A Pattern To Grow Spiritually
Are you growing spiritually? Four possible answers are available. Please respond appropriately.
D. I don’t know
What does it mean to grow spiritually? Allow me to take a stab at demystifying this concept.
We are commanded in the Scripture to grow. We are to grow in the knowledge and love of God, of Jesus Christ, and of others. We are to grow in grace. We are to grow “to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13-16) That is a tall order. However, there is nothing God commands us to do that he does not enable us to accomplish. The end of our spiritual growth is Christ. Paul tells the Christians in Rome that they were predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). The New Testament is not shy about telling the followers of Christ to grow to the point of becoming conformed to the image of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19). In fact we are to grow according to 2 Peter 1:4 to nothing short of being recognized as “partakers of the divine nature.” Wow!
If, then, we are commanded to grow it stands to reason that
1) We ought to take the responsibility to grow seriously
2) We are to participate in our spiritual growth
3) We must discern whether or not we are growing spiritually
Spiritual growth does not happen to us without personal involvement. Personal discernment individually and in community will lead us to understand whether or not we are growing spiritually. Regularly, we ask the One who knows us best (better than we know ourselves) “Am I growing spiritually?” We keep listening until we hear the answer.
Spiritual growth or growing in the knowledge of God is the greatest issue facing the church today according to D.A Carson. George Barna says (see his book Revolution) that many Christians do not find their local churches contributing largely to their spiritual growth. Consequently, these Christians opt for other ways and communities to help them grow spiritually. Unless this trend is reversed, Barna believes that a huge number of Christians (70%) will check out of their involvement in their local churches as their primary means of spiritual growth. Whether Barna is absolutely right about the future he sees or not is not easy to tell. But his point is clear: Many Christians are frustrated that the church is not contributing more to their spiritual growth.
What are we going to do about it?
I realize today more than ever that
1) God gives leaders in his church the responsibility to contribute to the spiritual growth of all the members of the body (Ephesians 4:11ff). That seems to be the primary work of church leaders.
2) Preaching—even the kind that is thorough—is not God’s only means for spiritual growth. Jesus did not prefer preaching with his disciples. Rather, he taught them, talked with them, and guided them, (one-on-one, in small groups) he modeled for them the means of his own spirituality (he withdrew, he fasted, he reviled not when reviled, he practiced silence, fervent habitual praying, memorized Scripture, etc…).
3) I must have a theology of personal transformation or renewal. Something more than “going to church, reading my Bible, praying, and giving.” Many do these without growing spiritually! Many do these and are still quitting the church at alarming rates.
Personal transformation includes an intentional process of developing the character and attitude of Christ in my life. Jesus put it this way: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” If these are transformed spiritual growth is not likely to take place. Allow me to give you a couple of guiding questions: “How would Jesus live my life if he were in my place?” And, “How do I become the kind of person Jesus was?” In other words, how do I become loving, merciful, forgiving as my first reaction when unloved, and hurt?
There is a gap—some call the sanctification gap—(Google the Sanctification Gap or Richard Lovelace) between the goal of becoming conformed to the image of Christ and the process of growth which helps us get there.
Each church, each individual, must intentionally engage with heart and mind in this process. The Scripture, the history of the people of God, the experience of devoted followers of Christ of the past and of today all inform us and set before us a pattern to grow spiritually and to walk with the Master. To this understanding of spiritual growth and to the end of being conformed to the image of God I will be writing for the next little while.
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