A Step-by-Step Journey
The best metaphor for life as a whole and for the spiritual life in particular is that of a journey. Literature abounds with this imagery (e.g., John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress). As followers of the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), we are travelers on a quest, a voyage, an odyssey, a pilgrimage. If we are following Christ, we are headed for home, but there are stages along the way and lessons to be learned. This is why it is a mistake to view the spiritual life as a static condition or a state of being that can be attained by a combination of technique and information. To follow Christ is to move into territory that is unknown to us and to count on His purposeful guidance, His grace when we go off the path and His presence when we feel alone. It is to learn to respond to God’s providential care in deepening ways and to accept the pilgrim character of earthly existence with its uncertainties, setbacks, disappointments, surprises, and joys. It is to remember that we are in a process of gradual conformity to the image of Christ so that we can love and serve others along the way.
Seen in this light, the primary point of this earthly existence is preparation for our eternal citizenship in heaven. In this life we stumble in many ways (James 3:2) because we are still in process—our sanctification is not yet complete. Sanctification is both an event (we were sanctified when we gave ourselves to Christ; 1 Corinthians 6:11) and a process (we are being sanctified; Romans 12:2; Philippians 2-3; 1 John 2:28). Spiritual formation is the lifelong process of becoming in our character and actions the new creations we already are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); it is the working out of what God has already worked in us (Philippians 2:12-13).
The Christian life is not conformity to prevailing standards of holiness, but a step-by-step process. This process of genuine response to what God is doing in our lives is more critical than the visible product. I remember a new believer who in his enthusiasm for having found Christ sometimes swore when he prayed. Laundry-list legalism with its inventory of don’ts (the filthy five, the nasty nine, the dirty dozen) and do’s would measure such a person as carnal and disobedient. But I submit that this new convert, who knew little but applied what little he knew, was more pleasing to the heart of God with his ungainly prayers than a person who is eloquent in public prayer but is harboring unconfessed sin. In this case, the former gives the appearance of disobedience when he is actually obedient to where he is in his journey; the latter gives the appearance of obedience when he is actually disobedient to what he knows. External appearances are often deceptive, and this is why God looks at the heart.
Rahab, the harlot, had little knowledge about the God of Israel but applied the knowledge she did have (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25); the Pharisees knew the Scriptures but rejected God’s purposes. Since the spiritual life is not a matter of external conformity, it cannot be measured. Instead of comparing ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12), it is better to seek fidelity in our own journey. Holiness relates to where we are now, not where we need to be later.
We are called to be apprentices of Jesus in kingdom living, and this requires time, development, and patience. As the gospels illustrate, knowing and believing in Christ is a dynamic process (consider the disciples in John 1, 2:11, and 16:30-31; the woman at the well in John 4; the man born blind in John 9; and Nicodemus in John 3, 7, and 19). Spiritual formation is gradual, and we become more substantial and real as we cooperate with the process by years of small choices in favor of God’s purposes. Each choice, whether to obey or resist, makes the next one possible.
Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth.
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