Developing healthy spiritual growth
What is spiritual growth? Spiritual growth is the development of the believer’s faith and life in learning to know, trust and honor the Triune God intellectually and experientially, which issues in the Spirit’s graces exercised in conformity to Christ through practical Christian living. By this growth a deeper insight is also gained into spiritual liberty.
There is a saying: ‘The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.’ Certainly that is true of our spiritual lives. We must not be satisfied to say that we have been born again, but pray that the child of our new birth would grow into a mature man. Spiritual growth should be as natural to believers as physical growth is to children. Regardless of the number of people involved, or the social or strategic importance of the church, God’s will for all his children is that they grow up to maturity in Christ.
A staple part of life
Wilhelmus à Brakel provides several reasons spiritual growth should be a staple part of every believer’s life: first, ‘God promises that He will cause His regenerated children to grow’ (Ps. 92:13; Hosea 14:5-6; Mal. 4:2); second, ‘it is the very nature of spiritual life to grow’ (Prov. 4:18; Job 17:9); third, ‘the growth of His children is the goal and objective God has in view by administering the means of grace to them’ (Eph. 4:11-15; 1 Peter 2:2); fourth, ‘it is a duty to which God’s children are continually exhorted, and their activity is to consist in a striving for growth’ (2 Peter 3:18; Phil. 3:12); and finally, the need for spiritual growth ‘is also conveyed by the difference in believers in regard to their condition and the measure of grace’ (1 John 2:13).
Such spiritual growth vindicates a believer’s claims to have been converted. Regeneration creates new desires. As Matthew 5:6 says, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.’ Such persons are blessed because they have been begotten again unto new life in Christ. A healthy infant has a strong appetite, and the newborn child of God wants more of God. Lack of appetite in a child is a symptom of sickness. Lack of spiritual appetite in a professing Christian is a very disturbing sign. Gardiner Spring (1785-1873) said, ‘The hypocrite, when once he imagines himself to be a Christian, views his work as done. He is satisfied. He is rich and increased in goods. But it is otherwise with the true Christian… The more he loves God, the more he desires to love Him.’
So Paul prayed for the new converts at Colossae. He provides a detailed summary of his prayers, giving us a description of true spiritual growth. Let us soak our minds and hearts in the rich broth of this passage of Holy Scripture so that we may know what true spiritual growth is, and how it takes place. Then let us climb this text as a high hill from which to survey the broader biblical teaching on growing in grace.
The Spirit’s work
Before going further, let us observe something we may otherwise overlook. All spiritual growth ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit. Why else would Paul pray for such growth, if God did not give it? Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6: ‘I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.’ Just as we must thank God for our conversion, so we must also pray for spiritual growth from his hands. Indeed, Paul by example teaches us that praying for spiritual growth should be a high priority for us. We are told that Paul and his co-workers did not cease to pray for this growth. It was their constant prayer for the ‘saints and faithful brethren’ of the Colossian church. We see this same priority in Paul’s other letters: constant prayer for the spiritual growth of all Christians, and the churches they belong to.
Do you pray for spiritual growth in yourself and in the church? Is it your priority? It will do us little good to talk about spiritual growth if we do not yearn for it and pray for it. Robert Rollock (1555-1598) said, ‘Earnest and fervent prayer to God is the means to get grace from him.’ If we do not want to fall under the rebuke of James 4:2:‘Ye have not, because ye ask not’, we must pray for ourselves, our families, our fellow believers, and our churches. Notice that the church at Colossae was not one that Paul planted, for which he was personally responsible. This church was planted by Epaphras, perhaps with the assistance of Archippus (4:17). But even so, these Christians were dear to Paul, and he prayed for them as lovingly and faithfully as for any other. As you pray for the church you serve, do you also pray for other churches in your communities? Do you pray for churches in other places? Let us offer prayers that walk all over the globe for the sake of God’s church!
Taking up the contents of Paul’s prayer, we learn that spiritual growth is like a diamond; it has many facets. It begins in the head and the heart (v.9), works itself out in our daily lives (vv.10-11), and is consummated in the praise and thanksgiving that we offer by word and deed to our Father in heaven (v.12) for our deliverance in Christ (v.13). Peter presents the matter in even more detail: ‘And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity’ (2 Peter 1:5-7). Spiritual growth is part of the larger doctrine of sanctification, involving the exposition of the requirements of the law, and the use of the means of grace.
This extract is taken from ‘Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth’ by Joel Beeke, recently published by EP Books. Used with kind permission.