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We are Getting Better (Believe it or Not)

We are Getting Better (Believe it or Not)

MARCH 6, 2024

/ Articles / We are Getting Better (Believe it or Not)

Do you ever think you won’t get any better?

I do. Frankly, since I’ve been doing this Christian thing for a very long time, I thought I would be a spiritual giant by now. That never happened, but I’ve been thinking about getting better. I really think I’m better and, in some ways, a lot better. And I honestly didn’t know. God had to show me. Do you know why he had to show me?  Because while it’s true that the nature of self-righteousness is that self-righteous people aren’t aware of their self-righteousness, it is also true that righteous people aren’t often aware of their righteousness.

That’s true of you as well. You’re probably not only worse than you think you are, but you’re probably better than you think you are, too. One of the reasons God doesn’t show us our growth in goodness very often is the “jerk factor.” People who are better and know it are sometimes arrogant and prideful and become ego-driven. When that happens, their righteousness morphs into self-righteousness, and God will spare us (and everybody we know) of that. So, God doesn’t reveal to us our growth often because he knows that if he gives us an inch, we’ll take a mile.

I’m talking, of course, about the doctrine of sanctification. That’s the process of God’s people becoming more loving, faithful, and righteous. The problem with God’s methodology of hiding from us our growth in godliness is that the flipside of not knowing can cause a boatload of false guilt and shame. If you’re a Christian, to get there, you have to be aware of your sins and your need, and that awareness is ongoing. Justification and its benefits require that the one being justified be aware of why they need to be justified. That’s ongoing, too. Redemption presupposes understanding the need for redemption and awareness of what needs redeeming. That doesn’t stop when we become Christians. If God had left us there—and he didn’t—we would be overwhelmed by our sins, fearful of the price we might pay for them, shamed when we think of our actions and thoughts, and regretful of having made such a mess.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul gave a list of gross sins. Then he said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they were getting better so they wouldn’t get discouraged.

Paul also reminded them that they had very little to do with it.

I don’t often talk about the doctrine of sanctification because I’m given to working as hard as possible to be as good as possible. You are as well. Not only that, it’s very easy to move from the true doctrine of sanctification taught in the Bible (it’s all good) to some kind of moral improvement plan and lose what is good about the good news. Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In other words, God sometimes shows you how much better you are when you

ask him, but he never lets you forget how bad you are as well. That’s not a “kicker” to get us to try harder. It’s a fact and a gift.

Let me show you something about the Christian walk. Martin Luther said we are “Simul Justus et Peccator.”(You can use that with your friends, and they’ll think you’re smart.) I looked it up, and it’s Latin, meaning that we are, at the same time, saints and sinners.

That doesn’t mean what Longfellow meant in his little poem:

   There was a little girl,

       Who had a little curl,

   Right in the middle of her forehead.

      When she was good,

      She was very good indeed,

   But when she was bad she was horrid.

Christians aren’t sometimes “horrid” and, because we work at it, at other times, “good indeed.” However, as Luther explained, we’re always sinners, but because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, “good indeed.” In fact, we’re as pure and as good as Christ himself. That “double gift” of God (i.e., justification and imputation) is so good I can hardly stand it. I’m not only forgiven (even if I never get better) . . . I’m not only better, I’m perfect.

Wait. Didn’t you just say that you were a lot better?

Yes, I did, but that has to be explained. One of the reasons I’m better is that the Gospel has taken away my neurotic need to be better so God will love me. Our obsessiveness about getting better is the reason we get worse.

There is a human proclivity to dislike authority, and that proclivity is universal. Nobody likes being told what to do. One of the reasons I’m so orthodox in my Christian beliefs, and sometimes even in my political ones, is because I was a student at a graduate school where any kind of orthodoxy was derided and criticized. Many of you won’t remember, but Barry Goldwater once ran for and lost an election for the U.S. presidency. He was mocked and hated at that graduate school. One morning, referring to a particular professor who hated Goldwater even more than most, I told a friend, “If he says one more thing about Goldwater, I’m going to vote for Goldwater.” He did, and I did. I had the same attitude about the way evangelical Christians were described. I wish I could tell you I’m a political and theological conservative because I thought and prayed about it for a long time, heard all the arguments, and made a wise and balanced decision. It didn’t happen that way. It happened because I was angry, and my authority problem became the primary reason for my theological and political convictions. There is obviously more to my convictions than that, but the soil out of which they grew, in the beginning, was no more and no less than an angry young man with a serious authority problem.

You would also be surprised at how often that is true with you. A problem with authority is built into the human DNA, and it’s the source of a lot of our worldviews, opinions, and convictions. That’s the problem with atheism. It’s not because atheism is a balanced and healthy way to deal with the world (it isn’t), but because atheists have a problem with any authority and, certainly, the absolute authority of God. It is a desire to be autonomous (i.e., one’s own authority) and the concomitant desire to be one’s own God. When people tell us what to do, something inside says, “Like hell, I will.” Sometimes, that reaction is passive/aggressive, and we don’t recognize it. And at other times, it’s “in your face” rebellion against authority. But it is always a part of being human.

God knew that and created us that way. It’s a gift. Sometimes, that gift causes lots of trouble, but with the things of God, it’s the way God works with us. He knew about our authority problem and, in a brilliant strategy, removed the authority of laws and rules about getting better. God also removed the authority from those who think they’re our mother. He said, “You’re forgiven.” What? “Yes, forgiven—totally forgiven of everything. Now, quit being so narcissistic looking at yourself. Instead, look at and walk with me.”

Now, back to what I said about my getting better. When Jesus encountered the prostitute in Luke 7:47, he said something about her that, if you get it, it will change your life: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” You and I have both been forgiven a lot and probably a lot more than we even know, and, as a result, something happens. Even if we don’t see it (because God doesn’t show us very often), the reality is that our love for Christ, and from that love, our Christian walk, gets better. I have a friend who at one time did a primarily “anti-Pharisee” podcast. She said, “What the legalists don’t understand is that if they would just leave me alone, I probably would live a lot more the way they wanted me to live.” 

Last week, my wife and I went grocery shopping. We bought several items, and the cost was fairly steep. In a kidding way, I said to the young woman behind the cash register, “Okay, what’s the bad news?” She laughed and said, “Sir, there is no bad news.” It turned out that the man ahead of us paid what he owed . . . and what we owed. Not only that, but he had left the store, so we couldn’t find him to thank him or do something for him in return. I don’t receive gifts very well. Frankly, I wanted to return the favor, buy him dinner, or send him a gift. I couldn’t do that because it wasn’t possible.

That’s what Jesus did for us. It’s a gift, not an exchange. The nature of a gift is that it’s given without any expectation or demand for response. When there is that expectation, it’s not a gift; it’s an exchange.

That’s what God did in Christ. As it were, he has paid your bill, and you can’t return the favor.  It’s why we do get better.

Anybody who says you can return the favor is misinformed. 

He asked me to remind you.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

Steve is the Founder of Key Life Network, Inc. and Bible teacher on the national radio program Key Life.

Steve Brown's Full Bio
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