MAKING PROGRESS

Throughout our lives most of us find ourselves in a variety of undertakings in which we want to make progress. Many do so in terms of their education, their job and career, a hobby, community activities, volunteering, and many other possibilities.

For the past 58 years or so I’ve been on and off giving attention to making progress as a Christian. I’ve often made progress, sometimes I’ve been stalled, and unfortunately there have been times when I lost ground.

The Bible clearly teaches, challenges, and expects us to make progress in our Christian lives. One of the clearest of calls to make progress in in II Peter 1:5-7, “. . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”  

What sparked my thinking about this matter was a couple of pieces in an issue of The Christian Century (9/22/21) by biblical scholar Jesper Svartvik. Here’s the first of his observations that rang my bell so to speak, “The purpose of the word of God is not to make us feel condemnable, but to help us see what is commendable and what is not.” In our Bible reading we are going to read about what is condemnable, but we need to also give much attention to what the Bible tells us is commendable. As we do what is commendable my sense is we will do less of what is condemnable as we make progress.

I found a second observation of Svartvik to be comforting, encouraging, and assuring: “Christians who look on themselves as pilgrims are reminded that they have not yet reached their destination, that they are still on their way, and that they do not have all the answers.”

For several years I’ve included an observation of my own in my teaching that echoes the first of Svartvik’s threefold observation, “The Christian life is a dynamic life in which no one can ever say in this life, I have arrived.” No, we have not yet reached our destination, but hopefully we are still on our way making progress.

In this post I am not trying scold anyone who is in a holding pattern in terms of progress in the Christian life. Progress is our challenge and expectation, but it is not automatic and it is helpful if we are both aware and intentional.

Making progress in living the Christian life does not earn or merit God’s love and grace. We are saved by God’s grace and love because Jesus died on the cross. As an expression of our faith we keep in mind that we are pilgrims and keep on keeping on in our journey.

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DISCIPLES AND DISCIPLESHIP

Yesterday I bought a book in the BARGAIN BOOKS section at our local Christian bookstore; and having read the introduction and first chapter last night I’m pretty sure it was a good buy. (Mere Discipleship by Alister McGrath, Baker Books, 2018)

Usually when we use or hear the word disciple we think of those who are followers of Jesus. While the term most often does refer to a follower of Jesus, disciple is not limited to such usage. One definition of disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.”

Surprising to me, the word disciple is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and the book of Acts. And it is the usage of the word in the Gospels that gives us the basic definition of a disciple as a follower. In the Gospels Jesus’ first disciples literally followed him.

Today a Christian is a disciple of Jesus, but obviously is not someone who physically follows him as his first disciples did. Nevertheless, even though we as Christians do not and cannot literally follow him, we are still his followers. To be a disciple of Jesus today means to follow him in ways that go beyond walking with and behind him.

Our following Jesus today as his disciples is where the word discipleship comes in. And I learned last night that the word discipleship is not used in the Bible. However, the way we use the word discipleship today is clearly a biblical concept.

My own definition of discipleship is that it is the process of becoming more and more the person Jesus has called us to be as his followers. It’s about growing as a Christian and it is a process that is never complete in this life. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and the teachings in the letters in the New Testament, are about walking on the path of discipleship as a follower of Jesus.

I find that to be both challenging and exciting. And if you are like me, sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back – but the result is that we are making progress. Discipleship is about learning from the Bible how we are to live and putting what we learn into practice.

I conclude with a quote from McGrath’s opening paragraph about discipleship, “It is about a conscious and committed decision to be followers of Jesus Christ in every way possible, including the way we think, love, and act. It is about growing in our faith, as we quest for wisdom rather than the mere accumulation of information about Christianity” (p. iv).

It’s a journey worth taking.

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photo credit: Evan Courtney The Journey via photopin (license)