The Height of Godliness
Over the years, I've noticed a recurring theme in conversations with other believers. Right after affirming their salvation in Christ, they conclude with these words: “. . . but I know I haven’t grown as I should.” How tragic would it be for parents if their children advanced in age but never grew bigger, stronger, and more capable? We’d all know something was drastically wrong. Yet that is what many Christians experience in their spiritual lives. Even more surprising, some of them are unaware or unconcerned about their condition. Imagine if next Sunday in your church, everyone’s spiritual maturity were displayed by their physical stature. How many would even be visible in the pews? Would there be any giants standing among the congregation?
Too many Christians think that receiving the Lord’s gift of salvation is the end goal—they say a prayer, purchase a Bible, and then coast through life as if nothing significant happened. Yet “being born again,” as Jesus described the beginning of the Christian journey (John 3:3-8), implies that with new life comes growth. It’s a basic principle: Living things grow, whether in the physical or spiritual realm.
The wisest decision you can make is to set your heart, mind, and will on doing whatever is necessary to grow up in Christ. Then whenever the Lord gives you a specific responsibility of any kind, you will be prepared and equipped to fulfill your calling. However, if you’re still a spiritual baby, it doesn’t matter how mentally or physically prepared you are; you still won’t have what it takes to fulfill that responsibility with biblical wisdom and insight. And in the end, that’s what really matters.
Essentials for Christian Growth
There are seven essential elements for making progress in your spiritual development, pleasing God, and proving yourself useful to Him.
Salvation.The first and most obvious requirement is a relationship with the Lord. Since we all arrive in this world spiritually dead, the only way to be brought to life is to be born again. If you have truly experienced this new birth, the fruit of abiding fellowship with Christ will appear over the course of your life (John 15:4-5). However, if after a lifetime of considering yourself a Christian there has been no change in your character, attitudes, words, and behavior, now is the time to make absolutely certain that you trust Christ as your Savior. As soon as you make that decision, His Holy Spirit comes to live within you and produces the fruit of a genuine spiritual life (Gal. 5:22-23).
Scripture.You cannot expect to grow in the Lord if you open your Bible only on Sunday mornings. No one can thrive for extended periods of time on one meal a week, and the same is true for your spiritual life. You need a daily supply of the Word, and I’m not talking about a quick snack. This is nourishment that needs time to sink in, transform your thoughts, shape your character, and motivate you to obey.
God wants you to search the Scriptures for yourself. If you experience challenges with understanding the Bible, my advice is to keep right on reading it. You have a teacher—the Holy Spirit—living inside you, who will guide you into all truth if you’ll just give Him a chance (John 16:13). But by giving up too soon, you deny Him the opportunity to open your mind to understand.
Sharing. The third essential element for growth is sharing your life—first with the Lord, then with others. Although salvation unlocks the door for a relationship with God, the depth of fellowship depends upon your willingness to be open and honest with Him. He wants you to think of Him, not as a distant Savior but as your intimate friend. The apostle Peter admonishes us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). However, you’ll never learn to know Him unless you engage in intimate conversation with Him. Tell Him what’s on your mind and how you feel. Cultivate a life of continuous honesty, confession, and repentance.
The second area of sharing is with other people. We all need a few Christian friends with whom we can openly share our struggles, heartaches, and good times, too (Rom. 12:15). As God pours His life into yours through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, He wants you to let it flow on to others. You can’t live like an island and expect to grow in the Lord. Christ has designed His body to be interconnected—helping, supporting, and praying for each other. But if you receive and never give, you’ll become stagnant and stop growing.
Suffering. Although no one likes suffering, it’s one of the choice tools God uses to mature us (James 1:2-4). If you doubt this, look back at your own life. Have you grown more when everything was running smoothly or when you were in the grip of affliction? Most of us would have to admit it was the latter. During the hard times, we get new glimpses of the Lord, gain greater understanding, and develop godly character traits. For instance, how would we ever learn patience if we never had to endure difficult circumstances? What physical exercise accomplishes in strengthening the body, suffering does in building character. Without it, we’d be weak, worldly Christians.
We are not above our Savior. His was the path of suffering, and as His disciples, we are called to walk the same road. The key to growth is submission to the Lord in trials while seeking to learn what He is teaching us through that hardship.
Stretching.Whenever you feel as if God is asking something beyond your abilities and strength, you’re being stretched. Though the experience is difficult, without this process, you’d never grow. How will your faith in Him increase unless it is tested? When a trial is so painful that it seems God doesn’t care, you have to decide whether to believe your emotions or Scripture, which proclaims His unfailing love.
At other times, the Lord might ask you to serve Him in a task beyond your abilities. When He overrules all your excuses and you finally step out in obedience, you’ll discover a God who is bigger than all your inadequacies. Although there may be a learning curve, eventually you’ll realize that He has stretched you to fit right into His will for your life.
Solitude. Your spiritual life needs rest and rejuvenation, just as your body does. That’s why solitude is essential for spiritual growth. Some of your greatest leaps forward will come when you’ve learned to spend quiet time alone with the Lord. From all outward appearances, nothing is happening, but God’s work is often invisible. When you shut out the clamor of the world and quiet your soul, you’ll experience His presence. During those times of solitude, He gives glimpses of the intimate relationship available to those who delight in Him.
Service. An essential part of spiritual growth is engaging in the good works? God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). We are left here on earth, not to live for ourselves but to serve the Lord by helping one another. As Christians, we are called to emulate Jesus, and He came as a servant (Matt. 20:28). If you are preoccupied with your own agenda and have no time for others, you’re too busy to grow up in Christ.
The Cost of Growing
In the Christian life, spiritual growth should be the norm, not the exception. Yet because of passivity, too many believers are still spiritual babies. The Lord doesn’t force us to mature, and the process is not automatic. It requires intentionality. Each of these seven disciplines involves dying to your own desires, priorities, preferences, and understanding. You’ll have to look at life from God’s perspective, entrust yourself to His loving care, and obey His commands and promptings. The writer of Hebrews explains that mature believers have their senses trained because of practice (Heb. 5:12-14). If you will diligently apply these essential elements for growth, in time you’ll experience the joys of maturity.
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.
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