Despite real artistic talent, my little brother refused to sketch anything on his own for ages. Instead, he’d painstakingly copy and trace over pictures from books and the internet. He quickly grew irritated when trying his own drawings of the Black Panther and Spider-Man. In his words, it didn’t look as nice as when he tried to draw it himself.
Do we sometimes measure the “success” of our Christian lives the same way? Standards are definitely set high in Scripture and it’s easy to feel like we do not measure up. This feeling can be exacerbated by stories of Christian “icons” or even by witnessing the lives of other more mature, faithful believers. Persistent struggles with sin, failure or everyday temptations can leave us discouraged when we look at other Christians who seem to be thriving in their walk with God.
Comparison also works in the opposite direction. Perceptions such as “At least I’m not as bad as him” or “I show up to church more than she does” make it easy to feel good or complacent about our spiritual lives. Fluctuating between these extremes makes about as much sense as a six-year-old comparing his pictures to Marvel comics, or a professional graphic designer justifying poor work by comparing it to a beginner’s attempt.
Thankfully, the life Christ calls us to is not one of fearful comparison, but joyful progression.
The life Christ calls us to is not one of fearful comparison, but joyful progression
So what’s our real goal as Christians? In Ephesians 4:13, Paul offers this definition of Christian maturity: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.
Our goal is to grow more and more like Christ. He is our standard — not our neighbour, not the greatest saint, not the most depraved sinner. We can never be “satisfied” with our spiritual condition until we become like Jesus in every way.
How do we accomplish this? That’s enough of a tall order to humble the most “perfect” Christian. It is only possible for anyone to become even the slightest bit like Christ with the gift of salvation, God’s grace, and the continued work of the Holy Spirit.
The good news? These spiritual blessings are readily available to every Christian who desires them. If you feel discouraged, just read through the book of Ephesians to discover all the blessings at your disposal! The same Saviour who died for us does not leave us to struggle in sanctification on our own, but promises to help us in our journey until the day when we are completely sanctified.
We can never be “satisfied” with our spiritual condition until we become like Jesus in every way
How else can we measure our maturity? There are several benchmarks in Ephesians: “humility and gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love”, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds”, “put away falsehood”, “share with anyone in need”, “be kind to one another”.
When you look at this list, can you honestly say that you have become more humble and patient since you became a Christian? Are you kinder, more truthful, more generous, more loving than you were in the past? Has your love and concern for your church and your fellow believers grown? Are you more Christ-like than you were a year ago? Honestly assessing ourselves in these areas (or better, asking a friend or mentor to help) can remind us of the work God has done in us and highlight areas where we can grow.
Another indication of maturity is our concern for others’ spiritual health. Ephesians 4:15 makes it clear that Christian maturity is, in many ways, a team sport. When we grow in maturity, we’ll be inspired and built up by other Christians while also helping them grow!
Most importantly, when Christian life feels discouraging, remember that the God who called us is not a taskmaster but a loving Father. Can you imagine a parent who rips their child’s paintings up because it’s no Rembrandt? Likewise, our Father eagerly helps us in our journey to maturity, lifts us up when we fall and strengthens us in every difficulty.
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