Over 25 years ago, my husband and I bought a house in a small town that was built in 1907. We were four years out of college, starting our own business, and he had just quit a stable job at a large, national engineering company. Because we did not have a steady income or really any income at all, we did not qualify for a conventional loan. We had to empty our entire savings account to make the 20% down payment on the owner-carried contract for the house. It had been empty for over two years and was being used as a storage unit by the previous owner. When we viewed the house, you could only walk via a narrow path through all of the “stuff” that filled the house. Walking through the basement was not an option. We purchased it and moved in with two very young children. The house was under new ownership, ours. It was our intent to clean it, repair it, and remodel it. We believed that we could make it a beautiful home. Little did we know how long that process would take.
When we come to know Jesus in a personal way, we are under new ownership. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) He makes many promises to us, one of which is that we are new creations. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And so we started the process of transforming our new home – very, very slowly. We had time available as we tried to grow our new business and waited for the clients to come. But, we had no money, so we started simply. Our first project was to clean up what we could, inside and out. Inside, we scrubbed and dusted. Outside, we pulled out weeds, removed dead and overgrown shrubs, and planted new plants. Our second project was to put in a sprinkler system. In order for the new plants to grow, they would need a consistent supply of nourishment and water. This project required more time and less money than most other things that needed to be done. We focused on what we could do with our limited resources.
When we come to Christ, we are a new creation – we just may not look like it. We are under construction, a work in progress. Our position before Christ is new, but the visible changes may take some time. God promises that this is happening. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) The process takes time and effort on our part; it does not happen magically. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) We must choose to find our nourishment in God’s word and in Christ. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Over the last 25 years, we have slowly transformed our house. Some projects were minor: painting walls, refinishing a wood floor, replacing carpet. And, though minor, they were not free and took effort on our part. Other projects cost us more, required outside help, and took much longer: removing a rotten roof and substructure (as well as the rest of the 2nd floor), rebuilding the second floor, adding central heating to the entire house, adding plumbing to the upstairs and replacing existing plumbing, siding the house, roofing, replacing all of the windows, blowing insulation into existing exterior walls. And during the entire process it has been our home, and in it we raised four wonderful children. It is both peaceful and beautiful, but it is not finished. Sometimes I can be discouraged by what is not yet done and lose sight of what has already been transformed. I need to choose to be thankful for the beauty around me and trust that it will one day be “complete” or as complete as a house subject to the laws of nature can be. In the meantime, I can choose to focus on the 95% of the house exterior that is finished, or I can choose to focus on the front porch that needs to be replaced. I can choose to focus on the 90% of the interior that is done with new/remodeled bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, dining room, and deck, or I can choose to focus on the original kitchen and the unfinished trim throughout the house. I can choose to be thankful for what has been accomplished and continue to work diligently to finish the rest, in time.
Similarly, we can choose to be discouraged because we still fail Jesus Christ or because we are still not the person that we would like to be. We may still struggle with attitudes or actions that make us and others unhappy. But, if we continue to submit ourselves to Christ, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) And, we can move forward every day, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)