Originally published Tuesday, 13 May 2014.
"Mom! I lost my tooth!"
My youngest came running toward me with both hands outstretched. A bloody white nub lay in the palms of his hands.
"It came out in the bounce house," he informed me.
I remember well both the joys and the pain of losing teeth as a child. It was an exciting step in "growing up." But the barbaric methods of trying to get the hanging tooth out--string on door knobs, pliers, eating carrots--were a bit too much for me. I preferred to just wait until the loose tooth came out on its own. I breathed an internal sigh of relief when I lost my last one.
The truth is, I handle other pains in my life the same way--avoidance, delay, and running away.
But, like my son's lost tooth, there can be no new growth in my life until the old is removed. Like his tooth, the sins, desires, and rough edges of my heart have to be sloughed off to reveal fresh new life. If I am ever to grow in grace and walk forward in faith, the old must go. And while the process is often painful, it is also necessary.
Eustace, in Lewis' story The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 5), knew something of this pain that comes before growth. At the beginning of the story, we immediately find him griping, complaining, and responding selfishly toward everyone around him. He has a superior attitude, looking down on others. While the ship was docked on an island, Eustace wandered away from everyone else and discovered a dragon's lair filled with great riches. Greed filled his heart and his desire for the golden treasure grew. He fell asleep on top of the riches and when he awoke, he had turned into a dragon.
Aslan was able to free him from his scales but it was painful:
"I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now...The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt...Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off--just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt--and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been...Then he caught hold of me...and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment...Then I saw...I'd turned into a boy again." (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis)
Our growth and transformation into the likeness of Christ is not easy and is often painful. We have to first face our sins and the reality of who we really are: sinful to our very core. It's not just that we sin occasionally. It's not just that we make poor choices or mistakes from time to time, we are sinners. Even our good works are as filthy rags in the sight of God.
But by his amazing grace, God made a way to free us from the curse of sin. Jesus, the only righteous Son of God, took our place. He stepped into human history and wrapped himself in human skin and lived a perfect life. He fulfilled every command. He trusted, loved, and obeyed his Father when we couldn't. Because he never sinned even once, he became the perfect, spotless substitute for us. He took on every ounce of God's wrath that we deserved on the cross. And by doing so, he freed us forever from the power of sin.
Yet the presence of sin still remains. Though we are no longer sinners in the sight of God, sin still lingers. We still battle against it every day. But the redemption Christ purchased for us doesn't end at the cross. It continues its work in us each day as the Spirit works in us, making us new. He refines and purges us of our sin just as Aslan stripped away Eustace's greedy dragon flesh. And in doing so, he is preparing us for eternity.
Every day is a new day where we face opportunities to learn, grow, and be shaped by the Spirit. Sometimes we miss these opportunities and rather than yield to the Spirit's work, we avoid it, run away from it, or delay it. We need to trust the Spirit to prompt us, guide us, and reveal to us the sins and idols that reside within us. We need to face our sin, acknowledge it, repent of it and seek God's grace to turn from it. We need to be mindful of his work in us and submit to it.
God is an expert surgeon. His knife is steady, but there will be pain in the cutting. There must be brokenness before there is healing. The old must be removed before the new can take its place. Death always precedes resurrection; darkness before the dawn.
Growth in holiness is not easy. It hurts. It's messy. But as Eustace learned, it's also good. It's freeing. And it is worth it. As Paul wrote in Philippians, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (3:7-11).
I can see my son's new little tooth making its appearance and it reminds me that Jesus came to make all things new. He is making me new and he promises to finish what he started. And one day, the transformation will be complete. I will shed the sin in my life once and for all and will enjoy eternity forever with him where "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Do you trust the Spirit's refining work in your heart? Or do you run from it?