So often in Christian circles, we focus on the moment of salvation—the testimonies of how we started following Christ, the tactics to get people to see their need for Jesus.
But in reality, the moment of salvation is just the beginning of the life-long journey, in which God works to transform us into His image. It can be an exciting process at times, but it’s often arduous and sometimes discouraging.
In his latest book, Unleashed, Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, unpacks the process of spiritual growth, reminding readers that transformation doesn’t happen overnight.
We talked to Mason about the book, our role and God’s role in sanctification and how we can put ourselves in the best places to grow.
What made you want to write this book, Unleashed?
What I wanted to do was write a book that helped lay out the anatomy of how God grows His people and put the responsibility on God in the sense of faith and glory, but then also show our responsibility in connecting to the means that God utilizes to grows us.
Sanctification isn’t necessarily a topic we talk about that much in the Church. What kind of wrong attitudes have you seen that people have about this transformation process in Christian life?
I think it’s dual. On one end, you see people look at salvation as fire insurance, so you disregard God’s commands and the need for obedience. Then you have the other side of the fence that sees Christian faith as the full responsibility of the believer to grow themselves.
But Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out your soul salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works and wills into you with good pleasure.” So the sanctifying aspect of salvation is already in you. In other words, everything in the seed form is in you fully. The Lord, by God’s grace, wills and gives you the desire and the passion to want to vigorously connect to prayer, connect to Him in the Word of God, connect with the body, be under sound teaching, serve others.
So that’s huge in relation to us having a more balanced understanding of sanctification—understanding that God works and we don’t grow ourselves, yet we connect with things that God utilizes to help us grow.
I use the illustration of a college student having his or her tuition fees, books and meals paid for. However, nobody is going to go the cafe and get your food for you. It’s already made available to you, but you gotta go, and then use your meal ticket that’s been paid for and go in, and if you want some cereal, you’ve got to pull the lever that releases the cereal into the bowl. Sanctification is the same way. Everything’s already provided for us, the issue is we have to connect to the ways in which God releases the things He has for us in relation to spiritual growth.
How do we connect to those things but not fall into the trap of trying to earn salvation?
I think always remembering that it’s by faith. Even though I’m praying, I don’t demand anything from God, and God doesn’t always answer my prayers like I want to. And getting in the Word. You’ve got to read the Word of God in order for the Spirit to implant the Word of God in you.
When you think you grow yourself by what you do, then I think you’ve entered into legalism. But if you say, “Lord, I’m moving forward and doing these things by faith and trusting that at some point in time you’re going to add the growth.” At the end of the day, God works in the might of His sovereignty to bring to fruition the harvest of what’s been planted. Fighting the legalistic aspect of it is always recognizing that it has to be done by faith and what Christ has done for us on the cross.
What would you to say to someone who feels like they’re not growing or they’re falling back into old sin habits?
We have to take the weight of us believing that we grow ourselves off of us. That’s number one. And some people say, “Well, doesn’t that make us irresponsible?” No, because God is the author and finisher of our faith. He who began a work in you will complete it.
And yet, you have this tension of God saying “receive and grab the word God, which will save your soul,” but then on the other side, you have Jesus saying in John 15, “Apart from Me you can’t do anything.”
So I encourage people to begin to take the onus of their growth off of them and put the onus of their growth on the Lord. And in realizing that God is the one who ultimately shapes and works out what He’s put in us from a practical standpoint, we begin to practically connect to those things God uses as mechanisms to release the growth that He’s already given to us in Jesus Christ.
So one of the things I would challenge people to do is beginning to align yourselves with the things God utilizes for you to grow. If you have a flower that’s in the dark of the house—it’s not in the light—you have to put it in a place where it can grow. One of the things I would practically encourage a person is are they in the places where God wants to maximize them to be able to spiritually grow the most effectively?
When people read this book, what do you hope they walk away feeling and thinking about?
I want them to feel free and responsible at the same time. Free to know that God has freely given us the ability. We’re set up to win. But no team who’s set up to win doesn’t have to get in the game and play. So that’s what I want people to walk away with. I want them to free, but responsible. Not responsible in a way that everything depends on them, but that God has empowered their responsibility to have a success. We are guaranteed for success because of what Christ has done for us.