Some suggest that as a Christian I should be changing. I should be growing. I should be doing more of the right things and less of the wrong things. I want this. I genuinely desire that authentic and lasting positive change be increasingly evident in and through my life. But, honestly, how realistic is all this? How much progress can I really hope for or expect in my Christian journey, especially when I can’t seem to go a single day without betraying my God in one way or another by my thoughts, motives or actions. There are obviously no simple formulas or universal answers, but I do know what has been helpful for me in pursuing a more consistent and faithful walk in Jesus’ steps.
First, I try to stay aware and alert to the nature of the battle I face. Christian growth is much more than me and my willpower against myself and my bad habits. The truth is that all of Christian life and growth is an ongoing spiritual battle. It’s a battle against the selfish and prideful tendencies of my own fallen nature, against the enticements of the world around me, and against the tactics of my spiritual enemy. These opponents work continually and cooperatively to distract, divert and dissuade me from trusting God, all the while subtly persuading me of my own self-sufficiency and self-importance. It’s a slippery and dangerous slope. If I’m not careful, before I realize it, I’m pursuing personal growth through a lens that is focused almost exclusively on myself. I’m striving to improve myself under my own power and the next thing I know I’m claiming all the credit for what will surely be nothing more than short-lived progress at best. As I fall prey to these tactics and tendencies, and as I begin to look to myself to change myself, I am really only deceiving myself and setting myself up for certain defeat.
Second, I recognize that I am truly defenseless in this battle on my own. Personal experience tells me this. Simple observation shows me this. I repeatedly stumble and falter in my own sin where I forget this truth, where I pridefully refuse to acknowledge it, or where I allow myself to become deceived concerning it. God has not left me to defend myself. That was never his intention. Jesus secured not only my freedom, forgiveness and new life; he also purchased the power and authority I need to keep his commands more consistently and faithfully. The very same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus’ ministry, his miracles, his perfect sinless life, and who ultimately raised him from death, also resides with me and in me, to guide me, to counsel me and to empower me. And, the Father delights to give this gift on an ongoing basis to his children who ask. So, I ask. I ask repeatedly, continually and tirelessly for God to touch my life afresh with his power and presence through his Holy Spirit, and I look to his strength and not my own to empower change in my life.
Finally, as I spend time regularly dwelling on the captivating beauty of the cross, I see more clearly that the only battle that really matters has already been won. God in his wisdom devised a way in which his love could rescue me from his wrath without in any way compromising his own character and perfect holiness. Jesus came for me personally and individually. He came to willingly take on the punishment due to me for my rebellion and in exchange give me a righteousness I could never have earned or deserved. It’s a one-sided trade of staggering proportion. And, as I truly embrace by faith the scandal of this grace that has reconciled me to my God, it changes who I am and how I live. I want to please and honor and glorify my God by my thoughts, words and deeds, not so that he will love and accept me, but because he already has, completely and perfectly. I increasingly hate not only the sin that I battle against, but even more the act of sinning against a God who was willing to go so far to make me his own. And, as I genuinely believe and accept that God cares infinitely more about me and who I am than about what I can do for him or what I might become, the motivations underlying the pursuit of change in my life shift from duty and obligation to delight and worship. This changes everything.
Don’t look to yourself to change yourself, or you will inevitably deceive and disappoint yourself. Marvel at the cross as a stunning picture of God’s relentless love for you, and allow this to change you. Be humbled by what Jesus did for you and why he did it. Stand amazed at the identity he purchased for you. As you allow his presence, his power and his truth to motivate and compel you forward in your life, change will happen and battles will be won as a matter of course, not by the resolve of your efforts, but by his goodness and his empowering grace.