Sometimes I find myself measuring my ‘progress’ or maturity in Christian faith in random and arbitrary ways:
Here are some of them: (laugh if you want, I deserve it!)
- Read a chapter of Calvin’s Institutes (super holy behaviour!)
- Listened to a John Piper sermon in my free time.
- Ate some vegetables (my body is a temple).
Why do I think in this way?
All human beings are legalists at heart. We forget (or refuse) to trust in the radical rescue of Jesus, and instead we obsess about the things we do as markers of our success or failure. Or we give up on godliness altogether and settle for creating our own more achievable standards.
But godliness isn’t about random acts of self-discipline or an arbitrary standard of choice.
God’s standard is absolute perfection: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) An impossible standard for you and I!
Jesus is very clear about this in the story of the rich young man who wanted eternal life (found in Mark 10:17-27). The disciples are impressed by the outward holiness and worldly success of the man, but Jesus sees things differently, and uses the situation to teach them:
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle . . .26 The disciples were amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Exchanging Measures for Mercy
Here is Calvin’s explanation of how God’s perfect standards should cause the Christian to react:
“dismissing the stupid opinion of their own strength, they come to realize that they stand and are upheld by God’s hand alone; that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to His mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit. For God’s mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true faith. ”
True Christian maturity is rooted in Christ, in his perfection on our behalf, and in the gradual changes that he is working in those who follow him. But it’s a work of relationship not rules. Arbitrary rules and habits (and even those found in the Bible) cannot save us, they simply point us to the person who can.
So, I don’t need to make arbitrary rules for myself, instead my measure of holiness is Christlikeness, enabled by God’s Spirit, and achieved by knowing Jesus and trusting in his once-for-all rescue.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6