Maturity is measurable. Sanctification is measurable. But how?
It all comes down to movement.
The meaning of the Hebrew word we translate “repentance” has the basic meaning of “return.” A person who repents is one who has spent the first part of their life moving away from God. But then they are arrested by an encounter with Christ.
The rest of their life is meant to be spent in a continuous movement back to God.
The great danger is that we measure our maturity in Christ by comparing ourselves to the wrong standard - other people. C.S. Lewis pointed out that people begin their Christian lives from vastly different starting points. Some have had the best possible upbringing, others had less than nothing. Some heard the gospel from the earliest age, others were raised in abuse and degradation.
What really matters for each person is that we are moving in the right direction. And that means moving toward the only standard that means anything, which is Christ.
What bothers me about so many people who profess faith in Christ is the lack of movement in their lives. There is no measurable progress. They have the same issues they did two, five or ten years ago.
I have no difficulty putting up with peoples’ problems as long as I know they are reaching out to God for change in their lives.
There are only really two gears in God’s economy - forward and backward. To sit on the fence is not an option. It counts as backwards, if only for the reason that God is continually moving ahead.
What that means in practicality is that anyone who looks at my life should see a man who is walking closer to God than he did last year or the year before. And that’s my goal. Don’t measure me by yourself or someone else, but by Christ.
I know I’ll fall short, but guess what - so will you. That’s what keeps us from becoming proud or arrogant at any progress we have made.
Paul put it this way: forgetting what lies behind, I press on to what lies ahead. The picture is of the Olympic runner refusing to glance backward at the competition, but pressing forward in the hope of reaching the finish line. And the finish line is Christ.
Another way of putting it in this: don’t let your past pursue you, let your future possess you. What is past is past, and we have moved on. What is future is Jesus, and we run toward him.
Don’t focus on your faults. Focus on the finish line.
All of us live in a tension between the real and the ideal. Without denying the real, don’t allow it to possess you. Let Christ, the ideal, pull you day by day out of your present reality and toward him.
Just keep moving.