Saturday, October 20, 2012

Progress or Training

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."  1st Corinthians 9:24-27

I always find it interesting ("interesting" is a euphemism here) when I hear people go on about progressive sanctification, about how we need to be growing, need to be improving, so on and so forth.  I find it "interesting" because, for one, it tends to take our focus off of Christ and shift it back onto ourselves... which just annoys me.  Love God, love your neighbor - but those rants from me should be familiar.  But what I also find so "interesting" about it is that to focus on yourself, your improvement is a recipe for disaster in terms of "growth" or "improvement".

Consider the above passage - the analogy is that of athletes.  "A ha!" shout the progsanct folks.  "A ha!  See, you need to improve!"  Well, let's think -- how does an athlete improve?  Does he focus on improvement or how he has improved and gotten better?  Well, once he does that - then you get a lazy athlete who thinks he's made it -- who ignores his weaknesses.  This is what we see all the time in pro sports.

No, in athletics, the athlete who constantly improves in constantly attacking his weaknesses, constantly fighting and training what he is bad at.  Baseball is great for this - you adjust and work on your weaknesses.  And you know what -- this is precisely what Paul is speaking to here.

Consider -- "self-control", not running "aimlessly", "discipline" "under control".  These aren't words focusing on what one does well or what one has improved in -- they are all focused on weaknesses.

The problem with talking about how one has grown is that it is a trap for contentment - it is the very way in which an athlete begins to flounder, indeed, the way that could lead to Paul being disqualified himself.  Rather this - as Luther taught us in Thesis number one, the entire life of a Christian isn't to be viewed as one of "growth" or "progress" but rather... repentance.  Seeing one's sin, one's weakness, and then struggling against it.

You tell me how much you have grown, how you are such a good Christian - and I will confess my sins and struggle against them.  And being focused then upon Christ's forgiveness always and in all things -- I will be forgiven and strengthened, my neighbor will be served... and I will be kept away from the danger of vain, aimless boasting that fails to focus on my neighbor.

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