“I still have so far left to go.”
If you’ve ever spoken at length to an aging saint, someone who has walked with Jesus for decades, then you’ve probably heard a sentiment similar to this. It’s a bit counter intuitive though, isn’t it? I mean, with most anything else in life, once you spend years and years devoting yourself to one thing, there is a sense of expertise and mastery. In any other field, you study, you achieve, you master and at some point, you reach a plateau upon which you are able to gaze with satisfaction on what you have accomplished. But not so with following Jesus.
The reason why is because the closer we come to Jesus, the more time we spend with Him, the more acutely aware of our own sin we become. The bright light of the holiness and glory of the Son of God brings into sharp focus just how sinful our own hearts remain. I can attest to this; you probably can too. I can say in my own life there are areas of my own heart I was not even aware of when I began following Jesus so many years ago.
Our walk with Jesus does not bring accomplishment; it brings humility. So it is with us, and so it was with Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah, who in the year King Uzziah died, found himself caught up in the throne room of God Almighty. Isaiah who, though he was a prophet and a so-called “expert” in the things of God, did not revel in where he was. Isaiah, who responded with fear and trembling as he suddenly saw just how far he had to go in light of the holiness of God:
“Woe is me for I am ruined
because I am a man of unclean lips
and live among a people of unclean lips,
and because my eyes have seen the King,
the Lord of Armies” (Isaiah 6:5).
We are on this road – on this walk – not because of our achievement but because of God’s grace in the gospel. And we continue on this road – on this walk – not from a sense of achievement but empowered by that same gospel. That’s why there is always a “next” when it comes to following Christ.
When we first start following Jesus, the “next” might be that we need to attack some moral impurity. Then the “next” might be the easier-to-hide sins of greed and pride. Then the “next” becomes how to live like a Christian in marriage. Then the “next” is how to die to our own preferences and desires as we seek to raise and lead our children. Next, next, next all the way until the “next” is how to die like one who follows Jesus. There is always a “next.”
But the gospel transforms this ever-present “next” of following Jesus. See, our “next” is not to merit favor. It’s not that with each “next” we think, Perhaps now at last I will at last be good enough to warrant the love of God. No, the gospel transforms our “next” in that we are growing into what we have already become. We aren’t pressing on to gain the love of God and finally find ourselves firmly in His embrace; we are pressing on because God has fully loved us in Christ and has already secured us in His embrace.
This was the glorious next of Paul, and it’s our glorious next as well. Just as he did, we press on:
Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12).