We are conservatives, so the language of progress at times is anathema to us, and rightly so. We long to conserve our faith—protecting and hemming in the doctrines that are precious to us, doctrines often won through hard-fought and even deadly battles.
Yet, as Christians, we live with this paradox: while faithfully contending for the faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we have to be men and women of progress. The healthy Christian is one who is growing, pressing on, and pursuing. We are not chasing the latest doctrinal fad, of course—that is the mark of those with “itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3). However, when it comes to godliness, our pursuit must be without boundary and never lacking energy.
Holding fast to one thing while actively pursuing another is no easy task. That’s why so many, in the sincere desire to be those who grow, leave the truth behind. For those of us for whom historical doctrine is precious, there is the opposite temptation: to remain static (or, we might say, stagnant) in our walk with our Savior.
Some growth as a believer is almost inevitable and happens without noticing. I passed my U.K. driving test thirty-two years ago. It was a seminal moment in my life, for me at least, as it meant no more driving exams. I had the piece of plastic that confirmed my status as being lawfully permitted to drive a “Class B motorized vehicle.”
Every insurer in the country, however, recognized that my skills behind the wheel were basic, to say the least. Statistically, I was a danger on the roads, and my insurance premiums reflected the fact. As time has gone on, I have (I hope) become a better driver. I have certainly become an older one. Insurance companies now woo me for their business rather than turning me away.
Growth, in other words, has happened, simply from my being in the car and being around others. It is what we might call an incidental growth. I never took another course; I don’t remember ever making intentional decisions to improve. However, I’m a better driver for all that, and I’m thankful for it.
Christians can and do grow in this way. Hanging out with believers and finding our place within the community of believers expressed in the local church has this kind of effect. Things rub off on us. We grow almost by a kind of osmosis, particularly in a healthy church where the kind of mutual building that Paul has in mind in, say, Ephesians 4, operates.
However, I want to suggest that we cannot be content with such haphazard sanctification. The theme of Scripture, expressed again and again in different ways, is that we need to take deliberate, purposeful action to ensure that we make progress. Indeed, progress is the very word that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 4:15: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”