“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)
In a world where science tells us that everything is deteriorating and we’re all one day closer to our physical death it’s nice to think that there might be something we are getting better at. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, taught that this is in fact the essence of ethics; to find purpose through habitual improvement. This desire for improvement makes a lot of sense in career, athletics, and academics but when we carry it over to our Christian life we travel outside the biblical understanding of maturity and progress.
The Bible tells us if we “love our life” we will “lose it” and that by hating our life in this world we will find eternal life. This turns the typical worldly idea of improvement on its head and forces us to rethink how we go about maturing as a Christian. Christian maturity is not about personal discipline, effort, or the ten thousand rule. Christian maturity is about death and resurrection. Like a seed that is planted in the ground, we must die in order to become what we were truly created to be. This death, to the old Adam (or Eve), is where the battle for the Christian lies. Our old Adam however has such a will to survive that we take Christ’s cross as an invitation for improvement instead of what it is, a call to come and die. The old Adam doesn’t want to die. He wants to thrive and assert his will by becoming his own god rather than allowing God to be this for him.
Christian progress is exactly the opposite of progression in any other endeavor. As baptized children of God, we mature and grow by giving up on ourselves and receiving as a gift what has been provided by another. This is good news in a world dominated by the law of “you get out what you put in." However, it’s only good news when you have come to the end of attempting to justify yourself by propping up the old Adam in a quest for self-improvement. Here life comes by death. Improvement is found by giving up on yourself. Maturity is achieved as a gift and progress is realized not by moving forward into something new but by continually going back to the promise of Christ spoken over water where you were put to death and resurrected into a new creation in Christ. Here the old Adam cannot be improved upon, for how do you improve something that is dead? You do not improve dead things; you bury dead things. But the good news for the Christian is that the seedling of death, when planted in the soil of the gospel, resurrects into a flourishing life rooted in Christ himself. This life, that exists outside of us, hidden with God (Col. 3:3) is not something we should hope to improve upon either.
This leaves us with one hope for Christian maturity; a daily returning to what Christ has already accomplished. A continual resting in our union with him for “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) It is here that we “make every effort to supplement our faith…” for if we “lack these qualities” it is not because we lack the necessary resources but simply because we have become “so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Peter 1:9) This means that if there is a lack of maturity and fruit-bearing in our life, it is simply because we have forgotten who we are in Christ.
Therefore if it’s maturity you are after you do not need to add something new but find a preacher who will continually deliver the goods of the gospel without any ifs, ands, or buts. If you must work hard, work hard at resting in the finished work of Christ for you. Because as it relates to your relationship with God, there is nothing more for you to do. The work has been done. There is no secret knowledge for you to find or special key that will unlock God’s blessings. It is all yours, given 100% as a gift.