“The Christian life isn’t about progress… “
“Church isn’t a place for people to get better… “
“Following Jesus is more about realizing my own weakness and insufficiency and finding them in Jesus than it is about growing… “
I keep hearing statements like these and I must confess they leave me baffled. I’m baffled because I know they are meant to be good news—but for the life of me I can’t find the good news in them.
I understand the good news of realizing that my identity is totally and absolutely found in Christ. It is tremendous news that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and this is based not on my performance but upon the already accomplished work of Jesus Christ.
That is really great news.
But I’m convinced the above statements cut the legs out of grace and end up not being all that good of news. Grace makes a person actually want to follow Jesus. It makes me want to “progress”, “grow”, “get better”. Saying the Christian life isn’t about progressing in holiness is only good news to those wanting to still treasure sin.
In an effort to highlight the sufficiency of grace in covering our sin we must be careful not to teach that progress in Christ-likeness is somehow not a goal, not possible, or not even something to be commended.
Consider Paul’s argument in Romans 6. In response to the outlandish statement that we should continue in sin so that grace abounds, Paul says “How can we who have died to sin still live in it”?
He then spends 11 verses defending his statement that believers are dead to the enslaving power of sin. That old man—Adam—has been crucified through our union with Christ. Under the law believers were still enslaved to the power of sin and so all the law could do was condemn us. But, as Paul notes in 6:14, we are not under law but under grace. As such sin will not have dominion over us because we have been crucified and made alive with Christ.
I agree with Tom Schreiner’s comment on this:
This means that the normal pattern of life for Christians should be progressive growth in sanctification, resulting in ever great maturity and conformity to God’s moral law in thought and action.
If Paul had wanted to say something like “the Christian life isn’t about progressing in holiness” here was the place to do it. The question in verse 1 is charging Paul’s gospel (saying things like Paul did in 5:20-21) with being untrue because such a statement is incompatible with growth in holiness. Notice that Paul doesn’t challenge that assertion. If Christianity doesn’t lead to actual holiness then what of the promises of Ezekiel and Jeremiah that people would actually obey with new hearts?
This is why the gospel is such good news. We are free from guilt and condemnation. God does not relate to you based on your performance but the performance of Christ.
AND believers will actually grow in godliness. That is great news for Christians because we abhor sin. We want to give up every darling lust. This is why the gospel is such good news—it declares that in Christ our old self has been crucified and we actually can grow in Christ-likeness.
So you can keep any “grace” that doesn’t make you more like Jesus. I’ll take the one that has slain the old man and causes me to—yes painfully at times—become more like Christ.