Early in the morning, while light creeps through the blinds onto my comfy chair in the corner of my room, I pull out my goal planner and begin to fill in the boxes to demonstrate my progress. It’s how I remind myself of my goals each day. Some goals are more tangible (write a certain number of articles, acquire this many freelance clients) and some are more qualitative (spend intentional time with my family, keep good technology boundaries). Quite a few of my ongoing goals have to do with my spiritual life, such as having a morning quiet time, truly resting on the Sabbath, or having Gospel conversations with the lost. While all these goals are good—some even God-given—I recently have come to question my motivation behind them.
I know that exercising more often will help me to have more energy, especially as I’m a soon-to-be mom of a newborn and a toddler. I know that cleaning my home will make me a better steward of the possessions God has given me. I know that spending time with God before my day begins will make me less irritable and aimless. I know that writing every day will make me more creative. All these things are making me a better person. But does the world, does my family need, and do I really need a better Bethany?
I became convicted that, while none of these beneficial goals were wrong, I was pursuing the wrong purpose. I wanted to be a better me so that I could show my family, those around me, and even God how good I am. I wanted to prove my progress. I wanted a pat on the back when I finished that workout program or wrote those blogs. I wanted to look back in five years and see what I had accomplished. While the world would definitely celebrate my intentional self-care and self-improvement, that’s not the will of God for my life. What is the will of God for my life? Why did Christ die so I could be free from the power of sin? It’s not so that I could be a better version of myself; it’s so that I could be more like Christ himself.
Romans 8:29, “For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
As I pursue good, sanctifying spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, and ministry, God is not wanting to chip away at the weaknesses in me to show off more of my strengths. Instead, he’s chipping away at every part of me to reveal only that which magnifies his Son more. As a person created in the image of God, he is constantly at work to remove the sin that mars any resemblance to my creator. While I have been set free from the power of sin through the blood of Christ, I am still being freed from the presence of sin day by day.
This conviction is completely counter cultural. The world says to read more, do more, exercise more, create more, and more so that your true self can shine through. The Christian worldview says that our self is inherently broken, and we need the light of Christ to shine through our brokenness. The more we do in our own strength, the more we reveal our weaknesses. In my own power and self-discipline, I might be able to get up at a certain time or to keep a prayer routine or maintain a family devotional time, but I cannot change my own broken and wicked heart. Only God can do that, and he wants to do that! Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
I want to clarify that goals and lists and the like are not bad. In fact, many mature believers use these as God-given tools of sanctification. I will continue to use them as well, because God desires for us to intentionally and strategically pursue godliness. Peter writes that God has given us the power to seek a life of godliness and that we are to make every effort to develop godly qualities (2 Peter 1:3-7). Yet as we strive to grow in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, we have to constantly remind ourselves of the end goal of these qualities—to become more like Christ (2 Peter 1:8)!
Maybe you’re like me—every new year, every new month, and every Monday is an opportunity to accomplish a new objective. God has put those desires for godly improvement in you and me! Yet as we strive for those aims, let us ask ourselves the hard questions. Is this going to magnify me and make me appear to be a better Christian for the sake of my own praise? Or is this helping me die to myself daily so that I may live in Christ?
I know that I will return to my planner today (it’s even sitting next to my laptop as I type this), and I will still check off the progress I’m making to grow in spiritual disciplines, health, family, and other areas of life. Yet at the top of the page is a verse to remind me that I don’t pursue these things to boast in Bethany, but to put Christ’s power on display. John the Baptist at the height of his ministry spoke a reminder to all goal chasers out there, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).