It is not just any appearance of Spiritual progress that is praiseworthy. True Christian growth must—and actually only can—occur within the Faith of the Gospel.—J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett Grounded in the Gospel, 140
In a society like ours, we want everything immediately, but learning Christianity takes time. People trust in Christ as their savior and wonder why they still struggle with sin when they desire so much to be godly. A pastor plants a new church and expects hundreds of people to become committed members within a couple of years. People invent all sorts of techniques and church growth strategies to make things happen faster. I’m all for good Christian common sense, but if you read any historical account in Scripture, it’s easy to notice that God tends to take his time. God isn’t in a hurry.
The idea of secularism, that society is becoming less Christian and Christians are becoming less committed, is a common theme among Christian thinkers such as Michael Horton, David Wells, Os Guinness, and James K. A. Smith. They have sought to demonstrate how Christian churches have shifted in their beliefs or practices due to non-Christian, cultural influences. Basically, secularism happens when Christians lose hold of their Christianity. Often without realizing it, Christians adopt non-Christian beliefs or practices, such as Karma and Taoist meditation, as a substitute for historic Christian faith and practice.
Consider these three questions: How well do you know the Bible? How much time do you give yourself to learning the gospel? Do you have anyone to care for your soul? My point in asking these questions is to point you to the solution as being a lifelong, slow, patient process.
If secularism is real—if there is any truth to it—if biblical literacy, theological familiarity, and church attendance are on the decline, if Christians really are losing their distinct faith and practices, then we need to move past the hype of the current quick fix and any short-term success. We need to take the long view, not only with others, but also with ourselves.
Taking a Long View
I will be learning the gospel, becoming more biblically literate, and will, hopefully, stay committed to the local church for the rest of my life. If you are a Christian, so will you, because God is faithful to work for our salvation and spiritual well-being. Understanding that God is slowly working in us as we struggle to be faithful disciples—by learning Scripture, increasing in understanding of the gospel, and attending church—helps us to have grace and patience with those around us who have hard questions about the faith.
When we share the gospel with others, if we see ourselves as lifelong learners in process, we won’t feel discouraged if we don’t see immediate results. We will know that the God who is working in us—forming us by his Word of law and gospel—works through us as we share his Word with others.
If God is faithful to us, then we can have confidence that our patient sharing of the Word with others is not wasted, that our patient weekly Scripture reading and prayer is not in vain, and that our church attendance makes a difference. If God is faithful, then we don’t need to develop an intense spiritual workout program. Instead, we need to be faithful to the time he has given us to perform the simple spiritual practices handed down for generations—prayer at meals, daily Scripture reading with our families, theological conversation with friends and church members, church attendance, singing, listening to sermons, and trusting God to work in his timing.
Would you describe your approach to God, life, church, or spirituality as patient? If not, slow down. Get in sync with God’s rhythms and patterns of life. Trust him to do what he has promised: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom. 16:20).