Can you help with a riddle? How is it possible for someone to go to church year after year, listen to great sermons, read the Bible, absorb Christian classics, find ways to serve, and even attend ministry conferences—and change very little?

Strange question, I know, but not hypothetical. In fact I ask it with someone specific in mind, someone whose minimal spiritual progress I've watched with mounting frustration.

That person is me.

Don't get me wrong. The activities above have spurred growth in my life, especially early on. It was reading through the Gospels as a teen that fueled my nascent spiritual journey. Great Christian literature has deepened my faith. And preaching has profoundly shaped the way I see God.

But in recent years I've detected a troubling phenomenon, a sort of law of diminishing returns. The Christian life isn't a self-improvement program; it's all about God, not us. I get that. Still, as we examine ourselves, shouldn't we see ...

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