Anything that is not growing is dying. We are made to grow. The very idea of life, especially abundant life, means that it is necessary to grow. Sometimes, because of events in your life, growth is automatic, but most of the time, we have to choose to grow.
You are saved by grace and reckoned as righteous by Christ’s sinless perfection. But you still have to grow. If you don’t like it, consider that Jesus was perfect, but still needed to grow. This may surprise you, but it’s true.
The Bible says that he was made perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10). This begs the question. What was he before he was perfect? In a sense, of course, he was already perfect. Like a baby is perfect but still has a long way to go toward growing up. In fact, Jesus was a baby at one point. As such, he could not talk, could not walk, could not do anything. Like all babies, he had a long way to grow. One day, his consciousness, that is, his ability to perceive, developed just to the point where he could build some minor concepts. He would have been sitting there looking at the other kids who were slightly older than him, and he would have noticed some things. First, that they were a lot like him. Two legs, two arms, hair, fingers, crying, eating, pooping. He would realize that unlike the family goat, he had a lot in common with these kids.
But these other kids were slightly different than him. They didn’t crawl anymore. That one there used to crawl, but now she’s doing something similar to his mother and father, the big people. She is walking on two legs, upright. That created a longing in toddler Jesus. Was it insecurity? No. He was morally and emotionally perfect. It was not sinful envy. But it was longing. This new desire formed from the understanding that he could not do something, although he wanted to. So, the next time he was able to pull himself up onto something, he took a step.
What do you think happened to the glorious Savior of the world then? I think he crashed to the ground, and maybe he cried, until his adopted father, Joseph, having proudly watched the whole thing, came over, patted his head fondly, and stood him back up.
This likely happened again and again, until one day, Jesus was no longer a person who needed to learn how to walk. He had gone from a perfect being who crawled to a perfect being who walked. And this is one of the wonderful things about being a human. You can always grow, and the fact that you need to does not necessarily mean that you are less than perfect as you are. I am not saying you are perfect, but the fact you have to grow doesn’t prove that you are not perfect. It only proves that there is something you can learn, something you can grow in. And to understand this is pure joy. Have you ever seen the look on a baby’s face when he or she walks for the first time? If you want to know what delight looks like, there it is.
Now, by the way, this is a good time for a complicated thought: What else usually happens in this moment that intensifies the emotion? The baby is there and mom, dad, brother, sister, other sister, Aunt Peggy, and the UPS guy all happen to be there when this happens and what do they do? They go crazy. They clap. They smile. They yell, “Good job! You’re amazing!” The difference between you and Jesus is that somehow, perfect baby Jesus delighted in his accomplishment, and you (and I) got taken over by love for the praise of man (unless you are a lucky sociopath).
This confuses everything. Along with stern disapproval when they didn’t like what we were doing, we learned to do things to please others, or, we learned it was impossible to please others as much as our hearts wanted to, so we gave up and rebelled, which is two sides of the same coin of living for other people. There is a right way to live for others, generously, Christlike, and there is a wrong, and much, much more common way.
But for now, just understand that growing is a part of life, and I would say a fun part, a rewarding and fulfilling part. Mastering things that were once hard is a superpower for building self-esteem and confidence.
Wait! Doesn’t that make it an idol?! Don’t preachers say that I need to find my esteem and confidence in what Jesus has done, and not what I do?
Now can you see why so many Christians are messed up? We are hardwired by God to love a life of growth, but because of sin and bad (but well-meaning) parenting, we trade that for a life of seeking approval and praise from others. And it is true that our primary identity is in Christ and in our Creator, after whom and by whom we are designed. But here is an interesting question: Did Christ build a false identity around walking? Did he start announcing to everyone on Facebook that he was a walker? Did he go out and buy all the trendiest walking gear, shoes, ski poles with rubber on the end, T-shirts and bumper stickers for his car that announce to the world what he was about, walking. No, he did not make an identity or a religion out of his new skill. We would have done that, because we were born in sin, and so were our parents. But Christ did not. He was perfect.
But that does not mean that mastering the skill didn’t give him some self esteem and confidence that informed his thinking when he noticed the next deficit.
“Why does it seem that the older kids seem to be saying something to each other? All I say is goo goo ga ga. What if my mom is actually trying to communicate with me and is not just making random noises? I need to learn. I am compelled to learn.” And just like you, learn he did. Then it was using the bathroom somewhere besides his diaper. Eventually it was using a mallet, and a saw. Joseph, his earthly adopted feather, was a carpenter. I’m sure that fairly early on it was reading Hebrew, then understanding the law and prophets so that by twelve Jesus could lose time in his Father’s house in Jerusalem conversing with the scribes about his Father in heaven. The Bible tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature” (Lk 2:52).
And then what does it mean that he had to grow perfect through suffering? Perfect in what way if he was already sinless? It seems to mean that he had to suffer in order to be prepared for the ultimate suffering of taking on the sins of the world as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Tortured. Broken. Filled with the filth of sin, which he had never experienced—my anger, my lust, my envy, my hatred, mine and yours and Adam’s and everyone else’s. He had to endure a temporarily broken fellowship with his beloved Father in Heaven who had always been with him.
Jesus was grown into the ability to endure all this. He did not want to do any of it, but it was what he came to do. In the garden of Gethsemane he even prayed that the cup of God’s wrath would pass if possible, but it was not possible. God had to be just and the justifier. There was apparently only one way to wipe the great sin of the world away, and God had been preparing the consciousness of the Hebrews for hundreds of years with the law and the sacrificial system. It was time, and Jesus would say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
For you and I it is no less a process of growth to become what God made us to be. Jesus deals with the sin in us, but we still have to grow spiritually. We are already perfect when we believe and put our faith in Jesus’ work to save us, repenting of our sin. We are made into a new creation having received the righteousness of Christ as sure as he received in himself unrighteousness of us. But we need to grow. You are perfect, but you need to and you can grow.
See yourself right, and see your need for growth right. Fellowship (verb) with God, abide in him (Jn 5:4), and look for what is next. What is he doing in you? Do you still have unforgiveness? Grow. Do you still have anger? Grow in love. Do you still worry? Grow in peace and trusting God. Do you still find yourself seeking approval? Grow in looking to what God has already done and to your own honest evaluation of yourself.
Work with God on the things you see that need to change, and learn to delight in progress the way you did as a baby learning to walk.
But you are not alone in this. You have teachers. You have brothers and sisters in Christ. You have examples to follow. You have the Bible to learn from. And best of all, you have the Spirit of God living in you, by whom you can live and grow by his strength and direction. Choose growth and choose life. Let’s talk tomorrow about how the Holy Spirit enables us to do this.