“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2Peter 3:18, NIV)
“Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on living in him—in simple faith. Grow out of him as a plant grows out of the soil it is planted in, becoming more and more sure of the faith as you were taught it, and your lives will overflow with joy and thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Phillips)
• • •
Getting better doesn’t matter. That’s not what living as a Christian is all about.
“What do you mean? Of course getting better matters!
“Okay, so maybe it does, but caring that it does will make you weird. And even if you get better and you know it, you’re probably not really getting better. Not only that — if you make getting better your goal, you’re in for a boatload of trouble.
“The gospel of free sins makes getting better sort of irrelevant. In fact, the constant pressure to ‘get better and better, every day in every way’ is driving people away from the truth of the gospel. It’s not about getting better.”
• from Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You
by Steve Brown
In it, he sets forth an extremely important point, that most of us forget: “Almost everything of importance is found while we’re headed somewhere else.” That is, the goals we really want for our lives — love, joy, peace, meaning, significance, security, wisdom, maturity — will most likely be achieved when we don’t pursue them directly. They are by-products of important relationships and experiences in life.
This is contrary to our American obsession with goal-directed achievement and success. As Steve writes,
While setting goals is a good thing and setting laudable goals even better, if you get neurotic about it, you probably won’t achieve your goals, and you’ll make yourself and everybody you know miserable in the process. Christians, by and large, are neurotic about purity, obedience, and holiness. It is probably the main reason we’re not very pure, obedient, and holy. And in order to maintain our witness, we have learned to fake it.
So, relax! And let me join Steve Brown in carrying on Luther’s legacy by offering you some free sins to help you.
If you read the verses at the top of the post, you can see the emphasis of the NT. We “grow” in the natural/supernatural soil of grace and the knowledge of Jesus. In other words, the goal is not growth. Growth is the by-product of the regular reception of grace and getting to know Jesus better. You know, like Paul said: “That I may know him” (Phil. 3:10) — that’s the goal.
The Phillips paraphrase of Col. 2:6-7 makes this even clearer. Just as we first trusted Christ, relying not on ourselves and our works for salvation, so we are to grow in Christ. Sending our roots more deeply into him, we grow and overflow with the fruit of the Spirit. Growing or “getting better” is not a matter of reaching for the sky or climbing the ladder toward perfection. It involves resting in the soil of grace and developing a more deeply rooted relationship with Christ.
- You don’t have to get better to get God to love you or to be counted holy in his sight.
- You will get better, and you won’t be able to help it. Focus on being yourself and living with God and it will happen.
- If you get better, hardly anyone will know. None of us really know what is in each other’s hearts, and we’ve gotten pretty good at wearing masks that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. So stop worrying about trying to impress everyone! You’ve got ’em fooled already!
- If you do get better, you probably won’t even know it. Not only are you good at fooling others, but the Bible says we’re all pretty good at deceiving ourselves. So relax. God loves you, his grace is there for you, and Jesus is calling you to walk with him. Just do it.
For a couple of centuries now, religion in America has gotten all mixed up with our can-do, myth of progress, technological culture of invention and achievement. Revivalism and pietism have become the default position for many Christians and churches. It’s all about my decision, my commitment, my dedication, my re-dedication, my obedience, my progress, my growth.
I wonder what Bible we’re reading sometimes.
How about we call off this relentless “self-improvement” project and go take a walk with Jesus down the path of grace?