Are you a better person than you used to be? More to the point, for those of you who identify as Christian, are you currently moving toward being more like the One you claim to follow? A lot of times, when thinking about our progress in the faith, we compare where we are today with our old selves from which Jesus rescued us, how we behaved as unregenerate image bearers. Certainly, though that contrast has value, my question has to do with our progress lately. It’s more about our present trajectory of transformation “into his image with ever increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Paul was obsessed with that growth trajectory for those he mentored:
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25)
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:15)
The Greek term he uses in these passages is a compound word that means literally: to chop or cut down in front of. In other words, it speaks of advancing toward a goal by chopping down whatever impedes progress. Hmm. That’s how we make progress, by cutting through obstacles to get where we want to go––where HE wants us to go. The sword of the Spirit acts as a machete chopping away at the underbrush so we can find and tread the “path of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
This path of progress bears no resemblance to those people movers in the airport. You know, the ones you step on, gladly set down your luggage next to you, and get comfortably transported to your gate. No, in this case we bear some responsibility in the process of progress. We actually have to walk. God has his job and we have ours. We can’t do his and he won’t do ours. Though he will help us do ours.
“In this world,” Jesus said, we will have “trouble,” which has to be one of the least quoted promises in the Bible! This place is fraught with hindrances to our progress, the most stubborn ones we face every day are the world, the flesh and the devil. I prefer to call them Sin, Satan, and the System. Sin resides inside us (sorry to say), Satan taunts from outside us (maybe behind us, nipping at our heels), and the System influences from all around us (tempting us to adopt its ways)––the triumvirate of nemeses.
In order to make progress in the faith, we have to face each of these. But how? Each calls for a different overcoming tactic. In order to stay the course and continue making progress, we have to continually repent of our sin, resist Satan, and reject the system.
Of course, there’s more to forward motion Christianity than chopping down obstacles in our path. To change the metaphor, we have to “take his yoke upon us and learn from him” (Matthew 11:28). Though the yoke is “his,” he invites us into it with him where he provides the strength and power of the ox. Ours is not the muscle for forward motion, yet ours is the choice to daily stick our neck in the yoke and cooperate with the God of all strength.
Can you picture it? He pulls up with the yoke around his neck. It’s a two-oxen yoke, and since he has no intention of plowing by himself, he beckons us to join. He invites us into our side of the yoke, not to pull, but to listen to his directions and keep in step with him. Ours is the job of cooperation with him, to “keep in step with” him (Galatians 5:25). He supplies the brute strength and we simply go where he’s going and not where he’s not. With a yoke around our neck, insisting on our own way and trying to go where he’s not, can only result in a sore neck and impede our progress!
Conversely, when we acknowledge that his way is best, with full confidence in his character we refuse to “kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14), his yoke is “easy and his burden light” (Matthew 11:30).
One last thought. If you think about it, a yoke puts two oxen in quite close proximity with each other. That is, with their heads nearly touching the other, one can hear the other whisper. (I don’t know if oxen do whisper). If not hear, one can feel even the slightest tug of his counterpart leaning in one direction or another. Sidling up that close to Jesus so we can hear his wishes is central to making progress in his grand purposes, not to mention key to the joy of communion with the God of the universe! And that, my friends is progress in itself!
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