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Saintmaking by Josh Hunt
Have you ever seen an alcoholic trying to get off of alcohol? I have. It is not a pretty sight. Pretty dog gone pitiful, really.
"Johnny, please, please, please, just one little drink. Please. If you love me, Johnny. I am dying. You don't know what this feels like. I just need one little drink. Just one. I won't ask for anymore. Please, Johnny please. I know it is bad. I know it is awful. I know I am awful. I am really ashamed of myself. I am really ashamed your friend would see me like this. But, right now, I really don't care about all that. Right now, all I want is one drink. I have just got to have a drink. Now please, please, PLEASE, give me a drink. . ."
I have heard the endless begging and pleading and scratching a crying and crawling and dying. It is humanity at its worst.
I have a theory--a conviction really. Many sinful patterns are at least as difficult to break as is the addiction to alcohol. An addiction to pornography, or gossip, or materialism, or prejudice, or a depression may be just as hard to break as an addiction to alcohol. Saintmaking is hard work.
Growing a church is untimely about saintmaking. It is not about gathering crowds. That is the easy stuff. The hard stuff is turning sinners into saints. Saintmaking is hard work.
Here are some verses that speak to this:
This verse says we are prisoners to sin. The idea is we can't get out. We can't escape sin's deadly grip. Here is another one:
Here we are taught that we were dead in our sin. Dead people don't get better through diet and exercise. They need someone on the outside to raise them. Here is a third verse:
Here Paul reminds us that we were powerless to do anything about our condition. Our hands were tied behind our back. We needs some force outside of ourselves to untie us.
These three verses speak explicitly to the moment of salvation. They also teach us volumes about saintmaking. The process of coming to Christ and the process of becoming like Christ are very much the same. They have to do with learning truth and repenting and faith.
The process of becoming a saint is just like the process of becoming a Christian. We are saved in an instant, sanctified over a lifetime, perhaps more. Still, the process is the same. It is about God revealing himself to us. It is about recognizing and admitting that we are sinners and are powerless to change. It is about a life of confession and repentance. It is about embracing the acceptance that God offers to sinners only on the basis of his grace; never on the basis of our goodness. It is about standing in repentance. It is about standing in grace. It is about standing in the acceptance of God. It is about embracing the God who embraces me. It is about embracing his love and his power. It is about taking hold of his power to live out the Christian life. It is learning like Paul that, "I can do everything through Christ." (Philippians 4:13) It is about enjoying God.
The process of saintmaking is impossible to understand. How exactly does God turn a sinner into a saint? I don't know. However, we can understand the conditions necessary for saints to grow. The process by which a seed sprouts and grows and finally reproduces seeds of its own has alluded scientists for centuries. School children can understand, however, that if your put a bean in water and expose it so sunshine it will grow. Understanding the ingredients necessary for growth is far easier than understanding the exact process by which growth happens. This chapter is about the conditions necessary for saintmaking.
Myths about Maturity
We can learn much through the process of elimination. By eliminating the things that are not true, we make it easier to get about the business of seeing the things that are true about saintmaking.
The most common myth regarding saintmaking is what I call "maturity by hanging around." It is the myth that says if you stay in McDonalds long enough, you will eventually turn into a hamburger. There is more truth to that than the notion that if we simply hang around long enough we will become a saint. Just hanging around church will not make you a saint. Still many believe that if you attend enough bible studies, go on enough mission trips or have enough quite times. . . presto! out pops a saint. Occasionally, it does happen. Flowers grow in odd places. The conditions for growth do not have to be perfect to create life. Life is resilient enough to express itself in the dessert, and saints can grow even if conditions are not optimal. Still, if we intend to grow a garden we must be intentional and knowledgeable about it.
Many believe that saintmaking is automatic. This too is a myth. Saintmaking is not automatic. It is not even probable unless the soil is carefully prepared. Because of the power of the world and the flesh and the devil the odds are greatly against saintmaking. Unless we are very intentional, purposeful, and knowledgeable, it will not happen, except occasionally. But the exception does not prove the rule. Saintmaking is difficult work and is best done by people who have carefully thought through what they are doing and how they are doing it.
