To be certain, our redemption is a magnificent blessing. Without being reconciled to God by Christ’s shed blood, we are forever lost and our lives are bereft of positive meaning. Yet this is only the beginning of the Christian experience.
Yes, there is much more to the Christian life but our focus here will be upon spiritual growth. Herein, we will speak to the immense importance of Holy Ghost renewal (Tit 3:5) and walking in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
Defining spiritual growth
In simple terms, spiritual growth is the process whereby we become what God wants us to be. Our position in Christ is perfect upon being saved but our behavior doesn’t reflect this perfection instantaneously. To reflect Christ in our lives, we must grow spiritually.
Our flesh (carnal self) is weak; it is the lower side of our being. Our carnality is subject to lawlessness and unwilling to do God’s will (Rom 8:7). Conversely, our spiritual side is willing to do God’s will and we must, therefore, strengthen that part of ourselves in order to grow (Matt 26:41).
The importance of spiritual growth
Spiritual growth is the most important activity a believer can embark upon. Once regenerated, we begin an eternal journey. And this journey can only progress when we continually pursue spiritual growth.
To put the importance of spiritual growth into perspective, let’s consider what we learn from John 15:8 and 1 Peter 2:2.We must abide in Christ and grow spiritually; we are to be productive. Bearing fruit (being productive) is not an option.
In John 15:2 we read, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” This could not be a more clear expression of God’s expectation for believers. Our purpose, as believers is to glorify Him by our actions; saving faith is expressed via love-based work(s) (cf. John 15:8; Jam 2:15-19).
In 1 Peter 2:2 we read, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” The epistles of Peter maximized the importance of growth. The Apostle knew all too well just how important growth is for the new believer. Consider where Peter was when Jesus first contacted him as compared to where God brought him as an Apostle (see: Lk 15:8).
Growth is a spiritual imperative for believers
If we are to legitimately call ourselves children of God, we must honor our Heavenly Father with our obedience. Spiritual growth is something He requires of His children (2 Peter 3:18).
Jesus told His disciples, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” So, Christ’s instructions are divine commands. In the Great Commission, we are instructed to teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We are also instructed to teach future disciples to observe Christ’s commands (cf. Matt 28:18 – 20). Implicit in this commission is the command to grow spiritually. Unless we do so, there is no way we can hope to succeed in such an important undertaking.
In 2 Peter, the Apostle speaks more explicitly. We are instructed to add to our faith. We are to add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness, and charity. If these things abound within us, we are not barren but bear fruit in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-8).
Growth requires work
No one wants to admit to being lazy. If accused of such, most will wax indignant and fire back in defense of their inaction(s). Yet so many of us are indeed lazy whether we want to admit it or not. Growth in any area of our lives involves ‘choosing’ and ‘moving’.
We can wish for results but working for them is compulsory, not optional. Nowhere is this more important than in our spiritual lives. We must make up our minds to grow spiritually in accordance with scriptural mandates and then consistently act upon the decision. Jesus said spiritual growth is laborious (Jn 6:27). Paul wrote that we must “ . . . press toward the mark” (3:14). Peter wrote of ‘required’ diligence (2 Pe 1:5,10). We profit from physical exercise but the greater profit in godliness; both require effort (1Ti 4:8). There simply is no substitute for hard work.
Are we working hard enough? What are we good for as Christians? If we cannot think of anything significant and verifiable during self-reflection, this should alarm us. God has sacrificed His best to redeem us at our worst. This was not done merely to provide us with fire insurance. God’s plan for us is far greater than we often realize.
We must grow to bear fruit
Scriptural use of metaphor is quite effective and is a powerful tool in expressing spiritual concepts. When we think of a healthy tree bearing delicious fruit, we quickly realize the spiritual significance contained in Galatians 5.
Just as fruit tree was designed to produce, God has also designed and equipped us to bear the fruit of the spirit. Also, just as we know a tree to by it’s fruit, we know the condition of our hearts by our outward actions and behavior.
When we live in step with the Holy Spirit, we bear love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22,23). A wonderful thing about bearing such is that there is no law against such and there is an eternal benefit in doing so (John 15:16) As previously stated, spiritual growth is not easy as we are required to crucify our flesh beforehand (Gal 5:24).
To bear fruit, we must abide in Christ
Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5
Just as a branch must stay attached to a tree’s trunk to bear natural fruit, a true Christian disciple must stay attached to His master to bear spiritual fruit. That is, we get our strength, sustenance, and security from our Savior. There is no way but His way. If separated from Christ, we cease to be fruitful, wither, and die. When we walk in the Spirit and turn from the lust of our flesh, we maintain our connection to the True Vine (Galatians 5:16).
Sincerity, its necessity
It’s important to take a moment and consider the heart behind our work. Bearing fruit is meaningless if it’s counterfeit. Even heathens can maintain routines and keep up appearances through the sheer force of willful pride in one’s own reputation. For our fruit to have an eternal benefit, it must be sincere and truly spiritual.
Those who draw near to Christ with mere lip service and self-serving acts are not bearing spiritual fruit. We must take caution not to become Pharisees, keeping our outward selves adorned while rotting inside (Matt 23:27). We know our hearts are not as Christ would have them when we love, honor, and concern ourselves with the things of this world.
In short, a person who loves the secular world is not truly a disciple of Christ. The love of the Father is not in such a person because they’re motivated by the pride of life, lust of the eye, and the lust of the flesh. We must remember that this world will pass away and all of its lusts with perish with it. Yet those who do God’s will shall live forever (1 John 2:15–17). God will one day judge our thoughts and motivations. Nothing will escape the light of judgment as we stand before Him (Hebrews 4:12 – 13).
We are meant to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)
True followers of Christ are to be salt and light before the world. We are to be the salt of the Earth and losing our savor renders us worthless (Matt 5:13). In ancient times, salt was used as a preservative. Likewise, we have the honor of delivering the life preserving Gospel to a lost and dying world.
Salt also seasons our food, thereby, enhancing its flavor. We are meant to be an enhancement to life in this world by bearing good fruit and leading by example. When led by the Holy Spirit, those who are obedient to Christ are a positive influence; that influence is beyond calculation. We never know who is watching and seeing Christ in us. Conversely, our bad fruits are often just as visible.
In Luke 6:35 we read, “ But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”
Longsuffering, in certain situations, is perhaps one of the hardest fruits for us to bear. We encounter great wickedness and hatefulness in this world and it’s most difficult to respond in a Christ-ike manner. This is one reason spiritual growth is so necessary. How can we love in the face of hatred unless we are strong?
We are to be peacemakers in the presence of strife, comforters in times of sorrow, and doers of good in spite of evil. Difficult though it may be, the presence of God’s light is unmistakable in darkness. We are to bear that light. Only by being obedient to Christ and growing spiritually can we fulfill our purpose of being salt and light to the world.
We are not alone in our efforts to obtain spiritual growth. God gives grace to us when we humble ourselves to do His will. Our initial salvation experience is but the beginning of our relationship with the One who formed us from the dust of the Earth and breathed our souls into our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and God’s expectations for us are high. We must remember this daily as we pursue the high calling of spiritual growth.