God’s ultimate goal for us, however, is that we be truly conformed to the likeness of His Son in our person as well as in our standing… Jesus did not die just to save us from the penalty of sin, nor even just to make us holy in our standing before God. He died to purify for Himself a people eager to obey Him, a people eager to be transformed into His likeness… This process of gradually conforming us to the likeness of Christ begins at the very moment of our salvation when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us and to actually give us a new life in Christ. We call this gradual process progressive sanctification, or growing in holiness, because it truly is a growth process.
Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way. If it were not beneficial, God would not allow it or send it, “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). God does not delight in our sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but He does not shrink from that which will help us grow.
Conviction should actually grow throughout our Christian lives. In fact, one sign of spiritual growth is an increased awareness of our sinfulness.
The process of biblical change, explained in God’s Word, begins when you repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has given you everything you need to make the changes in your life that will please Him and will lead to His blessings. As you continue to obey God’s Word, biblical change toward maturity will occur in your life until you see Jesus face to face.
As you obey God’s Word and rely on His strengthening power, you can count on biblical change to occur in every area of your life.
We will never become truly spiritual by sitting down and wishing to become so.
As Christians grow in holy living, they sense their own inherent moral weakness and rejoice that whatever virtue they possess flourishes as the fruit of the Spirit.
At each stage of [spiritual] growth, more self-denial is required, more painful blows to self, more reckless decision to serve the Lord Christ with consequent abandonment of one’s own life.
Jesus did not expect more from his disciples than they could do, but He did expect their best, and this He expected always to be improved as they grew in knowledge and grace. His plan of teaching, by example, assignment, and constant checkup, was calculated to bring out the best that was in them.
A healthy church has a pervasive concern with church growth – not simply growing numbers but growing members. A church full of growing Christians is the kind of church growth I want as a pastor. Some today seem to think that one can be a “baby Christian” for a whole lifetime. Growth is seen to be an optional extra for particularly zealous disciples. But be very careful about taking that line of thought. Growth is a sign of life. Growing trees are living trees, and growing animals are living animals. When something stops growing, it dies.
In his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards suggested that true growth in Christian discipleship is not finally mere excitement, increasing use of religious language, or a growing knowledge of Scripture. It is not even an evident increase in joy or in love or concern for the church. Even increases in zeal and praise to God and confidence of one’s own faith are not infallible evidences of true Christian growth. What, then, is evidence of true Christian growth? According to Edwards, while all these things may be evidences of true Christian growth, the only certain observable sign of such growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. The church should be marked by a vital concern for this kind of increasing godliness in the lives of its members.
A church in which there is expositional preaching will be a church that is encouraging Christian growth – as we listen to God speaking from His Word into our lives. God’s Word is what we need if we are to grow. But we won’t learn that basic fact by looking to the culture around us to tell us what we most need. We can’t even look into our own hearts for such knowledge.
The whole of the Christian life is centered on Jesus Christ. Like Paul the contemporary Christian can say: “To me to live is Christ.” But often, in Christian experience, we are tempted to look elsewhere for direction, example, counsel and guidance. We lose sight of the fact that everything we need to live the Christian life is to be found exclusively in Christ. For this reason when we begin thinking about spiritual growth we must think first of all about Christ.
There is nothing more important to learn about Christian growth than this: Growing in grace means becoming like Christ.
We must never forget – if we are to grow in grace, and therefore grow like Christ – that the One we trust, love, and serve is a crucified Savior. To follow Him means taking up the cross, as well as denying ourselves. It means a crucified life.
When we impose man-made regulations upon ourselves (or others) and lose sight of our liberty to do or not do those things which Scripture neither commands nor forbids, we destroy the fruit of the Spirit and we cease to grow (or to allow others to grow).
Too often we fail to appreciate that [the] apprehension of God is not only the test of our worship, but also the test of our spiritual growth. A Christian’s real development in spiritual life will always be revealed by how he or she thinks about God – how much he thinks about Him, and how highly he thinks about Him.
Spiritual growth depends on two things: first a willingness to live according to the Word of God; second, a willingness to take whatever consequences emerge as a result.
A wrong view of God leads inevitably to a failure to enjoy and grow in His grace. Failure to appreciate His love, His kindness and generous heart leads eventually to a life which bears no fruit and makes no progress. The lesson is clear: if you would grow in grace, learn what grace is. Taste and see that the Lord is good (see I Peter 2:2).
