When Progress Seems Impossible
Pastor John Sloan
Introduction: In the final three chapters of 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul issues a number of imperatives to the Church. In keeping with his pattern, he uses athletic imagery to describe the Christian’s approach to life: “train yourself for godliness,” “fight the good fight,” “strive,” “persist,” and “set an example in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity.” Well, these commands have prompted more than a few to ask: Why is it that my spiritual training seems to yield such poor results? And, why do I continue to get discouraged and derailed by the same struggles?
Excursus on Spiritual Growth
Questions for Discussion & Discovery
1. In a sentence, what would you say is the main point of Christianity?
2. Mark Galli writes: “The self-conscious pursuit of holiness leaves us despairing over (inevitable) failures or gloating pridefully over (illusory) successes.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
3. What is the difference between obeying God for forgiveness and obeying God from forgiveness?
4. Read Romans 7:18-19. Do you ever feel like this? How does your own experience relate to Paul’s confession?
5. Is your spiritual life characterized more by desire or duty? Joy or obligation? Why do you think that is?
6. What are some biblical criteria for measuring one’s true spiritual growth?
1. 01. When it comes to Christianity, our spiritual progress is not the (main) point.
2. “[Abrahams’] faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. – Romans 4:22-25
3. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30
4. 02. Though our spiritual progress is not the (main) point, we should nevertheless strive for holiness.
5. “The self-conscious pursuit of holiness leaves us despairing over (inevitable) failures or gloating pridefully over (illusory) successes.” – Mark Galli
6. “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” – 1 Timothy 4:10
7. 03. As we pursue growth in godliness, we should not expect perfection, nor should we derailed by failure.
8. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
– Galatians 5:17
9. “In one sense life doesn’t begin to get complicated until one becomes a Christian. When we are born of the Spirit, we are born anew into a fierce struggle between the old man and the new man.” – R.C. Sproul
10. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:18-19
11. 04. Those who are in Christ will grow (0ver the long haul), because God sanctifies His people.
12. “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who called you is faithful, and he will do it.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:10
14. 05. Our criteria for measuring spiritual growth must change. True progress in growing downward.
15. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17