I join the group headed down the dusty, gravel road. Tweens and teens laughing and talking as they sauntered toward the woods. Our skin is tinted pink from a day in God’s creation.
It’s been a good day.
We enter the canopy of trees still following the dusty path. Ahead is a clearing with makeshift benches made from wooden slats and tree stumps – row after row – tiered so all can see the front. Stepping on and over the seats, we push and shove, trying to sit by our friends.
A leader attempts to garner our attention with a whistle. We reluctantly respond as a sweet gal with a guitar begins to lead us in song.
Amazing Grace. Holy, Holy, Holy. The Old Rugged Cross. And, You Can’t Get to Heaven (just for fun).
Our voices lift to Him – His creation singing among His creation.
Soon our pastor steps in front of the wooden cross, marking the front.
I don’t remember his message. I am not sure what words he used, what passage he quoted, or what plea he made, but my heart was overflowing.
And, in that moment on July 11, 1989, my Creator awakened my 13-year-old heart to His presence. As the final chorus began, I stepped from the row into the aisle and walked forward.
I didn’t really have to go forward. I knew I belonged to Jesus already. But, I wanted to pray – to thank Him for my new heart. Thank Him for saving me, rescuing me from a life of sin.
I knelt at the improvised altar – a piling of stones in a long row. I bowed my head, joined hands with my pastor, and prayed to the Most High God, confessing my sinful heart, acknowledging His death and resurrection, asking for forgiveness of my sin.
With tear-filled eyes I said Amen and raised my head. This moment I remember clearly…
Still on my knees, I looked heavenward. Light was streaming between the trees as sunset approached. All voices around me were hushed; I could only hear his creation – singing songbirds and swishing trees.
I smiled, for I knew: I had met Him today. In person. He had come to tell me – I choose you, Sarah.
In my 13-year-old heart, this was THE moment. I was in. Heaven would someday be my home. I was a new creation. The old was gone, the new had come.
I had been saved.
Then, I went home. And later back to school. I was a new creation – for sure. My life’s focus was different. I attended church. But…
My problems persisted. I still caved to peer pressure. I still struggled with sin.
What happened to the “old was gone, the new had come”? Yes, my heart was new; I could feel it. I knew it. But, why was I still steeped in sin?
As the years have passed, I’ve pondered this often. I am His child. I serve Him. I love Him. Except for a few seasons, I’ve pursued Him. I love His Word. I hunger and thirst for righteousness.
So, why do I suffer? Why do I struggle? Why do I give into temptation? Heck, why am I even tempted? Why can’t I just be the “new creation”?
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. 1 John 16:33
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4: 12-13
I can’t just “be the new creation” because I am still being saved. My salvation was not a one-time event. We can use a variety of terms – redeemed/redemption, deliver/deliverance, freeing/freedom. But, regardless of the jargon chosen, it’s clear to me that our “new creation” is continual.
I was saved, I am being saved, and the day God calls me home to heaven, I will be fully saved.
For now, I walk in the wilderness – just as His Word promised. For now, I live in a fallen, broken world in which Satan is prowling like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
My heart has always had trouble reconciling this continual process of becoming more like Christ. I have never really understood why God saved me yet my struggles continue. I might understand it theoretically and theologically. Still, all those fancy terms like justification and sanctification have mattered little when I have faced deep hurt or sat by a floundering friend.
But, recently as I listened to a teacher review Exodus 1-18 and introduce chapter 19, I finally understood. The teacher said (paraphrase): The theme of Exodus chapters 1-18 is redemption. God is saving His people from slavery in Egypt and taking them to the Promised Land. It’s symbolic of our own Exodus – God saving us from sin and moving us toward the ultimate prize: Eternity with Him. But, in Exodus 19, the Israelites find themselves at the foot of Mount Sinai. It seems they’ve already been saved – freed from slavery – out of the wilderness even.
So, what’s next? If the saving is over, why aren’t the Israelites being ushered into the Promised Land?
If we’ve been saved, why aren’t our lives reflecting “promised land” living?
Why is life still so difficult? For them – and for us?
Because… God took the Israelites out of Egypt. So, now He has to get Egypt out of the Israelites.
God has saved us. He has delivered us. But, we’ve been living in slavery to sin and this world prior to the moment He saves us – awakens our hearts to Him. So, now the work of taking the sin and slavery out of us begins.
Our appetites and desires need transformed from those living enslaved to those walking in freedom. He begins teaching us to utterly depend upon Him and Him alone. We have been freed from the penalty of sin, but now we need saved (continually) from the power of sin in our lives.
He’s still working in us. Don’t be discouraged.
The wilderness in which you walk, the sin through which you stumble is redeemable. His desire is for you to turn to Him, allowing Him to mold and make you into the promised “new creation” - one who can rest in Him as the HOPE – the only hope for an eternal rescue from self and to Savior.
[NOTE: I realize there's more to suffering than this. I simply resonated with Jen Wilkin's idea that God was "taking the Egypt out of the Israelites just as He'd taken the Israelites out of Egypt.]