By Hermes C. Fernandes
The religious industry has patented the process of serial behavioral standardization, misrepresenting it as sanctification. The instrument used in the production of large-scale believers goes by the name of discipleship. Each new disciple is called upon to reproduce, forming others who are his replica. Thus, what we call discipleship is more about cloning.
Definitely, sanctification has nothing to do with the production of lead soldiers. The process of sanctification is closely linked to that of individuation.
Peter urges us to come to Christ, “a living stone, rejected, in fact, by men, but with God chosen and precious”. Similarly, we have become “living stones, built as a spiritual home”, to be “holy priesthood”, in order to offer “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2: 4-5).
This is not the only time we have found this analogy in the pages of the New Testament. Therefore, its readers were probably familiar with it and understood that the new temple erected by God was made up of people and not inanimate bricks. It was enough for Pedro to refer to each one of us as “stones” or “bricks”. However, he deliberately adds the adjective “viva”. We are not just stones, but living stones. Why did he add the adjective?
Everything that lives is in constant motion. This is not something static, but dynamic, in continuous evolution and maturation. So are we. Our greatest example is Christ, who, being God, emptied himself completely, to submit to the process of maturation. The writer of Hebrews assures us that He, even though He was a Son, “learned obedience through what he suffered; and, having been perfected, he became the author of eternal salvation for all who obey him ” (Heb.5: 8-9).
We are all equally involved in this process of improvement, which must last “until we all come to the unity of faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, the perfect man, to the full stature of Christ, so that we are no longer fickle boys, carried around by all the wind of doctrine, by the deception of men who cunningly deceive fraudulently. Rather, following the truth in love, let us grow in everything that is the head, Christ, whose whole body, well adjusted, and connected by the help of all the joints, according to the just operation of each part, makes the body increase, for your edification in love ” (Eph.4: 13-16).
Like living bricks we are properly set on one of the walls of the sanctuary of God. Therefore, we are no longer loose bricks, vulnerable, and susceptible to any wind. However, once settled, we do not stop growing. It is the process of individuation, which Paul called “reaching the stature of a perfect man”, or, a complete, mature man. We are no longer merely people but fully individuals. The term “individual” means indivisible, whole, whole.
One of the characteristics of this individuation process is authenticity.
Peter says that Christ, as a living and precious stone for God, suffered the rejection of men. The price of authenticity is to be rejected by the standards in force in the world. Because we do not bend to standardization, we are considered by rebels, insurgents, exotic beings that must be pushed to the margins of society.
We are no longer defined by the social roles we play, the status we achieve, or anything else. What we derive from what He is. It is from our relationship with Him and from the place we occupy in His purpose that the meaning of our existence comes.
As he was sent by God to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked him: What will I say to them? In the name of which will I present me? “God replied to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. He said, “Thus you will say in the eyes of Israel, I AM sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14).
Egyptian deities were known by their names. But the God of Israel could not be defined by the joining and pronunciation of some phonemes produced by human lips. Beyond all definitions, He is what He is. Therefore, God forbade images to be made of Him. However talented the artist was, he would be unable to represent the Creator God of the heavens and the earth in a sculpture.
This same God has commanded us to be holy, because He is holy. Therefore, we must not allow ourselves to be defined by anything, except by the grace that has been granted to us by this God. It is this grace that enables mortal man to relate to the Eternal God and that should guide our relationship with the rest of creation. With this in mind, Paul declares:
“But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace towards me was not in vain, but I worked much more than all of them; yet not me, but the grace of God that is with me. ” 1 Corinthians 15:10
What I do does not define me, but it reveals who I am. Although I do more than all those who came before me, I must credit my performance to grace, as it truly defines who I am. What I do, I do because I am. But I am not what I am for what I do. I just fulfill the purpose of my existence.
Sanctification puts everything in its right place. The factors are properly ordered so that they do not alter the product. Sanctification realigns the meaning of each thing and makes us see it in perspective.
There was a discussion among the religious of Jesus’ time over what would be most important, the gold or the temple, the offering or the altar. Jesus put things in the right perspective:
“Woe to you, blind drivers! for you say, Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but he who swears by the gold of the temple, he is in debt. Fools and blind! For which is greater: gold, or the temple, which sanctifies the gold? And he who swears by the altar is nothing; but he who swears by the offering on the altar, he is indebted. Fools and blind! For which is greater: the offering, or the altar, which sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears on the altar, swears on it and on everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by him and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one seated on it. ” Matthew 23: 16-22
In other words, it is the whole that sanctifies the parts and not vice versa. The offering is sanctified by the altar where it was deposited. Outside the altar, it ceases to be an offering, that is, it loses its meaning as such and becomes just money.
