A Question for Assessing Your Spiritual Progress



By Dave Steel

There’s nothing like a long road trip to create space to reflect. Recently, somewhere between Florida and Illinois, I found myself contemplating my discipleship to Jesus while the rest of the family passed the time in open-mouthed slumber or headphone-transmitted entertainment. (As the designated driver, these options weren’t open to me.) Something about that cross-country trip got me asking an introspective version of the question, “Are we there yet?”

Usually, when someone asks the Are we there yet? question what they really mean is, “Are we making good progress?” If the goal is to be like Jesus (Luke 6:40), then I know I’m not there yet. What I need to know is, Am I making significant progress toward the goal?  

Taking this question seriously can be both difficult and disconcerting—difficult in that it can be a complicated question and disconcerting in that it inevitably strips away our self-righteousness. This should not keep us from facing the question, however. Sometimes we need to take stock of where we are.

While a careful study of Christ’s earthly ministry (such as the one undergirding the Get Discipled series) can reveal a detailed portrait of a fully trained disciple, there is one trait of a mature disciple that stands out among the rest.

When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said “if you love one another” (John 13:35).

It is love that heads the list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In fact, the apostle Paul wrote a whole chapter on the priority of love (1 Cor. 13). “If I have a faith that can move mountains,” Paul says, “but do not have love, I am nothing” (v. 2). He concludes the chapter by noting that, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (v. 13).

In light of such passages, a simple question emerges for assessing our spiritual progress: “Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

Am I becoming more patient and kind toward people? Am I less prone to envy and “one-up-manship” than I used to be? Am I seeking to honor others more and myself less? Am I quick to forgive? Do I bring the presence of Christ into my relationships? Am I faithful, thoughtful, hopeful, and loyal toward the people God has put in my life? Could my family vouch for this?

“Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

I know I’ve not arrived, but I’m finding that just keeping that question in mind is helping me to be more open to the spiritual progress I seek.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Four Ways to Love Your Enemies

By Dave Steel

When was the last time someone insulted you, harassed you, gossiped about you, swindled you, betrayed you, hurt you?

You might be the most easy-going person there is, but chances are there’s at least one person who mistreated you along the way, who still causes you an allergic reaction whenever you see them or hear their name. As far as it depends on you, you’ve tried to live at peace with that person (Rom. 12:18), but he or she seems bent on being enemies. What can you do?

If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that Jesus had enemies—and that he endured horrible abuse by them. So how does he say we should deal with our enemies? He says love them (Matt. 5:44). What could be more counter-intuitive and counter-cultural than that!

But let’s say you’re a Christ follower, called to lead a transformed life. How do you go about obeying Jesus on this one? Here are four ways to love our enemies, according to Jesus.

1. Pray for them.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45). In other words, we take after God when we pray for people who don’t deserve it.

2. Forgive them.

While nailed to a cross, Jesus prayed for the perpetrators, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). I don’t know about you, but I can’t get over this. Jesus forgave those responsible for his crucifixion—while they were killing him! I may not have swung the hammer, but I too am responsible for his crucifixion. He died for my sins. In light of his grace, how could I not forgive my enemies?

3. Bless them.

Jesus taught us to “Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Similarly, the apostle Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14). C. S. Lewis was right: “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”[1]

4. Serve them.

Jesus tells us to “lend to [our enemies] without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35). Likewise, Paul quotes the Old Testament proverb that says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Rom. 12:20). We’re called to serve our enemies.

Loving our enemies begins with praying for them and forgiving them, something we can do right now in Christ’s strength. And if we should happen to bump into them in the grocery store, we might even bless them and serve them. Wouldn’t that be just like Jesus.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989), 400.