Planning for Growth

Most of us have good intentions when January 1 rolls around. “It’s time to get in shape!” “It’s time to lose a few pounds!” “It’s time to read more books!” Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I asked one person that question recently, and she said, “I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. But I do set goals.” Perhaps she had made a New Year’s Resolution in the past, like many of us have, which lasted until about February. Not that it’s necessarily wrong to make a resolution. Sometimes change is in order. So, we resolve to make things right. To make improvements. This is a good thing! What would happen if we never improved ourselves? If we just stayed the same?
This certainly wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s vision for the Christian life. In his letter to the Philippians he writes, “Therefore, my dear friends . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV) So, what is Paul saying in this passage? That we must earn our salvation? Not at all! Just before this he talks about how Jesus became human for us, and died on a cross for the sins of the world. No, we can’t earn our salvation. God provides it for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God! But that doesn’t mean we should stay the same. Out of gratitude to God we “work out our salvation,” which means we live it out. We work hard to grow in character. In other words, we plan for spiritual growth.
Try as we might to change through our own efforts, perhaps even through New Year’s Resolutions, we struggle to do it on our own strength. Happily, as Paul says in the above verses, God works in us to do his purposes. So from beginning to end, it is God who does the work of changing us. Does this mean we sit back and do nothing? Not at all! But because of the Gospel (the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus), we gain the will and power to change.
And happily Paul and the other writers of Scripture guide us in our spiritual growth plan. For example, in the passage that follows he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14a) The other day I was discussing this passage with some people, and we imagined what it would be like to live a life where we didn’t complain or argue. That would be a wonderful life! As you examine yourself, you may wonder if such a life is possible. According to Paul, it is. He says, when we live thankful and peaceful lives, we’ll shine in the world like stars in the sky. In other words, you’ll stand out for God and make a difference in this world. And who doesn’t want to make a difference in this world?
Earlier I asked you about your New Year’s Resolutions. Now I ask you: What is your spiritual growth plan? I invite you to reflect on that, and let me know what you feel called to do in order to become more like Jesus.

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