"And we … are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
Are you a better Christian today than you were a year ago?
Spiritual progress is the idea Paul touched on in this verse. In this section of the letter, he compared the law and the Spirit, noting that the former kills but the latter gives life (v. 6). This basic Spirit-orientation opens up a glorious future in which a person who lives by the Spirit can become more and more like God. This growth is expected. So are you a better Christian now than a year ago?
This question makes people very nervous, because they’re certain the answer is no. Those who answer yes risk sounding hopelessly proud and, in fact, may be. I know a great many folks who enjoy ranking themselves, and since they are the judge they usually come out on top.
So what can we say about genuine spiritual growth that would be helpful? Let’s look at the question in broad strokes, from the teaching of Jesus Himself.
The first quality of a growing soul is a focus on Jesus. Whatever may be said of Jesus, whatever you believe about Jesus right now, let this much be clear: He is the central matter because He made Himself the central matter. He invited us to follow Him, not to embrace a series of principles or propositions. He is the starting and ending point, truly the Alpha and Omega.
He said “if you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). However staggering it may be, the statement is clear. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus.[I want to insert here one particular implication of Jesus words, and it concerns a common misconception about God. Many people stumble in their faith because of evil in the world that touches them directly or indirectly. Why did God allow (fill in the blank)? I reject the idea that God sends bad things into our lives, simply because at no point in Jesus’ ministry did He inflict pain, disease, or death upon a single human being. He did not use the threat of pain to coerce faith.]
Now back to the focus on Jesus. I have a distilling vision in my theology as I move through the years. Simply put: give me Jesus. He said He is the way, the truth, the life. He said that He would give me abundant life. I believe any disturbance in my soul, any dark thoughts, or impure actions can be traced to a lack of focus on Jesus. I choose to live in the answer He claims to be. Give me Jesus.
This primary focus on Jesus enables further milestones of spiritual growth, one of which is exercising the freedom not to judge other people or situations. We are expressly and repeatedly forbidden from judging because judging absolutely nullifies grace in our lives. Many people are involved in a kind of endless wrestling with life. People, situations, institutions, traffic (!) are an endless source of irritation and we often feel compelled to tell others about our complaints.
This old world has a great deal wrong with it, no doubt. And so do I. At some point I have to simply accept this broken world as it is. My wrestling with it, worrying and complaining about it is simply useless. And to my great disappointment, people seem to grow tired of my biting commentary on the unfairness of life around me!
I heard something recently on a favorite tv show of mine that sums up my point (modified slightly). “If you meet one jackass in the morning, you’ve met one jackass. If you meet jackasses all day long, you’re the jackass.” The problem you can deal with is the one you look at in the mirror.
Grace enables us to live a much easier life. The world was broken before I got here and will be broken long after I’m gone. The only thing I can change are my actions and attitudes about life and its problems. People can be mean, the roads remain unfixed, and Congress can be Congress and I can still try to think like Christ and help someone every day.
Degree by degree. The degrees are infinite, not like graduating from one grade to the next at the end of every year. Frankly, we’re not good at recognizing spiritual growth, and that’s why most people feel they’re not growing. So be done with trying to measure yourself. Yes, the title of this article is an unfair question. Just follow Jesus and learn to live by the rhythms of His grace. You’ll be fine.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 11, 2014