"He must increase, but I must decrease."
These are the words which John the Baptizer uttered in response to his follower’s growing jealousy of the ministry of Jesus. At this point in history John had seen a booming ministry and Jesus had come to be baptized by John. That was the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
As Jesus’ ministry began to grow more and more people began to follow Him, and it looks like a good number of those people had once followed John.
While all of this was going on some of John the Baptizer’s disciples came to him and asked what they should do. And why was this happening…
But within John’s response we see what I believe is the most distilled down version of what the Christian life looks like. “He must increase, and I must decrease.” This is the root of what it means to be a Christian. This is putting the cookies on the bottom shelf, as an old pastor of mine used to say, to explain sanctification.
But as with all things, it’s easier said than done.
And I believe that one of the reasons for this in our day and age is that we have reversed what John said. Many of us in the Church walk around with the mantra, “I must decrease, and He must increase.” I know that often times this is what I say, what I believe.
It may not sound all that different. It’s the exact same words that John used, just changed ever so slightly. But when this happens we make Jesus look like the demon gods of any other religion. For every religion other than the one based on the entire teachings of the God of the Bible tells us that we must do something first. That we must make the first move, the first action.
If only you’ll do this then God’ll love ya more. If only you could be better. Or maybe the voice tells you that it's some future version of you that God loves, and He's only putting up with you for the time being. This is the lie that so many of us believe. At least it's the lie that I find myself having to fight on an almost daily basis.
For those of us that belong to Christ we need only look back to that time that the Gospel first began to resound as truth within our souls. No one needed us to love Jesus. No one needed to tell us to read the Scriptures, to pray, to worship, to seek after Jesus more and more. But then something happened. Little by little the 'real world' began to slip back in. We began to hear that ago old like that 'God helps those who help themselves' (which is the exact opposite of the gospel, which clearly states that God helps those who could never help themselves).
This is not me saying that spiritual discipline is not important. It it. But we can't keep putting the cart before the horse and wonder why we haven't been going anywhere. Because, if you're anything like me, you've tried to will yourself to be more disciplined in reading, prayer, fasting, and fill in the blank. And yet each time we do this we start strong and finish strung out. Christian discipline this way is little more than a New Years resolution with Jesus sticker slapped on.
When we can get to the place where we truly see God as beautiful, wonderful, and loving then worship comes easy. Once we return to the place where we functionally believe that Jesus is more valuable than anything else and that Abba actually hears us, then prayer will once again become something that is not a labor but longed for. When we return to the place where we see what we have in Christ as more valuable than anything this would could ever give, then giving becomes begins to become a natural rhythm of life. To say it another way, the more we love Jesus the more we spend time with Him. And the more we spend time with Him, the more that we'll look like Him.
So in this Lenten many of us will be striving to decrease. But as we do so don't allow yourselves to rearrange the words first spoken John the Baptizer. Remember that the only way for us to decrease is for Christ to increase. Anything else will become little more than broken resolutions or legalistic fury.