Why is it taking me so long to grow as a Christian? I've been a believer for a while, and I have to confess that my lack of spiritual progress has really got me down. When I was born again, I thought life was going to be beautiful from that moment forward, but several years later I'm still not the person I want to be. I don't feel God's presence the way I did at first. I know in my heart that fear and selfishness are holding me back from loving other people as well as I should. What's wrong with me? Am I truly saved or not?
There are no short or simple answers to your question. Part of the solution lies in realizing that salvation isn't a matter of instantaneous perfection. Instead, it's a question of your relationship with God.
Like all relationships, this one is a process. It ebbs and flows. It includes periods of growth and advancement as well as times of discouragement and disaffection. That doesn't mean that the Lord is inconsistent. It simply reflects our own inconstancy. We're human, and our faith experiences many stops and starts.
This relationship is more like a journey than anything else. It has its ups and downs and plenty of seemingly impossible uphill grades. But if Christ has set us upon the road, we can be sure that He will guide us to the final destination. Like Paul, we can be confident "that He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
To put it another way, salvation is not static. The new birth in Christ is only the beginning of a long adventure. You don't simply accept Jesus into your heart and then proceed at once to the heavenly realm. Instead, salvation is like a doorway. It opens into a corridor called sanctification. Crossing this corridor requires patience and endurance. This is an idea that many Christians fail to grasp.
The main difficulty lies in the time factor. The New Testament teaches that Christians in this present world are actually living in between two ages: the Old Age, which is characterized by sin, corruption, and death; and the New Age of redemption, resurrection, and eternal life. For the time being, we have to deal with the conflicting implications of both realities. Until Christ returns to renew the entire creation, we continue to live in fallen bodies in a fallen world (see Romans 8:18-30).
In this condition, we experience the sanctifying effects of the Holy Spirit working in our lives as an ongoing, incremental process. Paul describes it this way: "We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Ultimately, we're not looking for perfection in this world. Instead, our hope is based on God's promise that when we see Christ face to face, we shall be made like Him (1 John 3:2).
How do you know for sure that you are moving forward along this path? The apostle John provides the answer: "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13). This thought is expanded in Galatians 5:22-23, where we are told that the fruit of the Spirit's indwelling is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."
We know how easy it is to become discouraged. Believe it or not, many Christians wrestle with similar feelings every day. But if you can see signs that this fruit is growing in your life – however slowly, gradually, and incrementally – and if you have an honest and earnest desire to see even more of it, then you can have confidence that you're making the right kind of progress. The very fact that you've gone to the trouble of raising the question indicates that your heart is in the right place.
If you need additional help understanding these concepts, or if you'd simply like to talk them over at greater length, call our staff counselors.
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