For those who may have made faith goals or resolutions for the year 2024, how are we doing thus far? Although we are in the middle of January, are we making good progress on our list of things that we have committed to carry out? Or has it been more of a situation of “one step forward, two steps back”?
Although Christians are declared righteous because of our union in Christ, we learn from Apostle Paul that sanctification does require effort on our part (Romans 7:7-25). We are mindful that godliness is not a one-off event and that the exercising of faith and being intentional in loving God and others are spiritual disciplines to be practiced daily over our lifetime. Regardless of the number of years we have been a Christian, it is certainly no walk in the park to be able to keep up with our Bible-reading schedule, prayer list and other spiritual disciplines we seek to cultivate.
Given that any sincere Christian will likely have something that we would like to change or grow in, the more pertinent question to ask ourselves would be why we would like to do so. This is because it is so easy for our motivation to become self-centred rather than God-centred. For example, we may want to change because we desire to impress others so they may like us and think highly of us. Sometimes, it could simply be because we just want to feel better about ourselves.
Furthermore, when we have a skewed view of God, we may be led to believe that spiritual growth is required of us if we are to enjoy God’s blessings. This would be most unfortunate since a wrongly-grounded motivation will never be able to provide us with the true power and joy to work towards spiritual growth. When spiritual growth or the semblance of growth becomes a means to something else rather than an outcome of our delight in and communion with God, chances are we will end up feeling very restless and driven.
As God’s beloved children, let us take heart that there is no need to strive to prove ourselves before God. Instead, our desire to grow in godliness and thereby glorify God is birthed from our newfound identity as one who is walking in the fullness of life that Jesus came to give (John 10:10) Since God is working through his Spirit at restoring our sin-marred image, it would be rather foolish and hard-hearted of us to remain as we are. After all, if God who is good and wise has revealed a better way to live, why would we want to persist in our old ways, especially when it will only bring misery and end up subjecting ourselves to further bondage?
In the event that we do find ourselves lacking in desire for spiritual growth, it would be needful to come before God in prayerful examination and humble contrition. For those who have been Christians for a considerable number of years, we really ought to ask ourselves, “In what ways have I grown as a Christian? How has my life demonstrated fruit-bearing since professing faith in Jesus?”. Lest we become presumptuous that all is well with our soul, a periodic spiritual health check-up will do us much good.
When certain seasons of life may prove to more demanding, there is really no need to feel ashamed or beat ourselves up, thinking that we have missed out on growing spiritually. For example, just because a Christian is unable to read the Bible as regularly or longer than before now since becoming a mother of a toddler does not mean that she will stop growing spiritually or grow less. Instead of comparing herself with others or thinking that she has compromised on her faith, it would be far more spiritually beneficial to set realistic goals and then give thanks to God whenever she manages to keep pace and attain those goals. Surely God sees our heart and is far more pleased with our sincere efforts and will grant us grace than to hold us to some austere standards of godliness?
Indeed, as people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:15), we can take heart that God’s grace is sufficient in seeing us through our commitments towards God. We know that spiritual growth can take place because the Holy Spirit is present and active even in the mundane moments of our lives. Just as few addicts actually quit because of a single moment of resolve and few relationships become stronger because of one dramatic moment of commitment, we also do not rest our hopes merely on some spectacular moments or experiences.
Indeed, as a Christian counsellor and pastor Paul Tripp so aptly puts it, “the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.” Put simply, we need to understand that what leads to significant personal change is that God is at work in the midst of those thousands of seemingly unremarkable moments of our lives as we seek to follow Christ.
As we press on in 2024, let us build on lives upon this truth that God is intimately involved in our lives and molding our character through a variety of situations. There may be occasions when we find ourselves stretched beyond our strength and abilities. Yet, God is actually using these moments as we turn to God for help to mold us and lead us to spiritual maturity. Likewise, there will be instances of failure and disobedience. But as we humbly come before God in confession and repentance, we discover that God never tires of lavishing his grace unto us.
Regardless of how successful we will be in achieving our faith goals this year, we can rest assured that this year will continue to be a year of God’s matchless grace for all who are in Christ. After all, it is also in God’s agenda that those who trust in him will increasingly be conformed into the likeness his Son (Roamns 8:29). Thus, as much as growth will involve a lifetime of constant struggles on our part, we can take heart that God is on our side as he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). As we exercise discernment and take practical steps in working towards sanctification, it is wonderful to know that we are not left on our own. Our labour of faith and love will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), not when Christ has already risen and put an end to all that death once brought!