FOUNDATIONS FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The Holy Spirit works as a supernatural catalyst throughout our life. He first brings us into a personal relationship with Jesus and then molds us into His likeness. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). God is ultimately responsible for all spiritual growth in the believer’s life.
2. Effort, diligence, and discipline are absolutely necessary for growth.
If God is responsible for our growth, can we simply bask in the glory of His grace, waiting for Him to propel us into His orbit of holiness and bliss? Paradoxically, God’s complete provision for our growth is not undercut by the necessity of our effort and discipline. In fact, Scripture seems to suggest that our diligence is essential to the growth process.
In 2 Peter 1:1–11, we learn that God is both the source and dynamo for godly living. Additionally we are challenged to “make every effort” to build on what God has given. God’s provision for our growth becomes the reason why we should diligently work toward Christlike qualities. While God supplies the resources and enablement for our growth, we must supply the effort.
3. Spiritual growth potential may not be easy to see at first.
As we evaluate our lives, we must be careful not to underestimate what God can do in and through us. Rather than compare ourselves to spiritual giants at the end of their pilgrimages, we would be wiser to acknowledge where those people began their walk with God. When Samuel was looking for God’s choice to replace Saul as king of Israel, he was tempted to choose David’s older brother Eliab. However, God clearly rebuked Samuel for his lack of spiritual discernment. “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Who could have guessed that a red-haired shepherd boy would become the most famous king in the history of Israel?
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, responds to their preoccupation with the more external qualities for leadership (1 Cor. 1:26–29). God does not confine His assignments only to the brightest and the best. Rather, He chooses people who have a heart to follow Him regardless of their natural abilities or talents.
4. Spiritual growth depends on an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives us a clear illustration of the link between growth and a close relationship with Him in John 15:1–17. Here Jesus describes Himself as the vine and Christians as the branches. The principle repeated over and over again in this passage is that the only way to grow and bear fruit in our lives is to stay closely attached to the vine.
In this passage Jesus describes at least five benefits of staying closely connected. The first benefit is fruitfulness in our lives (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 18). From Galatians 5:22–23, we discover that fruitfulness is at least in part associated with the fruit of the Spirit.
The second benefit is found in verse 4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” As we stay close to the Lord, He promises to stay close to us.
The third benefit of maintaining an intimate relationship with Jesus is answered prayer. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (v. 7).
The fourth benefit of walking in a close and intimate relationship is what Jesus terms “joy” (v. 11). More than simple happiness, based on circumstances, the joy that Jesus describes relates to a supernatural inner peace that brings emotional satisfaction even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances.
The fifth benefit of staying close to Jesus and obeying His Word is friendship with Jesus. As He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (vv. 14–15). At this level of friendship with Jesus, He enables His disciples to discern God’s Word with more clarity and insight.
5. Growth is primarily an inside-out process.
Growth relates more to the condition of a person’s heart on the inside than to what a person encounters from the outside. Biblical content, experience, and relationships help us grow only as we interact and respond from the heart under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Principles of growth are learned only as we wrestle to integrate them into the core of our being.
Since the beginning of recorded biblical history, God has challenged humankind to offer wholehearted worship and service (Deut. 6:4–6).
6. Spiritual growth relates to every aspect of our lives.
What begins inside the person eventually affects every aspect of life—family, friendships, work, leisure, and business. God’s desire is that all His children love Him with their whole being—body, mind, and spirit (Deut. 6:5). Spiritual growth, seen in this light, is a process in which people willingly allow the Holy Spirit to control increasingly more of their lives.
8. Significant growth occurs within the context of frustration, suffering, or challenge
There is ample evidence in Scripture also to point to the principle that we often grow most through difficult times. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul commends the faith of those in the church. In the next verse Paul tells us what was taking place in their community that precipitated their growth: “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” Throughout church history, persecution and suffering have only served to make the church stronger and more resilient.
Suffering is presented as a necessary and even normal part of the Christian’s life. Romans 8:18–27 gives a clear theological rationale for the reality of suffering. Paul continues developing our understanding in Philippians 1:29 by stating, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
Suffering, then, is to be seen as an opportunity to learn obedience. The tests of suffering give us the chance to strengthen our faith in the Word of God rather than trust our feelings. Suffering becomes an instrument of pruning in our growth process to help us change more directly into the likeness of Christ. If our goal is to become more Christlike and to know God more intimately, suffering is inevitable.
Paul makes this connection very clear in Philippians 3:10–11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Intimacy with Christ is closely connected with both the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit and the experience of suffering.
Suffering can be appreciated as a valuable part of the gift of salvation only if we understand how it helps us learn, grow, and develop more into Christlikeness. God uses suffering and persecution in our lives to challenge us to higher levels of spiritual thinking and living.