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Principles Of Progress

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13,14

The new year is here ready or not! With the new year comes new visions, new opportunities to make much of Jesus Christ. 2018 is the most exciting year ever because we are living in a world where a person can be fired for saying "Jesus," can be jailed for upholding biblical standards, and will be rejected and disrespected for proclaiming the truth of God's word and acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. What a wonderful platform to magnify God's grace and to really experience God's felt presence in obedience to Him. It's a time where the fruit of the Holy Spirit and The Light of the World are preciously important.

The Christian, as well as the church, always does best when persecuted. Following Jesus is no cake walk and the church is not a skating rink. Biblical metaphors for the Christian include "pilgrim," "warrior", "wrestler" and "runner". All of these require energy, strengthening and discipline. They also require an honest assessment of goals and growth in grace. Every believer's motto for 2018 should be "onward and upward".

The work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross is a completed work. Because of His shed blood and God's accepting His sacrifice for us validated by the resurrection, there is nothing we can add or claim accomplishment for involving our salvation. Our sins are completely and forever forgiven! But doesn't that fact just stir our hearts and prompt us to "press on" in the midst of trials and calamities of this life? And even though God chose us before the foundation of the world and adopted us as His very children in Christ, we should not think we have nothing to do, nor anywhere to go. God's purpose and plan is that we glorify Him in all things and the end in view is Heaven and immortal glory.

It's the Holy Spirit's work though which mandates progress in this life, that causes us to be concerned and aware of progressing, growing and gaining. Thatís because we are not fully developed yet. We are still being shaped and molded in Christlikeness and for the purpose God has given to us in our individual life's calling. Also, we still have sin within us and the devil without us both of which intend to severely thwart our progress in Christ and our witness for Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is not finished in us. God's work in choosing and Christ's work in substituting is finished. Progress is important to God and should be redemptive resolutions for the new year for all believers. Here are three principles of progress intended to help us start the new year righteously.

First, Put It Down. Take your walk with God seriously. The Apostle Paul took his walk with God seriously beginning on the road to Damascus when he exclaimed, "Lord, what would thou have me to do," and ending in a Roman prison cell by saying, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." Here in the letter to the Philippians, he acknowledges that he has not arrived, that he has not progressed as he should have. In other words, he took his walk with God seriously. One of the first principles of growing in grace is a right and honest assessment of our walk with God.

God takes His walk with us seriously. He sent His only begotten son to die for us so that He could walk with us. When God took a walk one evening in Genesis, Adam was not walking with Him as before. And God wanted Adam to walk with Him because He called out, "Adam, where are you?" Adam made excuses though and tried to blame God for his not walking with him. Eve blamed the devil for deceiving her. The truth of the matter though is that Adam and Eve did not take their walk with God seriously.

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Amos 3:3

If you and I are going to walk to the courthouse together, but you decide that you are going to Mill Creek Park, then we will not be walking together, and you have not taken walking with me seriously. God has and is calling His people to walk with Him. He told Abraham to "walk before me and be thou perfect". He commanded Israel, "Ye shall walk in all the ways the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live and that it may be well with you..." And the Lord Jesus tells the disciples to follow Him by denying self and taking up crosses daily. Taking our walk with God seriously is more than saying you have been baptized or that you believe in Jesus. Just because you have been chosen by God and are one of the elect does not mean you can be presumptuously lazy. Jesus did not tell the woman caught in adultery, "Oh, that's okay, you are one of my children". He said, "Go and sin no more!" In other words, He said take your walk with God seriously. The Apostle John in his first letter pleads with God's children not to sin (I John 2:1). He then shows us how serious God is about dealing with the very reason we don't walk with God, by telling us that we have an advocate, one who can put us back instep with the Father.

A careless walk usually results in a serious ending. Walking with God is a covenant walk, like a marriage requiring commitment, giving, and forgiving. Our walk with God is a barometer of our spiritual progress because God is holy, perfect, and is life. When we realize that we are not here to walk with God because we have decided to, but because He has laid hold of us, then we will see that walking with God is as "serious as a heart attack."

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." Proverbs 4:23

Most of the time when we have a surgery, therapy is required and is very important to the progress of our healing and recovery. God has performed an amazing graceful incision upon our hearts and has written His law there. Walking with Him is the therapy required and we are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. Are you walking with God? Seriously!

Second, Put It Back. Don't stop to congratulate yourself. Self satisfaction is death to progress. The Pharisee in Luke 18 tooted his own horn, but it was the Publican who went away justified.

"For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." Galations 6:3

Forgetting the past means forgetting our previous accomplishments so that we won't be so focused on them that we lose sight of the territory that is in front of us. It is surely a blessing to be blessed, but yesterday's blessings won't make much headway for today. It's the same with our sins. When we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior and repent of our sins, we are forgiven. God buries our sins in the sea, and puts them as far from us as the east is from the west. We won't make much spiritual progress pulling around guilt and shame. It seems like just about the time I feel I'm progressing in faith, here comes some of my sins of the past, trying to stab me in the back. If only we could get away from the past! The good news is God has our backs too. Psalm 23 verse 6 says that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. God loves us so much He is not going to let something that is behind us destroy our souls. He will allow it though so we can appreciate His mercy more and so that we hate those sins so much that we don't want anything to do with them again. The best way to resurrect a sin is to put a trophy over its grave. We can put it back of us because God is the Lord of the past just as He is Lord of the present and future. The summary of our life attitude should be gratitude for the past, service for the present, and trust in God for the future.

