Grow Into Christ

“The human soul is like a ship going up stream; it is not allowed to stay still in one place, because it will drop away to the lower reaches unless it strives to gain the upper.” The care of souls is like guiding a ship going up stream. The current is strong. One must work against the current all the time in order to make even the slightest progress. The instant you relax a step in your overall plan, you are already drifting downstream. This frustration must have been felt in the Church of Sardis to whom it was written: “Wake up, and put some strength into what is left, which must otherwise die! For I have not found any work of yours completed in the eyes of my God. So remember the teaching you received; observe it, and repent” (Rev. 3:1-3). (Care of souls in the Classical Tradition, by Thomas C. Oden, Fortress Press, 1984)

The initial quote in the citation above is from Gregory the Great’s writing entitled Pastoral Care (trans. Henry Davis, Ancient Christian Writers series, vol. 11 (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1950), 3.34). Take a moment to reread the passage above again, because it expresses a truth that is sometimes overlooked. This simile of the human soul captures an assumption I hold about faith, relationship with God, and a sanctified life. The assumption is stated simply: one cannot stand still. One is either moving forward, or being dragged back by the currents of life. One is either striving to grow in the likeness of Christ, to further develop one’s faith, to love God more than the day before, or one is taken downstream by the powerful forces in a fallen and broken world. We are made more distant from the experience of God by the trials and tribulations of life. If we are lucky, and avoid or deny the fallen-ness around us, we may seem to become more self-possessed, self-assured, individuated, self-actualized or self-sufficient, but the currents of the world drag us away from the Truth, from the abundant life in Christ. I approach ministry with the assumption that you, too, want to grow in the likeness of Christ, you want to increase your faith, you want to develop greater holiness, sanctification and love of God. This idea of continued growth is not new with twenty- first century pastors (me), or sixth century popes (Gregory), but comes from the Scriptures. Jesus uses a number of agricultural parables to describe the growth of relationship with God or the Kingdom. Paul writes in a number of places about growing faith. One such rich passage is from Ephesians (4:7, 11-16).

Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

A lot is being said in this familiar passage, but notice Paul says, “Each of us was given grace,” that is, everyone, all of us. Then he says, “The gifts he [Christ] gave were … for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come … to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” All of us are meant to grow with Christ as the goal. Notice also Paul’s very explicit statement, “We must grow up in every way … into Christ.” It is through the grace of God given in the Word and the Sacraments that we are united with Christ. It is through prayer, study, and service that we strengthen and grow the faith within us. It is by loving and giving and forgiving that we move through the stream. So, even when the current seems strong against you, I encourage you to strive to God. Grow in the likeness of Christ. Develop your faith and be filled with grace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Bond

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