SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
I know about growth in Christ. I also know that we are to be in the process of sanctification and we should be, as Wesley put it, “moving on to perfection.” As an American and as a Christian, I affirm that I ought to be better and better in every way every day.
But can we talk?
Sometimes I think I’m getting worse.
That can be quite disheartening for a religious professional like me. After all, I’m a Bible teacher, a Christian leader and a seminary professor. I need to serve as a model of godliness and obedience. And, of course, I play that game well. But inside the private places of my heart and at night just before I go to sleep…I know the truth.
I recently received a letter from an upset listener. He was upset with me because I had said—“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12)—that the most dangerous thing in a Christian’s life is his or her obedience when he or she knows it, and the best gift we have is our sin when we know that. He quoted a lot of Scripture and, frankly, I had decided that he was right. In fact, I decided to make a correction on the broadcast and repent in sackcloth and ashes…publicly.
And I hate doing that.
That was when God said I didn’t have to…
You really are getting better, you know?
Well, you know better than I do, but it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
Have I ever been wrong?
Well, no, of course not. You’re always right.
Do you want to know why you don’t feel you’re getting any better?
Yeah, that would be helpful.
You don’t feel you’re getting any better because if you did, your proclivity for self-righteousness would drive you to tell everybody and you would write a book about it. Your problem, child (and mine too), is that if I give you an inch, you’ll take a mile.
I’m feeling better about myself already. In fact, I think…
Wait. I’m not finished. You’re getting better but you have a very long way to go. And the closer you are to me, the more you see the truth about yourself and how very far the journey really is. When we first met, you told me that you were always going to be obedient, always serve me with faithfulness, and always be pure and good. I loved you then for your heart…but I tried to hide my laughter.
You were laughing at me?
Don’t worry. It was a good laughter…the laughter of fondness and reality. As you have walked with me over these years, I’ve shown you things you didn’t even know were a part of you. My light does that to darkness, you know?
So I’m better because I’m closer to you and the closer I am to you the less I feel I’m getting better? That’s crazy! Oops…sorry.
I have more. The less you think you’re getting better, the more you come to me. And there is a sense in which your getting better and knowing it would give you the idea that you had worked very hard at it and were now quite self-sufficient. Before you knew it, you would be offering to help me out a bit. Then you would start helping others to get better the way you did. Child, that is my job. And you’re dangerous when you try to make others the way you are.
I’m getting it. Hey, you know what? You could tell me the ways I’m getting better and I would remember what you’ve taught me and then…
You weren’t listening!
Besides, I didn’t decide to be your friend to make you better. I decided to be your friend because I wanted to be your friend. You are so obsessive about your goodness. Why don’t you just hang out with me and see where I take you? I won’t ever leave you or forsake you. So you can quit worrying about getting behind in your holiness and your sanctification. The more you worry about that, the worse you’re going to get and the more you abide with me the better you’ll get…even if you don’t know it. Okay?
And that’s how I learned I was getting better.
In Philippians 1:6, Paul says that what God begins, he brings to completion. That means God’s beginning in our lives is the absolute promise he will continue working to completion.
So I know that I’m better than I was. Wish I could tell you how but he won’t tell me and, most of the time, he won’t tell you either. We’re just going to have to trust the Spirit in each of us that God is making us like his Son…even if it isn’t the picture they gave us in Sunday school.
That’s a long way around the barn to speak an important truth. The most godly person you know is not the one you think. The fact is, the most godly person you know probably doesn’t even know he or she is altogether that godly.
I know. It’s quite irritating.