Do You Have a Sanctified Imagination?

What story do you put your life into? Let me offer a few: I’m single and alone in the city. I’m a mom of four. I’m an abuse survivor. I’m a hard-working business owner. I’m a divorcee. I’m a porn addict. I’m an important leader at church.

What is your “I am” statement? Each one tell a story about who we are, why we wake up, and how we make decisions. Each is a microcosm that explains our role and place on earth. They also help us share ourselves with others. The story might change depending on where we are, who we’re with, or how we’re dressed. I’m with my old high school buddies – so my story is hard work and financial success! I’m with my co-workers – so my story is the belabored busybody. I’m at Bible study – so my story is struggling Christian trying to grow.

The stories we tell may be true or false, but they all require imagination. They all require the ability to take an abstract narrative and interpret our life through it. It’s an act of imagination to continually see myself as an adopted son of God, making decisions (like cleaning the dishes or listening to a friend in need) in light of that story, or experiencing an identity (a sense of fulness, because I know my father loves me perfectly) based on that story.

When I say “an act of imagination,” I don’t mean making something not-real feel real. I mean the ability to take something not-concrete (like a story) and make it concrete (my decisions, feelings, words). I know I’m getting redundant, but it’s an important concept to understand, because if we put our lives into the wrong stories it can ruin us. We need a sanctified imagination.

This hit home recently while I was talking to someone struggling with a besetting sexual sin. No matter how much he tried to fight it and no matter how hard he prayed, the temptation never diminished. Over time he stopped thinking about himself as a beloved son of God, but as a lost, hopeless, sinner. He couldn’t separate himself from his sexual identity – he was it and it was him. His relationship with God grew or diminished based on his sexual sin. His relationship with others was dominated by conversation about this sin. He interpreted everything through this story: I am a hopeless porn addict.

He needed a sanctified imagination; he needed to start living in God’s story for his life.

As we read through the Bible, we see multiple places that God called people to sanctify their imaginations, to start seeing their life in the Biblical story. For example, take the festivals and feasts of the Old Testament.

When the Israelites practiced the passover, they reenacted the time when the angel of death came over Egypt to kill every firstborn as a consequence for sin. God, in his grace, allowed the Israelites to substitute a lamb for each child. Everyone who sacrificed a lamb and painted their doorposts with its blood would be graciously passed over. When the Israelites ate the passover feast they imaginatively reenacted that fateful night, remembering that they too were passed over, that they too were recipients of God’s transforming grace.

In the book of Nehemiah, the people of Israel rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. After they finished they held a feast of tabernacles. Why? To imaginatively reenact the first time that God tabernacled (dwelt amongst) the people of Israel after the exodus from egypt. Their imaginations were sanctified; they viewed their lives in light of the Exodus story. Just as God dwelt amongst exodus-era Israelites, so he promised to dwell amongst the post-exillic Israelites.

The cross is the Christian’s story. A sanctified imagination makes our life cross-shaped. We see Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as our personal story. We can say with Paul,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20-3:1). 

Christ’s death is the death of my sinful flesh. Thus, my sins are crucified, dead, and powerless to control me. Sin is not my master (Rom. 6:7, 11).

Christ’s life is my life. His righteousness became my righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). He took off my soiled garments and replaced them with his perfect white garments (Zech. 3). Thus, God sees me as a righteous son, whom he loves as he loves Christ (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

I return to my first question, because it’s remarkably important: What story do you put your life into? Do you live a cross-shaped life? Do you put your life into God’s story? Is your imagination being sanctified?

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