Steps to Spiritual Growth

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as the new Christian learns and lives God’s Word on a regular basis. The world—directed by Satan and his demonic forces—is always seeking to place obstacles in front of the believer in an effort to distract him and get him to think about anything and everything other than his Christian walk with the Lord. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer describes Satan’s world system as follows:

The cosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God – a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, cosmos. (Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

       The growing Christian must not allow himself to be distracted by the world, or by its pleasures or pains. The pursuit of worldly agendas, no matter how moral or noble they may appear, whether political or social, are a defeat to the Christian if they pull him away from his priority of learning God’s Word, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and walking daily with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though constant distraction is all around us, we are “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our mind on God and His Word (Isa. 26:3; Prov. 3:5-6; Col. 3:1), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down with the cares of this world (Matt. 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis as we advance to spiritual maturity. There are at least seven things each believer must follow to reach spiritual maturity:

  1. He must have an ongoing attitude of submission to God and be willing to seek His will above all else (Rom. 12:1-2). The Christian will face temptations from the world and from his own sinful fleshly nature. The ongoing attitude of submission to God will help the Christian overcome these temptations because he will want the Lord’s will above all else.
  2. He must be in continual study of God’s Word, applying it to every aspect of his life (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). At the moment of regeneration every Christian must begin the process of replacing a lifetime of worldly viewpoint with divine viewpoint. This is necessary if he’s to reach spiritual maturity and glorify God as a believer who effectively serves others (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:3-8). The Christian cannot live what he does not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.
  3. He must live by faith (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 10:38; 11:6). The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
  4. He must be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The Christian life is never executed in the energy of the flesh, as though the believer can fulfill God’s commands apart from God’s divine enablement. Relying on God the Holy Spirit requires a knowledge of God’s Word and daily choices to live by faith as the Christian takes God at His promises and follows His commands.
  5. He must learn to walk in daily dependence on God the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 21). Willfully walking with someone implies sensitivity, going where they go, staying in step with them, and being sensitive to their speed and movements. The Spirit guides us biblically and never by vague impressions. Where the Scripture is silent, the believer has freedom to exercise his will and live by biblical principles (i.e. love, seeking God’s glory, etc.), conscience, and trusting God to guide providentially.
  6. He must restore his broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9). The confessed sin is directed to God, which is faithfully forgiven (1 John 1:9).
  7. He must take advantage of the time God gives him to learn and grow spiritually (Eph. 5:15-17; cf. Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:1-2). The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since he has only a measure of time allotted to him by God (Ps. 139:16), he must make sure his days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will.

       Every Christian will face ongoing worldly distractions in his spiritual life which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. The Christian has choices to make on a daily basis, for only he can choose to allow these distractions to stand between him and God. The Christian experiences his greatest blessings in life when he reaches spiritual maturity and utilizes the rich resources God has for him. However, this takes time to learn, and ignorance must give way to the light of God’s revelation found in His Word. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Thoughts about Spiritual Growth

       Truth is reality as God sets it forth in His Word. A plain reading of Scripture reveals that God exists, and that He is not silent. His Word reveals the origin of all things, and helps the reader to understand and orient to the world as it is. More so, the Bible reveals God’s righteous demands toward sin, the substitutionary work of His Son on the cross, and the provision of salvation to those who trust in Christ as their Savior.

       The Truth is honest, and provides a straightforward account of man as he is, with all his faults and failures. At times, Scripture pulls back the curtain on spiritual realities and gives glimpses into the angelic realm, and even the throne room of heaven. How magnificent a work is God’s revelation to man! It is complete and sufficient to help men know God. Without Scripture, it’s the blind leading the blind.

       Faith is the appropriate response to God and His word. For the unsaved person who is in danger of the Lake of Fire, he must believe in Christ for salvation. For the saved person, he must believe the promises of God found in Scripture, and strive to be obedient to God’s Word in every area of his life. The Bible speaks to every area of the believer’s life, and he should surrender himself to all God’s directives in the church age. The believer who compartmentalizes his life—only giving some of it to God—brings harm upon himself because of his lack of faith and obedience.

       Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. At the moment of salvation, the new believer knows little about God and His plan, apart from a basic knowledge of the gospel, and that too may be meager. The baby believer must begin the process of learning the Word of God and making application to his life as he grows. A lifetime of worldly viewpoint must be driven from the mind as the believer learns to renovate his thinking in conformity to Holy Scripture. As he learns the Word, he must bring his thoughts into captivity, choosing obedience to God’s revelation. Any room left for worldliness—to that degree—will produce failure and frustration in his Christian walk.