Saintmaking is not the inevitable result of salvation. Many times--dare I say it--most times it simply doesn't happen. This is why Paul admonished so strongly "to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12)
Some equate saintmaking with activity. To hear some church leaders though, you would think the goal was to make people "active." Pastors talk over coffee about who is active in church and who is not. Active is good. Inactive is bad. Jesus didn't tell us to go make people who were active in church activities. Church activities can be a distraction to the real business of enjoying God and serving him in the world. Church activities can merely distract us from the main thing. It makes us feel good to be active. We can even get confused and think our acceptance by God is based on activity in church. We can pridefully look down our noses at the people who are not active. We are very far from the kingdom of God when we believe that acceptance by God is based on church activity. Church activity can be a drug that keeps us from feeling the pain of a bad marriage or a bitter depression. Many marriages would be stronger if couples were not at church 5 nights a week. Activity can be a means to an end. It is the place of encouragement, equipping, fellowship, teaching and worship that prepares us for a life of enjoying God and serving him in the world. It can be the train that gets us to maturity. But it is not necessarily so. It is possible to drive around in circles, spiritually speaking. It is possible to spend a lot of time on the train and never become mature. Activity in church alone does not guarantee maturity.
There are some who understand the myth of "maturity by hanging around." They understand that maturity is not the same as being active in church. They understand it is not automatic. They place their bets with commitment. Commitment is the key to making great disciples. Great disciples are people of great commitment. This is true, as far as it goes. Great commitment is necessary to produce great discipleship. It is the ticket to the party. Luke 14:33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. That's commitment. But, it is possible to give up everything to follow Christ and still miss out. Paul warned that without love we could give our bodies to be burned and it would count for nothing. Commitment alone is the not enough to produce disciples.
Knowledge is not enough. Knowledge is important and necessary. It is the truth that sets us free. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But, the point is not to make us smarter sinners; the point is to make us saints.
Maturity is not automatic. It must be intentional. We must renounce the myth of maturity is hanging around. Church attendance alone is not enough. Commitment alone is not enough. Knowledge alone is not enough. What does it take to make disciples? What are the conditions necessary to produce saints?
How God Changes People
I approach this subject from a great deal of personal interest. Someone came to me once and said something like this, "I don't understand it; I can't explain it; I wish it were not true. Christianity does not work for me. I attend the services. I go to the Bible studies. I try to do all this stuff. But, it just isn't working. I am not able to live the life I know I am supposed to live." Last night, my wife and I reflected on that conversation. "What made the difference for you?" I asked. "What was missing then that you were not able to put it together in living the life?"
It was a strange thing for me back then. Living the life of a minister. Trying to make disciples and lead a church to make disciples. Yet, this one who was closest to me, who was at my side, who attended all the meetings and did all the stuff was beyond frustrated. She was dead. She had simply given up. She had been frustrated, but no longer. Frustration assumes a blocked goal. She had given up. If you try and fail long enough, you eventually just give up. Sharon was at that point.
What was missing? She had attended worship and Bible study. She had many Christian friends that she fellowshipped with. She was exposed to good Christian teaching. I knew her. I knew she honestly tried. Here was someone who had given their life to God and to the church, and said, "Here I am, make a disciple out of me." Ten years later she was no closer to the goal than when she started.
If the church failed to make a disciple out of one person we could write it off and go on. What I learned next convinced me otherwise.
The path we were on led us to the counselor's office. We went through several regimes of therapy. I read deeply in the recovery literature. What I found shocked me. Many many many Christians are trying and failing to live the Christian life. Sharon was not alone. Many try but cannot seem to make the Christian life work. It is a depression or a lust problem or some blind spot or a chemical dependency cycle of abusiveness or something. It is not saintly. It is not pretty.
