2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever”
Our theme – Once saved, the believer in Jesus Christ is to engage actively in a life of spiritual growth which is our key verse.
A willingness to learn is a mark of growth and wisdom. Proverbs 1:5 states, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” The Hebrew word for learning in this verse means “a taking in.” If we desire to grow in our knowledge of God and learn to please Him, we need not fear discarding old ideas and taking in new ones that more adequately explain the Scriptures.
People who are seeking wisdom will welcome new ideas. They will test them by the truths of the Bible, either to confirm what they already believe or to enlarge their knowledge and understanding. We must always be open to God’s truth as He teaches us through His Eternal Word, His Spirit, and the people around us. Are we listening, testing, and learning so that we may become spiritually fit and mature in the Lord?
Up the river, some distance from the great Niagara Falls of New York and Canada is a point of no return. Seldom is anyone able to retrieve themselves from the mighty Niagara beyond that point. Many years ago, a young boy named Roger Woodward and an adult friend, Jim Honeycutt, were hurled over the falls because the boat they were in went beyond that point of no return. Through a miracle, the boy survived the plunge over the mighty Niagara; however, Mr. Honeycutt lost his life.
Sometimes people make such a mess of their lives, even after they are saved, that they would like to start over again. Nevertheless, salvation within a person’s life is a point of no return, because it is impossible to go back to a point before salvation and have God repeat His saving work in our lives. It might seem like a good idea to tell God to forget our first experience and give us an opportunity to start over, but it cannot be done. The book of Hebrews, perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, stresses the need to progress, mature, and go forward in the things of the Lord.
A. OUR PHYSICAL GROWTH
In the physical realm, if you live in a drought-stricken area with little food reserves, poor air quality, rampant disease, you can expect poor physical growth. It is not that the person has no potential for growth. Everything about him/her contributes to his/her failure to develop physically. Nonetheless, under normal conditions every child goes through stages of physical growth. Children are uniquely different in their growth process. That is, some learn and grow at a different rate than other children the same age. What causes these stages of our physical growth? Eating the right foods, exercising and getting the proper amount of rest that is needed. Why don’t we all remain infants? If we all remained infants, eventually there would be no one to take care of us.
B. OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Spiritual growth, just like physical growth, is affected by one’s surroundings. Every believer must know and understand their individual responsibility to actively engage in a life of spiritual maturity. Even as a physical fitness program requires diligent effort at doing the right things, such as being disciplined, eating the right foods, and getting the proper rest; likewise, if we as believers in Christ want to excel in our service for the LORD, we too, must also have the same criteria.
It doesn’t take a person very long to discover that most professing Christians are doing a poor job at their spiritual growth. We see this in the lack of biblical understanding and application to personal life. Programs and activities that do nothing to further one’s sanctification have replaced growth. Dozens of surveys over the past decade have demonstrated that most professing believers do not understand even the most elementary issues related to the Christian faith. One obvious problem is the lack of biblical explanation in the pulpit and ongoing instruction in small group settings. The emphasis today is on, fellowship and entertainment, rather than the teaching of God’s Word.
Where there is life, there must be growth. That is true of your baby. If your baby didn’t grow, you would be worried. You would seek the best medical advice. If you want your little boy or girl to grow, you put away those items that would harm them and make your house “baby-proof.” If you want your plant to grow, you keep deadly poisons away from that plant. You avoid what is harmful to the life of the child or the plant. This is also true for a farmer. The wheat that he planted does not come up and grow? He would be on the phone immediately to the agriculture department of a university to send out a specialist to analyze the problem and provide a solution. There must be growth if there is life.
Every believer has the potential for spiritual growth due to the new nature in Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit; however, there are still outside factors that can have a negative effect on a person’s growth. Maturity in Christ is directly related to one’s grasp and application of the Word of God. When deception takes place that moves the believer away from the centrality of Scripture, thus their growth will be affected. The believer in Christ must be aware of the dangers that threaten their spiritual growth and know how to avoid them.
(1) WE MUST HAVE SPIRITUAL NURISHMENT
There must be spiritual nutrients if we are to grow spiritually. The apostle Paul said in his first epistle to “Desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” You must feed on the Word, and especially that Word as it is preached to you. This is the means that God has granted, has ordained, for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth comes, then, by attending to these things: the reading of the Bible, your own prayer, and specifically attending the church diligently on the Lord’s Day — being there in a faithful church — and coming under the preaching of the Word of God and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God has given these means. In fact, God says, in the psalms, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
Do you feel, on Saturday evening, a need for your soul to be fed? If you have been living spiritually, out of Christ, you certainly do. Do you have an appetite, so that on Sunday morning, you are eager to go to church to hear the Word of God and you need more food if you are going to live as a child of God in this world?
