Debridement as Sanctification

This past June I underwent sinus surgery both to repair a deviated septum and correct some serious structural issues affecting my ability to breathe clearly through my nose. The surgery lasted four hours and was successful. The ability to breathe more freely has not only increased my energy level, it has enabled me sleep through the night. As part of my recovery I had to make weekly visits to the doctor who performed the surgery. In addition to noting my progress the doctor performed a procedure known as debridement (di-‘brēd-ment) For the uninitiated, debridement is the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. To call debridement an unpleasant experience would be to sully the word unpleasant. Even with topical anesthesia administered, the treatments were a painful, tear-inducing, nerve-piercing, teeth-jarring, color-inducing experience. And yet they were entirely necessary. For as the name suggests, there was much lacerated, devitalized and contaminated tissue to be removed. With every debridement the doctor hastened the healing process begun by the surgery he performed.

After my fifth debridement I asked my doctor how many more treatments I would need to endure. His answer did not comfort me. “It depends,” he said, “some people only need three or four. I have some patients who needed as many as eleven or twelve.”

“Are you telling me I may need eleven or twelve more treatments?! Does the CIA know about this procedure?”

He laughed. “Yes. And probably, but I couldn’t say—about the CIA, I mean.”

Summer became Fall and Fall became Winter. The debridement continued and with each treatment the doctor noted my progress with encouragement and satisfaction. I am healing well. I am making such good progress I can wait an entire month before needing another debridement. Hopefully, the day will come when I will no longer need debridement nor the prescription medication I take daily. Until then the debridement and daily prescription medication will continue so as to hasten healing and recovery.

It is at this point I am compelled to see in this process a metaphor of the Christian life. Once the surgery is completed, the recovery becomes paramount. For the Christian, the surgery performed is akin to a heart transplant. The LORD God who created us removes our old heart of stone and replaces it with a new heart of flesh. Moreover, He also puts His Spirit within us and it is by means of the Spirit that our new heart beats in rhythm with the cadence of God’s voice, (Ezekiel 36.26, 27). Where once we were out of step with God because we rejected Him, we are now kept in step with Him as we keep in step with His Holy Spirit. We obey God’s voice because we are a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.

However, there is a problem. Despite the presence of a new heart we are still human. We are still prone to wander, still prone to disobey, still prone to sin against the God who saved us. The remnants of the old heart requires debridement. The surgery is complete. However, the healing and recovery required for the new heart to grow in strength and trust in God requires a lifetime of trust/obedience. The Bible refers to his process of healing and recovery as sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we grow in holiness through daily repentance from our old way of life through daily obedience to the Spirit who teaches us how to live the new life God has given to us.

In the latter part of the first century, the apostle Paul wrote to Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul had planted a church there, spending some eighteen months living with them. The Corinthians struggled mightily to follow faithfully everything Paul taught them about Jesus. The Corinthians tried their best to follow Jesus, but they lived in a culture which tested their loyalty to Jesus every day. Paul knew the Corinthians well. Just as important, they knew Paul. They knew his passion for Christ. They knew his love for them. They knew his passion for their sanctification and growth in holiness.

Here is what he tells them in 2 Corinthians 6.16-18 (for the full context read the whole letter):

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said; ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’

The Corinthians are the temple of God. They are God’s children. This happened as the result of His sovereign, elective grace. They are all a new creation. He loved them before they knew Him. He loves them even now. And so what is to be their response to the love of God? The surgery is complete. The recovery has begun. And what is to be the evidence of their recovery?

The answer comes at the start of 2 Corinthians 7: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Salvation is an act of God and God alone. Sanctification is a joint effort. We cooperate with the Spirit through daily repentance revealed by daily obedience to God. Think back to my weekly visits to the doctor for debridement. Repentance is the daily debridement of the vestiges of sin left behind after the initial surgery. This debridement is the work of the Spirit. Our part is to keep in step with Him through daily trust in the promises of God. Included among these promises is this truth: we are a new creation in Christ, He has made His dwelling in us and He is a Father to us.

This changes everything! We change because we have been changed. We love God because He has proven His love for us. We give Him everything because He gave us His One and only Son. The power of the gospel is such that everything we need to please God, everything we need to be loved by Him is the gift of His grace. Included among these is the faith to trust Jesus, the insight needed to understand His word, the strength to follow Him and the wisdom to know the difference between grace and law.

I need the daily debridement of the Spirit. Forasmuch as I love and trust Christ, the remnants of the old life still linger. These remnants require the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, and contaminated tissue left behind. Pride. Envy. Anger. Greed. Lust. Gluttony. Sloth. Name the sin. The path to holiness requires frequent debridement by the Holy Spirit. The debridement by the Spirit is helped by reading the Bible and prayer. It is also helped by the honest confession of where we have missed the mark of God’s desire for. It is further helped by seeking the company of other Christians who are themselves learning to trust Jesus every day.

Happily for us, the exhortation to cleanse ourselves daily is grounded in the truth God has already made us clean. The exhortation to grow in holiness is grounded in the truth that in Christ we are already holy. It is because we are God’s temple – both as individuals and as His church – we are to undergo the debridement of every defilement of body and spirit. This is how the Spirit brings holiness to completion in the fear of God. And this fear is grounded in the knowledge of His sovereign grace and majestic holiness.

So as the New Year approaches, one way to embrace the future grace of God is to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit. The debridement of the Holy Spirit is painful, but we have God’s promise that His ultimate purpose is to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.

You think about that and have a happy New Year.

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