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Mature in Pursuing the Upward Call of God

Can I take a break from trying to grow spiritually?

by Andy Davis on July 02, 2024



"Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lied ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." Philippians 3:13-14

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." Revelation 2:4–5


When I was a high school student, I ran cross-country track. Occasionally, we would go for workouts to the nearby New England Sand and Gravel Company sandpit, where we would run up huge hills made of nothing but sand. It was a grueling workout, because it forced the runners to make steady, hard progress upward. As soon as you slowed down, you slid down. So it is with sanctification—at any given moment, we can either continue to pursue the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” or we can turn away from it.

The rates of progress or of backsliding are conjectural; some make progress at a much faster rate than others. Perhaps they have immersed themselves in the Bible or have spent the summer on a daily street evangelism task force in the inner city. They will say later, “I never grew so much as that summer!” Their growth will have made rapid progress during that time. In the same way, not all sinful lapses have an equal impact; some sins are bigger than others and make a more lasting impact on the soul.

The general trend of the spiritually maturing life is upward, since God is completing the good work he began in us. The Holy Spirit is working, the Bible is having its impact, the progress is steadily upward, though maybe not as much as we would like. If there is absolutely no growth, the person is not justified, for Romans 5-8 teaches that true justification is always followed by sanctification. Without some progress in practical holiness, we are still dead in our transgressions and sins. There is a practical holiness that results from our Spirit-led efforts that is essential to our salvation: “make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

"The decision to stray from hot affection in the Lord is no accident."

Just as we have a sense of upward progress being good, so also is downward regression deemed bad. The word backsliding in Jeremiah (2:19, 8:5, 14:7) implies a turning away from God. Since godliness is generally presented as the “upward” call, we have a sense of willful transgression as a backsliding down the treacherous side of a mountain. This tragedy in the Christian life is referred to in Revelation 2. In that chapter, the glorified Christ has written personalized letters to each of the seven churches in Asia Minor to whom John will send the Book of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, Christ has a number of good things to say: they are faithful doctrinally, have tested false teachers and exposed them, have persevered, have labored for Christ, and have not grown weary through all their toilsome labor. But Christ also has a very painful message for this church: "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 2:4–5).

Though there is much conjecture on what it means that they had “forsaken their first love,” most commentators think it has to do with the intensity of their affection for Christ himself. Their worship was a little cold, and their hearts were not so filled with joy at his sacrifice for them. They were not doing certain things they had done at first, perhaps including times of extended worship and corporate prayer. Their love for Christ had grown dim. Even worse, this was the result of a conscious choice on their part, not an accident. Jesus said, “You have forsaken your first love.” They decided, perhaps a little at a time, to love something else more than they loved Jesus.

How sad it is when this happens to us as Christians! And how difficult it is to face the waning of our hot affections for Christ. What a painful question the Lord asks Israel when he says, “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5). The decision to stray from hot affection in the Lord is no accident. It is usually a matter of idolatry, finding greater pleasure in created things rather than the Creator.

The remedy is clear: remember, repent, and do. So, the first remedy is: “Remember the height from which you have fallen.”  This refers to their high level of sanctification, of their love for Christ. Remember the way it was in the earlier days. Many remember their college years, times spent in campus groups in all-night prayer meetings or doing bold evangelistic outreaches. The second remedy is: “Repent.” Face your sin honestly and own up to it. Turn away from it as wickedness and bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. This is the third remedy: “Do the things you did at first.” Fill your time with sweet times of love and devotion with Christ, not with worldly pursuits. Sing praise songs with joy in your heart. Spend an hour in prayer . . . then do it again. Allow Christ to warm up your cold heart in him.

(excerpts taken from An Infinite Journey, pp 66, 67, 73-75)

Tags: sanctification, love of god