“A paradox of the Christian life is that we are fully responsible for our Christian growth and at the same time fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us both the desire to grow and the ability to do it. God’s grace does not negate the need for responsible actions on our part but rather makes it possible.” This is what I have written in one of the margins of Galatians 5:22-23 and its related Scripture Colossians 3:12-15. Whether or not it was a quote from another source or a moment of revelation, I don’t remember, but it’s true. Christian growth is not passive. It doesn’t just happen.
Our growth in Christ doesn’t come via osmosis, a passive transfer of God’s character and heart without effort (while the indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to connect the dots, we have to be willing to). Or exhausting self-effort littered with frustrations and failures, starts and stops, like so many new year resolutions — the human will is strong, but change from the outside-in is only behavior modification and doomed to fail under stress. Nor are we immune to the influences that can derail and demoralize, causing us to quit, to give up: the cacophony of well meaning voices from the “family” about what you should and should not do that only causes confusion or the tyranny of performance that comes from our own “ought to’s” that often derail and demoralize.
Thankfully the compass of Scripture teaches to allow God to direct our path, to have faith in his leading, to wait upon him, to surrender and let go of our agenda, exercise faith, to wait on the Holy Spirit for direction, yet move forward. That takes purpose and desire and yet that’s also in the arena of the Holy Spirit’s work. None of this makes sense to the natural mind.
As children of God in Christ, in order for this to all work, we’re to know that our relationship with the Father and by extension the Holy Spirit, is unconditional. It’s not a matter of performance, we are loved, just as we are, warts and all, failures and all. So we live each day purposed to the glory of God. And when we blow it, we’ll know it; confess it, and move forward, still loved unconditionally.
You see, growth is a process. It’s both success and failure, yet always in concert with the Holy Spirit. And through all circumstances and seasons somehow we grow and produce the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. We become more and more like Christ. Father is faithful — that which he starts, he will complete.
My friends, don’t grow weary in doing good, don’t allow your feelings and failures to derail your path. Be willing to surrender, yet move forward. Live as children of God, fully and wholly loved and accepted no matter what you may feel to the contrary. Trust him fully.
The Rev. Norm Hooven can be reached at revnorm@ juno.com.