Almost daily, I get asked for spiritual advice. It is a great joy to guide people toward Christ. One of the most common questions I am asked lately is "how do I grow as a Christian?" from people who feel they are stuck spiritually, or growing at a painfully slow pace.
Paul Tripp recently shared on the ChurchLeaders podcast that most Christians feel comfortable with their past salvation in that they received Christ, and their future salvation in that they will go to heaven one day, but they struggle with how to walk out their salvation in the present.
Growth as a Christian is a common struggle for all of us, because it often looks different than we expect or hope.
Thankfully, I have come across some incredible resources filled with much biblical wisdom on how to grow as a Christian, that have helped immensely, and given me a greater understanding of this process.
Here are 6 powerful truths about growth as a Christian:
1. We will never be perfect in this life
If anyone had an opportunity to say how far they had come in their Christian growth, it was the Apostle James. He was known in Church history as "camel knees" for how fervently he prayed. Yet, James admits "we all stumble in many ways." (James 3:2)
One of the truths about holiness is the more you become painfully aware of your failings, the more you are actually growing. Self righteousness and feeling that you are "good" is actually a bad thing. (see 1 John 1:8; Luke 18:9-14) The nearer you draw to the Lord, the more you see His perfection, and your imperfections. (see Isaiah 6:1-8) As we grow as a Christian, we will become more aware of our sin than we previously noticed.
Even as Christians, who are called to grow toward perfection in Christ, we will never be perfect in this life. Far from it. There is not a day of our Christian lives where we will not be needy for the gospel. Accept this reality, and continue growing as a Christian from this place of acceptance because of Christ's work on the cross on your behalf.
2. growth is often hard to see up close
When we look back over the years, we see how God has been working in us, but it can often feel as if in our day-to-day lives we are not growing at all. We wonder how long we will struggle with the same things, and why we can't seem to move past baby steps in our Christian growth.
I remember when we were young, going to our extended relative camping trip, and seeing one of our cousins. So much had changed in a year - he was taller, looked much older, and his voice had completely changed, and gotten deeper. We were very surprised at how much he had changed, but he and his family didn't understand our surprise. They had seen his change in minutia. We were much more able to notice the change because we hadn't been with him for a year.
This is how Christian growth can sometimes feel. But as we look back over the years, we can truly say - "I'm not who I want to be, but thank God, I'm nowhere who I used to be."
When Christ comes into our lives we become a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17) - He brings us "from death to life" (Ephesians 2:5), and yet we are still in this life - in "this body of death" (Romans 7:24) and we will always have the need to continually lay down our sin and selfishness daily at the foot of the cross. (Luke 9:23)
Lane Adams shares in his book "The Incredible Patience of God" how even as a Pastor, he felt painfully aware of his weakness and lack of growth. His book, originally titled "Why Am I Taking So Long to Get Better" explains the struggle we all have with the slowness of our growth in Christ. We do grow in our faith, but often not at the speed we expect or hope. This is normal.
3. We Don't Put Our Faith in our growth, but in the gospel
We shouldn't rest our faith on our Christian growth, but on the gospel alone.
Yes, we want to grow as Christians.
Yes, God has called us to grow as Christians.
Yes, God want to see us walk in freedom, and protected from the vices of sin and selfishness.
Yes, God is working in us and helping us to follow Him - more than we know.
But still the fact remains, that we are not saved by grace, and then keep our salvation by our works. No, we are saved by grace, and then empowered by God to grow, but our salvation always rests in God's mercy and grace alone. We don't work for our salvation, we work from our salvation. It's all because of Jesus. (See Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5)
4. God is Continuing His work in Us
God is often doing far more than we realize in our growth. He wants us to follow Him, more than we want to. He is at work in our lives to enable and empower us to trust and obey Him.
We have a part to play, but God is playing the most important part.
The Bible says, "I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Philippians 1:6)
So always remember that you are not only working to follow closely to Christ, and obey His commands, be encouraged that He is "continuing his work" in you as well.
5. Following Jesus is a Lifelong Process, Not a One-and-Done Moment
Following Jesus is a commitment for life - a life filled with incredible amounts of joy and peace. It is not a one-and-done moment where we pray a prayer. Praying to receive Christ is only the beginning of a life of drawing close to God.
There is a maturing process in the life of the believer, similar to a child growing to adulthood. The Bible speaks of this - of the immaturity and maturity of Christians. Growing to Christian maturity takes a lifetime of submitting to God and His Word, and His process in our lives.
Don't ever be fatalistic, thinking your growth is so slow that it will never really happen. Keep following hard after the Lord. Keep getting back up and obeying. (see Proverbs 24:16)
The good news is we can slowly see spiritual growth in our lives: growth in love, humility, trust, obedience. It is the work of God in us. Allow God to work this in you over the course of months and years, and don't forget to look back on all He has done, and rejoice!
6. Always Keep Working to Follow Jesus more
A wise Christian knows that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," (Matthew 26:41) and they will always be weak as long as they are here on this earth, so they "make no provision for the flesh," (Romans 13:14) and they "flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11)
One of the best books you can read for a Biblical framework of growing in Christ is "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges. This is essential reading for any serious Christian. Jerry says:
"Scripture speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God, and a holiness which we are to strive after. God has made provision for us to live holy, but He has also given us definite responsibilities to pursue holiness. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness."
So spend your life running the race, and enjoying every step of the journey to know Christ more, and continually offering your whole heart to God.
As Jerry Bridges mentions, God has given us "provisions" by which we may grow. In my next post, I will share some of those simple, practical, Biblical steps we can take to grow in the Lord.