I had an interesting experience today that gave me hope for my own process of sanctification and simultaneously showed me how sinful I still am - or in other words, how much work God still has yet to do in me to make me more like Jesus. It's an odd sensation to be sure, to have awareness of both parts of my nature so instantaneously and at the same time.
I've become the procurer of groceries around our house, and Sunday afternoons is my time to grocery shopping. This week I went to Rainbow, since they had more of the foods that we like to eat on sale than Cub Foods, which is the food jobber I usually patronize. One of the deals I took advantage of was the three Pespi product twelve packs for $10.99, which is a decent deal. I placed the three twelve packs of pop on the bottom of my cart, underneath the rest of my groceries which were in the main basket. After I collected my items, I proceeded to the checkout line.
When I got in line there was just one person ahead of me, so I proceeded to put my items on the conveyor belt. When the cart was empty, I was able to see through the basket and saw the pop. I had temporarily forgotten about it. Usually you can have the cashier just scan one of the cases of pop and they will multiply it by three on the register so you don't have to lug up all three cases for them to scan each one. Since I was behind someone else in line, I determined to just wait to bring the pop up off the bottom of the cart until it was my turn to check out.
When my turn came, I immediately moved the cart to the end of the checkout lane and began to bag the groceries the cashier had already scanned, while I waited to pay. All of the food went through, and as the cashier gave me my receipt she happily told me that I had saved twenty-some dollars during my visit. I was pleased.
I finished bagging the groceries and brought the cart out to my car and put the bags in the trunk. As I lifted the bags out of the cart, the cases of pop were once again revealed, and I realized that I had never given the pop to the cashier, and was not charged for it. I double checked the receipt to make sure. I had indeed not been charged for the pop.
The notion of loading the pop up into my car and going home flashed through my mind for a fraction of a second. "No," was the thought that came to mind just as quickly. "I can't do that. That's not honest." I very quickly decided to take the pop back into the store and pay for it. As I walked one of the twelve packs back into the store I was proud of myself for doing the right thing. I reveled in my obedience to God. "Some people would have just taken it without paying," I thought. "Especially since no one is the wiser. But I'm not like those people - I'm better than that." I took the pop into the store, explained the situation, and paid for it. The cashier I talked to said it happens all the time.
After reflecting on this experience, it's interesting to see the range of thoughts that I had, and what this reveals about my spiritual growth. In one sense, it shows that I'm still a sinner even though I'm a Christian. My very first thought was to just load it up as if it never happened. I'm sure Rainbow wouldn't ever notice that it was gone. It's a huge company that moves tons of food and dollars every day. What's 36 cans of pop to them? But that, of course, is not the point. I still struggle with sin. I still am tempted to do that which I know is wrong.
Secondly, this experience shows that I am being changed. At one point in my life I would have taken the pop without a second thought. It wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. I would have counted myself lucky. Not anymore. I know what is right and wrong, even if no one is there to keep me accountable. Jesus has given me the ability to choose the right.
Thirdly, it exposes the painful slowness of my sanctification (my lifelong process of becoming more and more like Jesus and less and less enslaved to sin). Even after I had determined to do that which was good and right, I took pride in my decision to do what was right. I commended myself for being such a good person. I also somewhat looked down on those who would not do the righteous thing I had determined to do.
It's interesting to see how little, seemingly insignificant situations like this expose the spiritual battle that's going on inside me. I am justified before God and have the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. In other words, in God's eyes, I'm righteous. I am legally declared "not guilty" of sin. But I do still sin. This is what Martin Luther called "simul justus et peccator." It's a Latin phrase which means something like "at the same time justified and sinning." It's the paradox of the process of sanctification. We are justified before God - given a right legal standing - and yet we still sin.
Certainly my experience today wasn't monumental or earth shaking to any extent, but it was significant to me. It shows me who I am, what I was, and what is still going on inside me. There's still a lot of work left to be done in making me more like Jesus, and thank God that he's faithful to do it.