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Three Steps to Shrink Spiritually

  • Matt Johnson Pastor, Author
  • Updated Oct 18, 2022
Three Steps to Shrink Spiritually
Brought to you by Christianity.com

Big ideas about spiritual growth aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Ever have an amazing time of prayer in the morning and utterly fall on your face spiritually by noon? Cheer up. You're in good company. Just think of the Apostle Peter (Mark 14:26).

Doing vs. What's Done

The Christian life isn't primarily about growth for the sake of personal improvement, but receiving the basics of Jesus' death and resurrection. It's time we shrink from our elaborate, self-involved spiritual aspirations of do more, try harder. See, we tend toward doing because, well...doing is about our self-progress and we like to take credit for our achievements. But the gospel is about the foundation of what has already been done for us.  

If you're feeling stuck, remember and be encouraged that the good-ole Good News still matters—for all of life.

1) The Bible isn't about you, but it's for you

We are a narcissistic people, and it's time to clean the self-absorbed palate. For all our striving to live the holy life, Scripture isn't about us, or our ability to achieve for God. Instead, it is about God's work done for us in Christ.

Steep in Ephesians 1:1 sometime and you'll get a gloriously refreshing perspective.

If you belong to Jesus, the following truths apply to you:

- You are blessed with every spiritual blessing

- Before the foundation of the world, you were chosen to be holy and blameless

- You were adopted into the family and have gained an inheritance having been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit

Notice what's missing in this passage? The praise of human, spiritual achievements that earns God's favor. Reward for human striving isn't even hinted at. Before you spoke a word, conjured a thought or perpetrated a deed, you were chosen to belong to Christ and be perfect before an Almighty God.  To the praise of your glorious devotional time? To the praise of your forward progress? No, all of the above already belongs to you to the praise of HIS glorious grace, for Jesus sake!

2) The way out is the way back

Stuck on the hamster wheel of spiritual failure? Did you miss your quiet time every day this month? Take a second look at that magazine cover at the check-out counter? Maybe it's time you considered your baptism again as the physical sermon that it is.

While baptism is a moment of public confession, it conveys much deeper significance. According to Romans 6, something objective happened when you went into that water. It is a sign of the reality that you are united with Jesus, and 2,000 years ago your sin was put to death on the cross. You are now raised to new life.

How can that be? Because we all still sin. True. But the Christian life is subjectively living out the implications of what has already been objectively achieved. Here's an illustration. When a heat-seeking missile is launched, it will hit its target. Life in the present is post-launch / pre-detonation. The missile hasn't reached its destination yet, but it's just a matter of time until it does.

Therefore, considering Romans 6, the Christian life is less of a progressive heavenward climb as it is a circular pattern of confession and repentance of our unbelief. We return again to the place where it all goes down... the cross. Looking back at the significance of our baptism takes the spotlight off our self-obsessed performance for God and focuses us on our rock-solid standing before God. 

3) Christianity isn't sin management

Let's face it. We Christians take the gospel for granted every day. Surely there's something more flashy about the Christian life than beginner, baby-Christian, Sunday school stuff, right? Wrong.

The gospel gets our head out of the clouds, shrinks our "me-centered" spiritual aspirations, and gets our feet back on the ground again. I know we've heard it all before but we need to be reminded over and over—you, me, your Bible study leader, the pastor. We were once dead in our sin, and while we were still enemies, Christ died for us! I don't know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time forgiving people that cut me off in traffic.

The gospel is simple, profound, and glorious. This is the stuff that changes hearts. Want to stay Jesus-focused, gospel-centered, and keep the big picture in sight? Don't get so self-absorbed in your own sin management. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and what he accomplished for you on the cross, then respond in worship.

That's it. The pressure is off.

Stay the course. Don't get swept away by gimmicky discipleship programs promising magical victory over sin. Remind yourself daily that your sin died with Christ on the cross and that you too will be raised to new life.

Matt Johnson is a pastor at mars hill church and publication manager for re:lit and Resurgence. He also serves as a leader in Mars Hill's redemption groups. Throughout the 90s and the early part of the decade, Matt was a traveling musician. Matt met his wife, Rose, at Mars Hill in '97 and they served in music ministry together for over 10 years. In recent years Matt has written music criticism for paste magazine, three imaginary girls, Seattle Sound, and Bandoppler. Matt and Rose got married in 2001 and they have two young daughters.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Luda311

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