On inappropriate sharing and spiritual progress

I don’t tend to blog too much about personal stuff – isn’t a middle-aged parent, teacher, elder, and man (!) supposed to have his life together? To have answers, not lots of questions? To be a model mature Christian, walking in faith with no great struggles or conflicts?

Occasionally in a class on the Holy Spirit discussing the Christian life or something related, I may say something like I struggle with anger, lust, greed, faithlessness, envy, worry or some such thing (the  list could keep going here but there is such a thing as inappropriate sharing).

More than once a reaction from students has been ‘Oh no, don’t tell us that. I thought when I get to your age I’d be over such things.’

Now this is somewhat amusing; amusing for its bluntness – like watching Up in the Air last night with my daughter where 23 yr old Anna Kendrick says about George Clooney, ‘Oh no I don’t think of him like that at all, he’s old‘. (no comparison with George Clooney intended!)

But it’s also revealing of an expectation that the Christian life should, or will, get easier. That at some point, we reach a plateau where we can relax a bit, dump a lot of baggage, rest from the fray, and walk easily ahead on a new level.

Now one reaction to this can be to wonder wherever did such an idea come from?

How can Christians, of all people, who are supposed to know a bit about the realities of sin and the daily need for God’s grace, ever swallow such hokum?

How, if we look at ourselves with ‘sober judgement’ and see the swirling mixture of ambitions, fears, resentments, self-reliance, judgementalism, pride etcetera, can we imagine that we will be free somehow of our very human and fallen nature in this life?

How, if we look around at the pervasive reality of fallen Christian leaders, can we be naive enough to think that those who are a bit older and more experienced are somehow less prone to spiritual failure?

Why are we so easily seduced by the idea that there is some sort of silver bullet to the Christian life? Is this longing what lies behind so much investment in some Christian circles of the necessity and possibility of a special transforming spiritual ‘event’ that will revolutionise your life for good?

But another reaction is to acknowledge that those students are right.

A mature Christian should show signs of spiritual transformation; there is something wrong about an adult who is still acting like a child.  1 Timothy 3 is pretty unambiguous about character qualifications for leadership:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

And recall that Timothy was ‘young’ – the issue is maturity in Christ not age per se. And mature believers are to set an example:

set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:12

And without making this post too much longer, the NT is pretty clear on what I think can fairly be called a high expectation of spiritual progress.

For Paul, the Christian knows the experienced reality of the Spirit. The ‘new age’ has dawned to which Christians belong – rather to the age of the flesh which is passing away (Roms 6-8).

What Jesus and the Spirit have effected, the believer is to participate in – to ‘walk by the Spirit’ and so not live to the flesh (Gal 5). Christians are to ‘put off the old man’ (Col. 3:5, 8, 9; Eph 4:22, 25-32; 5:3-5). And in such walking by the Spirit, the Law is fulfilled (Rom. 8:4).

So where does this leave me sharing my failures?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

4 thoughts on “On inappropriate sharing and spiritual progress

  1. Some of the moments of most profound learning and change that have taken place in my life have been as a result of someone older than me sharing their struggles and allowing me to learn from them. It is great step towards humility. I’m all for wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve! 🙂

    • Yes, I can relate to that too. I think there is a time and place for showing honesty and vulnerability – it can give ‘permission’ for others to be honest and real and drop the mask. I guess it does come down to ‘time and place’ for ‘appropriate sharing’.

      Flipping the coin around, the picture of a mature Christian character in Timothy and elsewhere in the NT, doesn’t stand in opposition to confession of failure. It does stand in opposition to a pattern of selfishness, division, arrogance, prayerlessness etc.

      I can think of someone older I’ve learnt most from in my Christian life – and I think I’d sum it up that they are remarkably free of ego. Their focus is on loving God and others and they have a strong sense of God’s glory and grace. And that healthy sense of God’s sufficient grace gives freedom to be real.

  2. I too am a theology lecturer and know that appropriate vulnerability is appreciated by students. Jesus himself wept in public and made himself ‘of no reputation’ for the sake of the kingdom.

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