I’ve recently read a book called The Green Letters, by Miles J Stanford, which is a collection of writings on how to become spiritually mature, after coming into a relationship with God on the basis of faith. The central theme of the book is “not I, but Christ,” which spreads throughout all of the biblical writings. On one of the first pages, Stanford lays out a bit more of an explanation for how “not I, but Christ” applies to spiritual growth, saying “most Christians settle for far less than the best after wearying but fruitless struggles with the flesh. Because they rely on their own strength, which is a hopeless thing to do.”
Everything is repetition; as an Austrian bodybuilder said, “Reps, reps, reps.” Spiritual growth is no different, resting on the principle of repetition, but so often the repetition is focused on the wrong exercise: usually one of guilt and shame, or hypocrisy, or despair and defeat. Stanford proposes (that the Bible proposes) that the repetitions should not be of railing against our sinful nature, or attempting to push through to serve and look good under our own power, but rather in turning to god to look at God’s already completed work in the crucifixion and to his word on a regular basis for growth.
The entire book seems to be an expansion/meditation/connection, though I don’t believe the author ever mentioned this, with Colossians 3:1-3 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Nearly every chapter, he says some form of “turn back to God, and reckon and depend on the work he has already completed.” In lieu of a summary of the entire book, (which really is an excellent book, and well-deserving of your time to read it,) I thought I would share/outwardly process some of the parts of it that really connected with my life, and things I am struggling with/dealing with.
A point that jumped out at me in the book was popular misconception about “sin management,” or “stopping doing bad stuff,” as it may also be called. Stanford deals with this point heavily, (as it is an important aspect of spiritual growth,) where he speaks about the desire to be free from the “bad things” we do every single day. The first step on the path to change, he mentions in chapter 5, is that we have to recognize that we need god. We need him powerfully and completely, to do anything. We can’t, as we will hopefully realize from our continued failure, stop sinning on our own. If we’ve gotten to the point of desperation where we realize that we need help, we fail to appreciate that to really have god work in our lives, we must get to a place where we can do nothing on our own, and must ask god to do everything for us.
We need god to do the work for us, and we must understand our need for God, for if we don’t realize we need him, he won’t do anything. God’s not going to work in someone who doesn’t want him to do so.
I am smart, I am very smart. I don’t say this to brag about my intellectual prowess, but to lament the pride that comes with that level of intelligence, and how much self-dependence I have to burn through to get to the point of beginning to rely on the power of the Lord. I am able to understand/comprehend/do most things pretty well and pretty easily, and if I’m not able to right away, I just try harder, and I can usually figure it out. So that makes it very difficult for me to reach the point where operating under my own power has failed enough times that I can’t believe that it may work the next time. In an analogy, it’s like playing a video game with a friend, who’s a lot better at it than me, and I keep trying to do the really hard part myself, and keep dying, until I finally let him take the lead, and he handles it like a boss, and we get to the next level. To focus on the completed work of god, and all that he has done, instead of looking at myself and my problems and trying to fix everything myself. In short, yielding more and more of my life to the Lord, because he’s so much better at video games (and life) than I am, and trusting him to get me through everything.
That is what I have learned, coupled with the importance of patience, (both in my own growth and with the growth of others,) and to not be discouraged and focused on my condition at the current moment. Rather, to focus on the position I have been given in the completed work of Christ. To take those things into my everyday thought process, especially when I am not in the spirit, will be invaluable. To take that step, and to trust that god will work in his way the truths that I learn through focusing on him and learning his word and being in communion with him will be invaluable as well.
There are four steps to knowledge, I have heard. The first: “I don’t know that I don’t know,” where we believe that we are correct in a matter, but are in fact wrong. The second, “I know that I don’t know,” where we are convinced that we are wrong. The third, “I know that I know,” where we have ascertained the truth about a matter we were previously incorrect in. The fourth “I know that I have so much more to know,” where we realize that we have some knowledge, but there is much more waiting for us. I would like to believe that I am at that last stage, where I have learned something really awesome and new, but am still excited for learning much more.