It’s amazing to me what God will use to remind me of His timeless, scriptural truths. Many times it’s something from the natural world. Sometimes it’s a lyric in a song or a line from a book. Occasionally it’s been through advertising. Once it was even the corny saying inside a chocolate candy wrapper. I’d like to share about a time recently that God taught me about something by using paint.
It had been nearly 20 years since we painted our living and dining rooms, and they were long overdue for an update. We’re talking about walls being stuck in the deli mustard yellow and cream color days of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. It was time to move into the NOW! Time to be bold! Time to make a statement! Time to paint the walls, well... greige… you know, that safe, neutral shade that lives somewhere between a gray and a beige (if that trend is over and gone, please don’t tell me—I am just getting used to it).
Now, I come from tradition of painters in my family. My maternal grandfather was a painter by trade, as was his son, my uncle. My mother practically swears the knack for painting is genetic. I would have to respectfully disagree, at least in my household. My sweet husband certainly doesn’t possess the knack of a steady painting hand, so it was up to me to update our home’s interior, hopefully for the better.
At the outset of this undertaking, my very talented painter friend, Susan, came over to give me sorely needed and greatly appreciated color advice. She agreed with my first selection for the walls, and also suggested that we update the trim, painting our natural wood baseboards and windowsills a crisp, clean white. Because Susan paints home interiors for a living, she would prove to be my sounding board and expert throughout this process, and I called on her often, sometimes on the verge of tears, for questions needing answers and nerves needing reassurance.
One such call came whilst I had a mini panic attack after finishing the first two coats on the main dining room wall. You see, I was expecting it to be a fresh, clean, smooth, perfect finish. Instead, I saw streaks. Big, massive, repetitive, obvious streaks all up and down the entire length of the wall. In between hyperventilating breaths, I called Susan.
“Oh my gosh, something’s WRONG, Susan, something’s very WRONG! There are streaks everywhere! It looks terrible! What happened?!”
Calm and professional as ever, she replied, “Text me a picture.” I complied. Susan called me right back and asked, “How long ago did you paint these?”
“A little over a half hour ago,” I replied.
“Tracey,” she explained, “the paint isn’t dry yet. You never want to judge a job until the paint is completely dry. It’ll drive you crazy. Let it dry overnight and call me tomorrow.” And with that, we hung up.
The next day, the paint was dry, but the streaks were still faintly there. I rang her right up to describe what I was seeing. Susan instructed me to go ahead and add another coat and then walk away. “Don’t watch it dry!” she directed. Trusting her expertise, I obeyed. And guess what? She was, of course, precisely correct. That third coat did the trick, and after drying thoroughly, the streaks were completely gone.
As I continued to paint the other walls in the rooms, I had a lot of time to think. As I reflected on that experience, and the process of painting as a whole, God impressed upon me some truths about what occurs as we allow Him to transform us into His image.
The first parallel is the practice of moving everything out of the room. Before I began painting, our family took this as an opportunity to purge what was no longer useful or beautiful. We asked the question: does this still serve us well? Outdated decor, prints, accessories, and pillows that no longer fit harmoniously with the new style I was trying to achieve were put into boxes, destined for donation or the trash bin. The same practice takes place during our spiritual lives, as the Holy Spirit conforms us to His will. Attitudes and habits that used to be comfortable no longer serve us well and must be removed as we allow God to transform us. Speech and manner of living that don’t honor God are relegated to the discard pile so that we can make room for the new life we hope to walk out. If we permit Him, God will also remove those things in us which hinder the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of God.
In fact, scripture is filled with examples of the types of things needing to be purged:
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Proverbs 4:24
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. I Peter 2:1
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Eph. 4:31
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Eph. 4:25
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Col. 3:8
If all these commands seem overwhelming and impossible for you to obey, you’re in good company! We can’t in our own power fulfill them; but the Holy Spirit is working in us to accomplish them, and we are each being transformed a bit at a time. It may not happen all at once, but it is taking place from one degree to another.
Next, we began the tedious but necessary task of the spackling the walls to fill in holes. We had the typical areas of framed art, family portraits, and the like. Additionally, the entire wall over our sofa was decorated with a large, random display of paintings our kids created when they were young; my husband hung them all on a whim one Saturday morning as I headed out the door to run errands. There were a lot of nail holes to be filled with pink spackling compound and then sanded to blend in with the texture of the rest of the wall. This filling in of holes and covering of flaws reminded me that when we turn to God and confess our sins and acknowledge our needs, He patches up our wounds and provides a covering of grace for our shortcomings, faults, and unrighteousness. Where we are lacking, Jesus fills in the gaps on our behalf, making us perfect, complete, lacking nothing.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Pause, and calmly think of that). Ps. 32:5
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:4
Then there’s the taping off, the putting up of boundaries, making the physical separation of where paint will and will not go. Without creating these boundaries, the paint lines will be imperfect, messy, and inconsistent. With the lines taped off to separate, the work is complete, neat, and clearly set apart. As we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, there are new boundary lines that must be established. It may be in the form of associations, habits, even websites that must be put away or have a boundary put up; at times, this seemingly simple idea can feel painful, convicting, even frustrating, because the flesh wants what the flesh wants, and it often is in direct conflict with the Spirit. If, however, we yield to the promptings and/or conviction of the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t work to condemn, but rather to show a better way, we are able to subdue the flesh and conform it to His will. I want to emphasize here that this is not achievable in our own strength, but it is doable when we cling to God’s hand.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. 1:6
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Gal. 5:1
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Gal. 5:16-17
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:25
Over time comes the most obvious transformation: the paint. Once completed, it is so satisfying to see the beauty in the finished work. All the prep work, the behind-the-scenes activity such as removing what is no longer wanted, adding spackle, applying the painter's tape, and cutting-in is invisible, and the finished product is finally evident. This is the outward transformation that becomes readily visible to everyone around us. It is imperative to understand, and to be reminded from time to time, that this process is gradual. While our salvation takes place the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior, our sanctification, that is, the process by which we are changed to become more like Christ (the drying of the paint, if you will), happens gradually, taking place over the rest of our lives. These changes slowly take effect to become a lasting facet of God’s transformation of us. It takes time, and it is not a pretty, linear, success-only trend. This is the time that we who are being transformed must resist the urge to “watch the paint dry.” If we look with self-criticism on each slip-up, on our every mistake, we will come to the sad conclusion that God has failed us, or perhaps more likely, that we have hopelessly failed God. But stepping back and seeing things from His perspective gives us time to notice that nearly imperceptible changes for the good are taking place. God is taking us from glory to glory, gradually transforming us into the image of Christ. We must trust God as the Holy Spirit works in us, making us more and more like Jesus.
And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you]. Rom. 12:2
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:16-18.
Friends, give thanks to God for His willingness to work in you and through you! Celebrate the small victories as you are molded into His likeness. Cling to the pierced hands of Christ as He walks with you in this journey. Wait for your paint to dry completely, and rejoice in the process.