Do you find theology intimidating? Does it sound distant, cold, academic?
Maybe you’ve known people who are really into theology and don’t seem to love Jesus much, or don’t seem to go to the hard places where poverty, suffering, and unbelief live. So you stopped calling after a lousy first date.
But what if your stereotype of theology really isn’t theology? After all, at its simplest, to do theology is to know more and more about God. That doesn’t sound boring or dangerous at all. Theology is the great social network of knowing God. As God, by his Spirit, applies his words from all over the Bible to our soul, imagination, and worldview, we meet him, not just abstract ideas.
There are dangers of unhealthy distraction or obsession or pride, but there’s nothing more important about us than how we think about God. And not just how we think about his love for us, but what we know about who he is and how he works. After all, how much can we love a God we don’t know very well?
So let’s try an exercise. What has God given us to make us more like himself? You might be able to define sanctification, but how would you describe it to someone? How do you picture sanctification? Better, how would you paint it? Meet Grace.
The painting was so beautiful it haunted her. She couldn’t walk by without stopping.
It hung above their fireplace — two love-bird cardinals on a branch beside a nest in a heavily wooded area sometime late October or early November. A few red and yellow leaves remained, but only a few. If you looked close enough, you’d see the old, gray shed almost hidden in the upper right-hand corner.
Her dad had painted the piece several years ago — in fact, he was always painting. He’d see something on a drive or while walking in their neighborhood or flipping through a magazine, and he’d bring it to life right in front of Grace’s ten-year-old light brown eyes with just a brush and a handful of colors.
When Grace Paints
She wanted to be like him, to create like he created — to be conformed to her favorite artist, from one degree of beauty and creativity to another. Her parents would let her play with her own paint, and she would try to imitate the fireplace birds or the flowers in her bedroom or the lighthouse in the bathroom. But nothing she made ever satisfied her like his brush could.
One day, having tried and failed, and tried and failed, she asked Daddy for help. Like most dads, he couldn’t wait to say yes. He set up an easel in his study, placed her chair right in front, his behind hers, and gave her a small palette of colors — just green, red, and yellow with a little white and black.
When Dad Helps
So she began painting. While she was holding the brush, it was hardly her doing the painting. Sure, he never touched the canvas without her, but his mark was in every stroke. He pointed and motioned and taught and even moved her hand with his own. First a tree — trunk, branches, leaves, even a bluebird — then another and another and a trail between them, like the ones they had hiked together last summer.
She saw the scene being born and loved it. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t anything as good as her dad’s, but it was like his, and it was hers, and they had done it together.
That night she sat staring at her art, treasuring the trees, but seeing more and more flaws. It needed something more — details in the branches, more colors, more life. Tears welled up in her young eyes as she realized just how much was missing. As she studied the painting, longing for more, she fell asleep.
When Morning Dawns
When Grace woke up the next morning, which seemed like no time at all, she found something very different in front of her. This painting reminded her of hers, but it had been changed, strangely made new. She saw all her own strokes, the hours she had put in yesterday, but there was so much more now.
Where there had been two or three shades of green before, now there were two or three hundred, all working together to breathe fullness into her trees. The birds, once flat, were brought to life — made to look real and soft and even hungry. You could almost hear them through the canvas.
Everything she had hoped to see and much more filled her heart far beyond all her imagination had made the night before. Her eyes were wide and full. She carefully searched every inch, looking for any flaw or lack in this little forest. She knew the beauty was hers, and yet it was so much more than hers.
She looked and looked at the painting with wonder. And as she did, her dad walked by holding his morning coffee, smiling as he did. And as she saw him, the same man who had sat with her the day before, she loved him more than ever, because only one was able to do what had been done that night. Only one could make her work this beautiful, this perfect.
It was her brush. His masterpiece. Our sanctification.
It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. –Philippians 2:13
We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. –2 Corinthians 3:18
When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. –1 John 3:2–3