One of two things is true. Either the Christian psychologists are writing about a lot of fictitious people, or there are a lot of people for whom the Christian life is basically, fundamentally not working. They can't explain it. They don't understand it. They wish it were not true. They come to church. They worship. They attend Bible Studies. They try. They really try. They really really try. And it just doesn't work. Works for others; they understand and accept that. But, it just doesn't seem to work for them. If Christian psychologists are at all in touch with reality, there are millions of people out there for whom this is true.
Christian therapy is a burgeoning industry that is picking up the pieces of what the church is failing to deliver. Counselors are doing what churches have not. I am grateful for therapy. I am grateful for the counselors I have been helped by. I have benefitted for the recovery books I have read. I am grateful that they have benefitted others. But, it causes me to wonder, "Is this God's plan? Discipleship by professional, $100 an hour therapy?"
The counselors I have talked to would respond with a resounding "No." Discipleship by professional counselor is not God's plan. Professional counselor's can help in the cases where they are needed, as every member of the body of Christ is needed. But they are not the bread and butter strategy for making disciples.
Most counselors will argue that much of what they do could be done and ought to be done routinely in Christian fellowship. "Most of what I do is just listen to people and love them," they say. Listen and love; simple. Why don't we do it?
The answer is as easy as it is profound. Church has ceased to be a hospital for admitted sinners. Church has become a club for nice people. People don't confess their sins to each other, and there is no healing taking place. We don't admit to each other, except in a very general way, that we are sinners. We say that we are sinners, but we do not talk about he sins that we struggle with. We pretend we are nice people who have it all together.
The gospel we embrace teaches us otherwise. The bible teaches us that we are all sinners, all cut from the same bolt of cloth as Hitler and Charles Manson. All capable of the worst of sins. But we interact with each other in such a way that we pretend it is not true. The Bible teaches that as long as this is true, we will never find the healing our soul needs. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16) Again, no healing is promised to the person who confesses their sin only to God and never to another human being. We are not confessing our sins to one another. When was the last time you heard a brother say to you, "May I confess my sins to you?" When was the last time you confessed your sin to a priest? I venture it has been a while. No wonder we are sick people. God told us it would be true.
When I confess my sins, there are two things I don't need to hear: condemnation and law. Condemnation has no place in Christian experience, and law never changed anyone.
Many people--many Christians--don't believe this. They believe in grace, for sure. But they believe in grace plus. Grace plus a little bit of condemnation. "There has to be balance." Little bit of grace, little bit of condemnation. Balance. Baloney! There is no place in Christian experience for condemnation. None. It is all grace balanced with truth. Not condemnation, truth.
Truth says if you keep sinning you will screw up you life. It will cost you. There may be consequences you don't want to live with. But it will never call into question whether you are loved by God or me. That is grace and truth. Until we become skilled priests who can represent God to each other there will be no saintmaking.
We think confessing our sins to a priest is a catholic concept. It is not. It is a biblical one. Our difference with the Catholics is not over whether we should confess our sins to a priest. This is spelled out in scripture. Of course we must. Our difference with the Catholics has to do with who the priests are. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We believe that we all can and should represent God to each other as priests.
We are afraid to do this because we are afraid of condemnation. Confession is hard. It involves risk. It involves exposure. It involves exposing my tender insides to the possibility of condemnation. If I receive condemnation, however, I can be sure of one thing: I did not expose my tender inside to a priest. Rather, I have exposed myself to a son of condemnation, and we know who his father is.
The truth is I will stay afraid of condemnation until I confess my sin. I will always wonder if I am really forgiven and accepted and loved until the real me comes out in the light and hears someone say verbalize grace to me. This is the work of the priest--to verbalize grace. There is no saintmaking until the sinners comes into the light and a priest pronounces the words of grace to him: "On the authority of the very words of God, I pronounce your forgiven, clean and accepted, brother. Your sins are forgiven." Ahhh! Grace is so sweet. But there is more.
Priests do more than listen as people confess their sins. They do what God does. They offer to help. They ask, "How can I help you in this area to 'go and sin no more.'' An informed disciple will answer something like . . .