As individuals, our meaning comes from our relationship to the whole. Do not confuse individuation with individualism. Our relationship with the whole is synergistic and reciprocal. Just as the whole sanctifies the parts, the parts must attribute holiness to the whole and recognize the holiness of each part individually.
It is not a matter of attributing meaning by the function it performs, but by the relationship it has. Being a father, for example, adds meaning to our lives. It is much more than just a social role.
A hand owes its meaning to the relationship it has with the rest of the body. Even if, eventually, it becomes immobilized, it will still be what it is.
Our relationship encompasses, at the same time, the whole and the other parts of itself, regardless of the function performed. ” For just as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually one another” (Rom. 12: 4-5). Notice the detail: we are members of the body, but individual members of each other. You cannot sanctify the whole and despise the parts.
It is not just about being aware of its existence and meaning, but also seeing yourself as part of a network of mutual care. What happens at one end of the network affects the other end. We are all connected. Therefore, “if a member suffers, all members suffer with him; and if a member is honored, all members rejoice with him ” (1 Cor. 12:26).
We can only offer and receive care if we admit our interdependence. So that “the eye cannot say by hand: I have no need for you, nor the head to toe: I have no need of you ” (1 Cor. 12:21). We all invariably depend on each other. And this interdependence makes us sanctify one another, honoring them, that is, giving them special and non-transferable meaning.
Returning to the sanctuary analogy: we are living stones positioned in their own place on the temple walls, and thus, collectively, we become God’s dwelling. No one is God’s dwelling in isolation. We lack the relationship with the whole. Not everything we are together, we are in particular.
Paul says that “every well-fitting building grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in which you also are built together for the habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2: 21-22).
Many claims to have failed to congregate because they themselves are the temple of God. These seem to ignore the biblical warning that “he who lives in isolation seeks his own desire; rebel against true wisdom ” (Prov.18: 1).
Sanctification aims to prepare us for communion. We are individuals learning to relate to other individuals, giving them meaning, and respecting and honoring their own place in the Whole. Sanctification, therefore, is a process that begins with individuation and culminates in communion.
Each living stone is formed (individuation), then fitted in place (meaning), and finally plastered (communion). All the stones together, united in love, supporting each other, form the temple of the living God. However, our individuality is maintained. We are absorbed by the Whole but never dissolved. Behind the layer of dough that covers the wall, bricks are still carefully laid on top of each other.
Any proposal of spirituality that promotes the dilution of being should not even be taken seriously. Everything in this world seems to conspire so that the individual loses his identity and starts to act according to decisions made by others. And that is how certain groups are perpetuated in power.
When individuality is lost, allowing itself to be diluted, the person is able to do things that he would never do in his right mind. It is as if your critical sense is in suspension for a while. Do what you want. Paul warns us not to walk “as other Gentiles do, in the vanity of their mind. Blackened in understanding, separated from the life of God by the ignorance in them, by the hardness of their heart; who, having lost all feeling, gave themselves up to dissolution so that they could eagerly commit all impurity ” (Eph.4: 17-19). The keyword in this passage is dissolution, where the verb dissolve comes from. Our feelings are canceled out. Our judgment is set aside. We act as if by instinct, but in reality, we only subject ourselves to a temporary collective conscience.
We read in Exodus 23: 2 the admonition that says: “You will not follow the crowd to do evil; nor on a demand will you testify, accompanying the majority, to pervert justice. ” We never allow them to think and decide for us, however comfortable it may seem. Each will have to answer before God for their own choices.
Expecting dissolution from those who do not know God may seem natural. The problem takes on another dimension when those who call themselves spokesmen for God’s grace are the promoters of dissolution. Care must be taken to ensure that we are not deceived by the false spirituality of such people. Since the very beginning, the church has had to deal with this. For this reason, Judas denounces those who infiltrate the church, and “convert the grace of our God into dissolution” (Jd.1: 4).
Nothing is more contradictory than using grace as a pretext to manipulate the masses, leading individuals to give up their individuality, allowing themselves to be dissolved.
Let us, therefore, be sober and watchful so that no one speaks on our behalf, using us unscrupulously to reach unchallenged targets. Communion, yes. Manipulation, never. Sanctification, yes. Dissolution, never.
* If you haven’t read it yet, read the article before this one for a better understanding of the topic. I will soon post the last part of this reflection.