By Pst. John Agagwa
This being a new year, we tend to take stock of the just gone year, evaluating where we made progress and where we need to improve. We all desire to grow and make progress. None of us wants to stagnate in life. Many of us have perhaps resolved to grow deeper with Christ this year. I commend this excellent desire. A good question though would be, how will we know that we are attaining our goal? Can it be known?
Such evaluation seems to be easier with investments, academics or family relationships. In all this cases, it would be very frustrating if we had no way of knowing whether or not we are moving forward. Right? Can one then know if they are progressing spiritually? If so? How?
My purpose in writing is to help us with four considerations to look for in our lives from the scriptures that can be useful gauges to know of our progress in the faith. Come December 31st 2017, Gods allowing, how shall we know that we are achieving our goal? Or perhaps closer, come tomorrow morning?
Consider with me the following famous passage, in which Paul, a great saint and apostle of old, hints on the evidences of one who is growing in Christ, pressing on and striving in this very things that he may be found mature in Christ.
Philippians 3:7-11, 13(NIV)
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead… brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do… straining toward what is ahead, I press on…
How is Paul straining? In what must he press on? How does he know he is achieving his goal? Can we know as well from his great example?
Here are four considerations to look for from this text.
1) Look for a decreasing attachment to things.
Verse: 7, 8: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ… for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage…
One way to know that we are progressing in our commitment to Jesus Christ is to gauge our attachment to things. Paul is saying in here that all things, however good, he has considered loss for the sake of Christ. We are all too prone to be overtaken by things. Good things, expensive things, big things, beautiful things etc. There is nothing intrinsically wrong per se with desiring things. It is to want things more than we want Christ that is the issue. As one author put it, the struggle of believers and perhaps all of humanity alike is not that we want things, rather it is that we want things too badly.
How then can we know of our progress this year? See if you are experiencing a decreasing attachment to the things of this world. One test to find out would be to trace our prayer lives. Our deepest most consistent prayers often reveal our greatest heart attachments. Plan to trace your prayers this year. I would commend keeping a prayer journal. Every so often go through it. Is it increasingly an incessant cry for deeper affections and commitment to Christ, or is it predominantly asking God for all else but Himself? Consider this, whatever we are attached to that does not draw us closer to Him, draws us further away. See if you will notice a decreasing attachment to things. As we grow in Christ, we will experience that our grip on things of earth will loosen as our grip on eternal thing tightens.
2) Look for an increasing appreciation of Christ.
Verse 8: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…
A second way to know that we are progressing in our commitment to Jesus Christ is to gauge our appreciation of His surpassing worth and Glory. Consider Paul’s assertion here. He is saying in essence, to have Christ and nothing else is to have all. One prominent author, C.S Lewis, put it this way, ‘he that has Christ and all other things has no more than he that has Christ and nothing else’. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the all-encompassing gift of God who cannot be supplemented and with whom nothing can compete. He is God’s indescribable gift.
Saint, this year check for an increasing measure of this conviction. See whether you are increasingly considering Christ’s surpassing worth. I have found that one good self-examination test in this matter is seen in our financial habits. Our hearts most love what we find least ‘painful’ to spend money on. Trace your spending experiences this year, and see if there is an increasing ease in giving towards the cause of Christ. As you grow in Him, you will have greater appreciation of Christ above all else, even money.
3) Look for an increasing confidence in Christ’s work.
Verse 9: And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith…
A third way to know that we are progressing in our commitment to Jesus Christ is to gauge our understanding of the finished work of Christ. See what Paul is asserting here. That Christs work for us on the cross is enough. Our own righteousness will not make the cut. This is Paul’s open invitation to rest with him in his confidence in the complete and perfect work of Christ. More often than not, the true source of our discouragement is not failing to keep Christ’s high expectation of us, but rather failing to know the sufficiency of Christ’s High work.
Believer, this year see if you are experiencing confidence in the finished work of Christ in increasing measure. Together with this, examine whether you have a decreasing trust in your own deeds to earn you any favor with God. I have found that a good test is to trace your times of moral failure. Are you quick to repent when you sin and walk on with God, or do you give in to even more temptation due to despondency? How long after realizing our sin do we take before we seek repentance and restoration? As we grow in Him, we will find that we have increasing confidence in the perfect work of Christ, and decreasing confidence in our own works of righteousness. As one theologian put it, your works have no more power to save you than does a spider web to stop a falling stone! Trust in Christ!
4) Look for an increasing commitment to Christlikeness.
Verse 10: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
A fourth way to know that we are progressing in our commitment to Jesus Christ is to gauge our commitment to the pursuit of Christlikeness. Do you see the commitment Paul makes here? He says he desires to know Christ and to be like him. This is striving for Christlikeness. Isn’t it staggering that his commitment to Christlikeness is so deep that he wants to be like Christ not just in the demonstrations of his power, but also in conformity to His sufferings, even his death? This is a strong commitment to be in all ways like Christ. To willingly win for Him as well as seemingly loose for Him.
Believer, this year, look for an increasing commitment to the pursuit of Christlikeness in your life. This will show in your increasing willingness to live like Christ even when it means shinning for him before men, as well as when it means ridicule, shame, isolation or sometimes, death. When faced with such decisions this year, examine where your greater heart inclinations lie. To bribe or not to bribe? To cheat in or not to cheat? To lie or to tell the truth? As we grow in Him, our resolve for Christlikeness will increasingly overpower our inclination to sin by God’s power at work in us.
These are not the only ways to know growth in Christ, but they are a good place to start. Look for an increasing appreciation of Christ. Look for a decreasing attachment to things. Look for an increasing commitment to the pursuit of Christlikeness. Look for an increasing confidence in Christ’s perfect work.
What then shall we say in conclusion? What better to say than the words of Paul himself?
“…Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus...”
None of us is perfect and like Paul, we must purpose to continue. To run the race. To strain on. To press on, that by all means, we might attain to the resurrection. This indeed is a lifelong marathon. Will you run?
May Christ strengthen us to pursue Him this year, to know him and be found in Him. Amen.