Most of us have never really understood that Christianity is not a self-help religion meant to enable moral people to become more moral. We don’t need a self-help book; we need a Savior. We don’t need to get our collective act together; we need death and resurrection and the life-transforming truths of the gospel. And we don’t need them just once, at the beginning of our Christian life; we need them every moment of every day.
Before growing in our relationship with God, we must have a relationship with Him. It is meaningless to even address other needs before addressing our personal relationship with God. Without God and His enabling power, we cannot effectively change any part of our lives.
There is a discipline involved in Christian growth. The rapidity with which a man grows spiritually and the extent to which he grows, depends upon this discipline. It is the discipline of the means.
In our generation we have increasingly suffered from spiritual lethargy and powerlessness. There is a high percentage of weak and lukewarm Christians in western churches who evidence little interest in growing in grace and knowledge. The church may be bustling with activity and at the same time be infiltrated and permeated with the world’s thinking and doing. It is sometimes the case that our bright forms of worship camouflage a dead spiritual condition.
Why is it that so many professing Christians make no spiritual progress, and indeed make no efforts to grow in grace? Why? Because they care nothing about it! To take up a “mere profession” is all they desire; but to proceed from one degree of piety to another; to grow in grace – is no part of their desire… Is it possible to be a Christian and yet destitute of this desire to grow in grace? No, it is not! I tell you, it is not! If you have no concern to grow in grace – there is no grace in you! You are a piece of dead wood – and not a living branch! You are a spiritual corpse – and not a living man! In this state there can be no growth – for dead things never grow!
To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God.
The more that God’s Word is removed from our lives, the more inhibited our spiritual progress becomes. Nothing else can do the work that the truth does. There is no sanctifying power in human wisdom, intuition, insight, or experience. It is only in the Word of God. Only the truth revealed in Scripture sanctifies – sound teaching accurately interpreted, understood, and applied. As divine revelation is embraced, spiritual progress is made. There are no alternative routes to godly character and holy living.
No true believer is completely satisfied with his spiritual progress. Under the illuminating, sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, all of us are aware of the areas in our lives that still need to be refined and disciplined for the sake of godliness. In fact, the more we mature, the more capable we are of spotting the sin that still remains in our hearts.
Looking over my 90 years, I realize I have never made any progress in good times. I only progressed in the hard times.
The majority of Christian men and women who pray to a Living God know very little about real prevailing prayer. Yet prayer is the key that unlocks the door of God’s treasure-house. It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual life – all victory over temptation, all confidence and peace in the presence of difficulties and dangers, all repose of spirit in times of great disappointment or loss, all habitual communion with God – depends upon the practice of secret prayer.
I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
We’re too comfortable to be spiritual… We think we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship. And yet it works in just the opposite way. Nothing is more difficult than to grow spiritually when comfortable (Tim Bascom).
If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s Kingdom, and of His love.
The focus of health in the soul is humility, while the root of inward corruption is pride. In the spiritual life, nothing stands still. If we are not constantly growing downward into humility, we shall be steadily swelling up and running to seed under the influence of pride.
It is, in fact, a law of the spiritual life that the further you go, the more you are aware of the distance still to be covered. Your growing desire for God makes you increasingly conscious, not so much of where you are in your relationship with Him as of where as yet you are not.
Just as the sinner’s despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer’s growth in grace.
I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.” But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with him, has come through suffering.” Samuel Rutherford said that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there. Charles Spurgeon said that those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.
What you do when you spend time with God is not nearly so important as that you spend time with God. Spiritual growth is not the result of a dramatic experience, but a lot of small steps. You cannot be changed by one experience into spiritual maturity any more than you can become a full-grown adult by eating one meal… Think of spending time with God as one meal in the whole plan of your spiritual nutrition. If you are doing something that isn’t satisfying your spiritual hunger, then change your diet. But whatever you do – don’t give up eating.
One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. By these I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him. I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow. Here are the roots of true Christianity. Wrong here, and a man is wrong all the way through.
Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible.
If there is any point on which God’s holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more, and know more, and feel more, and do more, and repent more, and believe more, as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they “grow in grace,” as St. Peter exhorts believers to do; and “abound more and more,” according to the words of St. Paul (2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Thes. 4:1).
When I speak of a man “growing in grace,” I mean simply this – that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace.
