Jonah destroys all our theories that God uses only the totally sanctified to fulfil his greatest purposes. Jonah’s heart wasn’t right and neither was Samson’s, but both were powerfully instrumental in God’s hands.
Church history is littered with people who had powerful ministries but who didn’t live as God intended. Some preached to thousands and even saw many saved, healed and delivered while behind the scenes they were indulging in all manner of questionable activities.
When character declines, anointing doesn’t necessarily cease immediately. Church history seems to indicate that for a while gifting outlasts character until God sighs, ‘Enough!’ Samson discovered this to his terrible cost. Beware of being impressed by externals. Just because someone is powerful in public doesn’t necessarily mean that he pleases God in private.
Well might we ask, ‘Lord, why did you ever take Jonah out of the fish? He’s a dreadful character. You should at least have left him in there a bit longer.’ But that’s the wonder of God. He knew that Jonah’s repentance wasn’t complete but still had mercy on him. ‘That’s enough. I’ll release him now but I haven’t finished with him yet.’
Maybe God has recently rescued you from some great crisis and given you a great new sense of fulfilment and usefulness. That’s great. But don’t think that you’re now the completed saint. Your heart may not yet be absolutely right. God has displayed his amazing grace to you but he wants to take you still further.
A lady I once knew often said to me, ‘Every time you preach, God speaks to me about my smoking habit.’ The issue became an obsession. ‘I feel so condemned,’ she told me, ‘but I can’t give it up.’ One day, I said to her, ‘Actually, God wants to speak to you about a lot of things. It’s just that whatever message you hear, you relate it to smoking.’
Soon after this, she broke the habit. ‘That’s it!’ she thought. ‘I’ve done it! I’m through!’ But she wasn’t. True, she had conquered smoking, but she suddenly realised that this small part of her life had assumed huge proportions in her mind. Once the clouds of smoke had lifted she saw more clearly that God had much more to say to her. She wasn’t sanctified overnight. God hadn’t finished with her.
Some people teach that sanctification is there for the asking. You can read about ‘The Higher Life’ or ‘The Secret Way’, where you’re encouraged to just ‘let go and let God’.
But the Bible doesn’t teach that your life is transformed by an instantaneous experience. God didn’t say to Jonah, ‘Right, into the fish with you, and I won’t let you out until you’re through on everything: character, thoughts about Nineveh, attitude to the lost, trusting my wisdom – the lot. When you get out, you’ll be a sanctified man.’
When you overcome one obstacle, don’t think it’s the only issue in your life that God wants to sort out. Don’t assume, ‘I’ve arrived.’ God will simply say, ‘Well, I’m glad you’re out of that. Now you can turn over the page and have a look at the next thing I want to say to you.’ When you’ve conquered one peak, another beckons in a step-by-step relationship with God.
‘Justification is being declared righteous. Sanctification is being made righteous – being conformed to the image of Christ. Justification is our position before God. Sanctification is our practice. You don’t practice justification! It happens once for all, upon conversion. Justification is objective – Christ’s work for us. Sanctification is subjective – Christ’s work within us. Justification is immediate and complete upon conversion. You will never be more justified than you are the first moment you trust in the person and finished work of Christ. Sanctification is a process. You will be more sanctified as you continue in grace-motivated obedience.’
CJ Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, 2002, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Multnomah Publishers, Inc.