March 2018

March 2018

Free to Grow

There is a certain tension inherent in the Christian faith. On the one hand, Christianity is all about peace and rest in Christ. On the other hand, Christianity is all about painful growth and struggle and strife with the devil, the world, and our flesh. Both ideas are repeatedly affirmed in the Scriptures. Jesus promises us rest (Matthew 11:28). God promises us a Sabbath rest from our labors (Hebrews 4:10).  St. Paul affirms over and over that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own works (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8). And yet Jesus is constantly exhorting His people to do good, and St. Paul also urges us to strive (1 Corinthians 9:24) and to fight against the flesh (Galatians 5:16–17).

So which is it? Should we Christians be relaxed, restful, always abounding in joy and peace? Or should we be anxious, stressed out, always lamenting our failures and trying to do better?

We can begin to relax this tension by putting things in their proper place, maintaining the proper relationship between peace and struggle. Yes, we are to struggle daily against sin. Yes, we should be dissatisfied with where we are in our spiritual growth. But the improvement for which we strive always takes place within the loving context of a familial relationship. God is our Father, and His unconditional love for us is assured.

I grew up with very kind and loving parents. They provided my brothers and me with a household in which we knew that we would always have the help we needed, and nothing we ever did, no matter how inexcusably bad, would compromise their love for us. My parents were also strict. They expected us to obey them, and when we didn’t, there were consequences. As we grew older and took on more responsibilities, our parents would always badger us about them. I doubt I would ever have gotten into college if my parents hadn’t pushed me to fill out applications and get them in the mail. But all the pushing and badgering and disciplining that my parents did served to keep us growing, and it all took place within a context of enduring love and support. That meant that I felt real pressure from my parents, and it was pressure I needed in order to improve as a human being, but it was pressure that had no power to upset the settled peace that I had dwelling with my parents in our household.

It’s no accident that Holy Scripture uses the metaphor of fatherhood and sonship, family and household, in describing our relationship with God in Christ. God is by nature the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has eternally begotten His only Son. But by His grace He has adopted us into His household, so that we are now His children, too. With our sonship in the household of God comes the pressure to obey and grow and become the sorts of people who will make our Father proud, but always within the context of a loving relationship that nothing can destroy.

It is important to remember that this relationship is constituted by faith. Without a living faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is active in love and that shows itself in a fruitful commitment to God’s Word, we simply are not God’s children. We are outside His household and under His wrath. A faith that views God as an indulgent, permissive father who doesn’t care how we live is no faith at all. But with faith, we are adopted into God’s household, and nothing will snatch us out of His hands. With faith, our sins remain to a degree, but they have no power to condemn us in God’s presence. Yes, God pushes us to overcome our sins. He disciplines us and chastens us and badgers us with His Law until we grow into responsible members of His kingdom. But this process of growth and increase in holiness always takes place within the loving context of the household of God, where we are not slaves, but children, and His love for us is unconditional and unlimited.

So yes, we struggle and strive and grow. We will continue to do so throughout our earthly lives. But we don’t do so the way an employee might strive to win the approval of his employer, as if that approval could be lost. We struggle as children who want to please our Father, but who know that even in our weakness, He loves us and cares for us with an unconquerable love in Christ. The knowledge of God as our Father gives us freedom to grow.


Pastor Neuendorf