in Christ’s glorious presence. Embrace the failures and deprivations no matter how painful they have been.  

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