Spiritual Growth

By Kevin Haag

Spiritual growth is essential to every Christian. Our spiritual journey begins the moment we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The gradual, life-long process of working out our salvation involves changing our lives to reflect God’s holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16). Our walk with God will be joyful and satisfying when we stay focused on eternal life instead of temporal things that we often occupy ourselves with (1 Peter 1:3-9).

A New Creation
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17)! When we come to faith in Jesus Christ we are born again (John 3:3), which means we are re-born spiritually. Does that mean that we immediately become perfect Christians? No, because we were born sinners (Romans 3:23), we still have our sinful nature to deal with. Jesus’ death delivered us from the overall reign of sin in our lives, but we still have to deal with indwelling sin in our flesh (the apostle Paul calls it our “mortal body”) (Romans 6:1-14). Spiritual growth is the continued transformation of our moral and spiritual character daily until our physical death.

Spiritual growth is not optional, spiritual re-birth must be followed by growth. God commands us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18). The expected growth of a Christian is evident when comparing how we used to live (old self) to how we are called to live (new self). The apostle Paul writes about the old self versus new self “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). (old self vs. new self see Ephesians 4:17-5:21; Colossians 3:1-17)

Spiritual Growth - Studying God’s Word
Through His Word, God provides us all the spiritual resources we need to grow. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Word is living, it is truth and it is sufficient for any and every situation or trial that we may experience in our lives (1 Peter 1:22-25; Psalm 19:7-14).

Spiritual growth will not take place unless we frequently spend time studying God’s Word. We not only need to study the Word, but meditate on it, memorize it, and apply it to our lives (James 1:22-25). Scripture exposes our sin and teaches us how to live like Christ. The Word of God must be active on our minds (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23). The Word of God must be active on our behavior (Romans 6:12-13; 1 Timothy 4:7). The apostle Peter compares our desiring of God’s Word to a new born baby, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). I understand this analogy as I have recently become a new father. When it was time for milk, our little girl would let us know. If she did not get it soon enough, she screamed and cried. Christians should have the same intense craving for God’s Word.

Spiritual Growth - Living By The Holy Spirit
The spiritual growth process requires us to declare war on sin, but we are not alone in this daily battle. As we strive to become more Christ-like, God is actively working in us (Philippians 2:12; Philippians 1:6). He has given us His Holy Spirit to live within us (Romans 8:9-11). Jerry Bridges explains the work of the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit strengthens us to holiness first by enabling us to see our need of holiness. He enlightens our understanding so that we begin to see God’s standard of holiness. Then he causes us to become aware of our specific areas of sin. One of Satan’s most powerful weapons is making us spiritually blind – unable to see our sinful character. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). No one can understand it and expose it except the Holy Spirit. [1]

The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to understand God’s Word and apply it to our lives (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). As we faithfully study the Word, God through the Holy Spirit conforms us to His character (2 Corinthians 3:18).

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16-17). Living by the Spirit is submitting to God’s Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. When we do this, the Spirit produces fruit in our lives. The process of spiritual growth is not only getting rid of sin in our lives, but possessing Christ-like qualities. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:22-26).

Spiritual Growth - Our Effort
God has given us the resources to grow. However, our part takes tremendous effort. The apostle Paul writes about the battle with sin, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:21-23). Paul is describing the battle that we face daily, our old self vs. new self (flesh vs. spirit). If we understand this teaching, then we understand the daily battle that we face requires us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Spiritual growth requires us to evaluate our lives according to God’s Word. There is no such thing as instant holiness. It is a gradual, life-long process that takes discipline. Do you think that Tiger Woods just steps out on the course and hits great golf shots without practice? Not only did he begin at an early age, but he practices by hitting golf ball after golf ball. In Luke 9:23, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves daily, “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jay E. Adams writes about habitual living:

Since God has made you this way, with the capacity for living according to habit, you must consciously take a hard look at your life. You must make conscious – and carefully examine your unconscious – responses. You must become aware of your life patterns and evaluate them by the Word of God. What you learned to do as a child you may be continuing to do as an adult. Pattern by pattern you must analyze and determine whether it has developed from practice in doing God’s will or whether it has developed as a sinful response. There is only one way to become a godly person, to orient one’s life toward godliness, and that means, pattern by pattern. The old sinful ways, as they are discovered, must be replaced by new patterns from God’s Word. That is the meaning of disciplined living. Discipline first requires self-examination, then it means crucifixion of the old sinful ways (saying “no” daily), and lastly, practice in following Jesus Christ in new ways by the guidance and strength that the Holy Spirit provides through His Word. The biblical way to godliness is not easy or simple, but it is the solid way. [2]

Spiritual Growth - Faithful in Prayer
Before we study the Word, we should pray and ask God to give us wisdom and understanding. We need to ask God to search our hearts to reveal sin that is hindering our spiritual growth. “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Psalm 119:33-37). (Psalm 139:23-24)

Spiritual Growth - Great Joy
Spiritual growth takes time and effort and requires a change to take place in our lives. We don’t always like change. We may even be tempted to give up or think that it is too hard. Remember the fruit of the Spirit? Each day, as we deny ourselves and live in the Spirit, He produces fruit in us. As we overcome sin and grow closer to God, we will experience peace and joy in our hearts. Temporary joy can come from things like a promotion at work or the home town team winning a championship. But true joy only comes from abiding in Christ daily. We are encouraged by Jesus in John 15:10-11, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

[1] Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 1996), 72.

[2] Jay E. Adams, Godliness Through Discipline, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1972), 12-13.

© New Testament Christian

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:
By Kevin Haag. © New Testament Christian. Website: new-testament-christian.com. Email: admin@new-testament-christian.com.

Recommended Resources

The Pursuit of Holiness
Jerry Bridges

The Cross-Centered Life
C.J. Mahaney

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