Let me be the first to say that I’m an incredibly patient person . . .
Oh Stephen, you need a few more years to change? No problem! You need to have that sin pointed out 200 – 300 more times? Sure. You’re only human! You don’t have the energy to change right now? No sweat! That’s what grace is all about.
But when it comes to you changing – well, that’s a different story altogether.
I’ve told you once about this – how many more times do you need to be told? Geez, why don’t you get it? Are you deliberately refusing to change? Are you trying to annoy me? You must be! Or maybe you’re just really dense. You’re never going to be any different.
It would be somewhat humorous if it weren’t so pathetic. And sinful. And just flat-out annoying.
My Change Timeline
Christian growth usually looks something like this for me:
- Sin –> Repent (Repeat 1000 times for 6-12 months)
- Make tiny, microscopic, barely visible progress
- Repeat for a really, really, really long time
I am so slow to change. Like, slower than a slow dance at an 80’s prom, slow. Slower than a Gaither Vocal Band song, slow. Slower than an altar call at a Baptist summer camp, slow (“I really, really, really believe there are even more people here who need to come down front”).
I’m slow to see my sin, believe God’s word, repent, and grow.
Right now, I could point out one area in my life that I’ve been working on for four years, another for 10 years, and another for basically all my life.
I’m like a savings account with a minuscule interest rate, growing a tiny amount every year.
Your Change Timeline
Of course, when it comes to you growing in Christ-likeness, I expect things to happen quickly.
I want you to see your sin clearly as soon as it becomes apparent to me. I want you to always succeed in putting sin to death on the first try. And I expect you to be making constant measurable, marked progress in godliness.
If those things don’t happen, it must be because you’re in flagrant unrepentance. You’ve gone rogue (like Jack Bauer, except spiritually).
I expect your growth to be systematic, linear, and always upward. Onward Christian soldier, the truth keeps marching on, and all that jazz.
The Reality: One Degree of Glory at a Time
In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
At first glance, this verse can sound hugely triumphant. From one glorious degree to the next, constantly growing in godliness! We are unstoppable! Hip hip, hurray!
While there’s certainly some truth to this way of thinking, it doesn’t take into account two things.
First, degrees are really small increments. The difference between a 15- and 16-degree angle is minuscule – almost invisible to the naked eye. A 94-degree day and a 95-degree day is imperceptible (and “98 Degrees” is still a terrible band).
Yes, we’re being transformed from one degree of glory to the next, but that transformation is happening in tiny, almost invisible increments. Quick, marked change happens on rare occasions, but it’s not the norm, and I should not expect you, me, or anyone else to change quickly. Slow, invisible growth is the norm.
Second, 2 Corinthians 3:18 doesn’t give any timeline for our spiritual transformation. I used to assume that every Christian would reach extremely high levels of godliness by the end of their life and that the final transformation would be large, but not that large.
But in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes us as kernels that will be raised up as wheat or some other type of grain when Christ returns. In context, he’s discussing the resurrection of the body, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think of our spiritual growth in those terms as well.
Spiritually speaking, the most we’ll ever be in this life is a kernel of wheat. For me to expect anyone to be a paragon of godliness is like expecting a kernel of wheat to be in full bloom. For me to expect quick change is like expecting a seed to sprout overnight.
It makes no sense.
Patient With Them All
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Yes, we are to admonish, encourage, and help each other. We are called to speak the truth in love to one another and push each other toward godliness.
But we absolutely must do those things with patience. Deep, deep patience. The kind of patience that doesn’t have a timeline or agenda and is willing to just hang in there with people. The kind of patience that can trust God to do the changing when and where He wants. The kind of patience that says, “I know we’re both a mess, but let’s not give up on each other.”
Yes, it’s hard to wait for others to change.
But if God patiently waits for us to change, we can also wait for others.