The phrase might strike you as strange at first glance, but those familiar with the teachings of Jesus will quickly realize that it’s merely a different way of saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”¹ Here Jesus speaks about not living for oneself but in service to Him. This is actually at the crux of the true Christian life, not merely achieved once, but something we work on continually.
If we were to pause and briefly analyze our daily habits, we could quickly come up with a list of different things we engage in. Along with exceptions and happenstance, we have our traditions (or rather, rituals) that make up and define who we are. It’s the routine and often mundane things we do because we find them good, pleasurable, or just a way of filling a void in life. In and of themselves, they aren’t wrong, but there’s a danger in being lulled into the repetitive patterns and rhythms of life. It poses a hazard to our spiritual well-being when we are merely trying to preserve the way we always do things.
The hardest part in life concerning truth, I think, isn’t finding it, but keeping and living it out. Although people in the world often try to squelch their God-given conscience by searing it and reveling in things against God’s ordained order, Christians should have a marked difference in how they approach life in light of the truth. The followers of Christ are to daily crucify the flesh, its lustful passions, and its pride while concurrently striving to grow and develop the characteristics of God in their lives.
This is where our traditions can affect us negatively. We all have our own quirks, usual ways of doing things, and common responses that those around us (and even ourselves) have come to expect. It’s almost always tied to our identity and how we like to be perceived. While being Christians, we still want to perpetuate an image, whether it’s being the fun, the serious, the analytical, the cool—you name it. We also want ourselves and those around us to think we’re successful in life. We’re afraid of being that person who obviously doesn’t have it all together. We’re afraid we might be judged as weak if we concede to an argument that wasn’t worth having in the first place. Or maybe it’s fearing the vulnerability that comes with admitting that you might be wrong. The fuel propelling this is often our pride. After all, who wants to be the “weak” person? In all this, the focus most often is self-preservation and keeping up a façade. This human tendency of keeping a certain image isn’t conducive to spiritual growth because maturing as a Christian often involves changing our habitual ways.
When studying what the Bible says about the Christian life, especially the New Testament, a commonly drawn parallel is that of a man well aware of his surroundings while actively engaged in his pursuit. A popular example would be in Hebrews 12 about running the set race with endurance. Sometimes this spiritual “concept” is alluded to by the expression that one is to stay standing. Somewhat ironically, to stand in the Biblical sense also implies moving forward. The inspired writers of the Scriptures repeatedly urged the followers of Christ to ground themselves in the Word of God and continue in His truth. Peter, in this spirit, mentions this key ingredient for a vibrant Christian life:
[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.²
The power and Spirit that God has granted to his children for things that pertain to life wasn’t given for us to make mental note of, but rather that we would abound and grow in things that are essential to life. It’s an intentional and proactive approach. Certainly, practicing and growing in the qualities of Christ may take strenuous effort at times, but it’s the only way to keep our spiritual balance. If we over-focus on where we are in our spiritual journey, we’re in danger of losing sight of the greater picture.
I’m afraid one of the marks of a person not moving forward is his desperate need of clearly spelled-out regulations. It’s very easy to reassure yourself that you’re doing great if you can measure yourself to a set standard. But it’s then that one easily loses sight of the principle and lives by the outward. No longer is the question “How can I best please Christ or follow His desires for my life” at the root. Instead, “Am I fitting in?” takes the lead.
If our Christianity only defines our peculiarities and not our lives, then we have lost what it means to be a follower of Christ.
We cannot allow ourselves to find fulfilment in staying where we are while smugly patting ourselves on the back, imagining that we’re magically transforming into a better image of Christ. It’s a continual process in striving to mature in the love, goodness, and righteousness of our Father. Don’t merely seek for your preservation, but persist in laying down your life, crucifying the flesh, and ever yielding yourself to be a more fit vessel for the Master’s use.
¹ John 12:24 ESV
² 2 Peter 1:3-10 ESV