By Glen Doss, Major
“I’m on a down-going escalator. I may be facing the right direction, trying to do the right thing, but unless I’m making upward progress on my journey, that escalator will take me down!”
My friend was describing his personal faith walk. He had discovered that unless he was consistently making progress he would fall. This tendency, I believe, is a basic principle of human nature: Unless we ceaselessly make progress in our personal faith walks, we will regress and run the risk of falling. Satan, the god of this world, is an insidious and subtle foe (Eph. 6:11). The apostle Peter presents him as a frightening enemy that prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pe 5:8 NIV). My dictionary defines “insidious” as “lying in wait to entrap.” Therefore, I suggest he also crouches in hiding sometimes, waiting for our most vulnerable moment—then pounces! Consequently, we must always be ready.
Paul’s most explicit remarks on this subject paint an unmistakable picture. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings… .Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor. 9:22-23, 26-27).
The book Alcoholics Anonymous stresses the necessity of consistent spiritual growth, pointing out repeatedly that we must not stagnate or we will fall. “It is easy to let up on our spiritual program of action. We are headed for trouble if we do… . Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts which must go with us constantly” (page 85). This all-important element of making consistent progress on our faith walk goes by a number of names.
1. It is the journey of surrender. Jesus invites us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29). We increasingly surrender to the lordship of Christ as we take his yoke upon us and remain as students in the classroom of our Lord. Like Mary, we faithfully sit and listen at our Savior’s feet, learning more and more from him over time, hiding his word in our hearts (Luke 10:39).
2. It is the journey of repentance. Paul reported: I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20). Repentance—the act of turning away from our sinful lifestyle—is a journey, for we generally do not repent of all sins at once. I have never seen a person lay down all sinful habits in a single moment. But lay them down we must until we are rid of them all (Luke 13:3).
3. It is the journey of sanctification. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Once the veil of unbelief is lifted, the infant child of God—now set aside from sin and to God—begins a journey of gradual transformation into the image of Christ. The Holy Spirit effects this magnificent identity change over time. This is what it means to become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul prays: May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through (1Thess. 5:23).
4. It is the journey of recovery. The 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc., all take their members step by step on a journey of increasing surrender, repentance and sanctification—when Jesus Christ is recognized as their God. These programs translate biblical principles into user-friendly terms and formats—which all new Christians can benefit from. As Step 11 puts it: “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry it out” (emphasis mine).
Ever-improving is the theme of our journey. Because we live in a sinful world where Satan currently reigns, we must recognize that we are on a down-going escalator. Unless we continue to make upward progress on our journeys, that escalator will take us down!