“And because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
I was a skinny five-year-old girl living in Ghana, Africa, and all I wanted was a new dress. My wardrobe at the time—whether it truly was or not—felt old and worn out. I longed for a dress—a Sunday best—fresh, new, and beautiful.
Many years have passed since I was that girl. I live today as a married woman with two dreaming daughters of my own. I’m a different person in many ways and yet there are moments when I still yearn for a dress—not a Sunday best this time, but a new covering for my heart, fresh and clean.
Motherhood is messy work. Whether you labor to push out your child or you labor to push through the tangles of an adoption process, motherhood begins and remains messy. There are nighttime feedings, changings, and sleeplessness with a newborn; there’s potty training and accidents with tantrum-prone toddlers; there are struggles with school-agers who test the boundaries of obedience and independence. These can trigger and expose the yuckiness of a mother’s sinful heart. More often than we care to admit, we meet these challenges with impatience, anger, sharp words, and shortcomings.
I have found that each stage of motherhood brings its own grunge and temptations. My hands are continually filled with the grime of caring intimately for a dependent other. And unfortunately, my heart tends to reveal its own gunk as I do so. I have ended many days feeling worn out and filthy and desperately longing to be washed and clothed anew with a righteousness that’s fresh and clean. Perhaps you’ve been there?
If that’s you, then praise the newborn king with me this Christmas! The baby in the manger was sent to wash and clothe those who sit soiled in the foulness of their own efforts.
In the Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley calls Jesus the “Sun of Righteousness.” And indeed he is! Christ took the filthiness of our sins upon himself on the cross (becoming our substitute in judgment) and credited his perfect obedience to our account (becoming our substitute in positional righteousness). By faith, we are covered in the pure garments of Christ and are declared righteous in our standing before God. But that’s not all.
We live in a fallen world where those declared righteous by faith in Christ don’t always “feel” righteous. Romans 4:6 tells us that the old body of sin died with Christ so that it might be brought to nothing. We believe this, yet we see sin crouching daily at our doors. We live in the tension of the “already but not yet.” The Kingdom of God has already come, but the consummation (or the full experience of it) is yet to come. So today, we are already declared righteous, yet we sin—we throw angry words at our slow-moving children when pressed for time.
But here, we can again hail the Sun of Righteousness, for Christ offers not only positional righteousness but also the grace needed to produce actual or practical righteousness. Momma, Jesus covers you in his own clean garment and he also, by his Spirit, empowers you to walk in the cleaness of a new life. Our Emmanuel is our righteousness and our sanctification! In him, those declared righteous are also enabled to walk in true righteousness.
The Holy Spirit empowers to work out the evidence of your salvation in obedience that pleases God (Phil. 2:12–13). God’s Spirit indwells you at conversion and begins to progressively conform you into the image of Christ. According to Question 35 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, you are “enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” Without the presence of the indwelling Spirit, we could never submit to God in obedience (Rom. 8:7–10). It is the Spirit who enables you to speak words of grace—and not words of impatience—when tempted by slow-moving children this busy holiday season.
Our sanctification is a grace of God, yet he doesn’t work over our heads. We cooperate with the process as we abide in Christian disciplines and the ordinary means of grace (prayer, Scripture, sitting under sound preaching, the Lord’s table, confessing sin, etc.). The Holy Spirit uses these various means to mature the believer toward holiness, with the Word of God being the primary means of his work. As we take in Scripture through study, sermons, teachings, the scriptural encouragement of others, the Spirit enables us to see and understand the truth. He convicts our hearts in the places where it does not align with that truth, and he enables us to repent, turning from sin to obedience.
Sister, we live within the tension of the “already, but not yet.” In Christ, we are already declared righteous, and yet we often “feel” more filthy than right. Hear this good news today: the Spirit-empowered labor of an imperfect mother is never “filthy rags.”
If God looks at you through the unsoiled covering of his Son, then he is pleased to smile on your imperfect yet progressive sanctification. There is a day coming when our longing for perfect cleanness will be realized. We will be fully conformed to the image of the Sun of Righteousness! We will, on that day, receive a garment of white—fresh, new, and beautiful (Rev. 19:8). Until then, let us press on daily in the strength that the Spirit supplies.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
What about motherhood is currently making you aware of your shortcomings? Where are you longing for change?
The Sun of Righteousness has become our substitute in positional righteousness. Do you believe that you are already declared righteous by faith in Him?
Those declared righteous are also enabled to walk in true righteousness. How can you cooperate daily with the Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification in you?
Nana Dolce lives in Washington, DC with her family. She has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies--which comes in handy as an at-home mom! She teaches God’s word to women and children at her local church and writes for ministries like Christianity Today, Modern Reformation/White Horse Inn, and Risen Motherhood. Find her at motherhoodandsanctity.com.