fiy-on asked a question:
Any advice for new Christians? How do we continue to keep our faith growing deeper and more personal with the Lord? And how do we “measure” our growth? How do we know that we’re moving forward with the spiritual journey, not merely staying stagnant?
Hey my dear friend, thank you so much for trusting me with such a huge question. This is one of those things I would love to sit down with you over coffee, but alas I hope I can jumpstart your journey in just a few words here.
I’m afraid perhaps that a To-Do Checklist will make you more neurotic about your faith and you’ll put more hope in a flowchart than Jesus — so please hear me in that the Christian faith is not about doing more or less, but about letting the life of Christ work in you as you get to know Him and rest in His grace.
This is probably very counter-intuitive to everything else in the world: because we’re always performing to a deadline or due dates or demands, and all this for a paycheck or a score. Our fallen world is only familiar with working for approval instead of from approval. Yet the Gospel tells us that God already approves of us through His Son, and so we work from that acceptance and not for it. It’s tough for us to really wrap around the Gospel because we live in a reward-punishment culture. But the Gospel motivates you by an unchanging relational anchor, which is the only way to have real joy.
Let’s look at the difference between a Boss and a Mentor. Your Boss says “Do A and you’ll get B.” Your Mentor says “I’m giving you A to help you do A.” Your Boss probably respects you and even teaches you, but he’s looking out for his profit. Your Mentor loves you and even likes you, and he’s looking out for you. Your Boss will promote you if you do well enough. Your Mentor has already promoted you to the very highest position. Your Boss will make you a partner if you work harder than everyone else. Your Mentor has already made you a co-heir regardless of how much you’ve failed. Your Boss requires you to be good to earn his respect. Your Mentor will make you good by simply loving you. Your Boss might let you go if you’re not performing well. Your Mentor is like a father to his son: you’re adopted into the family, and you don’t have to “try” to be his son.
This analogy isn’t perfect: but we’re learning that Jesus is all about grace.
So it would be really hard to measure our spiritual progress when grace throws that all off. I hesitate to draw a diagram. Progress always happened in imperceptible degrees, without hardly trying: because no one can “try to get better,” but we become good by resting in the only one who is Good.
I can see that I’ve become more patient, more caring, more repentant, less prideful, and less greedy over the years: but I hardly kept track of these things. I simply look behind me and see the bloated corpse of who I used to be, a foreign creature killed by the softening power of God’s love. I am capable of things now that I could never do ten years ago, like donating half my salary to fight human trafficking or hanging out with the homeless on Mondays.
In a sense, I almost “fell into” these things because I loved Jesus. The more you get to know Him and embrace His love, the more you will love others with the same love. The more you know Him, the less attractive that sin will look, the more appealing that charity will become, and the more patience you can have for your friends to seek their potential too: as Jesus did with you.
I think stagnancy happens when we forget to be in the mix of people, when our faith gets isolated. Whether you’re a rookie Christian or a long-time veteran, I always recommend keeping up with mentors and leaders and pastors and missionaries and fellow mature believers, because it’s within the myriad of sinful people that you really understand grace. And perhaps I’ve quoted 1 John 4:12 a million times, but I’m always reminded that I can see God by loving others and being loved, so I will always endorse the church to you as our messy wonderful hope for the world. The church has her problems: but stick with her, because she is God’s Idea. Within community is where we find depth and life.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
— 1 John 4:12
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