(2) AVOID THAT WHICH WILL HARM A BELIEVERS GROWTH
But not only must we have the right food we must also avoid all that is harmful to growth. That is also true in the physical world. If you want your little boy, your little toddler, to grow, you put away poisons out of your house and you make your house “baby-proof.” If you want your plant to grow, you keep deadly poisons away from the plant. You avoid what is harmful to the life of the child or the plant. So it is for our spiritual life also. There are things that are very harmful. It is what the Bible calls “the world.” It is what the Bible says is “friendship with the ungodly.” It is what the Bible refers to as “temptations.” The child of God must put away these temptations.
Then there are also our own sins, the sins of our own flesh. Especially destructive to spiritual growth is the sin of gossip (saying things about others that isn’t true). The evil tongue does not only do damage to other people, it does damage to us. It stunts, it twists, and it perverts spiritual growth. We must have a spiritual atmosphere in our homes. Moreover, we must have a spiritual atmosphere in the church, which promotes spiritual growth. That means that we must have the love of God as the law of our tongue. The following is an illustration of how gossip injures and hurts:
A woman repeated some gossip concerning her neighbor. Within a few days, the whole community knew the story. The person it concerned was deeply hurt and offended. Later, the woman responsible for spreading the rumor learned that it was false. She was very sorry and went to a wise old man to find out what she could do to repair the damage. “Go to the marketplace,” he said, “and purchase a chicken, and have it killed. Then on your way home, pluck its feathers and drop them one by one along the road.” Although surprised by this advice, the woman did what she was told.
The next day the wise man said, “Now, go and collect all those feathers you dropped yesterday and bring them back to me.” The woman followed the same road, but to her dismay, the wind had blown all the feathers away. After searching for hours, she returned with only three feathers in her hand. “You see,” said the old wise person, “It’s easy to drop them, but it is impossible to get them back. So, it is with gossip. It doesn’t take much to spread a false rumor, but once you do you can never completely undo the wrong.”
(3) GETTING THE PROPER REST
Not only must we have the right nutrients (food), and avoid things that are harmful to our spiritual growth. However, if we are to grow, we must also have the proper rest, which we often forget about. We don’t forget about our baby or children, and the rest they need. So, if your baby and children are going to grow, they need the proper rest and sleep. If we are to grow spiritually, we also need to have our times of rest. We need to have a quiet mind, to be at rest and peace. We must rest in the great truth that we are justified by grace in Jesus Christ.
Rest is knowing that I’m accepted with God based on what Christ has done, and my future is certain because it rests on nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ. Rest is this, that I know I did not make myself a Christian, that this is the work of Christ, that in Christ is all of my standing before God, all of my redemption, and that He has sworn to be faithful to me. Rest is when we recline in the arms of God. If we are to grow, we must cultivate a restful and peaceful spirit. Grow in grace that you might stand, that you might not be led away with the error of the wicked, says the apostle Peter.
Many Christians have a faulty concept of what constitutes spiritual growth. Maturity is not merely a matter of increasing theological knowledge or increasing activity in one’s church or other avenues of service. Rather, it is learning to know and love God, and His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37; Philippians 3:10), learning God’s Word, and conforming one’s life to its standards demonstrate it. It is a matter of decreasing in likeness of men, the world, and increasing in the likeness of Jesus Christ.
The following example tells us that the Christian life is like a long walk, which takes time and effort on our part. I looked at the map of New York City, and I knew I could do it. My hotel was on the upper west side of Manhattan, and I needed to go to the lower east side, about seven miles, I figured. A nice walk for a Saturday. I could take a cab, a bus, or the subway, of course, but if I really wanted to see the Big Apple, I knew walking was the way to go. So I did. Down Broadway to Central Park. Past hundreds of storefronts. Through Chinatown. Hearing the sounds. Smelling the smells. Studying the people. Watching the traffic. Visiting the shops. I really felt like a part of New York City. It took time and effort, but it was well worth both.
As we travel this journey we call the Christian life, we face a similar choice. We can take the easy route, depending on others to give us all our instructions, shortcutting our way past a good prayer-life, or speed-reading a passage of Scripture and calling it “devotions.” Or we can make the effort and take the time to get close to God. As you map out your course each day, choose to “seek Him with your whole heart,” study His Word, and obey what He says. Such a walk will be a delight! To enjoy your walk with God, keep in step with His Word.
