One of the hardest lessons to learn about the Christian life is that the Christian life isn’t about me. This is a hard pill to swallow for ‘rugged individualists’ who think that the answer to all our own problems is to ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ and carry on. When we say the Christian life is not about me, we are saying that “I” am not the answer to my problems at any level of the Christian life. Justification? That’s is an act of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ. Adoption? That’s is an act of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ. Sanctification? That’s is the work of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith, life, walk, or whatever else you want to call it is about Jesus. It is looking out of ourselves and to Him. It is focusing on Him and the work that He has done for sinners. He is the grounds and content of the Christian faith and life. The promises of the Christian faith are fulfilled and given to us in Christ at every level of the Christian’s existence. He is the focus and object of our faith (Colossians 3:1-4).
Why then do we so often think that our growth in grace (sanctification) comes from focusing on our own weaknesses? Let me illustrate. Let’s say that I have been convicted over a particular sin: impatience. The natural inclination of my heart is to turn inward and to focus on ways that I am impatient, and to say to myself, ‘I have to do better in this. I must not be so impatient with my coworkers/fellow drivers/cashier/children.’ What we do so often is then think on how impatient we are, and how sinful it is, and how we can remedy that.
Did you catch it?! I have made my sanctification about me, and how I can improve. Christianity is no self-help center!! The answer to your growth in grace is God’s appointed means of grace, not your ability to stop some outward actions. (Even lost men can stop outward actions that are deemed bad.) It takes a change of heart and growth in grace! (cf. Romans 12:1-2)
So, what is the primary way we grow in grace and die to sin? It is through focusing on Christ–(again) by His appointed means (Word, sacraments, and prayer, along with godly fellowship with other believers). This is why the author of Hebrews tells us to lay aside sin and those things which easily entangle us, and to do so by fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3). It is not introspective navel gazing that will draw us close to Christ–it is through looking outward to the One who is the object and grounds of our faith. When I fall into sin, the remedy is not looking at me and/or the sin. It is by hating and repenting of it, and looking to the sinless One and by reflecting on His holiness in the way that I am unholy, and God uses this to make me more like Jesus.