If you’ve caught a fish, or been around fishermen, you don’t forget that smell. When my dad and I went fishing, mom made us clean our fish and take our clothes off outside so the stench wouldn’t get in the house.
We’d stink too if we swam around in noxious, toxic water all day. Fish stink until they die and get cleaned up. Then they become tasty fish filets or crunchy hush puppies or fish nuggets.
Many Christians and non-church goers think they smell too bad to join a church family. The guy who heads up our decision counseling ministry at our church talks to folks every week who think they stink. He said the most frequent reason (excuse) people give him for not coming to church, or joining, is they need to get cleaned up first.
They say they have some sins or bad habits they want to get rid of before they make any commitments to church. That is diametrically opposed of what the Bible teaches about sanctification. If those reluctant souls looked around and smelled some other folks, they’d discover that some others smelled worse than they smelled. That’s why we go to church–to allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit to clean us up.
It’s also opposite of how fishermen teach others how to fish. They teach students to catch the fish first, then clean them. It’s hard to clean fish when they’re swimming around in the water.
Lots of smelly fish in our pews each Sunday swim around thinking they’re unworthy to receive God’s love. And they probably feel they’re not good enough for God to catch them, let alone clean them. That’s because they don’t understand sanctification or their true identity in Christ.
God is willing and eager to clean us up. When Christ and the Holy Spirit come to live in us, cleaning us up becomes their job. It’s called sanctification. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to transform our minds, hearts and spirits and conform us to the image of His son, Jesus. To help us act, think and feel more like Christ. To help us learn to love each other, pray, forgive each other, and treat each other kindly. Compared to fishing, sanctification is like scraping away the scales, cutting away the tail and the head, gutting it, and de-boning it, cutting away the useless stuff. What’s left are tender, tasty and clean fish filets that satisfy our appetites.
Those smelly-fish church goers who don’t know their true identity in Christ don’t feel accepted by God. They feel unworthy. They think they have to work to earn God’s approval. If they do something bad they think God will punish them or make them suffer for their sins. In Ephesians 6:10 Paul says believers are, “God’s workmanship (masterpieces) created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ (which all believers are) he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
That doesn’t sound fishy to me at all. Are you going to believe what you think or feel, or are you going to believe what God says about you?