Am I Getting Worse?



Eric Costa:

Christian, if you are truly growing in God’s grace, it is normal to feel worse about yourself as time progresses. This does not mean you are actually getting worse. This is biblical sanctification, and you can even be encouraged that you’re noticing this about yourself! The image above is a diagram created by Jack Miller called “the Cross Chart,” and it is one helpful way of understanding growth in the Christian life. As you grow, your estimation of God’s holiness increases, your estimation of yourself decreases, and your appreciation for the Gospel of grace expands to fill the gap. These three things are not objectively changing, but your awareness of them is. (If you leave off or distort one of those three elements of the chart, you’re in trouble.)

It can be extremely discouraging to fixate on that bottom line, the decreasing estimation of oneself. Over time, God works against our self-deception, lifts our self-imposed blindness to what’s inside of us. Bit by bit, he allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. If he did this all at once, we’d probably go insane with depression. But, in his grace, he takes time to show us how bad things really are in our hearts, in our flesh (and he offsets that painful discovery by granting us deeper trust in his gracious love). We’re not actually getting worse, but we’re seeing our sin more clearly, so it might feel that way.

There’s another way to understand this dynamic of feeling worse about ourselves as we grow in Christ. The Christian life is a battle of spirit versus flesh. I’m not sure how to explain this on a metaphysical level, but we’re somehow torn between warring factions in our persons. There’s the self-in-itself, “the old man,” the dead and dying flesh indwelt by sin… and there’s the self-in-Christ, “the new man,” the reborn and living spirit indwelt by God’s Spirit. These two are locked in mortal combat. (The good news is, because of Jesus, there’s already a clear winner.)

As we grow in Christ, the battle becomes sharper, more defined, more intense. We learn no longer to “fight” the sinful flesh by means of sinful flesh. For example, we no longer suppress our sinful anger by means of our sinful pride. (That’s the only way to “fight” available before becoming a Christian—but it’s not really a fight, is it?) As Christians, we know the only way to kill our sin is by the Spirit, by growth in grace, by Gospel-changed motives. Our spirits grow stronger as we fix our eyes on Christ, but when we “let our guard drop,” our sinful flesh flails about unchecked, like a desperate, wild animal that sees an opening and goes for it. It is now less restrained by other sinful motives, so it lashes out more visibly and aggressively when not restrained by the power of the Spirit. So, in a sense, displays of the flesh may indeed grow worse; your angry outbursts might be louder or more heated. But, ultimately, your faith is on a general trajectory of growth, and those displays will probably be fewer and farther between as the fruit of the Spirit grow in you.

The key to encouragement through this war is fixing your eyes on the Gospel. Like the cross chart above, you need to have a greater vision of God’s grace to you in Jesus Christ, to keep you from despairing as your estimation of yourself tanks. “Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He has already gained the victory over all your sin, and he shares his righteousness with you freely as a gift of his grace.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

2 thoughts on “Am I Getting Worse?

  1. Reblogged this on In The Potter's Hands and commented:
    Sometimes as we grow in our relationship with Christ we start sensing more of our own sinfulness. We may feel like we are getting worse. Here is a great explanation to what it is we are sensing and a great illustration of our growth in Christ. As Paul said, may I decrease and Christ increase!

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