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A Different Kind of Scorecard

Like me, you've probably been watching the Summer Olympics. And you know that every event has its own kind of scoring system. So I thought it would be a good time to ask, How can you tell that you're growing as a Christian? What's the scorecard?

Most people would say it's a matter of checking your spiritual vital signs - things like how often you pray and read your Bible, how many times you share your faith, how often you get victory over sin, and so on. No doubt about it, those are important indicators of your spiritual progress.

But there's another way of looking at spiritual growth that gets your focus off yourself and onto the cross.

I noticed this once when I was studying the life of the Apostle Paul. Around 55 A.D. Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth. In it he gave this self-appraisal: "I am the least of the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:9). About five years later, he wrote the letter of Ephesians, in which he said, "I am less than the least of all God's people" (Ephesians 3:8). Finally, another five years later Paul wrote his first letter to young Timothy. In that letter he wrote, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15).

Isn't that interesting? Over the course of ten years, Paul's consciousness of his own sin actually increased! The longer he walked with Christ, the greater became his awareness of weakness. He went from seeing himself as a sinner, to a bigger sinner, to the worst of sinners.

Paul would say, then, that you can tell you're growing as a Christian if you see and feel more of your sin now than you did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on. Having a growing sense of your need for grace is a more Biblical measure of spiritual progress than checking out your spiritual vital signs. Why is that? Because focusing only on your spiritual fruit exposes you to two dangers. One danger is pride. You can begin to look to your Bible reading and praying and loving and witnessing and the like as your source of righteousness instead of Jesus Christ. You can actually begin boasting, if only to yourself, in something other than the cross. The Apostle Paul said, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

The second danger is despair. When you look at yourself really honestly you are bound to see repeated failures to live up to the standards of God's Word. You may be a pretty consistent Bible reader, but which of us can truthfully say, "The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold" (Psalm 119:72)? You may have experienced victory in one area of your life, but aren't there other sins of which you are guilty? What I'm driving at is this: You fall woefully short of total sanctification. And if you look at yourself through the microscopic lens of Scripture you will see dozens of ways in which you've broken God's law, violated your conscience, harmed your testimony, disappointed your friends, wasted your resources, hurt your church, hid your talents, and denied the Lord who bought you.

So it can be really dangerous only to look at your spiritual fruit to see if you are growing as a Christian. A better thing to do is ask yourself questions like these:

  • Am I more aware of my need of Jesus today than I was one or five or ten or twenty years ago?
  • When I sin, does it grieve me more now than it once did? And do I more easily recognize and run from sinful habits, attitudes, motives, and thoughts than before?
  • Am I relying on God's grace and the help of the Holy Spirit more than I used to?
  • Is the cross of Christ more lovely to me today than last week?

If you are growing in the Lord, it will show up in your awareness and disgust of your own sin. But, praise God, it will also show up in your increasing confidence that "Jesus paid it all," and that God's grace is greater than all your sin. Boasting only in the cross, you will want to serve Christ with a life of obedience and holiness. When you succeed you will say with Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). And when you fail you will remember the promise, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

UPC is a church that believes Christians need to be holy and obedient. But UPC is also a church that seeks to point people to the power source: the gospel of God's free grace for the weak and helpless. It is when you're weak that you're strong.