By Elizabeth Prata
I am reading through my Bible Reading plan and yesterday I got to Matthew 5-6-7, the Beatitudes and Similitudes. All I can say is “wow”.
If I was a false Christian or an undiscerning newbie, I would definitely like to hear from Jesus directly, assuring me that I am progressing on my walk. Who wouldn’t want a personal “Walk to Emmaus” like those two had after the crucifixion? (Luke 24:13-27). But I am not a newbie and the Spirit by His grace delivers discernment. So, I have not heard lately from Jesus and I have no direct assurance that I’m progressing.
Except! Do you know how we can detect progress in sanctification? (which everyone should be concerned about, it’s a prevalent theme – 2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Corinthians 11:28, Hebrews 2:1, Lamentations 3:40). By our response to the Scriptures.
As I was reading Matthew yesterday, I was struck by the magnificence of the call to the Christian life. It pierced me in two ways. I was entranced by the beauty of the verses and the instructions Jesus gave on that Mount. I was also convicted deeply by my own poor application of all that He said. The gap between my sinful flesh and His resplendent instruction felt wider than ever. Yet at the same time I felt closer to Jesus than ever. I know that having read His scriptures, that Jesus loves me, and that His Spirit will persevere me along the path of righteousness. I might have felt low, but my trust in Him is high.
My reaction in the past to these same scriptures had been, “This is so well written.” Then, “How nice” (early on). Later, it was, “Man, this seems pretty demanding.” In these latter years, the conviction of the Beatitudes’ truths deepen each time my Reading Plan comes ’round to these verses.
If we are growing in Christ we will notice a palpable and strong attachment to obedience. We will develop a curiosity to dig deeper so as to learn the intended meaning. We will pray for spiritual things such as a better application of these truths rather than only temporal things like a higher paycheck or a friend’s healing. Not that praying for temporal things is bad, not at all. Jesus urged us to pray for all things, large and small.
But we do not need personal assurance from Jesus in audible voices that we are accepted, or growing, or loved. We can tell all those things by how the Spirit applies the illuminated word to our heart and mind. If our mind is being transformed, we will be able to detect it. We often press so hard against the emotionalism-religion, or, a Christianity driven by emotions where the mind is abandoned, that we forget to remember that we feel, too. The scriptures make us feel. Think of the two people on the Road to Emmaus. Before they knew that it was the resurrected Jesus telling them all the things of scriptures concerning Himself, “They said to one another, ‘Were our hearts not burning within us when He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:32). We can detect a growing sanctification if we notice a growing distaste for the world, and an increasing love for Jesus of Scripture when we read it. Are we ever more ashamed of the sins we used to enjoy?
Christianity is a feeling religion as well as a thinking religion. We are not led by our feelings, but we do feel joy, relief, appreciation, peace, and we feel agony over our sin, shame for our poor behavior, conviction of our own unworthiness. Studying the scriptures should move us deeply. We should feel. But only as far as what we are responding to emotionally is teaching us in our constantly transforming mind.
As I passed the annual benchmark of Matthew 5-6-7 I see that yes, I am making progress on my Pilgrim’s walk. Not fast, and sometimes bumpy, but I pray that the depth of emotion of these beautiful scriptures I felt teaches me that though the walk may be long, it is worth it. At the end will be the face of Jesus. We shall see Him face to face, and then what joy we will feel! Meanwhile, friends, keep reading. As you pass over the same chapters each year, take note of the different way our minds reacts to the truths laid out on our own Road to Emmaus. That’s growth. That’s sanctification. That’s the Christian life.