By Roland W. Keith
In today’s study we are going to examine five elements of spiritual growth, all of which in many ways begin and end with knowing and understanding the word of God. Jesus said, “It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Bread may sustain the body, but it is the word of God that edifies the Spirit within us. The Savior had much to say about the word of God and its power. It is the word that delivers us from eternal death into everlasting life with God (John 5:24). Moreover, He equated His true family with those who hear and keep the word and are thereby blessed by His Father (Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28), offering a stern warning to those who would reject Him: “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).
Peter wrote of the need to grow in the “grace and Knowledge” of Christ (II Peter 3:18). Unfortunately, many people in Christendom today are easily led astray because they trust in their teachers without understanding the need for diligence on their own part (Acts 17:11). It is our responsibility to safeguard our own salvation and to look out for one another (Philippians 2:12; John 13:14, 34-35; Romans 12:10; 15:14; I Corinthians 12:25). In his second letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). We cannot be spiritually complete without an intimate knowledge of God’s will for our lives; a knowledge we cannot truly gain until we have studied and learned to comprehend God’s word for ourselves.
Once we have gained a true understanding of God’s will through a thorough study of His word we must add action to that knowledge, as James wrote: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25). Knowing something is not the same as doing something. Christians are to be men and women of action, not simply breathing repositories of data.
How long have you been a Christian? How involved are you in the Lord’s work? Growth is the natural result of birth. From the time of our conception our bodies are growing, but when we are born into the world our maturation process requires us to be aware of the creation around us and to learn with all our senses. If that natural progression is stunted or we are somehow deprived of it, we cannot function properly in the world. Such individuals often die at a very young age; others remain childlike throughout their lives, requiring constant care. For the newborn Christian there is also a natural progression toward spiritual maturity. There comes a time when we should become mature, independently confident servants of the Lord, able to distinguish good from evil, thoroughly equipped to handle all challenges to the truth (Hebrews 5:12-14; II Timothy 2:15; 3:17; Ephesians 4:16).
When we grow to maturity in the word that process leads us to the development of what can be described as Christian values or characteristics, such as Peter wrote about: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (II Peter 1:5-9).
True Christian maturity also produces tangible activity on our part, as Paul explained to Timothy: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (II Timothy 2:21). As Christians one of our goals is to make ourselves ready to serve the Lord, to become “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). God uses His word to craft us into what we should be— productive members of the body of Christ who desire to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In Titus we find this admonishment: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). When we are doing the Lord’s work our efforts are beyond reproach. In fact, when we are following God’s plan all that we do will be profitable for those we are working with, as well as for ourselves. Whether we are studying God’s word with an interested party or doing works of benevolence our efforts will not return to us empty (Titus 3:8, 14), as Paul told the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).
The Christian who is growing will also find himself increasingly taking advantage of his right to communicate with his God. The Bible makes it clear that our Heavenly Father hears, and answers, our prayers giving us the things we ask for— if those things are in accordance with His will (Mark 11:24; I John 5:14). Although some today teach that God wants us to be rich, or have whatever we desire, that is not a Biblical teaching, as James made clear when he wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Prayer is not a candy machine that dispenses whatever we want. It is, instead, an avenue to take our needs and concerns to the Lord, to pray for others, to praise or thank the LORD, and to ask for what we are lacking as Christians among other things. James provides a good example of what we might pray for, writing, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6; see also Matthew 5:44; Mark 14:38; Luke 6:28; 10:2; Colossians 1:9).
Finally, the mature Christian understands the value of worship. She understands that we worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), that it is essential for us to meet together and not neglect one another, nor the Lord (Hebrews 10:25; Ephesians 5:19), and that when we are gathered together in His name He is there among us (Matthew 18:20). Our growth as Christians is largely our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). Though we have overseers appointed over us to see to our welfare (Titus 1:5-9; I Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:28), they do not have the power of compulsion. Even God does not compel us against our will. We are free to choose the Christian life and we are free to reject it; we are also free to walk away from what we had once embraced, a sad state that Paul described with the following words: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
To avoid such a state as Paul detailed to the Hebrews it is of the greatest benefit to develop and exercise all the elements of spiritual growth as outlined in the scriptures. Jesus once asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). There is no loss we can suffer greater than the loss of our own soul. Many people joke about it in an off-hand, glib manner. That is because they do not truly understand what that loss entails, or they simply do not want to think about it. For the Christian it is a different story. We do know what awaits those who walk away from God. Therefore, we are without excuse. God is here to help us every step of the way, He has in fact already given all He can to save us, beyond measure (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:20-21). But in the end the chose is ours. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth and welfare. On the day of judgment, we will stand alone before the throne of God— unless we have an advocate to call upon. On that day if we remain faithful, we will be able to call upon the name of Jesus and have Him come to our defense to receive our final verdict: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.