Once we accept Christ as our Savior and become born again, it should not be our desire, to stay infants in Christ, and feed solely on the milk of the Word. We need to grow in our spiritual development as we do in our physical development. As children of God, we can never repeat the moment of our birth into God’s family, by our faith and trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Being born again in His family, we must never think that our experience of salvation is then concluded. If so, we err when we assume that everything of consequence is over at the moment we trust Christ as Savior. Salvation is not only the end of eternal condemnation; it is also the beginning of a new life. A life that should be characterized by continuing growth in the likeness of our Savior.
C. THE EXHORTATION FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The exhortation of our spiritual growth is found in Hebrews 12:1 which says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” This is one of many passages in which the writer of this epistle urges his readers to practice that which has been established in precept or doctrine. The believer is to follow the example of the stalwarts of the faith. Like them, the new Christian is to live by faith.
What does it mean to “lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us”? The Army of Alexander the Great was advancing on Persia. At one critical point, it appeared that his troops might be defeated. The soldiers had taken so much plunder from their previous campaigns that they had become weighted down and were losing their effectiveness in combat. Alexander commanded that all the spoils be thrown into a heap and burned. The men complained bitterly but soon saw the wisdom of the order. Someone wrote, “It was as if wings had been given to them—they walked lightly again.” Victory was assured.
The Bible also likens Christians to runners. The Greek athlete ran with very little clothing because he didn’t want to hamper or slow his movements. Similarly, believers in Christ (or soldiers of Christ), if we are to win, we too must lay aside or rid ourselves of every weight that would restrict or slow down our spiritual growth. This weight may be an excessive desire for possessions, the captivating love of money, an endless pursuit of pleasure, maybe an attitude, a habit or any other factor in life that would restrict or slow down this growth. Yes, if we are to fight the good fight of faith and run the spiritual race with endurance, the watchword must be: Off with those weights! If your Christian life is a drag, worldly weights may be holding you back. To fight the battle effectively, we must be clad only with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).
D. THE REASON FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The fact that others have given their lives and their testimonies in bearing witness of God’s faithfulness during adversity should challenge us to go on as well. The “witnesses” here are more than mere spectators. Instead, the word means those who themselves have actively pursued spiritual maturity and have given witness concerning their own experiences. The whole point of the book of Hebrews is that faith in God is the rule of Christian living (Hebrews 10:38). Hebrews 11 is designed to illustrate this principle. Saints before us gave their lives in bearing witness to God’s faithfulness during adversity. The lesson is clear; faith is always associated with trials. This is the way of progress in the life of no return. Following their example, we, too, are to actively pursue spiritual maturity.
The Christian life is likened to a race. The course is set before us, and each believer must run that course for themselves; they cannot depend on someone else, spouse, pastor, teacher, or godly friend, to bring them to the goal of spiritual maturity. The exhortation to run is in the present tense, which means, “let us keep on running.” Some will be able to reach the goal sooner than others will, but each believer must keep going as long as it takes. Moreover, each believer must pursue the course to spiritual maturity with patience, and recognize and reject moments of impatience, doubt, and unbelief.
The words “set before us” suggest that each Christian has a prescribed time during which he is to run the Christian race. This time no doubt begins with salvation and terminates at death. The Christian life is not like the hundred-yard dash. Endurance is the key word in this race, and since we don’t know the length of the course, it is necessary for each one of us to “so run that we may obtain.”
1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it”
When my friend’s son began his sophomore year of high school, he also began his second year of cross-country running. Steve started the year fighting for a sport on the varsity team, which was not an easy task. It meant running miles and miles and miles. It meant lifting weights. It meant getting extra rest and eating right (well, some of the time), and it meant running his heart out at races. His times gradually improved. Then he pulled a muscle and had to start over. But he didn’t quit. Finally, he gained a spot on the varsity team. And by the time they ran in the regional meet, he was the third fastest runner on the team.
Having goals in life can give us the purpose and drive to accomplish something truly valuable. This principle is especially helpful in our lives as believers in Christ. As we run the Christian race, our goal is to “run in such a way” that we may win an imperishable crown, an eternal reward from our Savior (1 Corinthians 3:12-14; 9:24-45). This requires personal discipline, hard work, and continual improvement. It includes a Spirit-enabled commitment to do our very best for the Lord each day. That takes perseverance, an all-out effort, and a push to become increasingly like Christ. But running that way is worth it, for the prize will last forever.
E. WE MUST FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST & OTHER BELIEVERS
To grow spiritually we must have fellowship with Christ and with other brothers and sisters in the Lord, This is essential to our spiritual growth. John the Baptist, Lazarus’ sister Mary, the disciple John and many more individuals mentioned in the Bible were known for their fellowship with Christ. The mind-set of John the Baptist was, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). What is our mind-set concerning Christ? The more time we spend with Christ, the more we become like Christ.
