A watched pot never boils.
I like how the Dutch Reformed theologian J. C. Kromsigt put it when he said, “The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.”1 Or, as the saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.” The idea is that when you’re waiting for something to occur, it will never come to fruition so long as you are concentrating on it. And yes, the same principle applies to your Christian life. Let me explain.
One of the most detrimental phrases Christians have ever latched onto is, “What Would Jesus Do?” It sounds good on the surface — we all want to be challenged to live like Jesus did. The “WWJD” reminder was printed everywhere and seemed like the perfect way for people to change their behavior. Being nicer was as simple as looking at your wrist and seeing this phrase. Now you wouldn’t have to take cookies out of the cookie jar, you wouldn’t have to sarcastically shame that friend in front of all your other friends. Now you would be more patient with idiotic drivers who’ve remarkably forgotten how to drive. Right? Wrong. Inside this seemingly innocent — and perhaps well-meaning — phrase is a devastating and destructive approach to the Christian life, revealing flawed motivations and unrealistic expectations of what being a Christian actually means. “WWJD” wrongfully makes you and what you do take center-stage. It puts the spotlight on you instead of your Redeemer.
This little moniker places all the emphasis of Christian living squarely on your shoulders. Now the believer is given all the attention instead of the One in whom that belief is found! Now we’re no longer confronted with the paradigm-shifting reality of Jesus’s wonder-working performance on the cross. Instead we’re content with catapulting our own performance and cutting down that of others. “WWJD” makes us content to look in instead of looking up. When the focus is on what Jesus might “do,” you always forget what Jesus has done — you forget the gospel. And if the gospel is lost, all hope is lost too.
Herein lies the dilemma: we casually read the Bible and see phrases like “make every effort” (2 Pt 1:5) or “be all the more diligent” (2 Pt 1:10) or “work out your own salvation” (Phil 2:12) and erroneously conclude that it’s all about us and what we do. Want to be a “good” Christian? Just remember “What Would Jesus Do?” But that’s not the import of those passages, nor is the Christian message one of Christian performance. Discipleship and Christian living is sometimes portrayed this way, as a biblical “12 Steps to Sanctification,” or “Christian to-do list,” when, if followed, will make you a successful Christ-follower. But that’s not even what discipleship is all about. You don’t become a “better” Christian, a more sanctified Christian by focusing on you. A watched pot never boils — a narcissistic believer never prospers.
Discipleship is all about reorienting our lives back to the gospel by the influence and presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s “looking unto Jesus,” from, in, and for everything. (Heb 12:1–3) It’s re-training and re-evangelizing Christians to re-think how they approach Christian. It’s re-learning and rejoicing in all that Jesus has finished. The Christian life is all about Christ’s performance, not yours. This is the fuel of the Christian life. Salvation isn’t a summons to work harder and do more and be better in order to get something, it’s an invitation to revel and rest in all that you already have in Jesus. It’s not something that must be accomplished, but something that’s already been accomplished on your behalf, through the perfect sacrifice and substitution of Another.
Christ secured everything for us on the cross; therefore, our relationship with God is eternally settled. “The office of faith is not to work,” says the eminent Scottish churchman Horatius Bonar, “but to cease working; not to do anything, but to own that all is done; not to bring near the righteousness, but to rejoice in it as already near.”2 This changes everything. Now instead of zeroing in on what we have to do and enslaving ourselves to our performance, we’re celebrating what Jesus has done and delighting in the freedom he has made possible.
J. C. Kromsigt, quoted in Tullian Tchividjian and Nick Lannon, “November 13,” It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).
Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1864), 85.