What is Christian Growth?

I’m not a proponent of progressive sanctification. I think the doctrine has done incalculable damage, placing burdens on people that Jesus never intended them to carry.

So what is Christian growth? What does progressing as a Christian look like? For many today it looks like doing good works, becoming more pious, getting better day by day. But is this biblical?

Paul, writing to the Ephesians, said “to me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given…” (Eph. 3:8). This letter was written toward the end of Paul’s life and ministry and he readily admits that he’s “least of all saints”. It seems to me that Paul’s understanding of sanctification was very different than many teachers today. If sanctification is about getting better then Paul wasn’t progressing in his sanctification very well. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes that Jesus is not only our justification (righteousness) He is our sanctification (1:30). Here it seems that sanctification is not a thing, or a goal, it’s a Person, and His name is Jesus.

I believe that Christian growth happens when we understand the “for me” implications of the gospel and allow them to turn our eyes off of ourselves and our constant need for self-justification and turn them to Christ who alone has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. It’s about recognizing our new identity in Christ. Instead of attempting to fix up the old clunker (our old Adam) in the garage, we enjoy the brand new car (new creation in Christ) that Jesus has gifted to us by virtue of His perfect life and sacrificial death. Augustine defined sin as “man curving in upon himself”…ironically much of what is called Christian growth is simply a turning of the Christian in upon himself, constantly fretting over his growth and progress. No, this isn’t growth, this is an impediment, the very antithesis of growth.

So do I think that Christian growth is important? Yes. But once we begin to define it or quantify it we’ve already said too much. Do I think that good works are good and necessary? Yes. But they are not our good works, they were created by God and given to us to walk in by faith (Eph. 2:10). Furthermore our good works are not for God, they are for our neighbor. If God created the good works and gifted them to us, why would he want them back? The good works we walk in by faith are not for God they are for our neighbor because as Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

So before you call me an antinomian or a purveyor of “cheap-grace” please know that this is the very opposite of what I’m saying.

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2 comments

  1. Is it possible that you are focusing on just one aspect of sanctification?

    You are looking at our positional sanctification – i.e., that God set us apart at salvation, declared us holy, took us from the world and put us into the body of Christ. Plenty of evidence of this in scripture (1Cor. 1:2; 1Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 20:32; Heb. 10:10, 14, 29).

    I have seen sanctification to also be permanent in scripture (which I presume you would not see that as different than your point).

    But I see the progressive nature of sanctification in scripture as well (God desiring us to live apart from sin). This is where we match our lives with our permanent position. Not that this saves us in any way, as that work was already accomplished at the cross for us. This seems pretty clear in scripture as well:
    1. 1Thessalonians 4:1-8 – vs. 3 declares Gods will for us is sanctification, but then describes what that looks like – abstain, conduct, don’t transgress, don’t defraud.
    2. 2Timothy 2:20-26, this describes a sanctified life with commands to obey and live holy, set apart lives.
    3. 2Peter 1:15-16, the idea is to match your life to that of Jesus Christ.
    4. Romans 12 – again a call to holy living.

    I don’t think throwing Ephesians 2:10 on the matter removes the call to sanctified living. I also don’t think the call to sanctified living diminishes the work of the cross as it seems you are concerned.

    Anyway, that is my two cents. Have a blessed day.

  2. Hi Shaun, Thank you for your comment. As I said at the end of my post, I believe in sanctified living…I know the Scriptures you’ve referenced, I’m not ignoring them 🙂 I just don’t believe we become “progressively holy”. The holiness we’re called to walk in is a gift given to us in Christ and we then choose to either identify with this new reality or our old reality that should be being put to death.

    I believe this boils down to the fact that we are given a new life in Christ that is not based upon our merits. It is, as you know, completely a gift. This leaves us with two natures existing within us simultaneously. I don’t believe the Scriptures call us to work on the old man but to put the old man to death…the old man does not need improving, he needs dying. Holiness, sanctification, growth is about identity, not trying to make our old nature perform in such a way that it is not capable of doing.

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