In other words, the confessor may want to ask the priest to hold them accountable.
There is more misunderstanding per square inch on the topic of accountability than just about anything else. Accountability is helping another person reach his goals. It is not imposing my will on to them. That is controlling. That is sin. Accountability is always at the invitation of the person being held accountable. They can ask you not to hold them accountable if they like. There is a place for confronting a sister for her sin, but that is not what we are talking about here. That is church discipline; this is accountability. The key issue in accountability is that the person holding someone accountable always serves at the request of the one they serve.
Many of us need accountability do live the disciplined life we need to live. It is part of the necessary ingredients to saintmaking. Most people mean well, but are not all that disciplined. We need bothers and sisters to ask us on a regular basis.
This is what fellowship is all about. It is not just tea and cookies. It is creating an atmosphere where the real me has a chance to be real. It is creating a place where I can confess my sins. It is offering to hold a brother accountable for his goals. It is the stuff of discipleship. It is an ingredient in the soil that grows saints. But there is more.
John recorded that when we see Him, we will be like Him. There is something about seeing God that makes us godly. Fifty years ago A.W. Tozer wrote that worship is the missing jewel of the church. I am afraid it is still missing. Let us be clear. There will be no saintmaking without all-out worship.
Worship does something to the soul that nothing else can. Worship helps us to see God. Worship helps us to refocus our priorities. Worship is the prerequisite to seeing our sin and repenting of it. We are so smug about our goodness because we have not seen God. People who get a peak into the heavenlies come out with their face in their hands. They come out weeping and crying, "Woe is me, I am ruined." (Isaiah 6:5)
Donald McCullough has served the church well in rebuking us for the Trivialization of God. "Reverence and awe have often been replaced by a yawn of familiarity. The consuming fire has been domesticated into a candle flame, adding a bit of religions atmosphere, perhaps, but no heat, no blinding light, no power for purification."(1)
I said in the section above that the problem with most churches is that they have become a club for nice people rather than a hospital sinners. Assuming this is true, what is the solution? Shall we sin that grace may abound? May it never be. (Romans 6:1) We don't need to sin anymore. We have sinned plenty. The problem is our perception of ourselves as nice people when we are in fact, sinners. The solution is not more sin, it is better worship. Seeing the light helps us to see the dirt more clearly. Only when we see the sin can we confess and know the joy of grace.
Jesus taught that whoever has "been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) This poses an interesting dilemma. You want to love God a lot, don't you? I do. Jesus said if you have not been forgiven very much, you won't love God very much. What conclusion do you draw as a path to loving God more? Sin more? That would miss an important detail of what Jesus said. Jesus did not say people who have sinned much love God much. Many people who have sinned much do not love God at all. Their sinfulness does not draw them to God. Their heart grows colder with each passing day. Sin does not cause them to love God more. Forgiveness does. Jesus said that whoever has been forgiven little loves little. If you would love God more, ask forgive you more.
Simple you say, I can do that. I can ask God to forgive me more. No. You are wrong. You cannot. The Bible teaches that repentance is a gift. (2 Timothy 2:25) We cannot repent on our own. We need God's help because we are blinded so that we cannot see our own sin. We cannot repent more except that God reveal to us our sin. Or sins lie in a blind spot so that we cannot see them.
You have had the experience, as I have, of having the Holy Spirit convict you of sins that you have been over a long period of time. You get up every day and spend time with the Father. Each day you confess your sins. You think of everything you can that would hurt the heart of God. Then, one day, the Holy Spirit reveals something you have been doing for years. Perhaps it is a petty dishonesty or a hurtful way you have been relating to your wife or a failed opportunity at service or an ineffectiveness in ministry--whatever--the Holy Spirit screams the transgression to you so that you finally see it. For a moment, you cannot see anything else. You wonder how in the world you went all those years so blind. That is what the Bible says about us, we are blind. We need God to grant us the gift of repentance and faith.
