Christian Maturity: Arrived, or Just Way Too Far Behind?

By Clarke Dixon Published on November 22, 2020

Have you ever thought, “I’m just not where I want to be, or feel I am supposed to be as a Christian”? The most dominant feelings in your life may be of guilt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself, of feeling stuck.

Or perhaps quite the opposite. You think, “I have arrived.” You have a dominant feeling of satisfaction, of being satisfied with yourself as a person, and as a Christ follower.

Whether we are feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves, something Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi will help us:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, NRSV)

Paul is well aware that, despite his extensive experience of walking with Jesus, he has not arrived. This speaks to us when we think we have arrived.

There are two different ways that we may think we have arrived.

Have We Arrived? 

First, we may think we have progressed so far in Christian maturity, that there is nowhere left to grow. There are no changes left to be made. There is nothing more to learn about God, or ourselves. When we think that, let Paul’s words come as a challenge. If the apostle Paul knew that he had not yet arrived, how much more should we realize the need, and opportunity, for further growth?

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Second, we may think that the only goal of Christianity is to get people to heaven. Since we know that we are saved by the love of God and not our own righteousness, the goal has been reached. We have been saved. We will go to heaven when we die. All is good.

Not the Only Goal

However, is that the only goal? It may sound like the only goal in certain variations of Christianity, but we won’t find that it is in biblical Christianity. Consider what Paul goes on to say:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this 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 heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, NRSV)

The Christian life is described here as a race. There is motion, there is direction, there is an effort expended in reaching toward a goal. There is a sense of progression, of movement. We could sum it up with “yes, by God’s grace you will reach the finish line, but you are now in the race, so get running!”

The goal of Christianity is not just getting people to heaven instead of hell, of ensuring life forevermore as opposed to separation from God at the end. The goal is experiencing God’s presence in our lives forevermore, beginning now, and affecting us now. The goal is not just resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns, but new life now made possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. There is a maturing process touching our character, our motives, our ethics, our attitudes — affecting everything about us. This race is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long journey. Of course we have not arrived.

We Belong Even Though We Haven’t Arrived

This brings us to those times we beat ourselves up because we have not yet arrived. If that describes us today, there are three things to take note of from Paul’s words.

First, be comforted by the fact that God’s got this, even if we don’t:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, NRSV, emphasis added)

We belong, even though we have not arrived. We belong because of the faithfulness of Jesus, because of the love and grace of God. Our Christian maturity does not make God love us more. So be comforted by the fact that you belong.

You Are Not Alone

Second, if you feel you have some distance to go, you are not alone. Paul makes no claim on being the perfect Christian either. None of the heroes of the faith we find in the Bible were perfect. None of the heroes of the faith we find through the history of Christianity were perfect. Why do we beat ourselves up for not being perfect? So, let us be comforted by the fact that we are not alone in our imperfection. God is not surprised.

Let Us Challenge Ourselves

Third, let us be challenged. There is a road to travel, there is a race to run:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this 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 heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, NRSV)

Are we challenged by those verbs of action: “straining forward,” “I press on”? Do we hear the challenge to put some effort in?

To run a race, it is best we not spend all our time looking behind us. When we spend a lot of time looking back, we might end up thinking things like “I experienced this, my family of origin was like that, I have never been able to do this, I have always done that.” If we look at how things have been, why would we expect anything to ever be different? But what if we look forward?

Looking Forward

In an effort to be healthier, I have lost 50 pounds. If I only looked back, I would see nothing but a steady rise in weight. An app forced me to look forward. At the close of each day it would say “if every day was like today, in five weeks you will weigh this.” Looking back, I would always feel defeated. Looking forward I felt inspired.

If we feel stuck, let us hear the challenge to look forward. In motorcycle safety courses they teach you that where you look, you go. So, don’t spend all your time looking back, and don’t look down! In life, if we keep looking back, we will continue to get hung up over the same old things. Let’s stop looking back at events and decisions we think define us. Instead, let’s look forward to what God has for us. Let the future God has in store for us define us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6, NRSV)

Let us not look back at a history of failures, whether our own or how others have failed us. Let us look forward to where God is leading us, to what kind of character we will have and what kind of people we will be.

Are We Growing?

Growth is possible, especially given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the upward calling in Christ. We can grow in our character. We can grow in our depth of relationship with God in Christ. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of God. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of ourselves, where we have come from, but more importantly, where we are going.

Whether we feel we have far to go, or nowhere left to go in the journey of Christian maturity, God will help get us moving on our way.

Are you growing?

(The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

Clarke is the pastor of Calvary Baptist in Cobourg, Ontario. He blogs at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

Originally published on Clarke’s blog. Reprinted with permission.

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