Sunday 2 January 2022

Real spiritual progress is knowing your real (and divine) self; then choosing God's creation

Spiritual progress is possible - but it may be almost invisible to others in terms of behavioural change; especially when judged by the highest standards of behaviour.

This, I think, it part of what Jesus meant when he said he had come to save 'sinners'. He mostly meant that he had come to save (those who would 'follow' him) from death and loss of the self; but he also meant that those saved from death would always be breakers of God's laws. 

(I understand this 'breaking of law' to mean that we behave in ways that conflict with the divine motivations of God's creation, in which we all dwell. Any verbal description of 'laws' is necessarily a partial and distorted model for explaining disharmony with creation.) 

And that it was part of being-saved to know that we personally are a breaker of God's laws - and in a situation where the breaking of any single divine law at any time (no matter how apparently 'trivial') is 'just as bad' as breaking many of God's laws most of the time. 

(In other words, there can be no salvation by perfect adherence to God's laws; because not only is it impossible in practice - but also in theory; because the belief that it is possible to live in full accordance with God's laws is itself a breaking of God's laws!) 

Therefore true, significant spiritual progress should not be measured - Is Not measured, by God - in terms of quantitative adherence to the degree of behavioural compliance with divine laws. It is measured in terms of our knowing what God wants of us, and therefore knowing when (nearly all the time!) we do not live up to this. 

Since what is wanted is not at the behavioural level; we cannot monitor spiritual progress by perceptual means. Which also means that it is extremely rare that we can monitor the spiritual progress of others (although such monitoring can, to some extent, be done for those persons we love and know best.)

In other words we must (must) be able to monitor our own spiritual progress and to do so by the standards and in the way that accords with what God wants. 

This is possible because we are all Sons of God. Which means that we all have in us something of the divine.

The situation can be 'modeled' by stating that there is in each of us a real self that is also divine, and which therefore knows what is in-accordance-with God's ongoing creation; and what is not. 

So - it is spiritual progress to know that we each have a real and divine self; and it is further spiritual progress to be able to discern the evaluations of our own real and divine self. 

Even more progress comes from the choice that inevitably arises when we discern that our own choices and actions are going-against the laws of God/ the harmony of divine creation: the progress comes from our choosing to take the side of God and creation as our highest aspiration

It is certain that we will Not be able to put this discernment into action - we cannot align all of our behaviours with God's laws and God's creation: in other words we are always going to be lapsing-into sin, again and again; and we will be unable to prevent this. 

We may align perfectly with God for a moment or two; so we can know what this is like and can choose  - can want it.  

We will always - soon - lapse back into behaviours that fall-away from this known-ideal. 

But it is genuine spiritual progress to be able to discern from our real self; to distinguish the real self from the many fake selves that fit-in with the demands of this mortal world; and to make that recurring choice For God.

So do not despair! 

Spiritual progress is possible even for the worst back-slider (and we are all back-sliders - without any exceptions). 

Judge your-self as you are judged by God; not as you are judged by Men. 


AnteB said...

This post was one of those I needed to read at just this time.
Thank you Charlton.

Lucinda said...


Stephen Macdonald said...

The key aspect for me is the constant recognition that I am again falling short of how God wants me to live, and to immediately repent and try as best I can to stop the behavior in question. Dr. Charlton is of course correct t that we can never live in perfect accordance with God's will for us, but we can strive to do so. Personally I'm very prone to rationalizing or explaining away my various transgressions, rather than seeing the need to repent.

Lucinda said...

I want to give a more detailed comment, but I'm not sure if I can pull it off.

"the belief that it is possible to live in full accordance with God's laws is itself a breaking of God's laws!"

I used to be stuck in this problem. There is utility in this sin, if honestly pursued, for the young in setting a mortal life course that is less overwhelming. But it inevitably falls into the problems you mentioned in the more recent post, believing we are nothing or everything, and in both cases ultimately insignificant and futile. Along the way, pulled into this bipolarity, was my straw man idea of Christ. He was sometimes the perfect, omni-planner, then, more often, quite unnecessary. (Though I would never have admit this, I could see it clearly in myself).

In other words, the way that Jesus is "perfect" doesn't line up with what most people, especially self-identified Christians, consider perfect. Christian teachings seem to retain a higher proportion of safety-seekers who want an omni-god on their side.

But safety doesn't mean anything when death is conquered, because safety is aimed at avoiding death. So when safety (i.e. "the belief that it is possible to live in full accordance...") takes precedence over all else...well as we can observe with the birdemic, it ruins a lot of things.

It seems to me that Romantic Christianity is true Christianity because it teaches of a Christ that is love-able and inviting as an example of how to live a life that would be eternally good and satisfying, not merely safe or even comfortable. One must be capable of fully desiring things that may not turn out according to exact planning, be open to real inter-action with other free and good beings.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - For me, the 'perfection' of Jesus only began to make sense when I stopped thinking of it in terms of perfect obedience to a set of laws; and started thinking of it as a perfect alignment with God's continuing create-ing.

Everything that Jesus wanted was perfectly in harmony with creation (when creation is considered more as a process than a thing done).

From this state of perfect alignment with God; everything Jesus did or could do was a positive contribution to creation. This is done by love - just as in a loving family (at its best, glimpsed) all the members only *want* to do that which contributes to the family in a positive way, which makes a positive contribution.

I could imagine this best being made possible by following, trusting Jesus - that we were enabled to make an irreversible and complete commitment to this ideal of love. Because Jesus did it before us, by following him (following in a literal kind of way, following him through the transformation that is resurrection - which he can lead us (guide us) through because he first did it, because he was 'perfect').

So by following Jesus we are all made able to do it, even though We are Not perfect!

That is why I found the Good Shepherd passage of the Fourth Gospel to be the key. We could not find the way by ourselves (because we are sinners, not aligned with God) but by following Jesus (close behind!) we can achieve the resurrection that we desire.