Oh Just Grow Up! – 3 Goals For Spiritual Growth Every Christian Should Make – Part 1
Whenever I ask a group of believers how they would like to grow spiritually in the next year, the answers usually range along these lines: I want to read the Bible more. I want to grow in prayer. I want to overcome this bad habit. I’d love to be a better witness at work. I want to start family devotions. I want to help my church grow stronger.
All these are good and noble goals to have. (And trust me. If you hang out with us at Bridgeway this next year, and you will grow in each of these areas.)
But there are three larger canopies under which we could place each of these goals, which Scripture encourages us to aim at. Reading the Bible more is not the end-game. I want to learn to read the Bible more because it will propel me toward these three larger targets. Prayer is not the endgame. I know people who pray a lot, but they’ll get nowhere near these three areas, and so for them, their praying is largely wasted.
These three primary goals for growth are 1) Christlikeness, 2) knowledge (the knowledge of God); and 3) fruitfulness.
When Paul promised to pray for the believers in Colossae, notice what he asks for. “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding [knowledge], so as to walk in a manner worth of the Lord [Christlikness], bearing fruit in every good work. [fruitfulness].” (Col. 1:9-10)
Let’s talk about what is arguably the most important of the three.
We are to grow in Christlikeness
Paul writes in Romans 8:29 – “For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son.” When all is said and done, it’s your destiny to become a moral replica of Jesus.
Whatever else you may do with your life, there is one moral path that we should follow, and Jesus blazes that trail. What this means is that over the course of time, as a person follows Christ we should see an increase in Christlike character and love growing in them.
The New Testament provides living examples of this. Jesus took impulsive Peter and shaped him into the first leader of the early Church. Jesus took John the zealot, known as a “son of thunder” and turned him into the apostle who spoke more about loving others than anyone else. He took the persecutor Saul, and when he was finished with him, released to the world the first and best missionary of faith the world has ever seen.
And Jesus has a destiny marked out for you, if you will allow Jesus to train you for godliness.
One reason we know this is the most important of the three goals, is that if we don’t – or won’t – grow in Christlikeness, then the two other types of spiritual growth are nullified. If I grow in knowledge, but fail to learn how to love like Christ, my knowledge is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2-3). I may think I’m living a highly fruitful life, but if my fruitfulness doesn’t flow from moral goodness and obedience to God, then that fruit is tainted (Matthew 7:15-23).
One reason among many why I want as many people as possible to become true followers of Christ, is because I want a world where the moral qualities Christ modeled for us are increasing on the earth. For a person to be able to grow in the virtues called the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – tell me where that wouldn’t be a good thing!
How does this growth happen?
This is the best part of Christianity. Christianity offers something that no other religion offers – a relationship with your Maker. In Christianity, Jesus is not just a target. He’s not just our example, or a “goal”. He’s our very life. There is no Christlikeness to be had without Christ.
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said John 15. “Apart from me you can do nothing!”
Jesus was talking to an agricultural society when he said those words. If he were talking to a group of engineers and pilots, he might say, “I am the engine, you are the jet.” To achieve the heights of altitude and speed which are so awe-inspiring, the jet must be connected to the engines. The moment that jet is severed from those engines, begins the fall. And the moment we sever ourselves from Christ, the plummeting begins. A famous Puritan once said, “The moment we sin is to enter a declining state.”
So as the believer learns to connect daily with his or her Lord, finding nourishment in his Word and learning to listen to him through prayer, several things begin to happen.
The Lord begins to reveal to you the areas of sin where he wants to begin his work. Every believer should have a Spirit-led self-awareness of where their specific weaknesses are. But if you can’t ‘name your demons’, or deny their existence, you are only deceiving yourself.
Then the Lord begins to show you a path through those dark woods. “Train yourself to be godly,” Scripture says (1 Timothy 4:7). You’ll begin to discern a customized training program or personalized strategy to help you overcome your sin.
Finally, the Lord will always, always, ALWAYS lead you to find a small group of some trusted brothers or sisters with whom to share your moral journey. With this group, you’ll share the sins you are struggling with, and the strategies you sense the Lord guiding you towards. Because the journey of growing in Christlikness cannot be taken alone.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.