By RBI President, Rev. Ed Dunnington, CFP®
If you’re like me, the new year is a time when you think about the past year and plan for the future. As you well know, the events of 2020 were not anything we had originally planned for, but God was graciously at work. In that spirit, I want to reflect on retirement savings through an unexpected prism – the Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching on progressive sanctification. Yes, even our retirement savings is part of our journey with Christ.
The Confession honestly describes the war in our souls between sin and righteousness, while also giving weary combatants a glimpse of a future when the war will be over. It states:
In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (WCF XIII, 3).
In other words, believers are called by God and empowered by the Spirit to reflect the character of Christ. You may wonder what this has to do with retirement saving. This month and next, I will consider that question from two perspectives.
Our Retirement Account is not Our Savior
We start with the crucial point that the war against sin is often waged on the battlefield of finances. The Apostle Paul warns that “… the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). His message is simple: money is dangerous to our souls. A few verses later he refines the point. “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). This is the language of idolatry, inviting us to honestly assess where we set our hopes, and warning that money is a seductive false god.
In response, it may be tempting to reject saving and planning altogether. After all, if money is so dangerous, why save it? But Paul points to a better way; the way of generosity. Immediately after warning that money is a seductive false god, Paul urges the wealthy to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). For Christians, the antidote to greed is not asceticism, it is generosity. As the Spirit convicts us of our idolatry of wealth, we don’t renounce money, we redeploy it to serve and love our neighbors.
Here is where progressive sanctification helps. It reminds us that the war against greed is real, and that generosity grows slowly. But the good news of the gospel is that the spirit of the age is no match for the Spirit of God. Remember the regenerate part “does overcome” and the saints do “grow in grace.” As this year begins, I encourage you to ponder the question “How is God calling you to steward what he has given you so you can grow more generous?”
At RBI, we use the tools of financial planning and retirement savings not to simply generate wealth, but to enable PCA ministry workers and their families to live generously in every season of life. May God grow us all in the fruit of generosity.
Generosity Grows Slowly
This month, I want to dive deeper into what it means to grow in the fruit of generosity. To do so, consider how believers grow in other areas of obedience, such as self-control. Simply wanting self-control does not make us eat less during the holidays. Instead, we use the means of grace to grow in grace. We meditate on God’s word, we identify areas where we lack self-control, we examine our hearts’ desires, we remember that God has supplied all we need for life and godliness, we employ the help of friends to encourage us, and we pray in dependence asking God to give us more self-control. And slowly, over time, we learn to rely on the Spirit, rather than our unhealthy desires, to guide our choices. This is progressive sanctification, and is familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to pass up a second desert or withhold a critical comment.
Generosity’s growth follows the same path. We do not become more generous by a simple act of the will. We use the means of grace. Reflecting on God’s generosity in Christ, honestly admitting and repenting of selfishness, and praying for generosity should fertilize the growth of a generous spirit as our hearts are conformed to the heart of Christ.
Prepare for Future Generosity
This perspective on generosity reveals the role of retirement savings in our personal spiritual maturity. Simply put, since we hope and expect to be more generous over time, we should prepare now to give in the future. Seen in this way, saving for retirement shifts from an exercise in wealth creation to a means of generosity; a tool that enables us to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
This is a challenging task, and one that cuts against the grain of a late-capitalism which bombards us on every front with the claim that consumption and acquisition are paths to peace, meaning, security, and significance. No wonder growth in generosity is slow. Our culture has bought the lie that money and the things it can buy bring a form of salvation, and we must fight with every gospel weapon to remember and live out the truth. Wealth is not a savior; it is a seductive false God. Only Jesus can give the security our hearts crave. But the good news of the gospel is that the spirit of the age is no match for the Spirit of our God. And as our Confession of Faith reminds us “the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (WCF 13.3; emphasis added).
At RBI, we want to walk with you on this path of sanctification. Let us help you plan for retirement. Not so you can indulge materialistic impulses, but so you can grow in the grace of generosity.
Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.