Let's not go into the new year riding on our high horse. God's word reminds us that we better watch out when we think we stand lest we fall. None of us are any better than the other. Jesus is all good. We are all bad. When Job got off his high horse and put it back, forgetting his accomplishments, he saw the beauty of God Almighty.

"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42: 5,6

The apostle Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer, he even went to the third heaven, yet he was not satisfied with his labors. He was always endeavoring to get more grace, to do more good, never thinking he had done enough. Thank God for the victories which He gives us, but we must go forward because there is much to do in God's Kingdom. Although God had given Israel the entire Promise Land, they only occupied a small portion of it. The reason was they would not put it back, they would not forget their past pleasures. Actually at one point Israel told Moses they had it better as slaves in Egypt and would rather go back there than to die in the wilderness (Exodus 16:3)

It's not the things we forget that should be remembered, but the things we remember that should be forgotten. Some things to forget in 2018 are our past sins, failures, successes, pleasures, unhappy experiences, blessings, and the sins and failure of others.

We become content with ourselves when we lose sight of the holiness of God and when we compare ourselves to others. Our goal should be perfection, just as our Lord commanded. Shallow streams are the first to stop running during a drought and a ship has to have deep water to make progress. To congratulate ourselves reminds me of how a shallow stream bubbles and squeaks, whereas a deep stream is silent and sure.

I guess a glimpse of what's behind us can help advance us to a closer walk with God. I do appreciate my rearview mirror in my truck, but it's not the direction I'm going. Driving on forest roads and fields can impede progress when they are muddy or dry and sandy. If you get stuck, often you can make progress by backing up a little and then going forward. And when we're stuck in life ruts, maybe we need to rock it back a little to go forward a lot.

Third, Put It On. The most important question we can ask in 2018 is how do I get to the Father? One great principle of progress is having a worthy goal and focusing on it. Paul finished his life course with joy and even though he died in a Roman prison cell, he triumphantly exclaimed that he had fought a good fight, finished his course and kept the faith! How could one enduring such trials and circumstances be happy and positive? Because everyday the Apostle's day planner was about getting to the Father. "This one thing I do" was stamped on his every action, motive, and response to situations faced. Having too many irons in the fire can hinder a Christian's progress because we were made and saved for one thing; to get to the Father.

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent." John 17:3

Our calling is from Heaven and to Heaven. When all of the hustle and hassle of life shakes out, what really matters is getting to the Father. I remember hearing a recording of the last words of a flight attendant on the plane that crashed into the second Twin Tower during the 9-11 attack saying "Oh My God!" I also remember being in a room at Ogeechee Area Hospice with Elder John Brannen Purser and his family, when Brother John asked all of us to gather around his bed. As he looked around at the family around him, he said, "Thank you Father!" A Christian's death is often described as "going home to the Father." The best way to live so that when our time comes, will be ready to die is to live each day thinking about the Father and Heaven. Centering our thoughts on "things above" will keep us on the right track and remind us that our pilgrimage here on earth will end, but that "city which hath foundations" is everlasting and sure.

Getting to the Father is not about religion or good works. It's about holiness. We won't make it to the father without holiness. The greatest need for the church today is holiness. "Put it on" means putting the righteous of Christ to work so that others will know where we're going and we can make progress in the journey of faith. We won't make much headway to the Father or with anything else really if we are just "put-ons!"

We get to the Father only one way. Through Jesus Christ.

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6

God gives us the desire to get to Him and He provides the means to get there. The woman with the issue of blood pressed through the crowd to get to Jesus. Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see the Savior, and the centurion was certain His word would heal his servant. The Father responds to those who make Him the focus of their lives. I suppose the sweetest words a believer can hear is "well done thou good and faithful servant."

Paul uses the Grecian runner in a race to give us a word picture of how to get to the goal. Imagine the runner straining, leaning, reaching forward to the finish line. Our finish line is the Father and His Spirit within us ever causes us to desire Him. May God help us this year to read and study His word, to pray to the Father in Jesus' Name, and to take every opportunity to serve Him. Think of 2018 as the year we get to the Father. And, as we put our breeches on one leg at a time, so we go to the Father one day at a time. It's like looking at the new year with a stack of 365 letters from God on our table, each one titled "Bear this for me." We open only the letter for the appointed day, and the next day, we put the opened letter aside. We don't open the sealed letters of the tomorrows either.

Renounce everything that would be in the way of getting to God. Avoid everything that would interfere with your fellowship with Him. And don't slacken the pace near the end. Rather, stretch forth to higher ground. We ought to be humbled by what we are and what we want to be and desire to have all that God wants us to have to glorify Him.

Remember that we are a work in progress. God is not finished with us, else we wouldn't be here. As we deal with life's pressure, we must put on patience through faith in Him who desires that we be one with Him. The new year is here and there is no reason why we shouldn't be progressing. God, by His grace, has placed us in His kingdom to glorify Him and we call ourselves "progressive" Primitive Baptists. God likes progressors more than procrastinators. The Christian life is sort of like riding a bicycle, you either go forward or you fall down. So, let's pedal for Christ in 2018!

Brother Randy

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