What’s the most important question in the world?
I think my fellow Christians would agree with me that it’s the question of where you’re going to spend eternity. If there’s life after death, and if that life is eternal, and if there are different possibilities for the nature of that life, then it’s hard to imagine any question more important than that one.
Life and death. Heaven and hell. It doesn’t get any more consequential than that.
As the Philippian jailer put it so clearly and succinctly all those years ago, “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16.30).
And interestingly, according to the Scripture, the answer is remarkably simple and direct. As Paul replied to the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Ac 16.31).
God has been kind to make the answer to such a consequential question so simple.
Over the years, quite a few Christians have behaved as though The Most Important Question is the only important question.
I said the prayer. I got my ticket out of hell. It’s all good.
Now. What do I want to be when I grow up? Whom do I want to marry? Where do I want to live?
But the Scripture doesn’t see conversion as merely a ticket to ride. Conversion is a commencement—it’s the start of something really, really big, a whole lot of which takes place before you get anywhere near heaven.
I’ve written on some of that before.
Conversion begins a lifetime of being changed, through the work of the Spirit of God, to be more and more like Christ—to the degree that we can be like someone who is God as well as man. It’s a life in which everything—everything—is being morphed, refreshed, improved, renovated (2Co 3.18).
For many Christians it comes down to trying to be good now. Trying to get better, to turn over a new leaf. And, like new year’s resolutions, it gets old and tired, and we end up not making much progress. I’ve known people who said, “I’ve tried the Christianity thing. Didn’t work for me. Wish it had, but it didn’t.”
But it’s not about trying to do better. It’s not just a New Life’s Resolution. It’s a sure, certain work, by the omnipotent and faithful Spirit of God, to conform you to the image of Christ.
Which brings me to what I often call The Second Most Important Question in the World:
How do I achieve reliable, steady spiritual growth?
Or, as I’ve titled this series,
How do I build spiritual muscle?
I suppose many Christians would reply, “You just pray for it.”
I’d like to suggest that that’s not really the right answer. I’m all for praying—in fact, we’ll get to that topic later in the series—but I’d suggest that that’s not the answer that the Bible gives to this question.
Yes, the Bible does say that if we lack wisdom, we should just ask for it (Jam 1.5). And the Scripture makes much of God’s generous willingness to pour out his blessings on us, if we’ll only ask (e.g. Lk 6.38). Prayer is certainly part of the answer. But it’s not the whole answer.
Perhaps an illustration will help.
Suppose I want serious abs. Ripped abs. A washboard. (Come to think of it, how do you know I don’t already have them? ?)
And so I pray: “Dear Lord, please give me abs.”
And I lie on the couch, watching TV and eating half-gallons of ice cream straight from the carton.
Nope. Not outside of well-insulated cooler, anyway.
Doesn’t work that way. God could answer that prayer miraculously, of course. But he won’t, and not just because we don’t have “enough faith.”
There’s a way to get abs.
Now let me ask the application question.
If the Bible has told us how to build spiritual muscle—if it’s given us the exercises, so to speak—and we don’t do the exercises, do you think God’s going to give us spiritual muscle miraculously?
Sure, in the end our spiritual growth is a miracle. But I’d suggest that God has placed some of the responsibility for sanctification on us.
And for what it’s worth, the theology books, both Calvinist and Arminian, agree with me. Sanctification is a synergistic work between the Spirit of God and the believer.
So. How do we build spiritual muscle? What are the exercises?
Join me for the next few posts, and we’ll work through the biblical data.