The one thing the bible promises us regarding life in this world is that it will be hard and filled with trials, temptations and tribulations. Nowhere does the bible promise that we’ll have our best life now (as popularized by Joel Osteen). in 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
This morning I tweeted an important phrase from pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything and it is the idea of an “over-realized eschatology”. I want to use this term to say, too many Christians live with an “over-realized eschatology” expecting now on earth what God has promised only later for eternity. This causes us to live with unrealistic expectations for what we will and won’t face in this world.
In light of this how do we approach growth and progress in our faith?
The Gospel didn’t just ignite my faith but it’s the fuel that keeps it going and growing me everyday. The Gospel has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Progress begins with understanding that in Christ, we’ve already been qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven. Working out your salvation with fear and trembling is focusing on working out what Christ has already given to us and worked into us by his will and for his pleasure.
Our natural instinct as believers is to almost exclusively measure Christian growth around behavioural improvement but the greater issue is what is behind the good or bad fruit of our behaviour? Bad behaviour happens when we fail to believe that everything we need, in Christ, we already have. On the other hand, good behaviour happens when we daily rest in and receive the finished work of Jesus in deeper and deeper ways, destroying any need to secure for ourselves anything beyond what Christ has already secured for us.
The hard work of growth we are called to is to believe again and again the gospel of God’s free justifying grace everyday and resting in what Christ has finished on our behalf. I think real spiritual progress happens when our natural understanding of progress is rooted out and it’s not about first behaving better but believing more fully what Jesus has already accomplished.
Gerhard Forde, in his work, Justification by Faith, once said, “It’s not our movement toward the goal but the movement of the goal on us” that helps us progress in the Christian life. Pastor Tullian (Pg173) says, “Sanctification involves God’s daily attack on our unbelief – our self-centered refusal to believe that God’s approval of us in Christ is full and final.”
When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. The more we focus on our need to get better, the more neurotic and self-absorbed and worse we actually get. I have to admit that I’ve been too pre-occupied with myself for most of my life and my pre-occupation with my performance over Christ’s performance makes me increasingly self-centered and distant from God and others.
Christian progress is forgetting about yourself! So, aim for progress but remember what it isn’t, your personal improvement and moral progress. Progress is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ’s finished work for you, which will inevitably produce personal improvement and spiritual growth.