Over the last ten years or so I’ve had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I just haven’t been able to explain adequately. I knew what I meant. But getting others to fully grasp what I was trying to say was a different story.
That concept had to do with what Oswald Chambers referred to as, “unconscious holiness” (that may be a slight paraphrase, but it’s close). This idea was and is a big deal to me. I immediately resonated with it when I first read it. Here’s how I have tried to explain it to my classes…
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, are sinning up a storm, but because they don’t know God, his Word, etc., they don’t know they’re sinning (or at least they don’t know that their sinning is such a big deal to God).
There’s another stage: Perhaps this group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit is beginning to awaken or even those who are just coming to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces begin to fit together and they realize that their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that now that they’re in Christ, they can’t live the way they used to… even if they don’t quite understand all the ramifications of that epiphany. And, because they’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in them, they no longer want to live according to their old ways. And yet, they struggle to the point of frustration because it seems that they’re just not making any significant headway in their spiritual lives.
Time goes by and these same folks are experiencing more and more “victory” in their lives as followers of Christ. They catch themselves before they fall into temptation. Or, they repent immediately after sinning because it grieves their hearts and they don’t want any outstanding obstacles to stand between them and their precious communion with God. While they aren’t batting 1,000, they’re making great strides in what’s called, “progressive sanctification.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that they’re moving more and more into the likeness of Christ… or growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to be living a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ is so much a part of you that you’re living faithfully to him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come naturally to you.
I know it’s not helpful to divide this up into stages since it all seems to flow together and you’re never really aware of when you’re “moving from one to another.” I’m really not trying to split hairs on this point. But for the sake of what I’m saying, that last “stage” is where I want to be. I want holiness and obedience to be so delightful to me that I automatically seek it… and in fact… it doesn’t occur to me to choose otherwise.
About three years ago in my Sunday School class, I had a precious gift handed to me by one of the folks in class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this subject than I have over the last handful of years.
She said as she had been thinking about this idea, she remembered a business diagram that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” She said that simply means that you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. The next stage is “Conscious Incompetence,” by which is meant that you become a little more self-conscious about how much you don’t know or how unable you are at a particular task.
The next stage is what’s called, “Conscious Competence.” The idea here is that you become pretty good at something, and you know it, because you’re constantly working on it. It occupies your attention and your time. You’re aware of good results.
The last stage is what’s called, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without even being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say that you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that performing well is so much a part who you are, that it seems effortless. Here’s the box-diagram that she referred to…
The goal, of course, is to be so competent that you will perform a task well reflexively. It will just be the “default” way that you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
She then related this idea to the notion of holiness that we had been talking about. Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, our holiness should be automatic because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word, etc.
That is exactly what I had been trying to say, just a hundred times better. I broke out into a mini-revival. Here’s the chart related to holiness…
Again, I’m not trying to split theological hairs here. Of course, even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness, we would and should still pursue it. We want to intentionally please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ in our progressive sanctification, we become more loving, faithful, obedient, etc., in the daily living of our lives. Simply put: It becomes who we are. Or better, we become who God redeemed us to be.
That’s what I’m shooting for in my life. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to others. And now I have a new way to communicate it. Thank the Lord for Sunday School.
Grace and Truth,