Holy Dissatisfaction and Relentless Pursuit: Overcoming the Threat of Spiritual Stagnation1
Should we be concerned that some Christians, for a variety of reasons, have become spiritually stagnant. Continue reading . . .
Should we be concerned that some Christians, for a variety of reasons, have become spiritually stagnant. They aren’t regressing but there is a sense in which they are stuck in neutral. Or perhaps they’re actually moving forward, but only because they’ve set their souls on cruise control. They don’t pay much attention to the speed and progress of their Christian life, but are attentive only to the degree that it is necessary to keep from swerving off the road of following Christ. They don’t think it’s necessary to accelerate. They are content with where they are on the pathway to eternal life. They’ve settled for the status quo. “Things as they are” is just fine with them. No need to rock the boat or increase the pace at which they pursue Christ in all his fullness. Again, they are spiritually stagnant.
I’m not suggesting they aren’t genuinely born again and saved. But there is little or no growth. Their passion for Jesus Christ is lukewarm, at best. Their study of God’s Word is sporadic, at best. Their prayer lives are largely restricted to listening to others intercede with God on a Sunday morning. They’ve embraced the truth that by faith alone they stand righteous in God’s sight and have concluded from this that they need do no more. There is a sense in which they’ve fully and finally arrived.
Some might even think that whatever Christ died to obtain for them is already theirs in total perfection. It’s now just a matter of resting in what is already true. The idea of pressing forward and relentlessly pursuing the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ strikes them as inconsistent with God’s grace. It feels as if they are introducing works into their relationship with Jesus. So, the result is that they coast. They may even drift aimlessly through the Christian life.
Nothing could be more contrary to biblical Christianity than that perspective on Christian living. I say this because of what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-14.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Although justified by faith in Christ, although forgiven of all his sins, although living in the knowledge of Christ and in a relationship of love and fellowship with him, Paul refuses to stagnate. He is careful to cultivate and sustain in his heart what can only be called “holy dissatisfaction” combined with a “relentless pursuit” of that ultimate prize and goal for which Jesus Christ laid hold of him.
So I want to issue a call for a renewed commitment to re-engage with Christ and to re-enter the race we’ve been called to run. My aim is to take the Word of God in this passage and use it to bring spiritual heat to bear on your heart and unthaw your soul so that you will relentlessly pursue that for which you have already been taken captive.
One reason why some believers fall into this malaise in Christian living is their failure to understand the distinction in Scripture between what is referred to as “the already” and “the not yet.” Let me explain what I mean.
A good example can be found in what John said in his first epistle: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Here John gives expression to a tension, of sorts, between what is already true of us as God’s children and what is not true of us, but will be. Our status as God’s children is a present and permanent reality. Nothing can change that. On the other hand, we are not yet all that we shall be. There is yet to come the consummation of our experience as God’s children when Christ returns. We are truly the children of God but there is an experiential dimension of that relationship that will come to fruition only when Christ returns.
We see this in a lot of other ways as well. The kingdom of God is already here (Col. 1:13), but it is not yet consummated in its fullness (1 Cor. 6:9). We are already reigning with Christ (Eph. 2:4-6), but in the age to come it will take on an entirely new and complete dimension (Rev. 5:9-10). We have eternal life now, but we have not yet entered into the full experience of all that entails. The new creation is already here (2 Cor. 5:17) but it has not yet come in the form of the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). We already have the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but Paul also speaks of this experience as merely the firstfruits or down payment or pledge of what is yet to come. The same principle applies when it comes to our righteousness, our glorification, and our heavenly citizenship.
Paul refers to yet another instance of the already and not yet in Philippians 3:10 where he speaks of experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection, but in 3:11 he refers to the final resurrection as something yet to come.
Evidently, some in Philippi had failed to recognize this tension. In their zeal and excitement and joy over knowing all that God had already done for them in Christ, they concluded that they had already arrived; they had already experienced or achieved in its fullness what God has reserved for the not yet.
This seems clear from what Paul says in vv. 12-14. Yes, we are righteous through faith in Christ, as 3:9 indicates. But our experience has not yet reached the level of our status. Yes, we know Christ as being of surpassing and superior excellence, as vv. 8, 10 make clear, but our knowledge has not yet reached the depths and heights of what will happen when we finally stand in Christ’s presence in the age to come.
The problem is that some had put their Christian progress on cruise control or were merely drifting or had in some cases arrogantly assumed that what they now already have is all there will ever be. Paul is very quick to point out that this is misguided and even dangerous.
To be continued . . .