“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
These words of John the Baptist announcing the advent of Jesus’ public ministry contain a very important truth. Where spiritual growth is concerned, increase must always precede decrease. It is the increase of Jesus’ presence and work in our lives that cause the decrease of a strong self life and sin that often accompanies it. Like the budding of an oak tree in the spring, the new leaves naturally push the old leaves away.
There is a stark contrast that John is presenting here between two approaches to making positive, Christ-like changes in our lives It is a contrast between accomplishing change by the gift of grace that accompanies Christ’s increasing presence versus the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps type of self effort focused on decrease.
Left to our own devices most of us tend to gravitate toward the self effort side of the equation. We work so hard at decreasing and our attempts at trying to put an end to sinful habits and other unwelcome behavior invariably lead only to frustration.
John the Baptist turns the tables on this approach. His focus and hope are on the increasing preeminence of Christ. He finds a deep abiding joy in yielding himself to the diminishing of his ministry in deference to Jesus’ ministry. He chooses more of Jesus and less of himself. This is not a natural reaction.
Most of us want more of Jesus, but we also want more for ourselves. There is something in us that likes having our own way and wants the attention to be on us. I suspect John was tempted with this but he found his true joy in yielding to the decrease of self that must come with increase of Christ.
The self life is strong. It does not give up easily. In fact, in the natural we are no match for its self-serving demanding ways. Only an increase in Jesus can put self in its proper place – nailed to the cross.
When things are not going well, it’s time to acknowledge that Jesus must increase. If you want less of self, you need to ask for more of Jesus. Experiencing relationship difficulties and battling unforgiveness? Jesus must increase. Fear, doubt or financial problems? Jesus must increase. Too much fear, worry, insecurity, anger, or frustration? Jesus must increase! Self-pity and too much revolving around me? He must increase and the big “I” must die!
In the end, the decrease of unwanted things comes with welcome relief. But sometimes good things must also decrease when Jesus increases in our lives. John the Baptist experienced that with his forerunner ministry.
Good things, even Godly things are never an end in themselves. In God’s grander scheme, like the leaves of summer, they all serve God’s purpose in their season. But the end in view and the goal of it all is the glory of Christ. He must increase! And when Jesus increases it is never a losing proposition, because our decrease serves only to make more room for Him.
At a point early in my Christian walk I was struggling with some decrease that Jesus was engineering in my life and complaining to Him about it. I have never forgotten what He spoke to me in response. He said, “You have given me your all, and now I am slowly taking it.” It was my first understanding of His increase-decrease change process. I thought my magnanimous surrender to Him and voluntary decrease of my sin and self-centeredness had settled it once for all. But there self was in all it’s ignominious glory, raising its ugly head. Jesus had to remind me that my transformation was not about my decreasing by giving my all to Him, but more about His taking it as He increased His Lordship in my life.
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