February 4, 2010

To Live is Christ — pressing on

My sister gave me a cute birthday card yesterday. It shows an old cowboy on his horse on an impossibly narrow way, a trail that winds high on the side of a vertical cliff. The caption says, “That’s just the thing about birthdays . . . there’s no turning back!”

Maybe that is what I was thinking this morning when I read this question: “If your relationship with Christ became less, would you notice?”

At first I thought this was a dumb question. It seems to me that when Jesus reveals Himself to me, there is no turning back. I’ve seen Him and He has changed me. What He has done cannot be undone.

This makes me wonder about those people we call “backsliders.” I’m thinking, is that really a biblical description of those who seem to follow Christ and then turn back?

Paul describes his own life in the following passage, yet I also see here some clues about my question . . . 

I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. . . . I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:8–16)
The New Testament speaks about people who are babies in their faith. It also talks about “young men” and mature believers. Surprisingly, it never mentions backsliders. Instead, this is an Old Testament term applied to the nation of Israel when they continually turned away from the laws of God. It is not used to describe Christians.

Instead, being a Christian is an organic thing, like a tree. God gives new life and that life is nourished by Him through spiritual disciplines (reading His Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, etc.), but if a believer does not do those things, they do not grow. The tree remains alive, but it is stunted.

At first, new believers are filled with the sense of their new life, but that is not to be confused with maturity. Like a tree, they need to grow. Some of that growth comes from weathering storms and unexpected challenges. During tough times, some may become discouraged and stop their spiritual disciplines. They do not die, but in the eyes of others may appear to have turned back.

To these, Paul encourages to press on (and I should too). Other passages say to “look forward” or “be diligent.” Peter wrote, “May the God of all grace, who called us though His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strength, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). Troubles are not the end of the Christian life; they one of the ways God uses to make us more like Jesus.

I know a few who seemed to have started the Christian life but fell away. I have no idea if they actually are “alive in Christ” or if their start was a false one, but I do know that the Spirit of Christ is relentless in His life-giving power. If life is there, it is still there through trials and difficulties. Those who seem to have turned back have not died to spiritual things, but have stopped taking nourishment. Eventually the Spirit within will nourish them and have them moving again along that narrow way. 

Copyright image by Equine Addicts


Karin said...

Happy Birthday - belated!!! God keep you in His care and continue to make you a blessing! Totally agree with your post. Even children grow imperceptibly to their own families at times - sometimes it seems growth isn't happening - but let someone visit who hasn't seen them for awhile and they'll tell you the changes they see. When it comes to our spiritual growth only God truly knows what He is causing to happen within, which to others may seem like standing still or going backwards.

LC said...

Thanks, Karen. Knowing this makes a difference in how we pray, doesn't it! Puts more confidence in God and less fear about appearances...!