Every true Christian believer would love to be a ‘better’ Christian.
In our best moments we echo the apostle Paul’s words: ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3.8). We know that the greatest possible value is given to our lives through the personal relationship we have with our Lord Jesus Christ and we long for that to deepen and strengthen, so that we become ‘partakers of the diving nature’ (2 Peter 1.4), reshaped and moulded increasingly into the likeness of Christ. But what does that look like, and how does the desire for progress translate into the reality of everyday life, in a pressured and frenetic world like ours?
First, we need to be convinced that this is God’s primary concern and desire for us, so that when we are attending to our spiritual growth, we are entirely justified in devoting time and energy to God’s priorities. Not many of us live that way. We have vague and somewhat general desires to be making progress in our discipleship, but we are not always very intentional about it, or very consistent in our experience. We are told that we need to read our Bibles more and pray more regularly, to learn to trust and love Jesus more, but there is often a disconnect between these noble pious resolves and the facts of ‘real life’. We are so adept at balancing many different parts of our experience — work, home, family and friends, leisure, church, blogging and tweeting and all manner of calls on our time that we lack a unifying vision and integrating centre to all that we do and are.
Paul was a ‘one thing’ man. ‘One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3.13-14). You could never say that Paul was an introverted recluse, or that his life was not full of adventures and incredible achievement. To be a ‘one thing’ Christian is not a recipe for boredom, or narrowness, or irrelevance. It is, in fact, the secret of everything Paul experienced of God and accomplished for him. He had an objective view of himself and his earthly life from God’s perspective and, like him, it is only when we see ourselves as God sees us, that we can begin to deepen our relationship with him.
Leaving the past behind
For Paul, that meant leaving the past behind him. Much of the past included his Jewish heritage and his record of moral and spiritual achievement according to the Law of Moses. He told the Galatians that he ‘was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I’ (Galatians 1.14). Some of it was desperately wrong, as he became a persecutor of the church. But all of it was now left behind, since Paul’s right standing with God no longer depended on his efforts, but on the gift of God’s grace, as Christ’s perfect righteousness was put to Paul’s (and our) account, received through the objective fact of his atoning death on the cross and the subjective appropriation of his benefits, through faith. The past is totally covered by ‘this righteousness from God that depends on faith’ (Philippians 3.9). When we realise this, deep down in our guilt- ridden souls, the transformation begins.
No longer am I trying to live up to some external standards set by the Christians around me, by a combination of effort and duty. No longer do I imagine that God’s assessment and acceptance of me is dependent on my recent record of Christian achievement. No longer am I attempting to ingratiate myself with God, since I now know that he expects nothing of me but failure and rebellion. Now I am free to be a ‘one thing’ Christian — to set my spiritual vision and my earthly priorities on the values of God’s eternal kingdom, and so to press on towards this goal. Now I become aware that the Christ who died for me has come to live within me, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, and that the way to become a ‘better’ Christian is to let the Spirit keep filling me with all the fullness of Christ, so that the fruit of godliness is the most (super)natural product of my life-dependence on him.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.
This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057