Christians have very different ideas about how to grow spiritually and become more Christ-like. Understandably, many of us have found the process discouraging. Changing ourselves from sinners into saints is admittedly a daunting process.
Consequently, many Christians are gravitating towards passivity as opposed to actively trying to act like Jesus. The late Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard, had written in favor of passivity at the expense of proactivity:
· Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays. Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser… True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would. (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, 7-8)
Although we are transformed from the inside out by the Spirit, in many ways, Jesus did command us to act like Him:
· “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48; ESV)
Of course, we will not be perfect in this world – far from it. However, we must not tire of following our Lord, but must press on:
· And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
The life we are called to is a proactive life:
· Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:12-14)
Yes, holiness/sanctification is a fruit of the Spirit and the way we should be, as Willard suggests, but it is also something we must pursue and the way we should act. If we refuse to act this way, we prove that we do not love our Lord:
· Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)
What Willard had written is illogical. He suggests that we should somehow follow Jesus without obeying His commands. To repeat Willards words:
· Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.
Instead, Willard suggests that we obey Jesus but only passively, as it comes naturally out of us. Somehow obedience is supposed to just happen. While, there is some truth in this – even our obedience is the fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:10) – this does not eliminate our efforts:
· Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
In contrast, Willard has written:
· True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.
While there is no greater joy than in following my Lord, it still can be a struggle. It was for Paul:
· 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. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Paul was not teaching that there is anything uncertain about our heavenly inheritance, but rather that the true believer will receive it through effort. Not that the effort saves us, but rather effort is something that accompanies truth faith and repentance.
However, admittedly, the struggle is often discouraging and even guilt-producing. Does this mean that we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and that be need to step back and just be and believe?
No at all! Instead, we need the struggle. One man, seeing a butterfly trying to escape from its cocoon, assisted this incredible creature in his escape only to see it subsequently die. He later learned that the butterfly needs this struggle in order to survive.
How does this apply to us? We too need the struggle. How so? The disappointments humble us, stripping away our self-confidence, leading us to brokenness and repentance. And when we humble ourselves before God and turn to His Word for our only encouragement, He begins to give us a deeper illumination of grace.
What happens? We are reassured that we are forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9) and that it is no longer about us and our spiritual successes but about Christ and His success and righteousness.
This is utterly freeing (John 8:31-32), and it brings us to a deeper place of gratefulness for a God who loves us, who are completely undeserving.
However, this deepened understanding and appreciation of our Lord does not come through passivity but activity.