If you were to divide your Christian growth into the following four stages, where do you think you might fall along this spiritual continuum: Exploring Christ -- Growing in Christ -- Close to Christ -- Christ-Centered?
Of course, it might be difficult to answer this question without knowing something about each of those stages--which is where the book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson (2011, Willow Creek Assn) comes in. This landmark book is a synopsis of the findings of the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey first conducted by Willow Creek Community Church on themselves in 2004, then over the next six years on 250,000+ people in more than 1000 churches. The findings and analysis of this in-depth survey offer tremendous insight into how a church can help its people become devoted followers of Christ--surely a main goal of every church, right? Every church leader or ministry leader who wants to help people move along that continuum will find many helpful tools in Move.
Here, however, I simply want to talk about the the final stage of growth the authors identified as "Christ-Centered." Based on the survey, this is the most mature stage of a follower of Jesus. This is the goal, the pinnacle, of the Christian life. One who is Christ-Centered can say with the apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2.20). A Christ-Centered person can say, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). At this stage we have truly "become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8.29). Paul seemed to have a lot to say about being Christ-Centered. Better yet, he has a lot to say about Christ, period, no doubt as a reflection of his Christ-Centeredness.
In fact, I believe Paul talked more about becoming like Christ and centered on Christ than he did about going to heaven to be with Christ. Certainly the latter is part of the hope of a Christian (Phil 3.20; 2 Cor 5.8). But both Jesus and his apostles had far more to say about this life than the next. Being a Christian is about becoming Christ-Centered and Christ-Like. There was a time--perhaps in those earlier stages of growth--when I would say things like "It's not about the here and now, but the there and then," meaning that the Christian life is really about life in heaven as opposed to life on earth. Now I might tend to reverse that saying. In a sense, it's all about the here and now. Don't get me wrong. I know that this life is a mere breath compared to eternity (2 Cor 4.16-18). But being a Christian is not simply about waiting around for the hereafter while believing our ticket is punched for heaven. On the contrary, it's about what we are doing and becoming right now. If I don't wish to completely center my life on Christ now, why would I want to be with him in eternity? The reason Paul could say "...to die is gain" is because he could say "to live is Christ."