Occasionally my oldest will complain to his mother of pains. This is normal. Occasionally I complain to his mother of pains. This is also normal. But the two are not the same. The former holds the promise of growth. The later holds the promise of more pain.
“Growing pains without growth is just pain.”/1
The life of a Christian is one of growth. We begin as infants (1 Peter 2:2), but we must not stay there. Just as physical growth involves pain, so does spiritual growth. It takes effort to become fully mature (Hebrews 5:14). We must push ourselves, get outside of our comfort zones to thrive.
Yet it is possible to exert effort and suffer soreness, endure embarrassment and sense shame, or otherwise be strained and feel discomfited without actually growing.
Take our spiritual ancestors for example. They strained toward righteousness. They pursued godliness with a dedication often unseen today. Yet they often were chastised. Why?
In Isaiah’s day, God demanded that the Israelites cease their sacrifices. God said, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13). Their feasts had become a burden to God, such that he hid his eyes from them (Isaiah 1:14, 15). They continued to sacrifice and celebrate, but they had forgotten justice (Isaiah 1:17). Evil deeds and hearts overshadowed their outward shows of devotion (Isaiah 1:15, 16).
Theirs was a hypocritical, outward-focused religion. Since God looks upon and weighs the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2), this type of religion is bound to fail.
The Holy Spirit gives us another reason why many of our ancestors failed in their pursuit of righteousness. Of Israel, he says, “They did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32).
A perusal of Old Testament history will paint a vivid picture of pursuing righteousness by works. One that we, at all costs, must not sketch ourselves.
Certainly the issues in Isaiah’s day were caused by pursuing righteousness by works. Unchecked long enough, such a pursuit will lead to iniquity. But it might not necessarily seem so. It might look remarkably like a pursuit that leads to growth. To many the Jews of the first century seemed righteous. To the discerning eye of Jesus they were anything but.
God knows our hearts. He sees perfectly. We cannot peer into the hearts of others, but we have a view into our own. Laying out God’s word we must test ourselves. Looking at the perfect life of Jesus we must model ourselves in the image of our Lord.
Those who grow do so by God’s grace through faith (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 1:17). Growing pains produce righteousness. Growing pains without growth is just plain old pain.
One leads to glory, the other to condemnation. Choose wisely.
1/ Ben Frederickson, A baserunning accident captured risk Cardinals are taking with outfield experiment, April 11, 2021 https://t.co/rwaJ05j9vr?amp=1