Progress Is God’s Most Important Product – Greg Albrecht
Friends and Partner letter dated February, 2021
Before Ronald Reagan (the 40th president of the United States) became involved in politics, he was an actor. Some of you may remember in the early 1960’s Reagan was the host of the General Electric Theater, then an anchor of Sunday night television. The slogan of the General Electric Company (G.E.) was “progress is our most important product.”
The introduction to the General Electric Theater (underwritten by G.E.) included the line: “In engineering, in research, in manufacturing skill, in the values that bring a better, more satisfying life,at General Electric, progress is our most important product” (my emphasis). A later G.E. advertising slogan, still in use today, claims “we bring good things to life.”
G.E. spent a fortune to associate itself, in the minds of consumers, with the generally accepted definition of “progress.” In the first half of the 20th century G.E. produced, under the name of progress, the generation and supply of electricity, radio, television, aviation engines, and a plethora of electric appliances for the home, many marketed as “time-saving” devices.
More recently, G.E. products, which it defines as progress, include computers and the digital industry, power generation including renewable energy, aviation, finance, healthcare and countless home appliances. You probably have at least one G.E. appliance in your kitchen.
“Progress is our most important product.” Who would disagree progress is important?
Most citizens of this world agree that innovations and inventions like refrigerators, electric mixers, toasters, washing machines, dishwashers and air-conditioners have indeed produced “a better, more satisfying life.” No doubt these devices are good things for life.
It has been astutely observed many inventions that were initially intended as “good things for life” were used at a later date to maim and murder people. And it is also true that many of our most important innovations in this 21st century, like computers and the networks that connect them, were originally designed as instruments of warfare.
Since “weapons of mass destruction” are not understood as progress, G.E., while rightly proud of its role in the physical progress of our contemporary world, does not publicize its role in nuclear weapons production. Nuclear weapons and warheads are certainly not progress!
What is progress? How is improvement defined? While there is no absolute consensus for physical definitions of growth and development, when we consider these questions in the light of the gospel, the picture can become even more confusing. What is spiritual progress?
Many people think being a good Christian is all about progress and self-betterment—getting better spiritual grades so that their report card will prove to their heavenly Father that they are making progress.
They think that God is primarily concerned with them becoming more moral and virtuous—and building more character—all which they have been taught will please God and initially achieve his love and blessings and then, as they continue their lives, maintain God’s love and blessings.
Spiritual growth is a blessing and gift of God, and therefore growth is fundamental to our hopes and dreams. We want to remain in Christ as new spiritual creations of God, rather than to return to the old man and old woman we were before he spiritually transformed us. We don’t want to fall back to where we once were, spiritually speaking. We desire to grow up and mature in Christ… but of course, our efforts will never produce spiritual growth. God does.
When it comes to following Christ, perhaps we could rephrase that famous G.E. slogan: Progress is God’s Most Important Product.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10, my emphasis).
When we follow Jesus, everything is given—everything is a gift. The problem humans have with God’s grace is that it is humbling. Humans would prefer to innovate and work and struggle to produce what they define as progress so that they can assume they earn and deserve it. By contrast, if and when we receive the progress of God, we are stripped of our pride and pretense, and give up the illusion that we control our own destiny. God’s gifts are not humanly produced or earned.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Spiritual growth and improvement for Christ-followers is growth and maturity in, by and through the grace of God. Spiritual maturity can actually seem, to the human eye, like failure. Real progress in Christ can even feel like regress.
Real progress in Christ, by the grace of God, can be realized only when it happens to us—when it is received rather than something we achieve by physical exertion and hustle.
The birth, life and death of Jesus was characterized by dirt, stench and suffering. He was abandoned, betrayed and hated. In many religious settings the humility and poverty of God in the flesh is minimized—the self-sacrifice of Jesus is cleaned up and sanitized. The gospel then becomes more about white robes, stained glass windows and gold crosses than about suffering and following in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior.
The cross of Christ, the supreme act of love, was seen as a failure by his own disciples. They perceived it as ignominy and shame. The centerpiece and core of our faith, the cross of Christ, was understood by the Roman government and the Jewish religion as a humiliating failure and defeat.
As Christ-followers, we don’t primarily measure progress, growth and improvement solely in terms of creature comforts. Our ultimate definition of success and progress is not of a better world where people acquire, possess and “own” more appliances and gadgets. By the grace of God, we are given another definition of spiritual progress and success.
Paul pleaded with God to take away his unspecified “thorn in the flesh.” God told him that his grace was sufficient and that his power was made perfect in weaknesses. Paul concluded:
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am [physically] weak, then I am [spiritually] strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, my emphasis).
Sometimes God’s progress is given to us in the midst of sickness and loss and grief and heartache. We all yearn for a better tomorrow. We all hope for a better world, and we know it will be a better world one day. But is a better world ultimately defined by our good health and wealth? Is the world and our lives in particular as Christ-followers necessarily better and improved when, as G.E. promises, we enjoy a “better, more satisfying life”?
Much of our growth in Christ involves struggle, perseverance, challenge, adversity and suffering.Again, let me reiterate—those experiences do not produce growth in Christ—God alone produces spiritual progress. When God produces spiritual improvement in us, when we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we often experience growth pains. Spiritual growth pains can be evidence of the inner work of God within us.
Physical progress and self-improvement is not the proof of ultimate joy and satisfaction for Christ followers. Growth in Christ is not measured by better health and more money. Our spiritual path as we follow Jesus involves following him, wherever that road may take us. God is producing his works and his progress in us—for that we are deeply and eternally thankful.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body….
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 5:7-10, 16-18).
Thanks be to God that of all things we are his most important product—and that he arranges,supplies and directs our spiritual progress for his own sake. We are his product!