Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pressing On (and on and on)

When Christians are on their way to learning the lesson of pressing on — that this dying world really doesn’t have anything of lasting value to offer — another temptation can start its discouraging work. Recognizing the goal set before us of knowing Jesus intimately and being like Him, it is easy to become impatient with ourselves. We can fuss and fret over every little thing in our lives that does not measure up to what we think is Christian perfection so that the joy of life is not there. Some Christians feel guilty if they enjoy the Creation gifts God has given us for our pleasure. It is possible for us to be less patient with ourselves than God Himself is.

I have loved the title of one of Eugene Peterson’s books since the day I first heard it (I think the title actually surpasses the book!): A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It seems hard to live out of the perspective that a major facet of the Christian life is “direction.” Some people try to force salvation into a static state, a “line” that one either has crossed or has not. Salvation is much more dynamic. The issue is not so much where a person “is” as the direction a person is going — toward intimacy and likeness with Jesus or away from Him.

Perhaps this is one way that “looking back” can be good. It is helpful to do a personal reflection and, being still and honest before the Lord, consider what our lives were like at different intervals in the past. Am I spending more time with Jesus now than earlier in my life? Do I have a deepening understanding of His truth as revealed in the Scriptures and through the Church? Am I growing in patience and servanthood? Do my spending habits show increasing commitment to kingdom values? For a Christian who is growing and moving in a godly direction, looking back can be a way to get a perspective that gives encouragement: I am not the person I was just a few years ago...

This, then, is coupled with looking ahead towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (quoting again Phlp 3:14). And with this we need to find a peace in the journey, knowing that the Christian life is, indeed, “a long obedience in the same direction.” How long? I think it will be eternal. Yes, when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1Jn 3:2). There is a “stage” of salvation called glorification (Rom 8:30). Yet our ultimate calling is to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13), and that is immense since in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9).

One way to understand salvation as eternal life is to remember that “eternal life” is God’s kind of life. For us to enter into God’s life demands eternity, and for all of eternity we will be continuing that “long obedience in the same direction” — only in heaven we will not have the impediment of sin. C. S. Lewis characterized it at the end of his Narnian tales as “further up and further in.”

The life we are living now is one that will last forever. For the Christian, eternal life has already begun because we are partakers of the Spirit. And so we keep pressing on (and on and on).

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