KEYS TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Growth is essential for all living beings. Theological degrees and positions in the ministry do not guarantee spiritual growth. It is an inner growth, the growth of the inner man. God expects spiritual growth from His children (Heb.5:11-14). The apostle Paul gives an exhortation regarding the need for spiritual maturity among the believers (1Cor.3:1-4). Let us discuss the following keys to examine and further our spiritual growth.
1. Where We Belong
We must know where we belong. Do I belong to God through a new birth? Do I have the Holy Spirit in my heart? We sometimes insist that people should grow spiritually, without asking whether they are saved. The growth comes from within. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to ask whether we belong to God or Satan. We find in John 15:5,6 that no one can bear fruit if he does not belong to Christ. We must first belong to Christ. The first step to spiritual growth is, knowing our position in Christ.
When the apostle Peter understood the meaning of spirituality, he called all believers 'strangers in the world' (1Pet.1:1, 6,17). Believers are living for a while in this world until Jesus appears. We are only passing through; our destiny and future is in heaven. Friendship with the world means enmity to God (Jas. 4:4). That means our life-style should be different from that of the world. This world belongs to Satan for final destruction (2Pet.3:7). Christ has called us out of this world (Jn.15:16) to follow Him and His Word. We are no more citizens of this world, according to our new position through spiritual birth (Phil. 3:20). When we understand this fact, we may be able to avoid momentary pleasures and desires. The moment will come when we want to feed on heavenly things and avoid things that are earthly; that is where our spiritual growth begins. Jesus said, "If they have rejected Me they will also reject you because you belong to Me, not to them" (Jn.15:20). Our spiritual growth begins when we are rejected by the world because of our stand with Christ.
2. What We Feed
According to Romans 7:14-25 and Galatians 5:17-26, all believers possess two natures, one before new birth and another after new birth. We also call them old nature and new nature. The apostle Paul called them old man and new man. The old man is what we were before being born again, and new man is what we are after being born again. The old man is related to this present world and new man is related to God. The old nature is fed by the system of the world and new nature is fed by the Spirit, but the issue is, which one is fed more. Both natures fight together all the time, in our mind and heart, and the stronger one always wins. If we feed the old man, we will become more human and do things against the will of the Spirit and if we feed the new nature, we will become closer to God and do things according to the Word of God.
What are the foods that our new man needs, since we want to grow the new man in us? The primary food of the new man is the Word of God and the things related to God. We must first accept that the Bible is the Word of God and is effective for our life (2Tim. 3:16,17). Also, the new nature is fed more effectively by obeying the Word of God and practising it. According to James, it is useless to hear the Word of God, if we fail to follow it (Jas.1:21-25). By doing what the Bible says, we can easily avoid what the world says. As a result, we can grow our new man stronger.
3. What We Value
We grow according to our own choice. What we choose is more important than what we do. We may be maintaining all the spiritual activities of the church, office and family, but our spiritual growth will depend on what we value in life. Jesus talked about how we should value what counted in heaven. We must value God and the things which God values.
The Bible clearly states that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matt.6:21). The emphasis here is not just material possessions, but more of immaterial possessions. It is the mind that causes all evil activities. Jesus is not against our material possession, but He is concerned about our thoughts and mind which control our material body. The issue here is what the wish of our heart is, not what position we hold and what possessions we have. It is a warning to all of us to check our wants and wishes. Worldliness begins in the heart. King David committed sins; yet he grew spiritually because his heart was with God (Psa.32,51). Our spirituality is involved in choosing our place of work and residence, choosing careers in life and life partner for marriage. God has preserved eternal blessings for us (1Pet.1:4,7); it will be incomparable with our present suffering (Rom.8:18).
4. Whom We Imitate
Naturally, our growth depends on whom we admire and imitate. If we imitate sport stars, we tend to become sport stars; if we imitate businessmen, we tend to become businessmen, and so on. Even though we do not become such personalities, our life is spent around them. The Bible clearly commands us to follow the example of Jesus. Believers are expected to follow the life-style of Jesus. Also one of the purposes of the incarnation is to set an example for our life and practice. 1 John 2: 6 claims that followers of Jesus must follow in the steps of Jesus. Paul, Peter and John followed the example of Jesus and they were successful in their life and ministry. The apostle Paul says, "Follow me as I follow Christ." To become a Christian means to be like Christ, not to be like western people. Now the question is, who wants to follow Jesus. He loved the one we hate, He accepted the one we reject, He sacrificed what we want to attain, He forgave those we want to get back at. He cannot be an example to this present world. That is why Christ said believers were not of this world, they were His disciples and they ought to follow His example (Jn.15:18-20). Knowing and observing the teaching of Christ is not enough to grow spiritually; we must follow His life in order to serve Him and glorify God. If we are not following Jesus, we are not growing spiritually. Jesus is our goal, heaven is our home.
5. What We Treasure In Life
According to King David, we can avoid sin only if we treasure the Word of God in our hearts. We must not only hear it, but act upon it so that our life is built up (Lk.6:46-49). Some believers, even Pastors, claim to be spiritual because they have read the Bible a number of times. But we do not see the meaning of the Word of God in their lives. God expects us to meditate on His Word and practise it.
Joseph avoided sin because he knew the power and consequence of sin (Gen.39:9). Throughout the Bible God taught His people how much He hated and punished sin. We must treasure this in our heart so that we do not fall into such sin for which God punished His people (1Cor.10:6,11). Knowing the Word of God means hating sin, which means growing in the Lord. What we treasure will be manifested in due time (Lk.6:45). If we treasure sin, it will multiply when temptation comes; if we treasure the Word of God, it will defeat and dominate sin, and then we grow spiritually.