Let’s now turn our attention away from why and toward how.
Willohroot made the comment of the year, “I don’t know how we’re going to pull this off”. Of course, I agree, and if you are still reading this, I’m sure you do as well. I’m sure all of you understand that we cannot do it…that if it is going to happen, then God is going to have to do it through us. Our job is simply to be obedient, and I can tell you unequivocally that I’m personally compelled to push forward…to do otherwise would be a violation of my conscience and probably a form of sin (Rom 14).
What I’m going to try to do now, over the next series of posts, is walk you through what I hope is a simple progression of some rather complicated thoughts that have been simmering for close to a year now between myself and a small number of like-minded buddies.
Shifting gears from the macro-issues of the church today, let’s talk about spiritual growth. What exactly is it? How does it happen? How can Christians help other Christians to grow?
What is “Spiritual” Growth?
First of all, I believe spiritual growth is a bit of a misnomer because the reality is that a believer’s spirit does not need to grow – it is already perfect. At conversion, all of us who believe in Christ, received a new spirit…a regenerated spirit…a reborn spirit. This spirit is perfect and is one with the Holy Spirit. The problem is not with our spirit but with our flesh. All of the tools God gave us to interact with one another on earth are still corrupt; i.e. our minds and all they control. Therefore, Paul can face the dilemmna that all of us face: what I want to do, I do not do; and, what I do not want to do, I do. The desires of our perfect spirit conflict with the desires of the flesh. Therefore, the goal os “spiritual” growth is to tranform the flesh (or, “renew the mind”). It is to make our flesh obedient to our spirit as a slave. It is to understand that the flesh has no power over the spirit (it is dead), and behave accordingly. This happens over time, as we intentionally surrender our flesh to the spirit (which is one with God’s Spirit indwelling us).
Hopefully this is all sounding quite biblical. If not, call me on it and let’s change it.
How does Growth Happen?
After years of careful observation, I’ve concluded that there are three dimensions to genuine spiritual growth: knowledge, character, and behavior. All believers are called to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s truth, transform the way we think, and become increasingly compliant to God’s standard of behavior.
I’ve also concluded that the way in which we grow along these three dimensions is by hearing, believing and obeying God. Generally speaking, it is by hearing God that we grow in knowledge; it is by believing God that our internal thoughts and attitudes change; and, it is by obeying God that our external behaviors change.
And, this process is iterative…you don’t go to school or bible study, learn all you can, grow to maturity in knowledge, and then begin working on your character. Rather, we all learn a little, apply the spiritual disciplines to train our belief to some extent, and obey what we have learned and become, then repeat. And we do this forever. Again, I think willohroot made the point that it’s not about the destination…it’s about the journey, and I fully agree. We can’t think of this as winning a race; it’s about running the race well and finishing strong.
How Can Believers Help Other Believers to Grow?
First of all, let me say that it’s not necessary. There is biblical precedent for God capturing and growing His people without much help from other believers; e.g. Abraham and Noah. The core of my own personal testimony is that God used mainly unbelievers and ‘fringe’ to drive my own growth, not by encouragement but by friction. That said, I’ve also concluded that this is the exception and not God’s desire for His Kingdom today. God’s desire is that his people work together to build-up the Kingdom together.
In short, I believe the most effective means of helping other believers is not to call them but to personally lead them. It’s not to talk about it, but it is to provide them an example to follow. And, once that example is provided, then you have the right to talk about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and give advice to another on what you think they could do to grow in the same way. This is the essence and purpose of practical, intentional and effective one-on-one discipleship.
In the next few posts, we’ll keep diving deeper into how we can make this real together. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your feedback on these thoughts!