By: Emmanuel Adeoye (Evangelist)
Brethren, if growth in numbers and in quality of service is to take place in the church of our Lord, Christians must be consistent in their spiritual growth and development. Where Christians are growing and maturing in faith and service, local congregations are enlarging the borders of the kingdom and people are being converted to Christ. But in places where saints have not grown in faith and love or developed their talents for use in the work of the Lord, there is an embarrassing shortage of qualified leaders and a corresponding lack of zeal in the churches. It takes both good leadership and enthusiastic fellowship for a congregation to grow as it should.
Usually, when we think of growth we think of the development of a child. Both physical and mental development is necessary for a child to reach an ultimate high degree of usefulness in life. So it is with a babe in Christ.
The spiritual development of one who is born into God’s family is essential to his usefulness in the Lord’s church. But many babes in Christ are so neglected by church leaders that they are allowed to waste away; they are denied the proper elements that are essential to their growth and development in Christ. Spiritual growth is necessary if a new convert is to develop into a mature soldier of Christ.
THE NEED TO GROW
Spiritual growth in Christ begins when we become a Christian. Peter said, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth” (1 Peter 1:22, 23). When one hears the message of the gospel, believes, repents of sins, and is baptized into Christ, he emerges from the grave of baptism as a new creation in Christ, having been born anew of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Paul said, “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature:the old things are passed away; behold they are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is thus that the Lord delivers one out of the kingdom of darkness and translates him into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
Living the new life, he is expected to grow, develop, and produce good fruit. The growth of a child of God is not in terms of getting material wealth. One may make a million dollars and still be a spiritual pauper! It is not in terms of obtaining mere intellectual development. One can be an intellectual wizard with a string of college degrees yet be ignorant of the fundamentals of New Testament Christianity.
The growth of a Christian toward maturity in Christ is the gradual, consistent increase in knowledge of God and His will, in faith, love, devotion to God, and consecration to the responsibilities of a Christ-like life. Growing toward maturity in Christ is one of the most important aspects of the new life.
THE ELEMENTS ESSENTIAL TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The children born into your family and mine require certain elements that are necessary for physical growth to maturity. A child must have proper food in proper quantities, a certain amount of exercise, an environment conducive to growth, and freedom from harmful and crippling diseases.
The same is true of a plant. Our garden vegetables and flowers must have nutrients, proper cultivation, and freedom from cumbersome weeds and blighting diseases and insects. This also is true in the case of a Christian’s growth toward maturity. In order to develop spiritually, Plenty of exercise is essential for the growth of a Christian just as it is for a growing child. Paul said, “… for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
A newly converted Christian should begin to participate in good works for Christ as soon as he is converted. There are so many activities in which he can take a part! He can visit the sick and minister to their needs. He can participate in any organized visitation program in the church. He can speak to others about his faith and the blessings he has found in Christ.
He can begin training for greater service by enrolling in Bible classes and training classes, thus preparing for the opportunities that are sure to come in the future. He can use the special talents such as a good singing voice and a good speaking voice that he may have. If he sharpens his sword and keeps it sharp, the Lord will find a place for it to be used.
All Christians, especially those recently converted, have to be careful about the people they associate with. Not all people are interested in our spiritual welfare. Some could care less whether we go to heaven or not. Some will want to drag us down into a quagmire of moral filth. Paul said, “Be not deceived: evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It is impossible to associate with our fellowman without being among some who are evil. Paul said, “For then must ye needs go out of the world” (i.e., to another planet). Instead of allowing them to influence us for evil, we should try to influence them for good.
It is easy to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2), so Christians need to associate with other Christians. We should be selective about the people we associate with, but at the same time we must remember that it is necessary to associate with people in order to convert them to Jesus.
I enjoy making a vegetable garden each spring. It is an enjoyable and profitable diversion from the pressures of my work as a preacher. In order to have healthy and productive plants, I have to keep them free from blighting plant diseases and insects. And the same is true of a Christian.
Christians must be free from destructive spiritual diseases that destroy faith, love, zeal, and hope. Garden plants must be cultivated or they will not grow and be productive. Uncultivated plants are soon choked by grass and weeds and devoured by hungry insects.
A Christian must be cultivated, too, and schooled and trained in a life of righteousness and godliness in his progress toward spiritual maturity. A growing Christian should spend a lot of time in prayer. Communicating with God is the mainspring of our daily fellowship with Him.
We are taught to “be sober unto prayer,” to “continue steadfastly in prayer,” and to “pray without ceasing.” Intimacy with our heavenly Father is a sacred heritage. I sincerely believe that prayer is our much-neglected source of spiritual power.
God has oceans of blessings available for us, but too often we merely sip rather than drink deeply. Jesus taught us to “Ask, seek, and knock.” God promises us the wealth of the universe, and we should ask for more than just peanuts.
THE OBSTACLES TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
we scan the list of elements which are essential to spiritual growth, and take the antithesis of each one, we will have a good cross-section of obstacles to a Christian’s growth.
For example, the wrong food will affect the spiritual man in the same manner it affects the physical man. A person who feasts upon trashy, pornographic literature, watches X-rated movies, and hungers and thirsts after the things that are designed to stir up the base passions of the body is sure to be a spiritual weakling.
A diet like that will kill! Occasionally some smart aleck will try to defend such practices by arguing that there is also some good in them. I ask, “Why should one rummage around in a garbage can for bread when he can get a fresh loaf from the grocery store?” The saints of God do not need to rummage in literary garbage for spiritual nourishment.
Everything we need for nourishing and strengthening the inner man is found in God’s Word. I might add that there are several excellent gospel papers available which are designed for the instruction and spiritual growth of Christians. Engaging in activities that are wrong and questionable, and succumbing to such soul-shriveling diseases as jealousy, hatred, doubt, and indifference also will block the spiritual progress of a saint.
Blindly following the crowd and letting one’s passions run wild will certainly invoke the wrath of God. This type of exercise is nothing short of spiritual suicide.
None of us will reach maturity in Christ overnight. It takes time. Helen and I have three children and three grandchildren. Their growth was so gradual that we could not detect it with our physical eyes, yet we knew they were growing because their clothes soon became too tight and too short. Measurements on the mark on the door facing showed they had grown another inch or two.”
The saints of God can tell they are growing when they “outgrow” childish things, trust implicitly in the Lord’s promises, and begin bearing fruit to His glory. Peter said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Paul thanked God for the growth of the Thessalonian saints: “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
Several attributes of Christian character indicate that we are maturing in Christ: faith, zeal, hope, love, knowledge, humility, and steadfastness. All of us grow toward maturity in proximity to the way we imitate the example of Jesus. It is a lifetime process.
Paul said, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
It takes an attitude of determination to reach the pinnacle of maturity in Christ. Paul said, “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14). The goal unto the prize of the high calling of God.