I’ve been preparing to teach a new class this spring and start this Sunday. And it’s been one of the hardest sessions I’ve had to prepare.
Sometime last year our associate pastor emailed some of the teachers in our church a list of potential topics as he planned classes for the coming year. I chose one that has been on my heart for some time, but it’s such a vast, broad, and sensitive topic that after some months we both agreed to save that one for later. And so I chose another from the list: steps to keep growing.
At first glance, this seemed like a topic that would be, well, not exactly easy (teaching is never easy), but not a terrible stretch for me either. However, once I started to prepare, I realized my mistake.
There is one main problem with a topic like this. Namely, the people who attend adult Sunday school at our church have long been at this. Oh, we all have room to keep improving, but the fact that they come — and so consistently — is proof of their desire to grow in Christ.
What can I bring that is new to them?
My own walk
I did not grow up in a Christian home. I spent two summers in a row at a Bible camp and it was there that I prayed to God to save me. But with no foundation to build on, the focus fizzled. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I realized I needed to repent of seeking my own way and instead seek God’s way.
I would describe myself in the years between those events as the seeds that fell on rocky ground. But God is good and he delivered me and opened my eyes and I hope I more resemble seeds on good soil. But the years go on and you build ritual and routine and pretty soon you’re … comfortable.
Being a Christian isn’t about “doing”, but you don’t have to attend church for long to know we’re all supposed to read our Bible, pray, and spend time in worship together. How do we go beyond the basics? I often find myself asking the question:
Am I doing enough?
The question is not quite right. It reflect a bad theology, a bad way of thinking about God. Am I doing enough to get saved? Obviously not.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Am I doing enough to keep my salvation? Will I lose it? I don’t believe so.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And yet I read some passages in the Bible and I’m fearful. Let me share a few from the Gospel of Matthew. Returning to the reference I used above, the parable of the sower:
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
And the parable of the talents:
But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
Last, at the end of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 7:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The scariest part of this passage for me is that the people Christ is addressing knew him. Or rather, they knew of him. And they even did activities (impressive ones at that) thinking they were serving him. His response is chilling. How much of what I do now could be just religious busy-ness?
Is this fear a bad thing? I don’t think so, not necessarily. Not when considered in the right way. Philippians chapter 2 has long been a key for me when I think of the tension between God’s sovereignty and my responsibility.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In this Look at the Book, John Piper gives a nice rundown of this verse and digs deep into what “work out” means here. It’s a continuous, sustained effort. Not to earn our justification, but to press on to the end goal, the end result of the salvation that comes from our faith in Jesus.
We’re not all missionaries in a foreign land. We’re not all serving the needy in our community. We’re not all evangelists sharing the Gospel in the marketplace.
But should we be? Do I make myself feel better about staying in my comfort zone by saying I serve in my church? That I disciple my kids?
And so preparing this class has been a challenge for me. What can I do to ensure I’m growing in my faith and in Christlikeness? I do not ask these questions to cast doubt. But I fear getting stuck being comfortable. I fear hearing those words:
I never knew you.
And so I’m driven to live in a way that results in a far more wonderful statement:
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
I’ll share more of my thoughts on this topic in the coming weeks.