Stop Trying to Get Better
JUNE 20, 2018
Are you working at getting better? Any progress? If you’re struggling, I’m here to help.
I have a friend whose family gerbil, “Jerry,” got lost in their house. They looked everywhere for Jerry to no avail. Two days later when my friend was preparing for bed, he was astonished to find Jerry sitting on his pillow. Jerry was dirty, hungry and tired…but there he sat. My friend said that Jerry wanted to be found. He knew where to go to be found and by whom.
As a Christian, you’ve already been found. But now, after trying so long and so hard to get better on your own, you’re simply dirty, hungry and tired.
First, let me remind you of four truth propositions that not only have to do with our salvation (justification), but with our getting better (sanctification) too.
“Therefore as you received Christ…so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6).
Dead people hardly ever do much.
They are just dead. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Peasants hardly ever vote much.
“Following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…” (Ephesians 2:2). Just as you don’t get a vote when Satan is your boss, you don’t get a vote when God is your boss. The difference is that you have a far better boss. The boss is your loving Father.
Sinners hardly ever change much.
“Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5). I’m a cynical, old preacher. I used to think there were good people (those in the church) and bad people (those outside the church). Not true. As Christians, we’re a bunch of baptized wild cats, members of a club in which the only qualification for membership is to not be qualified.
Unbelievers hardly ever believe much.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing…” (Ephesians 2:8). Belief isn’t easy for either the unbeliever or the believer. If you haven’t been there, you don’t understand. It’s a supernatural work.
Martin Luther said that sanctification is no more or less than getting used to one’s justification. Let me show you how that works.
The desire to get better is better than getting better.
Paul says that we were “created for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).
We know it too.
Assurance of salvation is important. Some people say that in order to get assurance, remember where God found you—the day and the time. Other people, generally those who are Reformed, teach perseverance—as you persevere in good works, you are then assured of your salvation.
While there is something to be said for both views, let you give you a better way and straighten out the problem that has plagued Christians from the beginning. Assurance doesn’t come from remembering (you can always doubt if you were sincere) or from persevering (that’s fine when I’m doing it, but what happens at those times when I want to become a Buddhist?). Assurance doesn’t come from getting better. Assurance comes from wanting to get better.
I have never met a Christian (a real one) who didn’t want to be better than he or she was. Never. I know many have given up, but that’s not because they didn’t want to be better. What’s with that? Where did that come from? Frankly, if you didn’t already belong to God, you wouldn’t give a rip.
An atheist once told me something that she didn’t want anyone else to know. Every night, just before going to bed, she always said, “Good night, Jesus.” What’s with that? She wanted more and in that “wanting,” there was the promise of more.
The goal of getting better is better than getting better.
Paul says that salvation and getting better are “not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
Every failure you have is an effort on God’s part to bring you to the end of yourself…and getting to the end of yourself is what this thing is all about.
Your sin is God’s gift…when you know it. Your obedience is a curse…when you know it.
Have you come to the end of yourself yet? Just give up and admit, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
Do you pray for revival? A good way for it to happen would be if we all got drunk and publicly confessed our secrets. Then we would get honest. While I (obviously) don’t advocate getting drunk, God would forgive the booze (already has). But we would all rejoice in the freedom and the work he would accomplish. And that would spread out into the world.
The promise of getting better is better than getting better.
Ephesians 2:1-10 is not an admonition for us to “do” something, but to “be” something. It isn’t a command. It’s a description.
You are to be as sure of heaven as if you were already there. “And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6-7).
You will get better. That’s a promise. I don’t care if you think you’ll never get any better. I don’t care if you even think you’ve given up on getting any better entirely.
Jesus is the finisher of our faith. Philippians 1:6 says that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What God begins, he completes. So on the authority of God’s Word, I promise you that you’ll get better…and someday you’ll be just like Jesus.
Quit obsessing about it. It’s already settled.
I’m old and I know. Some of my getting better just has to do with age. But some of it is getting used to being saved. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting better. You will too. Now go out and play.
The surprise of getting better is far better than anything else.
Ephesians 2:1-10 is more radical and surprising than we ever thought.
Let me tell you a secret. Almost everything of any importance is achieved as a side benefit of something else. That’s what C.S. Lewis was referring to when he said that if we aim at heaven, we would get heaven with earth thrown in. But if we aim at earth, we won’t get either one.
I’m more surprised than anyone by my getting better. You too.
One day, among many other signs of growth, you will love twits more you once did, you will be more obedient than you once were, you will be more forgiving of people who have no right to be forgiven, you will care more for the poor, and you will set aside spurious racial attitudes. When all that happens, not only will you be surprised. You will really understand what it means to praise God.
It is all him.
Paul wrote, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
Charles Spurgeon, before going to sleep at night, would picture himself going to bed in a coffin. That sounds crazy…crazy like a fox.
Read more from Steve Brown here