Progress is a word that we hear often in our modern society. We are told that we must always be moving forward, improving, and making progress. This idea permeates our culture and has even influenced the church. But what exactly does the Bible say about progress? As Christians, it is important that we evaluate cultural ideas like progress in light of God’s word.
The concept of progress comes from the Enlightenment period of the 18th century. It promotes the idea that through science, technology, and reason, mankind can continuously improve society, moving forward to a utopian future. This thinking led to the Industrial Revolution and the rapid technological advancements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
While technological progress has brought many good things, the mindset of “always moving forward” often leaves God out of the picture. It rejects tradition and absolute moral truths in favor of a nebulous idea of the future good of mankind. As Christians, we must be careful not to uncritically accept all ideas of progress. Instead, we should evaluate what true progress means from a biblical perspective.
- The modern notion of progress comes from Enlightenment thinking and often leaves out God.
- As Christians, we should evaluate ideas of progress based on God’s word.
- True progress aligns with God’s truth and brings him glory.
- Progress in science and technology is good in submission to ethical boundaries.
- Spiritual growth and the advancement of the gospel should be our focus.
- God may advance his kingdom in unexpected ways that differ from worldly ideas of progress.
- Our ultimate hope is in the full manifestation of God’s kingdom at Christ’s return.
Defining Progress Biblically
To understand what progress means from a Christian perspective, we need to start with God’s word. The Bible does not use the word “progress” directly, but it addresses many related concepts that can give us insight into God’s view of progress.
At the most basic level, progress means moving forward, advancing, or improving. The Bible speaks often about walking in the right path, pursuing holiness, and growing in wisdom and knowledge. Proverbs 4:18 describes the path of the righteous: “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (NKJV). Here we see a picture of ethical and spiritual progress – shining ever brighter as we walk the path of righteousness.
As we obey God’s commands, we progress in sanctification and grow to be more like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 4:1, 3). The Christian life should demonstrate progress unto greater Christlikeness, even if this growth is slow and steady.
Progress in Knowledge and Wisdom
In addition to spiritual growth, we also make progress by increasing in knowledge and wisdom:
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
“The righteous grow powerful” (Job 17:9 NLT).
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge…for the Lord gives wisdom” (Proverbs 23:12, Proverbs 2:6).
As we study God’s word, fellowship with other believers, and live out our faith, we gain knowledge, wisdom and discernment. Progress in understanding leads to greater discernment between good and evil, truth and deception. We must desire to know God more and make progress in understanding his ways.
Progress in Spreading the Gospel
The book of Acts shows the early church making remarkable progress in spreading the gospel message throughout the world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the fearful disciples became bold witnesses for Christ (Acts 2). The book summarizes:
“And the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7)
“So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).
Bringing people from darkness to light through faith in Jesus is true spiritual progress. Even amid opposition and persecution, the gospel continued advancing in lives changed by God’s power. The growth and strengthening of God’s church should be our focus more than any worldly measures of progress.
Progress in Science and Technology
Progress in science and technology can also be seen as part of God’s common grace – his undeserved favor and blessings to all people. Advances in medicine, transportation, communication, and standard of living contribute to human flourishing and the reduction of poverty and disease. We celebrate these good gifts of God’s creation and the human capacity for discovery he has given us.
However, we must also receive science and technology under the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture. Sinful human pride can lead people to have an idolatrous trust in technological progress to solve all problems. Christians should retain a biblically informed skepticism about claims that science will bring continuous progress. With new discoveries also come new opportunities for evil and the ability to destroy lives more efficiently. Any good gifts from God can be distorted by sinful desires. We cannot have naïve faith that progress in science and technology will lead inevitably to human utopia and solve humanity’s root problems apart from Christ.
Boundaries for Scientific Progress
To align with biblical values, scientific progress needs ethical boundaries. Christians should advocate for the following:
- The dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. This rules out abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia.
- Stewardship and care for God’s creation. We cannot destroy the environment in pursuit of progress.
- Human dignity and rights for all people, regardless of race, sex, or socioeconomic status.
- Family, marriage, and sexuality according to God’s design in Scripture.
- Human flourishing that encompasses spiritual health, not just physical.
- Avoidance of creating human-animal hybrids and other affronts to human dignity.
- Humility and wisdom in the use and distribution of new technologies.
Within biblical moral boundaries, great progress, blessing, and human flourishing can occur. Science itself is a gift from God that displays his creative brilliance and order in the universe he made. All truth is God’s truth. Our calling is to take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), including new scientific discoveries.
The Unpredictability of God’s Kingdom
While we can make some general observations from Scripture about progress, we must also be cautious about imposing our own ideas of progress onto God’s plans. He reminds us:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
God’s kingdom rarely advances in straightforward, predictable ways. The incarnation came through an obscure peasant girl in Nazareth, not a palace in Rome. The Messiah was born in a stable and executed as a criminal before rising again on the third day.
In Acts 1:6, the disciples still assume that Jesus’ kingdom will progress in an obvious political sense: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). They are expecting him to progress history right away toward Israel’s glory and independence. Jesus makes it clear that the Father has different plans and times that are not for them to know (v.7). The kingdom would advance first through the church and spiritual rebirth, not political power.
We must be cautious not to limit God or predict exactly how he will work. His plans transcend our understanding of progress. The kingdom may advance through small, faithful acts of service more than big, flashy programs. God uses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). We should look expectantly for his kingdom impact in unlikely places while also making faithful effort to live out his commands.
Our Ultimate Hope of Future Progress
While progress occurs in this age by God’s grace, Scripture also presents a glorious picture of future progress when Christ returns. The full manifestation of God’s kingdom and the creation made new will far surpass anything we can experience now.
Revelation 21-22 paints a vivid image of the future progress we await as believers:
- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (21:4)
- “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (22:5)
- “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (22:3-4)
- “And they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads.” (22:4)
What an amazing hope we have as Christians! All of creation will be restored to God’s perfect design. We will live in resurrected bodies free from sin, disease, and death. The effects of the curse will be totally reversed. We will dwell with God and enjoy his presence forever. This future hope puts even the greatest progress in this age in perspective. All our work and growth here on earth is preparation for our eternal progress of becoming perfectly whole under Christ’s reign.
In a culture obsessed with progress, Christians need biblical discernment. Progress is good when it accords with God’s truth and brings him glory. Our ultimate progress is growth in Christlikeness through the Spirit’s work. The advancement of the gospel and God’s kingdom should be our priority over material or worldly success. Scientic progress requires ethical boundaries to prevent idolatry and the devaluation of human life. We must reject the idea of automatic progress and humbly submit our work to God’s higher ways. While we cannot predict God’s plans, we can live faithfully in obedience to his word. Our hope is fixed on the surpassing progressive renewal of all things at Christ’s return and the triumph of his perfect kingdom.