We cannot force the hand of God to give us the gift of seeing our sins so that we can repent of them and receive his grace. We can, however, stand close to his throne. It is closeness to God that always, always, always reveals our sin. Worship draws us close to God. We enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)
You have known hard-hearted believers, haven't you? Ever hear a sermon that sounded like it was crafted for a particular person's sin and they never hear it? We can be very very blind. Chance are, you and I are still very very blind in certain areas. Have you asked for the gift of repentance lately?
The gift of repentance is quite a gift because it without it there is no grace. And without grace, their is no Christianity. Only the smelly stuff of pharaseeism. Christianity is continually standing in repentance and grace.
When people worship God, God gives them the gift of repentance. Only in the light can we see the dirt.
How are we doing. If we can believe the surveys, not very well. Barna's research indicates 61% of those who attend church say they sense God's presence only occasionally, seldom, or never.(2) That is not a 61% success rate--that would be bad enough. That is a 61% failure rate. Sixty one percent of people who come to church don't find God. We gotta do better than that.
I am not just talking about attending a worship service. I am talking about a certain kind of worship. In fact, it wouldn't have to be in a worship service, though most of us are well served by someone leading us to worship. Most of us don't get around to private worship often enough on our own. One of the greatest travesties is worship services where two out of three people there don't worship.
The worship of which I speak is the kind of worship where people are swept away into the presence of God. Where people see God in their spirits and hardly see anything else. Where people forget about their cares, their problems, their affections and their attractions to be wonderfully attracted again by the sheer wonder of God. Worship that leaves your mouth dropped open. Worship that leaves you speechless. Worship that leaves your cheeks wet and your heart warm. How long has it been since you worshiped like that?
By the way, the worship of which I speak rarely happens accept I am concentrating on God alone. That is why it is important that churches provide for children to learn to worship separate from their parents. When my children are beside me, I tend to think about them and worry with whether they are behaving properly. I can tend to kids, or I can worship. I cannot do both at the same time. Not real worship. The worship of which I speak requires an undivided heart. I cannot worship in a way that changes my soul and, at the same time, see that my children do not talk too loudly or roll crayons down the slopped floor of the sanctuary. If you would lead people to worship, provide something for their children--even their older children--during worship.
Without worship like that there is no discipleship. Without worship like that, we will never be all God intended. When we see him, we will be like him.
If you are serious about the business of saintmaking, create an atmosphere where people can be honest with each other and honest about their sins. Create an atmosphere where people can and will and do confess their sins to one another. And create an atmosphere where people who come to a worship service worship. There is no saintmaking with out it. One more thing is needed.
We need fellowship to make disciples. But not just any kind of fellowship; fellowship where I can confess my sins to a priest and that priest will represent God to me and be to me grace and truth. Never condemnation; grace and truth.
We need worship to make saints. Not just any kind of worship. Worship that leads me to see God and begs he give me the gift of repentance, faith and grace.
We need teaching to make disciples. It is the truth that sets us free. (John 8:32) We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) But, not just any kind of teaching.
Teaching that makes disciples is long on application. It shows people how. It does not merely tell what we are to do or why we are to do them. Teaching that produces saints shows people how to live the Christian life.
Most believer would gladly live the Christian life if someone would just show them how. It is teacher's job to show people how. Very specifically. Very methodically. Very systematically, we need to show believers. . .
On and on and on. Good teaching shows believers specifically how to live the Christian life. Good teaching makes it easy for believers to be doers of the word and not hearers only. (James 1:22)
We have dealt with three ingredients in the soil of saintmaking: fellowship, worship and teaching. There is one more.
Pain has a way of doing something to our souls that nothing else can. There is something about pain that will mold us and make us into the shape of Christ that nothing else will do. Study the lives of people that God had greatly used and you will find people that have experience much pain.
