“But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.” - Hosea 13:4-6
In the working world, the process is simple. You start in the mailroom doing grunt work, you do enough hard work to get promoted, and yada yada yada, you’re the CEO. You sit on the top floor in a corner office, far above the peons in that mailroom from which you graduated so long ago. This ladder of upward mobility is much the same for students, athletes, and any other capitalistic venturers. But we live in an upside-down kingdom, and a hierarchical progression is far from the reality of the Christian life.
We certainly start in a place of lowly dependence, but that’s where the parallels stop. Because we stay there. In fact, we go deeper into dependence, lower into lowliness, as we grow. This is one of the great paradoxes of the glorious journey of the believer. Growth can be defined as our increased trusting in/leaning on/magnifying the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and none of that consists of a progression in self-sufficiency or even conscious competence.
The problem isn't rocket science: we don’t like this dynamic(at least a large part of us doesn’t). Our flesh sees “growth” as whatever will serve to exalt us, render us autonomous, and establish us as superior. It wants to see us arrive. So while the Spirit is seeking to move us toward Christ, our flesh is setting up illusions of arrival. I will expose a few here:
“I already know the gospel. I need deeper teaching.” A brief moment of self-examination shows this thought(which we all think often) to be laughable. A true knowledge of the gospel means a full understanding of our sin, a deep sense of brokenness, and a joy-filled reveling in grace. None of us truly live there. To add to this, you will be hard-pressed to find a “deeper teaching” in the scriptures than that of the creative, all-sufficient, mind-blowingly merciful gospel of Christ. It is the beating heart of all truth. When your friend seeks to encourage you with profoundly simple gospel truths, watch out for the “yeah yeah yeah” that follows in your mind. Let it sink in. You don’t get it yet.
“I listen to sermons for the sake of my less mature friends.” It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it rings true. How often do those of us who have “arrived,” after hearing a particularly poignant statement from the pulpit, think, “I hope _______ is listening; this would be perfect for him,” while we miss how perfectly timed it is for us? We don’t need to stop thinking for our friends, but let’s take the Lord’s prompting in its proper order.
“I’m in ministry now. I’ve graduated from disciple to discipler.” I know my own heart. I have been a vocational minister for twelve years, and my affections for Christ have not plateaued at the “consistently strong” level. My self-centeredness is ever-present. My sin issues did not magically disappear as I crossed the threshold from student to staff, or from staff to director(or any kind). I need the “one anothering” of the Bible to be aimed at me. I need to be encouraged, exhorted, admonished, reproved, and rebuked. So do you, oh holy minister.
This illusory sense of arrival, while seemingly desirable as a ground for self-confidence, only serves to carry us away from our deepest need(irony intended). Hosea 13 is terrifying. The principle is clear: when need disappears, we forget God. Forgetting God-- losing our sense of grateful dependence on Him-- is the definition of sin(see Romans 1:20), and it is a step toward hell, if not the core reality of hell.
The good news is that we don’t have to muster up a sense of need to keep ourselves dependent on God. We don’t have to pretend to be desperate for deep affection toward God, for faith to believe in the unseen, for self-forgetful love, for unshakable joy, for the salvation of friends, and, of course, for the forgiveness of our sins. We just have to acknowledge what’s true: we need Him, and we need Him constantly.
Arrogance is not a sign of growth. So beware your business-like views of progressive holiness and your self-confident personal assessments. Repent of them and beg the Lord for His grace to forgive and heal.