“Growth in grace” pleases God. It may seem a wonderful thing, no doubt, that anything done by such creatures as we are can give pleasure to the Most High God. But so it is. The Scripture speaks of walking so as to “please God.” The Scripture says there are sacrifices with which “God is well-pleased.” (1 Thes. 4:1; Heb. 13:16.) The husbandman loves to see the plants on which he has bestowed labor flourishing and bearing fruit. It cannot but disappoint and grieve him to see them stunted and standing still. Now what does our Lord Himself say? “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” – “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:1, 8.) The Lord takes pleasure in all His people – but specially in those that grow.
Whose fault is it, I should like to know, if a believer does not grow in grace? The fault, I am sure, cannot be laid on God. He delights to “give more grace” (Jas 4:6) The fault, no doubt, is our own. We ourselves are to blame, and none else, if we do not grow.
Disappointment is essential for spiritual growth. Sadly too many Christians have horrible theology and allow the disappointment to consume them. Instead of growing, they backslide. In the Bible we read that Joseph held to God’s promises despite horrible circumstances. And though Joseph did not specifically know the good that God was doing, he simply trusted God in faith that God was doing something good. Belief can never be predicated on understanding. If so, there would be no need for faith. Little did he know that God was in the process of making this young boy a man. God’s purposes for Joseph would stand despite the long delay. Yet there was a purpose in that delay for God to polish the instrument of God through affliction.
It’s all are welcome as they are, but when you come change is expected. Or it’s not clean yourself up before God will accept you, but when God accepts you He will clean you up. Or it’s God loves sinners, but He loves them too much to keep them sinners. Or as I like to say, God doesn’t clean His fish before He catches them, but after He catches them He always immediately starts cleaning them.
There is a vast difference, however, between childlike faith and childish faith, though the two are often confused. [Childlike faith calls the believer] to remain forever in a state of awe and trust of their heavenly Father, while a childish faith balks at learning the things of God in depth. It refuses the meat of the gospel while clinging to a diet of milk…The call of the New Testament is to maturity.
The Christian life is very much like climbing a hill of ice. You cannot slide up. You have to cut every step with an ice axe. Only with incessant labor in cutting and chipping can you make any progress. If you want to know how to backslide, leave off going forward. Cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity. You can never stand still.
I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.
I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.
It is not so much our littleness that hinders Christ as our bigness. It is not so much our weakness that hinders Christ as our strength. It is not our darkness, but our supposed light that holds back His power.
You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.
Prayer is the key which unlocks the door of God’s treasure-house. It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual life – all victory over temptation, all confidence and peace in the presence of difficulties and dangers, all repose of spirit in times of great disappointment or loss, all habitual communion with God-depend upon the practice of secret prayer.
The right manner of growth is to grow less in one’s own eyes.
The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times…The Spiritual Disciplines are the God-given means we are to use in the Spirit-filled pursuit of Godliness.
Without exception, the men and women I have known who make the most rapid, consistent, and evident growth in Christlikeness have been those who develop a daily time of being alone with God. This time of outward silence is the time of daily Bible intake and prayer. In this solitude is the occasion for private worship.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991, p. 195, Used by permission of NavPress – www.navpress.com, All rights reserved. For more information please see the website www.BibicalSpirituality.org. Get this book!
It is often ignorantly and frivolously charged against Christian men that it is selfish in them to seek heaven and glory for their own souls; but no man who is truly seeking salvation will be moved by that accusation. When men really begin to seek their salvation, and to turn their faces to the glory of heaven, then it is that all selfish and ignoble desires receive their death-blow. It is not selfish, surely, for the diseased to seek healing, or the hungry food, or the prodigal his father’s house. So far from this being a sign that the heart is selfish, there is no surer sign that it is being sanctified.
When God prunes us, the result will be greater growth and sweeter fruit… Pruning usually takes place when God uses situations, people, and circumstances to help mature us in our Christian disposition, attitude, and temperament… The way we respond when we are pruned reveals our true level of spiritual maturity.
Criticism should be viewed as a tool for growth and change. Several temptations arise when we experience criticism. 1. We fear the loss of respect; 2. We look for reasons to challenge the data; 3. We search for flaws in the process; 4. We point out weakness in the other person; 5. We demand credit for our strengths; 6. We play the martyr, reeling under the unjust complaints of others. Yet, when we run away from the slightest hint of criticism, we forfeit the very means by which our Lord wants to make us more effective and godly.