If you spend much time around as many churches as I do, you meet some truly great saints of God–men and women whose growth in grace inspires a longing for a deeper walk with Jesus in ways that jump start renewed zeal for holiness. At the church I planted in Bolingbrook, IL I met some people that continue to inspire my life. At Trinity Church in Watseka, there were some older saints in Christ and a few younger ones who have left an indelible imprint on my soul. At my present church in South Carolina, there are some brothers and sisters in Christ who are already opening up new windows in my spirit through which God is pouring new grace into my heart.
But, a disturbing reality is that in many churches there are far too many professing Christians all around the country, who have been Christians for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50+ years who are surprisingly immature. It is as if the years have gone by and no real substantive growth in grace has occurred. They love Jesus, but it is as if they are one year old in Christ, that they have simply repeated for 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50+ years.
It is a head-scratcher. Because if anything is clear from reading the New Testament, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a static thing; it is a growing progressive process. We never arrive (this side of heaven) but we are always learning, always growing. As my friend, Dr. Peter Nelson writes, spiritual formation is an “always forming, never formed” experience. [See Peter’s book, SPIRITUAL FORMATION: ALWAYS FORMING, NEVER FORMED, Biblica Publishing, 2010] Or, as I have written about in other places, “Being a disciple of Christ means being a lifelong student. It is not an option. It is an imperative. It is not negotiable. It is necessary.”
Which is one of the reasons that this passage from J.C. Ryle resonated with me when I read it. [Source: Kairos Journal]
No “Spiritual Gains without Pains”—J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900)
J. C. Ryle was a prominent evangelical leader in the Church of England during the second half of the 19thcentury. A champion of orthodox doctrine in an age of theological decline, he never divorced dogma from holy living. In fact, his book Holiness, from which this excerpt is taken, argued that no true Christian lacks practical godliness. And developing godliness requires practicing the spiritual disciplines.
Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. When I speak of “means,” I have in view Bible-reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word, and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man.
Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no “spiritual gains without pains.” I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about his Bible-reading, his prayers, and the use of his Sundays. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.1
1 J. C. Ryle, Holiness: It’s Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, rev. ed. (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2001), 25.
I think Ryle is exactly right. “No one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress” in his or her spiritual life. Let’s stop being immature about and with our faith. If Jesus is Lord, learn of him and follow him today. And tomorrow, learn more and follow him. And the day after that, learn more and follow him.
Let’s give the world a better picture of Jesus by living passionately for and like Jesus every day. And how can we do that unless we are learning more about him and from him every day?
Balanced rocks don’t just happen. Someone has to work at it.