From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples
It is also possible that you have picked up the mistaken impression that because it can be difficult to be a disciple at times then it follows that Jesus must be a harsh taskmaster who is never satisfied with us. That is absolutely not the case. It is very true that Jesus always wants us to go further, get stronger, become wiser, bear more fruit etc. However, He is also entirely realistic about the current level of our maturity at any given time.
Remember that Jesus was, is, and always will be, a human being, as well as being God. He therefore grew up and learned things gradually, just as we do. He also faced the same struggles we face and He knows how hard life can be for us at times:
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Hebrews 4:15 (RSV)
He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.Hebrews 5:2 (RSV)
Therefore, if we are a two week old Christian who knows very little and has only just begun to take the first faltering steps as a disciple, then Jesus will expect very little from us. He will be pleased by the tiniest little steps forward. He will also fully expect us to make errors, misjudge situations, get into messes and fall flat on our faces. In fact, He will expect us to do all those things regularly. That is what all new believers do.
They are spiritual infants and have got to learn by trial and error and by making mistakes. There is no other way. That’s how we learn anything in life, for example maths or playing the piano or riding a bike. We have no alternative but to start as absolute novices and gradually develop from there. Jesus is fully aware of that.
You do not become angry, or even feel dissatisfied, when your five year old falls off their bicycle when they first try to ride it without stabilisers. Likewise, Jesus is not angry when we try things and make mistakes. He fully understands and sympathises. He remembers that even He had to learn and develop gradually, as He grew up from a child to a youth to a young man. He was always God, even as a child, but He chose to limit Himself, such that even He had to learn things step by step. In terms of His human nature, He did not begin with complete knowledge or understanding. His wisdom increased over the years. Luke makes this clear when speaking of Jesus’s upbringing:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.Luke 2:52 (RSV)
We should therefore make sure we get this very clear and be reassured and encouraged. A piano teacher expects less from a five year old beginner than from a ten year old who has reached grade 3 or 4. And he expects less of that ten year old than of a 16 year old who is preparing to take grade 8. Yet, despite the fact that they are at different levels, the piano teacher could be equally pleased with all three of those youngsters.
Relative to their age and length of experience, they might all be doing equally well in his eyes. Or they may not. It depends on each child’s own diligence, commitment, work-rate and attentiveness etc. The teacher might, for example, be more pleased with the attitude and relative rate of progress of the 10 year old than with that of the 16 year old, even though the latter is further ahead in absolute terms.
We can all see that point very easily in the context of piano teachers and the like. But we need to grasp that it also applies to us as disciples. So, the fact that Jesus always wants us to go further, become better, and grow more like Him, does not mean that He is unreasonable or difficult to please. He may or may not be pleased with the current state of our attitude, or the level of our maturity relative to our age. But, whether He is or not, He will still want us to go further, try new things, learn more, and take more risks for Him.
Those will always be His ambitions for us, however much, or little, progress we may have made to date. But it absolutely doesn’t follow that He is therefore against us, or impossible to please. You have only to read the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three, to know that there are some people with whom Jesus is very pleased, even though they may not realise it.
So, we need to recognise that whatever stage we are at, Jesus will always want us to become more mature, even if we have already been growing in maturity for 70 years and have come a long way. But it doesn’t mean that He is against us, or that He is an endless critic who can never be satisfied. He is delighted with us at times and thrilled by any progress we make. But even so, He still urges us to keep going, and never to stop growing and maturing. That is the right way to see Jesus. He is infinitely understanding and realistic, but also intensely ambitious for us, as any good parent is.