Is God a drill sergeant or a doctor? I’m speaking particularly in regards to sanctification. When you think of God at work to make you more like Christ, how do you picture him: an attentive physician of the soul or a scowling, never-pleased commander of raw recruits?
I once had a commanding officer in military school whose last name was Payne, which we freshmen with shaved heads and arms quivering from too many pushups thought should have been spelled “Pain.” I’m afraid many of us, myself included, often have that kind of mental image when it comes to growth in the Christian life. We act as though God’s favorite mottos are slogans like “no pain, no gain” or “the only easy day was yesterday.” When we think of God like this, we’ll begin to look at him as though he’s always looking to turn up the heat or bring some extra pressure into our life. In its extreme form this kind of view of God will leave you thinking, “Things are going too well – I wonder when something bad is going to happen?”
Let me submit that a better view of God is the second one I mentioned: a physician of the soul. I got the phrase from David Powlison, who in a recent Journal of Biblical Counseling article described sanctification as being “a human being under the care of Jesus Christ.”
What a difference that makes in the way you and I view sanctification! Think about it for a moment. A good, compassionate physician is attuned to your overall health as well as the sickness or disease you bring into the office. He won’t prescribe a medicine just because it tastes bad or suggest a surgery solely to cause you pain. A good physician operates under the motto, “The secret to care of patients is to care for patients.”
And that is what our God is like: He is the great physician of our souls. Let me suggest a few things that means.
God will never cause unnecessary hardship in your life. Even in the most difficult of trials he is constantly at your side, monitoring your vital signs and ensuring that no moment of pain or sorrow or grief is wasted in his plan to restore you to full-orbed life and health.
God will not bring a sin to your attention without giving you hope it can be changed. What kind of physician would point out a broken bone on your X-ray just to say “Stinks to be you!”? And neither will God bring up a sin in your life merely to hound you with its presence. No, the physician of our souls never prescribes useless surgeries.
God will not work on every sin in your life at once. A good physician knows how to triage. This wound needs immediate care. That one will heal on its own over time. That deformity can be removed later. God is the same way. Again, as Powlison says, “It greatly helps all of us to know that God typically works on something specific, not everything at once.” God is content to restore you from the ravages of sin one day, one specific area at a time.
God is not a drill sergeant, nor even a careless or unskilled physician. He is a master at his work of healing the cancer of sin and making his blessing known far as the curse is found. And, dear Christian, you are under his care.