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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