       He will face pressures as he learns to walk with God. The Lord is preparing every child for eternity, and that means removing that which is offensive, and producing that which conforms to the character of Christ. God is more concerned with Christian character than creaturely comforts in His child. God loves him, and will never leave him alone in his worldliness. He loves him enough to grow him, and that means pressure-testing over time, as he learns to walk daily in His Word. The growing believer does not turn away from pressure, but believes that God will sustain him as he strives to be obedient to His Word. Of course, sometimes the believer has no choice regarding his suffering, because God sovereignly places it there and does not remove it. The only reasonable option left to the believer is to trust in the Lord, looking to His Word, believing that the pressures of life serve a divine purpose in producing that which is Christ-like, and removing that which is not.

       The new believer needs a lot of grace to grow. Grace from God, and from other believers. Grace is needed because the new believer will invariably learn and do things that are wrong, and will need to be corrected. In fact, he will spend his entire life learning, and being challenged and corrected about many things. He will need grace, because he will fail God’s will, perhaps even denying the Lord by word or action. Sometimes the believer thinks he’s strong, such as when Peter told the Lord he’d never deny him; however, Peter’s words were untested. After the test, Peter realized—as we all do in such situations—that he was weak. Thank God for the grace that was shown to Peter by our Lord, who reached out to all the scattered disciples, and especially Peter. I wish we all would behave graciously like Christ to those whose weaknesses get exposed, and who feel ashamed after such events.

       The new believer needs to understand that he will never reach a perfect knowledge of all of God’s Word, or attain sinless perfection in his lifetime. There’s never a time when he can say “I’ve arrived; there’s nothing more to learn about God and His Word. I do not sin anymore.” Perfection, both in knowledge and choice, is not attained in this world. Only in the final phase of salvation will the believer be free from his sin nature, and the personal production of sin. Only in the eternal state will he be completely free from sin and its effects.

       Until he goes to be with the Lord in heaven, the growing believer must make good choices that help his spiritual development. Here are a few attitudes and actions the growing believer should follow:

  1. He must make a place for learning God’s Word on a regular basis. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowledge of God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.
  2. He must be teachable and correctable. The implacable believer has ceased to grow when he is no longer open to correction in his theology, even by one who has less knowledge than himself. Hopefully the growing believer will learn from a teachable teacher, who models humility when shown to be in error about Scripture or Christian doctrine.
  3. He must be patient, knowing that God will spend a lifetime to develop the character of Christ in him. God is eternal, and He has all the time He needs to develop the Christian’s character.
  4. He must be humble, ready to do God’s will when commanded, no matter the cost. This is often challenging for the new believer who thinks in worldly ways, who is still focused on self and seeking autonomy from God and others. The sacrificial mind of Christ comes over time as the believer makes good choices to surrender his will to God on a regular basis.
  5. He must watch out for the arrogant believer who has stopped growing, and who has become friendly with the world. If the arrogant believer rejects challenges to cease his worldliness, then disassociation is in order, and purity must be maintained by the growing believer; but always with an attitude of humility, and willingness to accept the errant believer back into fellowship if he repents. Sometimes letting go of a bad relationship is a sign of growing up in the Lord.
  6. He must think in terms of grace, both for himself and others. He does well to realize that his salvation—as well as his entire Christian life—is the product of God’s grace toward him. At no time does he ever earn or deserve God’s favor. Thinking in terms of grace keeps the growing believer from becoming arrogant by looking down on other believers, or thinking more of himself than he ought to.

       Certainly there are more ingredients one might include in the above list, but these are the ones that readily come to my mind.

       As the believer grows, he will eventually encounter religious arrogance in the church. He should not be shocked when he sees it, nor suckered in to religious foolishness. I’ve seen spiritual elitism both in the church and seminary: cliques of high-minded theologians who spend their days belittling other believers who don’t agree with them, who emphasize denominational differences, or are dogmatic about doctrines not defendable from Scripture. Rather, they ought to be studying the Scriptures daily, praying, discussing the Word openly, humbly owning up to the fact that they don’t know it all, and admitting that there is room for doctrinal and behavior correction in their lives. I’ve seen little grace and love among those puffed up with biblical knowledge. It’s not from the Holy Spirit that they think or behave in such a way.

       The Lord has reprimanded me for sins of academic pride. As a result, I’m a little more gracious toward those with whom I disagree, giving them room, in the hope that I may win them to the truth by making an appeal to Scripture. And if I’m wrong in my teaching, I pray they will see it, reject it, and show me grace. Yes, show me grace, for I too am wrong on some things, even though I don’t see it now. I too need to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Word. I need to know the truth accurately, and have the courage to present it when given the opportunity. But I also need to show patience and kindness to those who may disagree with me, especially those who belong to the house of faith, and are growing in their relationship with God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.