- The Evidence of Life is Growth
In the natural realm there is a great evidence that a person or thing possess life within them, and that is that they grow, develop and mature. If a child is not progressing in physical development, we rightly understand that something is not right. If plants are not growing properly or are not bearing any fruit, we logically conclude something is wrong. If a dog appears emaciated and has no appetite for food, we know something is amiss. We understand that growth demonstrates life.
It is the same thing in the spiritual realm. Spiritual growth is the evidence of spiritual life. If a professing Christian shows no growth, development, or maturity in Christ there is reason to believe there is no life. There is little evidence proving that Christ knows them though they profess to know Christ. As we have said repeatedly, the greatest question in the end is not whether you know Jesus, but whether He knows you.
Spiritual growth is not an option for the Christian. It is a command, and it is the evidence that you have taken ahold of eternal life and are living it abundantly. Paul says to the Ephesians in 4:17-24:
“17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
He says to the Romans in 12:1-2:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Peter says in 1 Peter 1:14-16 says:
“14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
He says in 2:1-2:
“Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
Listen to what Peter says in his second letter regarding those who have been granted:
“Everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
He says in verse 4-11:
“4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
It should be no surprise to us that he ends his second letter exhorting believers to,
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Our growth glorifies God, and demonstrates we are indeed in Him and He in us. Jesus said in John 15:8, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” So the question we need to ask ourselves is this, “Am I growing in Christ?”
In our portion of 1 John, he presents to us a basic progression of spiritual growth. He says:
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
I believe was see spiritual babes, spiritual adolescence, and spiritual adults.
Before we look at this, however, I want to first discuss what spiritual growth is, and then marks of spiritual growth.
J.C. Ryle said this:
“To everyone who is downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow? The question is one that is always useful, but especially so at certain seasons…Time is fast flying. Life is fast ebbing. The hour is daily drawing nearer when the reality of our Christianity will be tested, and it will be seen whether we have built on ‘the rock’ or on ‘the sand’. Surely it becomes us from time to time to examine ourselves, and take account of our souls? Do we get on in spiritual things? Do we grow?”
- What is Spiritual Growth
Let us begin by understanding somethings about spiritual growth. In Ryle’s day he said that:
“Crude and strange opinions are floating in men’s minds on some points of doctrine, and among others on the point of ‘growth in grace’, as an essential part of true holiness. By some it is totally denied. By others it is explained away, and pared down to nothing. By thousands it is misunderstood, and consequently neglected.”
The same can be said today, so let us first consider what spiritual growth is not:
- Does not determine a Christians standing in God’s grace. It would no longer be grace if it did.
- Does not effect God’s love for the Christian. God’s love for us is not based on our individual merit, but the merit of another, His only Son. God loves us with the love He has for His Son.
- Does not occur with age. Meaning your duration in the faith does not determine your maturity.
- Does not ensue via osmosis. Meaning you do not just grow because of your proximity to the people of God.
- Does not happen through some mystical, sentimental, or psychological process.
- Does not depend on the amount of mere theological information possessed by the Christian.
- Does not corelate with ministry activity which appears to be successful on the outside.
Spiritual growth does not just happen. Just as physical growth requires food, so does spiritual growth. Just as muscular gain involves discipline and effort, so does spiritual gain. Ryle frequently says through his works, “If there is no pain, there is no gain.”
Spiritual growth is achieved through the process of sanctification. It is important we understand the distinction between justification and sanctification. Our justification in Christ was monergistic, meaning there was one force at work and it was God. This is seen in Ezekiel 36:25-26 when God describes the regenerating work He will do in the hearts of people:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
It is seen in John 3 when Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Jesus says in John 3:3,5:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see (Mental Perception) the kingdom of God…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter (Physical Admittance) into the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:1,4-5 clearly conveys the monergistic work of God in salvation:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Faith being the gift).”
Our sanctification in Christ, however, is synergistic, meaning two forces at work, God, and the sinner He has justified. One of the clearest portions of Scripture that conveys this is Philippians 2:12-13:
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
As we have discussed through our study in John, Jesus makes new creatures. He who began a good work in us will perfect us until the day of Christ Jesus. Spiritual growth could be defined as Ryle puts is when a person’s:
“Sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more 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. I leave it to others to describe such a man’s condition by any words they please. For myself I think the truest and best account of him is this – he is ‘growing in grace’.”
- Marks of Growth
Marks of progression towards the image of Christ:
- Increased humility. Paul demonstrates this in Philippians 3:12 when he says, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Ephesians 3:8, “To me, the very least of all saints…”
1 Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
- Increased faith towards Christ. This will naturally occur with increased humility. The closer we draw to God the farther we fall short, and the farther we fall the greater we see our need for Christ.
- Increased holiness of life and conversation.
- Increased spirituality of taste and mind. The one who conforms to Christ by being transformed by the renewing of the mind gradually loses interest in the worlds entertainment, amusements, and ways.It progressively becomes vain and trivial. It is not that mature believers become people without interests, rather their interests are refined. They become more interested in spiritual company who draw them to a deeper relationship with God. They put aside childish things and press on to the upward calling in Christ. They lay hold of eternal life. They find more enjoyment in matters that pertain to God, rather than worldly entertainment and amusements. Even things of the world that are not innately sinful become dull, vain, and trivial the more one tastes of the abundant life in Christ. Colossians 3:1-2 says:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
- Increased love
- Increased zeal and diligence for good
- Grow in His Grace and Knowledge
How does one grow in Christ? As Peter said, by longing for the pure milk of the Word of God. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4:
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is directly from the breath of God and is sufficient for our lives:
“16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 says that Christ is concerned not merely with our justification, but with our sanctification as well by the power of His living Word in our lives:
“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
Jesus prays for our being sanctified by the word in John 17:17 saying to the Father:
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
We are to be like the Bereans, which Acts 17:11 says:
“Were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
We are to be as 2 Timothy 2:15 says:
“Diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
May we therefore, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and strive for the same mindset as Paul in Philippians 3:8-14:
“8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
 Matthew 7:21-23
 2 Peter 1:3
 2 Peter 1:4-11
 Holiness, J.C. Ryle; Page 113-14
 Holiness, J.C. Ryle; Page 114
 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John, John MacArthur; Page 70-72
 Philippians 1:6
 Holiness, J.C. Ryle; Page 115-16
 Holiness, J.C. Ryle; Page
 Job 40:4
 Genesis 18:27
 Genesis 32:10
 Psalm 22:6
 Isaiah 6:5
 Luke 15:8