Even though I know this, I still find myself disobedient to the command of God to not be surprised by pain. (1 Peter 4:12) I am still surprised. I still say, "Why me? Why now? When will it ever stop?" I have often found myself disobedient to James' admonition to "Count it all joy." (James 1:2)
I still remember my last spanking as a child. I was crawling to find some way of escape on the top bunk as my mother wielded her weapon. "Ouch! That hurts, Mom!" I honestly expected her to be surprised, apologize and stop. Maybe if I was lucky, some milk and cookies. Surely she didn't mean to hurt her boy. "I meant for it to hurt." She knew that pain would drive the folly far from me. But, it has to hurt. Pain hurts. That is why they call it pain.
There is no discipleship without pain. While we are designing systems to encourage members to memorize scripture and be priests to each other and worship God as he deserves to be worshiped, God is working on another curriculum; a curriculum of pain.
We do not have to provide a curriculum of pain. God will provide that. He can find plenty of sinful people to hurt us and plenty of folly in our hearts to get us into trouble. We need not try to find pain. It will find us.
I don't know what it is about that pain that works its miracles, just as I do not know what is in an antibiotic that makes the sickness go away. All I know, I take it and I feel better. Pain is like that.
You can tell people that have experience pain, can't you? I can. They have a softness about them. The sarcasm and harshness and heartlessness is gone. They are broken. They are like God. Pain did that. Even Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8) So must we. Jesus was called a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3) People who are acquainted with sorrow act like Jesus. People who have never known sorrow act like mere people.
The only appropriate response to a brother in pain is compassion. They do not need lectures. They do not need teaching. They do not need condemnation. They do not need to be told that their sin or their stupidity caused this, even though it may have. They just need to be held. They need to be told you care. They need compassion.
We need not invent pain. We do need to prepare for it. We need to teach about it. We need to tell people it is coming and that it is a necessary part of the saintmaking process. A well taught believer will never ask, "Why me?" He knows better. He has been tutored to say to himself, "Why not me? This is part of the curriculum. I knew it was coming. The Bible tells me so." If I know that pain is part of the curriculum, at least I can prepare. We can tell people that pain is coming and we can admonish people to reach out to people in pain. We can encourage people to share their pain with others. We can show people how to help people in pain.
I do not understand saintmaking. I do not understand the process by which God turns a hardened sinner into a broken, passionate saint. I do not understand growth of any living thing. I do not understand how God turns a pumpkin seed into a pumpkin or a human seed into a baby and then an adult. I do not understand the process; however, I do understand the conditions under which seeds become full grown. Seeds need water and soil and warmth and sunshine and nutrients.
I do not understand the process by which saints are created. I do, however, understand the conditions necessary to turn a newly born again believer into a full blown saint. The soil must contain fellowship where we become priests to one another. The soil must include worship that moisten the cheeks and drys the throat. The soil must contain teaching that points the way. The soil must contains stones.
1. Who have you known that hung around church a lot, for many, many years, and never really seemed to become a mature follower of Christ?
2. What went wrong?
3. Describe the most mature example of the kind of person we are trying to create that you have known?
4. What do you know of this person's process toward becoming a saint? How did they get where they are?
5. What about for you? What have been the most pivotal events that have pole vaulted you to the next level spiritually?
6. What setback have blocked your progress toward maturity?
7. On a scale of one to ten, how would you evaluate the average maturity level in your church?
8. What are the most common myths about maturity that people you know seem to hold to?
9. Why do you think the Protestant church has forgotten the truth of James 5:16?
10. How can we teach people to be priests to one another?
11. Describe the most meaningful experience of worship you have ever been a part of?
12. How could we improve worship so that 90% of the people who attended our worship services encountered God?
13. Why is worship important to the saintmaking process?
14. How would you evaluate the worship in your church? What do you feel good about?
15. What would you most like to improve?
16. What is the place of pain in saintmaking?
17. Describe a painful season in your life when God used the pain to take you to the next level?
18. How can we prepare people for pain?
19. What do people need to know in order to help a friend who is in pain?
20. Is there anyone going through something right now that is difficult and you would like the group to pray for you and encourage you?
1. Donald McCullough, The Trivialization of God, (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1995), p. 13.
2. George Barna, Evangelism that Works, (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1995), p. 58.