The Advantages Of Praying Drunk
Is there ever a time in a Christian’s life when there is less need for grace?
Think about it. God's grace can quickly become theoretical and it plays out in our churchy practices and attitudes all the time. What if a homeless drunk began showing up to church services, but he's really slow to change? He will need a lot of grace in order to live the sanctified life.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
You’re on a Bible-reading plan, you tithe regularly, and you lead a small-group study. All things considered, life is going pretty well spiritually. Praise God for that, but in light of your spiritual growth, do you ever need less grace than the alter call drunk?
Technically, a good theologian would never allow one to say there is ever less need for grace, but the way we live and the lack of patience we have for others tells a different story.
In most churches, chances are that poor drunk has roughly three to six months to get his act together, and that’s if he’s lucky (depending on the patience of his pastor or small-group leader). To be fair, in most evangelical churches, drunks that respond to alter calls get tons of love and acceptance and that’s as it should be. But he’s also unwittingly put on a timeline. The warm acceptance he experienced has a shelf life, and he’ll need to prove to somebody that he’s been taking his spiritual vitamins and making progress. Otherwise, if it’s suspected that maybe it wasn’t a real conversion, he’ll need to recommit or become born again… again.
Christians know that the gospel gets them in, but there is an unspoken notion that staying in has to do with winning efforts. This could translate into a need for less grace, but as Paul said to the Galatians, you don’t get waved through the door by flashing a spiritual superhero resume. You get in because of the one brokering the deal (the Spirit) and through the perfect work of your elder brother (Jesus). That is, you’re not perfected by works of the flesh, but by the Spirit (Galatians 3:3).
ONCE YOU’RE IN, YOU’RE IN
You are a passive recipient of the grace of God not only at your point of conversion, but in the day-to-day Christian life until your dying day. God in Christ served you then, and he serves you now. In Bible-talk, Christ is your sanctification. That is, after God declares sinners not guilty on account of Christ’s work on the cross (justification), they are simultaneously set apart, cleansed, and made holy (sanctification).
When the topic of sanctification comes up, what most people mean is ongoing personal spiritual growth. This happens progressively throughout a Christian’s life and this is certainly an aspect of sanctification, but that’s not all. First and foremost, sanctification is definite and concrete. That means that in light of Romans 6, “there is a once-for-all definitive and irreversible breach with the realm in which sin reigns” (Baker Encylopedia of the Bible, Vol 2, p 229).
JESUS BECAME YOUR SANCTIFICATION
You can’t have one without the other. Without foundational sanctification, there’s no hope of progressive, ongoing sanctification. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption...” Get that? Jesus became your sanctification.
In Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, Sinclair Ferguson says this:
Union with Christ in his death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds...if we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf. We share in his death (we were baptized into his death), in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in his ascension (we have been raised with him), in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-3).
[Sanctification is] rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God's activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.
The point is there is bedrock to this holiness whether you become a daily devotion rockstar or not. Jesus is our definitive sanctification, and believers receive this sanctification passively. You don’t have to strive for this kind of sanctification, and this gives us solid ground for growth that would otherwise be impossible.
BACK TO THE ORIGINAL QUESTION
The alter call drunk example above is an easy target. In a sense, that guy has an advantage because his sin is more clear.
How about you? You may not have a problem with drinking, but maybe there’s something else in your life that’s out of control? Pride? Overachieving in your service to the church? A judgmental attitude towards others who don’t have their devotional life dialed in?
If we’re honest, whether you’re the alter call drunk or the nitpicking devotee, we are all a little slow to change. But there’s good news! When growth in sanctification seems slow, we point to Christ, his work on the cross, and that he is ultimately our sanctification, not our works. We all need the grace of Jesus as our definitive sanctification. And there’s never a day that we don’t need it straight up, 100 proof.