In the Book of Acts, the religious leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John” and realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The disciples had become like Jesus because they had spent time with Him, listened to Him teach, walked and talked with Him, and followed His example. We too will take on the character of Jesus when we spend time in prayer, in fellowship with Him, and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to us through the Word, obey His teachings, and walking and talking with Him throughout the day.
As believers in Christ it is important that we be actively involved and become members in a local church. The Bible instructs us to do this; however, being a member of a church has never gotten anyone into heaven. Being a member of a local church includes identifying with Christ and His people through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, exercising one’s spiritual gifts, studying God’s Word, fellowshipping, praying together, and being accountable to one other. (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Corinthians 11:26; Hebrews 10:24-25; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:5). Each local church is the body of Christ in miniature.
Thus, the church is more than an organization; it is a living organism, manifesting Christ to the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Commitment to and active fellowship in a local church is biblical. Christ willingly identified with us by bearing our sin in His own body. Shouldn’t we be willing to identify with Him by uniting with a local group of His people?
F. WE MUST COMMUNE WITH CHRIST
To grow spiritually we must have communion, which is an intimate companionship or relationship with Christ on a daily basis. Hebrews 4:16 invites the child of God to come boldly to the “throne of grace,” into the presence of our Savior and great High Priest. The word “boldly” means to come bravely, courageously, with liberty of speech and frankness. We need not be embarrassed in our coming to the throne room of Heaven, as the Lord knows all about us and our problems.
The believer who would desire to grow spiritually is invited to come assuredly, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). Until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, only the high priest of Israel could approach God, and only once a year, by making a sacrifice in the Holy of Holies. Now, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, every believer has direct, immediate access to God through His Word, through prayer, and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We can commune with Christ by going continuously and persistently to Him with prayers of thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15). The giving of thanksgiving and praise is a sacrifice with which God is well pleased. Communing with Christ means seeking His fellowship boldly, assuredly, and continually.
G. WE MUST HAVE CONFIDENCE IN CHRIST
To grow spiritually we must have confidence in Him. According to Hebrews 10:23, we are to “hold fast” our profession of faith in Him because He is faithful. Here is a confession of hope, not of despair. Despite man’s unfaithfulness, God abides faithful to His promises. The translation of several words in this verse could be improved. “Profession” is better translated “confession,” and “faith” should be “hope”; “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope.” How faithless and unbelieving we are by nature. Our faith falters; His never does. We must learn to rely on Christ by choosing to do that very thing when trials might tempt us to resolve a problem in our own strength or to give up altogether.
H. WE MUST CONCENTRATE ON HIM
To grow spiritually we must concentrate on Him. The words found in Hebrews 12:2 stress the importance of concentrating on Christ. The contrast between the words “seeing” (v. 1) and “looking” (v. 2) is significant. “Seeing’ carries with it the implication of a passing glance. This is what we are to do with the faithful men and women who have gone the way before us. “Looking,” means something more; it means our attention is to be immersed on our Savior. There is no harm in admiring the stalwarts of the faith, but our scrutiny and concentration are to be upon the Savior. This cannot come until we have laid aside the weights and sins that easily distract us. Christ’s person and work are the reason we are to direct our complete and constant concentration upon Him, the Author (or Captain) and Perfecter of our faith.
Hebrews 12:2 reminds us of the finished work of the Savior and His present position. Christ endured the cross, but He despised the shame attached to it. Having completed His substitutionary work, “He sat down” and He remains “seated at the right hand of the Father” (Hebrews 1:3). These are fitting words to describe Christ’s completed work. It is upon this throne room picture that we are to gaze with rapt attention. The phrase “better things” appears frequently in Hebrews. The people of whom the book was written were tempted to go back to the old system of daily sacrifice, which was done away by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, the perfect Lamb of God, for the sin of the world.
I. WE MUST HAVE CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS
To grow spiritually we must have consideration of others. The rejection of sin is to be a once-and-for-all decision, but our consideration of others is to be an ongoing thing (Hebrews 10:24). The writer clearly indicates the need to “provoke” to incite, to stimulate, two things in other believers. Love and good works constitute the very heart of the Spirit-filled life.
Love is the first fruit of the Spirit we should seek to stir up in others as we encourage them to grow spiritually. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, said Christ, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35). Granted, it is difficult to love some people, and it is especially difficult to love those who differ with us. Yet, the exhortation here is clear.
