“He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).”
God’s Purpose is irresistible. This understanding is founded on two basic TRUTHS revealed in the Scriptures. They are Two Universal Spiritual Principles. These two Principles are universal, meaning they apply to everyone, everywhere; and they are spiritual, which means they are not limited by time or space.
Although these two Principles can be illustrated throughout the entire Bible, they are both clearly presented to us in John 3:30. The Two Universal Spiritual Principles are The Law of Increase and The Law of Decrease.
“He [Christ] must increase.” “We, and all creation must decrease.”
In other words, everything God did, is doing, and will do is related towards revealing His Son and bringing us into the full knowledge of Him. The goal is for Christ to have the preeminence in all things, beginning with us individually as disciples, then with the Church, and finally with all creation, “that He may be All in All.”
He MUST increase. Isaiah tells us that there will be no end of the increase of His government and peace. In the beginning was the Word, and we can see how God has worked steadily from the beginning to increase Christ. From the Old Testament, we see Christ coming into view. Then the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and Christ is increasing yet again.
Next, He comes to dwell within us, and this is a major increase. Finally, He begins to conform us to His own image through the indwelling Life. If we are growing up into Him then He is increasing daily. Eventually, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Beyond this, we are told that God will continue to reveal His Son in the ages to come, bringing us into depths and dimensions of Christ that we cannot fathom.
God is not moving backward, but in the Son and through the Son, He moves steadily forward. Christ MUST increase. This is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. It is impossible to have the Life of the Lord but not have the Law of that Life. And the Law of Life is that Christ must increase.
What Prevents the Increase of Christ?
“But I must decrease.” Why doesn’t God reveal His Son to us, in all His glory, all at once? What prevents Christ from filling all things and having the preeminence now? Why do we not yet see all things submitted to Him? Because we must be decreased. If He is to become greater then I must become lesser. When Paul says, “Not I, but Christ,” he is saying “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Just as all things are working together towards God’s purpose of increasing Christ, so all things are working together towards decreasing us. It does not matter if we understand it or not. It does not matter if we believe in it or agree with it. You are being decreased just the same, and Christ is being increased.
Scientists call this decreasing “inevitable and steady deterioration”. We can observe this in creation. The present things are groaning and travailing in pain, deteriorating in order to make way for a new heaven and a new earth. We begin to die as soon as we are born. We can look in our own bodies for evidence of “inevitable and steady deterioration” as we move towards a redeemed body. But more importantly, WE, the “I”, the “Self”, is being decreased that Christ may fill us.
How are we decreased?
Let us say right away that you can’t decrease yourself, to become an ascetic, and crawl around in the dirt in abject poverty. It is not an outward decreasing, but an inward decreasing, a coming to the end of ourselves.
The Kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. Earlier, John said, “A man can have nothing except he receives it from heaven,” (John 30:27). Now we may have quite a bit, but if we obtained it from a source other than Christ, it amounts to nothing. Only those sufficiently decreased, the poor in spirit, can see this. This poverty in spirit cannot be achieved through self-effort. In fact, part of the decreasing process is the realization that I can do nothing of myself, including decreasing myself. To have no confidence in the flesh.
In the world, we will experience temptations, testings, and trials. We will experience persecution, tribulation, and afflictions of soul and body. We will experience mistreatment and misunderstanding. It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling.
What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. The difference between overcoming and not overcoming lies in our response to what happens.
Paul did not pray to be weak so that he could be strong. Naturally speaking, we despise weakness. We prefer strength. But human strength is an illusion. It is not true strength. The Lord shows us His grace is made perfect (or, is matured) through our weakness. Now, Paul rejoices in his weakness, in his being decreased: for “when I am weak, then I am strong.” To the degree that we accept the decrease of ourselves, to that degree will we experience the increasing of Christ.
We cannot walk the narrow path until we have entered the narrow gate. But we cannot assume that because we have entered the narrow gate we are now finished. Most people lay stress on the gate, and their goal is to get people just far enough through the gate that they can claim salvation. That is where most of the Church sits today, just inside the narrow gate, rejoicing in a future salvation, a future heaven, a future return of Christ, and a future reward. But the narrow gate is only the beginning. The narrow gate only opens the door to the narrow way. It is the narrow way which leads to Life, and few find it. Fewer still walk to the end of it.
Now what we are discussing is an event as well as a process. There is a once-and-for-all decision to follow Christ, but we have to keep on following. Entering the gate is a once-and-for-all event, but walking the path is a process. We gain everything when we enter the gate, but we must walk the path in order to now live out of what we have. We are new creations, and we are being changed daily into the image of Christ. We died with Christ once: yet we die daily. We were crucified with Him once: yet we take up the cross daily. We were raised with Him once: yet we experience His Life daily. We were ascended with Him and we were seated with Him in the heavenly once: but we live out the heavenly position in our daily walk, daily ascending above the earth, above the natural, to sit with Him in His throne as overcomers.
God wills that “all men would be saved and would come to the full knowledge of Truth.” Those who merely enter the narrow gate have yet to satisfy God’s heart. There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, but as Arthur Katz has said, “Many are saved, but few are converted.” It is God’s will, His desire, that we come to the end of ourselves so that Christ may have the preeminence in us. Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Hebrews tell us that Christ is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image (or exact representation) of His person. Likewise, God’s purpose for us as disciples (and by extension, the Church) is “if you have seen a disciple, you have seen Jesus.” The Christian is to be the brightness of Christ’s glory and the exact representation of His person.
This is beyond “mere salvation”, this is conversion, this is conformity to the very image of Christ. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Live and Learn
If we have truly yielded our lives to Him and long to know Him, then everything we experience is working to increase Christ and decrease us. On the positive side, the Holy Spirit is working to bring us into a perfect knowledge of Christ. The Spirit is increasing Him, leading us into “all Truth.” On the negative side, the principle of the Cross is working to decrease us, to bring us to the end of ourselves, to reduce us to nothing.
We must see that for every decrease of Self, Christ is increased. Even in our discussions, we groan inwardly about having to die daily, having to give up our way and our will. We ought instead to be excited about Christ being increased, and how much He stands to gain in us and through us. He MUST increase, but you MUST decrease. It is better to relinquish everything now, on a voluntary basis, and lose our lives in order to gain our real Life. It is more glorious to enter the Kingdom out of a desire to give Christ the preeminence than to enter kicking and screaming and crying because we love ourselves too much. Make no mistake, if it is the Kingdom you seek, the Kingdom you will find, but you must be changed in order to enter therein. If you seek power from God you will have to accept weakness in yourself. If you want to rule with Him you must suffer with Him. If you want His Life you must give up your life. You can have either one you want, but you cannot have both. There is no increase without decrease, and there is no decrease without the increase.
May the Son be increased through these words. Amen.