1Thessalonians 4:1 - Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
On the Tip of My Tongue
For fifteen years or so I had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I never felt I was communicating 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.” I immediately resonated with it from the first time I read about it. But expressing it clearly seemed to elude me.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In trying to teach classes about this idea, I would usually describe spiritual growth as follows:
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, sin up a storm, but because they don’t know God or his Word, their sin is not that big of a deal to them.
The next group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit begins to awaken. Perhaps they have just come to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces of faith begin to fit together and they realize their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that because they’re now 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 is 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 to them they’re just not making significant headway in their spiritual lives. The Apostle Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind here.
As time goes by and these folks are seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord, they begin to experience more and more growth 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 is, they’re steadily and increasingly conforming to the likeness of Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to live a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ becomes so much a part of you that you’re live faithfully for him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come by default.
It may not be theologically accurate to divide this spectrum into stages since the different parts of our lives flow together like a river and you’re never really aware of the moment you’re “moving from stage one to another.” 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. Perhaps that’s what it will look like to be fully conformed to the image of Christ.
Think About It This Way
About five or six years ago I was given a precious gift by one of the folks in my Sunday school class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this idea than I had over the years.
She said that as I was sharing with her my idea of unconscious holiness, she remembered a business concept that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” That means you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. Stage two is, “Conscious Incompetence,” which means you become a little more self-aware of your ignorance and inabilities.
The third stage is 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 intentional about improving and growing in that area. You’re also aware of the good results your hard work is producing.
The last stage is, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without really being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that excellent work is so much a part of who you are, it appears effortless.
The goal is to be so competent at what you do, that you reflexively perform well. It is the “default” way you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
See the Connection?
Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, we want to get to a place in our walk with Christ where our holiness reflexively flows in and through us because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word.
An Important Caveat
Even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness in this life, we are still called to intentionally pursue it. We want to deliberately please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming 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. It becomes our default setting. 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. Where are you?
If our sins are forgiven by Christ and we can’t earn our way to heaven, then what’s the point of trying to become more like Christ in the first place? In what ways are you intentionally pursuing the holiness to which God calls you? How can you tell if you’re growing in Christlikeness? Is there ever a point in this life where you’re done growing?
Grace and Truth,
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