Good works is the second thing that our spiritual vitality should stimulate in others. The implication is clear here. When we are not in proper fellowship with God and other believers, our lives do not amount to very much for the Lord. Where love is manifested in the body of Christ, harmony and unity will result. Much that will count for eternity is accomplished when Christian love and consideration for others are demonstrated. In Hebrews 13:1-7, you will find seven good works that reflect spiritual maturity.
(1) Brotherly love
(4) Moral purity
(5) Freedom from the love of money
(7) Right response to leadership
Spiritual growth begins with the renouncing of self and sin and all that they involve. When that decision is made, the believer must become focused on Christ. This fixed attention naturally involves prayer, Bible study, living for Christ, and a dedicated walk. If the believer separates himself from sin and unto Christ, the matter of stimulating spiritual vitality in other Christians will be a natural, normal outworking of the other aspects of spiritual growth. Let’s remember that one of these steps of spiritual maturity has anything to do with becoming a Christian. However, they have everything to do with living the Christian life.
J. WE MUST BE PERSISTENT
To grow spiritually we must also be persistence. Hebrews 13:1 and 2 remind us that the love and good works of Hebrews 10:24 are to continue. It is easy to love those whom we like and who share our views. However, it is difficult to keep on loving those brethren who do not agree with us and who cause us grief by making themselves unlovely. Hebrews 13 mentions a number of ways by which this love of the brethren can continue. What happens if the child of God does not go on to maturity in Christ?
Failure to go on in the spiritual life will lead to neglect, indifference, unbelief, spiritual coldness, and finally hardness of heart. Growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is important. Every believer has a sacred responsibility to develop their faith and to mature in Christ. The believer must take periodic inventory of their progress in the things of the Lord. Only by the grace of God can we walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1-2), worthy of our Lord (Colossians 1:10-12), and worthy of our God (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
K. WE NEED TO KEEP CLIMBING
They say few experiences match the challenge and exhilaration of mountain climbing. Those who participate in this exercise of endurance and sill like to compare peaks and share experiences. When European climbers get together to swap stories, they often tell of passing a certain grave along the trail to a famous peak. On the market is a man’s name and this inscription, “He Died Climbing.”
Mountain climbing is a picture of the life of faith. Throughout our lives we are to continue moving upward, learning more about God, growing in our relationship with Christ, becoming stronger in our battle with temptation, pushing ahead in telling the lost about Christ. The author of Hebrews put it this way, “Let us run with endurance.” The words with endurance may be translated “with perseverance,” or more commonly, “to the end”.
Joshua was just such a man of God. His climb began in Egypt and ended in the Promised Land. He won great battles. We are told that Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua (Joshua 24:31). At the close of his life, Joshua was still urging Israel to serve God faithfully. May we like Joshua, serve faithfully until the very end. Our faith grows stronger as we climb higher.
2 Peter 3:18 tells us that we as believers must, “…. grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I will close this study with an illustration entitled: Better Looking Every Day.
Few of us look in the mirror and come to the conclusion of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. During his heyday as a player, Namath wrote a book titled I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow … ‘Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day. As egotistical as that title sounds, it can help us see how we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should view ourselves in the lifelong process of becoming like Him. Scripture tells us that to become more like Christ, we need to keep getting better every day.
The development of Christ likeness is called sanctification. It begins the moment we put our faith in Christ for forgiveness of our sins. In God’s eyes we are sanctified, or “set apart” from the ungodly, and placed in God’s family. However, sanctification is also an ongoing process in which we become more and more like our Savior as we allow the Holy Spirit to develop in us His characteristics. Our part is to “press on,” striving to reach spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:12).
Remember, God is not finished with you, nor does He expect to be until He calls you home. Maturity is not merely a matter of increasing theological knowledge or increasing activity in one’s church or other avenues of service. Rather, it is learning to know and love God, and His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37; Philippians 3:10).
It is learning God’s Word through study; prayer, meditation, obedience, testing, and conforming one’s life to its standards demonstrate spiritual growth. We must know spiritual principles so that we can apply them, speak with confidence about our faith, and stand up under adversity. It is a matter of decreasing in likeness of men, the world, and increasing in the likeness of Jesus Christ.
As believers in Christ, the milk of the Word we started with, will always taste good, however, the Bible’s solid food is what makes us grown stronger in our faith, service, and obedience, to the One (Jesus) who gave His life, so we could have life eternal. I sincerely trust you are maturing in your spiritual growth in becoming more Christ like.
So, are you better looking spiritually today than you were yesterday, last month or even a year ago? We must always remember, there are no shortcuts to our spiritual maturity!