Recently on one of the Bread & Beats Mixshow Podcast episodes, we were recording while lunch was being made – fish tacos. It was pretty late in the day, and it’s hard to focus on things you need to do while you’re hungry, especially when you smell food! So, we opened up our conversation talking about fish tacos. In our conversation, we got into the discussion about our favorite “vessels” to cook with: tortillas, or bread. When using tortillas, you can make tacos, quesadillas, burritos, nachos, and enchiladas. Whose hating on those things? With bread, you can make sandwiches of various kinds, and then there’s tons of options for breakfast and desert, like French toast, or bread pudding. There aren’t too many people mad at these options either.
While James and I grew up mostly on tortillas, we’ve grown accustomed to using bread in various ways in the kitchen too, and see the value in both. After recording the podcast episode, we kept talking about the subject, and came to an interesting spiritual parallel in the process. So, we decided to turn that discussion into this blog post, to explain how the LORD might view these things. The comparison might seem kind of silly, and to some degree, it is. Yet, at the same time, for those of us who love the kitchen, and are familiar with the details of cooking with bread and tortillas, this might be a way to better-appreciate a subject that isn’t so silly, and historically, has been hard to understand – sanctification.
Let’s start with this verse to premise the point. In Romans 6:12-14, the Apostle Paul explained the benefits of God’s sanctification this way…
"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."
Here, Paul was explaining that, for those who believe the in the testimony of scripture concerning Jesus as the Son of God (God in flesh), and the Messiah of Israel (the fulfilment of ALL the Father’s eternally unconditional promises), there are certain benefits. One of the chief benefits, is that we (believers) have been set free from the bondage of sin – our rebellious attitudes that are prone to offend God. Before we understood the truth of the scriptures and believed in them, we thought we had choices whereby we could decide to do what was “good” or “bad.” From God’s perspective, this wasn’t true. From God’s perspective, before we came to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all of our choices were like disguises for the “bondage” that Paul wrote about. No matter what choice we made then, they were all bad in the eyes of God. We were in bondage, because we didn’t know the truth about God, His righteousness, or His goodness. Without knowing that truth, we were totally disqualified from doing “good” in the eyes of God, and as a result were trapped. We were in “bondage” this way; only able to do things that were offensive to God.
According to the Bible, the moment we came to faith, we were declared righteous in the eyes of God. This doesn’t mean that we’re made righteous. This means that, God’s declaration sets us free from the bondage of sin that trapped us beforehand. Now, facing “the Light” by faith, we’re able to see the truth of God’s righteousness. Now we have good options to choose from. We aren’t forced into living in a manner that’s offensive to God, being ignorant of His goodness. Since we’re not made righteous, we’re still prone to live in a manner offensive to God by habit. Having been forgiven of our offenses though, God speaks to us in new and clearer ways, that teach us to live properly in His sight. We struggle, but now, we have an ability that we didn’t have before, that’s impossible to produce without Him. None of this is possible without Jesus.
This is where we get to the parallel between bread, tortillas, and sanctification. Paul said that, because we’ve been forgiven of our offenses based on the transcendent and righteous sacrifice of Jesus, we now have the power of His Spirit, where we can be empowered to be used for different purposes that are in-line with God’s righteousness. Before, we didn’t know the truth of God’s righteousness, so our souls only came up with things offensive and contrary to God, and then we used our bodies and mouths to conduct ourselves that way. Now things are different. Now, we can use our bodies and mouths in ways that are pleasing to God! The principle that Paul showed here is that, either way, our physical bodies are merely vessels. There is a substance that motivates the use of our bodies – either the evil of our naturally-depraved souls, or the righteousness of the Holy Spirit on account of faith in Jesus. Either way, our physical bodies and mouths, are only the tools we use to outwardly display that which we’re filled with.
That said, which “vessel” are we? Are we the tortilla, or the bread? Well, scripture makes this comparison clear. In John 6:48, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” For the sake of this example, Jesus is the bread, which means we’re the tortilla. Now think about a tortilla for a moment. Whether you’re making your own, or buying them from the store, you can’t use them raw. They need to be cooked, and cooked properly. Tortillas are best cooked on the heat of a direct flame. There’s something about the direct flame that causes the tortilla to taste better, and become a more suitable vessel. When you microwave a tortilla, it gets hot, but stays soft and can get soggy. Even when you put a tortilla on a griddle or in a pan, it doesn’t quite harden the same way as on the direct heat of a gas burner or a BBQ grill. This affects how good of a “vessel” the tortilla actually becomes.
The principle we learn here is, the more direct the heat, the more usable the tortilla is. The flame causes the tortilla to harden so it actually holds up, and doesn’t break. We’re all familiar with soggy or soft tortillas. They break, and the good stuff in the middle, spills out. At the end, you just have a soggy tortilla, a mess on your plate, and that “vessel” proved to be useless.
If we want to be usable vessels, or “instruments of righteousness to God,” we need to hold up to the good stuff God fills us with. The “good stuff” that God fills us with, is His Spirit, and the understanding of the Word that the Holy Spirit provides. If we’re the tortilla, how do you get a tortilla to harden, and thereby hold up to the task? You burn it! You need to apply it to direct heat, and pay attention to the flame so that there’s a perfect balance of texture, substance, and taste. The same is true for our sanctification. Sanctification includes the process where God refines us into His image, and we see the results Paul wrote about in the Book of Romans.
The Bible teaches that God transforms us, by cleansing us in the manner that precious metals are purified. This happens through fire! The good news is that, as His children, God sees us as precious metals that adorned His kingdom. The bad news is that, in order to see that beauty, we need to be burned – like that tortilla. We need to be hardened and toughened-up to deal with the issues of personal conviction, temptation, and persecution we experience as Christians. That happens by fire. We need to be formed in such a manner that we’ll be able to contain the good stuff that God wants to fill us with – the actual nourishment that people want, that makes a taco or burrito good. That happens by fire.
Life is hard for all people, but the difficulties in the lives of Christians are purposefully fruitful. The temptation is, to run and hide from the difficulties of life, seeking comfort and simplicity at all times. According to the Bible, living in that manner keeps us from the flame that prepares us to be used as instruments of God’s righteousness. The flame is painful, but it’s necessary and purposeful. It’s a good thing to be burned this way – to endure the various stings of life – because God knows how to temper the flame so that it’s productive instead of destructive. He’s only going to allow the flame to char the right areas to produce a good flavor. He’s only going to allow the flame to harden enough to be usable, not worthless. He’s not going to allow the flame to totally consume us.
Like tortillas, we can’t really be used properly unless we’re cooked – and cooked the right way, based on the manner in which we’ll be used. God determines how we’ll be used, so God is the One in charge of preparing us for that use. The sting of fire is how He chastens us to prepare us. Then, and only then, are we being fitted properly as instruments of righteousness.
We’ve all had the frustrating experience of eating under-cooked or improperly cooked tortillas. They’re worthless. This is parallel to a vessel fitted for destruction: When we use our bodies and mouths for things offensive to God. Do we really want to be seen that way in God’s eyes – as worthless? Well, because of Jesus, we don’t have to be seen that way. Now, if we would just accept that the LORD is going to lead us through fiery trials in life, but for good purposes, and we endure the pain of those circumstance with hope and faith, rather than flee from them, we can enjoy the benefits that come with being used as “vessels” fitted for righteousness. Then, we’re like a taco that looks good, tastes good, AND doesn’t make a mess.