Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Way Forward

What aids spiritual growth? And what hinders it? I am beginning a series of posts that looks at that question. But one thing I need to look at from the beginning is whether growth in Christ is a process that can really be aided. For sometimes it is presented as a thing easily accomplished if we have the right method. That there is a secret formula to following God, and those who adopt it will achieve immediate success in their spiritual endeavors, and those who do not can expect complete failure. If such a quick fix exists, then any series of posts like the one I am contemplating is meaningless. You simply employ the right steps and you are there. But is this how it really works?

 The Bible pictures following Christ as a growth process (Ephesians 4:14-16; Colossians 2:19). As a race (Hebrews 12:1,2; Philippians 3:12-14). As a battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3,4. As an exercise regimen (1 Timothy 4:7,8; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). None of which sounds like it is describing a shortcut to spirituality. Now God has not left us to do all of this ourselves. God has given us the ability to live for Him (2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:10). He is also at work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But nowhere is this pictured as the possession of certain individuals who have discovered the right procedure for instant holiness, but of all believers. Now we are called to respond to that working (Galatians 5:16; Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 5:18). But nowhere is this presented as an instantaneous solution. Nor is it clear what the right formula to accomplish this is.Further, it is my personal experience in my own life and in the lives of others who I have observed that such methods do not work. Rather, we need to experience the conjunction of two opposing truths. We are to have the humility to realize that we cannot change ourselves but need to trust in God and His power to transform us. But we are also to realize that we are in the midst of a struggle and cannot afford mere complacency or indifference. Now true humility does not cause us to hide in a corner but gives us confidence, knowing that God is at work in us. And godly determination does not lead to cockiness but recognizes that we could not accomplish anything without God's power.

When these things come together, it results in a process that covers the whole course of our lives. Therefore, we are encouraged not to regard ourselves as having obtained the spiritual life (Philippians 3:15,16, 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17), but to continue on in the path of following Christ. Through this we can avoid both the overconfidence and the discouragement that can trip us up in our spiritual life. And this makes relevant what things can help or hinder us on this journey. For the quick, easy answers will not work.

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