Spiritual growth. Two words that most of us as Christians are familiar with, but the question is whether or not we know what they really mean. Some of us assume spiritual growth will just happen. Kind of like physical growth does in a child. Short of supplying them with some basic nutritional requirements and a safe environment in which to live, there isn’t a lot more needed. They just kind of grow. There are others of us who, if pressed, would have to admit that they just don’t see what all the fuss about spiritual growth is all about. After all, as long as you’re saved, isn’t that all that really matters? If you’re guaranteed a spot in heaven, why make such a big deal out of growing up here? We won’t ever achieve maturity or perfection in this life anyway, so what’s the use in pursuing the impossible.
Yet, the Bible seems to have quite a bit to say about spiritual growth. Peter tells us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us that there comes a time when we need to get off the milk and start feeding on something more substantive. “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT). Paul told the Corinthians, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV). They were stuck on spiritual baby formula. Rather than growing and maturing in their faith, they were like spiritual infants.
Let’s face it, even babies need to be weaned off milk and moved to solid food at some point in the process of their physical maturation. They can’t remain on mother’s breast mile forever. That would be abnormal. And yet, there are many believers who seem to think it is perfectly normal to put off their spiritual growth or avoid it altogether. Peter, Paul and the writer of Hebrews would seem to hold a different view. Growing up can be hard. But it is a necessity of life – both physically and spiritually. Paul told the believers in Colossae, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7 NLT). There is a sense of progress and movement in these verses. No standing still. No remaining spiritually stationary or stagnant. We are to grow deep roots, so we can produce strong branches and produce much fruit. Of course, only the Holy Spirit can accomplish these things in our lives, but we must be willing and ready participants. Our spiritual maturity is not up to us, but it is done in conjunction with us. We must desire it and long for it. Jesus Himself said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT). Our abiding or resting in Him will result in His fruit being produced through us. But without Him we can do nothing. We can’t grow. We can’t be fruitful. We can’t experience the abundant life He promised to give us.
But we must desire spiritual growth. We must pursue righteousness. We must make our spiritual maturity a high priority in our lives. Peter puts it this way: “…you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). We must continually grow in our knowledge of and appreciation for God’s grace as displayed through the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We must also grow in our knowledge of who Jesus is and all that He has done to make us right with God. He didn’t just save us to guarantee us a place in heaven, but to begin the process of transforming us into His own likeness – right here, right now. And don’t mistake the fact that spiritual growth will be painful at times, as you “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5 ESV) and as you die to self daily. Moving from milk to maturity isn’t easy. Getting off the pablum can be difficult at times. But it will all be worth it in the long run. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT).