Amazing Grace, How Slow the Work: Why We Still Have Slaves
In 1981, more than a century after America ended slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the West African nation of Mauritania abolished slavery, the last country in the world to do so. According to a CNN report, since Mauritania's later criminalization of slavery in 2007, only one—one—slave owner has been successfully prosecuted in a country where an estimated 10 to 20 percent of citizens are slaves.
It's hard to imagine that in the same year the first woman joined the Supreme Court, the AIDS virus was discovered, the world raptly watched as Princess Di married Prince Charles, and MTV was launched, one nation still permitted slavery.
for we moderns, whose days are ruled by objective markers of time—years, months, weeks, minutes, with Google calendars and Outlook reminders to track them all—it's easy to forget that time is relative. With lives characterized by the overwhelming sense of time relentlessly marching on, it's hard to remember that God transcends time. Yet, we often insist, adamantly, that change come instantaneously—or at least that change occur in others in perfect synchronization with our own.
Yes, time is of the human realm, not God's. And within the vast, dark sea of human time, moments of epiphany glimmer here and there like beacons of hope, transcending time and changing the warp of human experience forever.
This is how sanctification works. God's work of redeeming us occurs in time, but its results transcend time into eternity. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, sanctification, which takes place after regeneration, is "the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness." Sanctification is the continuous transformation of a new creation into greater conformity with the character of Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification takes time. But not the kind of time that can be penciled in.
We often expect sanctification—whether our own, someone else's or that of the church universal—to take place quickly, if not immediately. We foolishly think that upon repentance, old habits, desires, and temptations will be shed like snakeskins. Once in a while, to be sure, instant turnaround can happen, making for a dramatic Wednesday night testimony. But perseverance, not speed, is the true mark of real transformation.
Nothing reflects the slowness of sanctification more poignantly than the issue of slavery. For slavery—both literal and metaphorical, both on a personal and a global scale—has haunted the human condition throughout all of recorded history.