Strive for Spiritual Growth

Our creator is the absolute embodiment of wisdom, and those who follow Him have access to that wisdom through His written word. Not in human books, human social media updates, human blog posts, or human opinions expressed by preachers can the same degree of truth and wisdom be found.

Humans do our best to grasp at the truth. We try to say things that are meaningful and insightful. But ultimately, there is simply no substitute whatsoever for the scriptures.

With that in mind, I want to share with you a piece of scripture, and rather than making commentary about it, I just want you to really pay attention to it, and maybe even commit to considering it constantly throughout your week.

2 Peter 1:5-7

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

Please consider what these instructions would mean for your life if you took them seriously. What would it look like to apply all diligence to your pursuit of spiritual growth every day this week?

Here are some synonyms of the words used in the translation quoted above. These may help us better consider what it would be like to make a conscious effort to grow in these ways each day.

Faith – belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness
Moral excellence – virtue, perfection, goodness, uprightness
Knowledge – doctrine, wisdom, understanding
Self-control – self-mastery, self-restraint, continence
Perseverance – steadfastness, patient waiting
Godliness – piety, devotion, reverence
Brotherly kindness – brotherly love, affection
Love – benevolence, good will, esteem

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:8-11)

Will you make growth in these qualities a goal for your life, one towards which you actively strive?

Are you Growing?

One of our recent sermons was about “When I Mess Up.” And we all mess up sometimes. In fact, if you claim to be sinless, you are deceiving yourself, calling God a liar, and His word is not in you (1 John 1:8-10).

But that does not mean that we should make peace with our sin. It does not mean that our sin is no big deal since “I’m only human,” and “nobody is perfect.”

So how do we find the balance between a life of perfectionism that is filled with excessive guilt, shame, and fear of punishment, and a life of flippancy in which we tolerate moral decay because we think it does not matter?

Consider this passage: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Notice, Paul does not tell the Corinthians “because you are behaving as men of flesh, it is clear that you have never been saved, and that you are eternally lost and hopeless.” Rather, because they are behaving as “men of flesh,” he calls them “infants in Christ.” Of course, this description was only appropriate because the Corinthians actually were young in Christ. They were a new church full of new converts who wanted to follow Christ, but lacked the spiritual maturity that someone older in the faith should have.

The concepts from this passage can help us to think about our sins in an appropriate way. The journey of a Christian is one of growth over time. Not all humans grow, either physically or emotionally, at the same rate. But we all should be growing.

Indeed, while we expect less from an infant than we do from a grown man or woman, we do expect even an infant to be working towards skills such as crawling, sitting up, standing, walking, speaking, etc. If an infant is not progressing over time, we become deeply worried. Likewise, we are deeply concerned when an adult behaves like a child, perhaps throwing a tantrum, refusing to share, or calling others by petty names.

In this respect, the spirit of a Christian is no different. There are two options that, like all living things, our spirits must choose between: growing or dying. Praise God that though our bodies are subject to death and decay, our spirits are free to grow and to soar for as long as we may live on the earth, and then into eternity with even greater glory.   “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So let us assess ourselves. If I am young in the faith, what steps am I taking towards maturity? If am older in the faith, do I still behave as though I were a spiritual infant? If we are not growing, we are in grave danger of spiritual death, and it is right for us to be filled with a holy fear of the Lord.

What about you? Are you content with a one-time event of “being saved,” and unconcerned with spiritual growth over time? Are you still sinning in the same ways, with the same frequency, years after your conversion? Can you point to spiritual growth in the past year? What step should you be taking next in your spiritual life? Will you be willing to take the next step of faith towards being the image of Christ? Or, having come so far, will you sink back into eternal spiritual decay?

Do Not Be Arrogant

When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he had to spend a good deal of effort helping the Jews to overcome the pride and arrogance that could blind them to the true beauty of Christ. It was an unfortunate irony that their rich heritage of religious practices and the cherishing of scriptures might actually work against their ability to obey the gospel.

For one thing, many of the Jews thought that simply being Jewish guaranteed them God’s favor. This led Paul to ask two specific questions designed to help them realize the important distinction between a) conditions favorable to spiritual growth and b) inherent spiritual superiority.

The first question, found in Romans 3:1 is this: “What advantage has the Jew?” and the answer given is “Great in every respect.”

The second question, in verse 9, is this: “What then? Are we better than they?” and the answer given is an emphatic “not at all.”

Notice the specific differences in the wordings of these two questions, for within their subtleties lie the unraveling of the Jew’s false sense of superiority.

The first question, “what advantage has the Jew?” asks simply what special and unique blessings have been enjoyed by the Jewish people. And indeed, there were a great many blessings that the Jews had received. As Paul states in verse 2, “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” That is to say, that the typical Jewish person grows up hearing and memorizing God’s prophecies concerning His Son and His cosmic scheme of redemption.

The second question, “Are we better than they?” asks not simply what special blessings the Jews have received, but whether or not they are inherently more valuable to God or more worthy of His grace.

The implication is clear, Jews have been favored by God in the sense that He has blessed them with conditions favorable to spiritual growth, but He has most certainly not favored them in the sense of making them ethically, morally, or spiritually superior simply for being a Jew.

Now apply this to your own situation. Perhaps God has blessed you with conditions favorable to receptivity. We a individuals have been blessed with some or all of the following:
• Living in a country with religious freedom.
• Living in a country where Christianity is common.
• Having access to a Bible.
• Being born into a Christian family.
• Being reached out to and taught the gospel by a Christian.
• Attending a church that studies the Bible thoroughly.
• Having a heritage in the Restoration Movement.

We must not make the same mistakes that many of the Jews were making.

We must not, for instance, assume that simply because our church has its roots and heritage in the Restoration Movement, that God will accept us regardless of our specific individual and congregational actions and decisions. Simply having “Church of Christ” on a sign guarantees us nothing. Actually being Biblical in practice is essential.

We must also realize that we are not Biblical Christians because we are just so much wiser or more spiritual than the billions of other people on this earth, but in large part because God has blessed us with conditions that are favorable to our spiritual growth. Had we been born in another country, or another family, or another century, we might not have received the blessings that have brought us to the understanding of the truth that we have today. This realization should result in humility, not arrogance.