What Does Spiritual Growth Actually Look Like?
God's purpose in our lives is to help us to change. He wants us to grow. But, how do we measure our spiritual growth? What does that look like? First, it’s important to understand what growth is and what growth isn't.
Growth is not how many.
It's not how many meetings we attend at church. It's not how many verses we memorize in the Bible. It's not how many minutes we spent in a devotion time this morning. It's not how many Christian books we read this last year. It's not a matter of how many.
Many people have thought through the years that if they just attended church more that somehow they would automatically grow. It doesn't work that way. Just doing things doesn't necessarily mean we’re growing. It's not a matter of how many.
Growth is how much.
It's the quality of life. It's, how much closer I am to God than I was at this time last year? It's how much more I love my wife and kids because of God's grace. It's how much my character is being changed by God's power.
It's not a matter of quantity it's a matter of quality. Jesus didn't say, "I came to give you more things to do in your life." He said, "I came to give you an abundant life. A new quality of life."
Ephesians 4:22-24 "Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
I HAVE TO PUT OFF THE OLD
The old is what used to be. The old is my life without Christ and everything that had to do with that.
- I Don’t Grow by Doing Good
If I could just do enough good things then I'm going to grow. That’s what many of us think we need to do to prove to ourselves and others that we’re growing. “Look at all the good things I’m doing. I’m growing!” Really? Is that how you grow? Jesus gave His disciples then and now a great picture of why this doesn't work. He talked about wine and wineskins in
Matthew 9:17 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
What's He talking about here? In that day they would pour the new wine into a leather wineskin and as the wine fermented it would expand and the wineskin would expand with it. Outside, the sun would beat down on it and the wineskin would harden, then they'd pour the wine out. If you took new wine and poured it back into that old hardened wineskin it would burst as it began to expand.
What Jesus was saying was this: Sometimes it looks like it will fit, it fits in the beginning but there's no room for growth, for expansion. Sometimes it looks like if I could just do enough good things, I'm going to grow. That looks like it will work but there's no room for genuine change in that. There's no room for becoming all that God wants me to be. I can't grow just by doing more and more good things.
- I Don't Grow by Keeping Rules
It doesn't happen by doing good and it doesn't happen by keeping rules.
Hebrews 13:9 "Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules…”
It's not by obeying rules that my heart's strengthened. It's by God's grace.
The power doesn't come through rules. Rules can't produce growth. God saying, "I've got a new way for you to live. I've got new things for you to do."
Another word for this trying to use rules to produce growth is religion. That's what religion is. Trying to make a bunch of rules about my relationship to God thinking somehow that's going to produce growth. It never has worked, it never will work. Growth comes from grace.
- I Don’t Grow by Feeling Bad
Rules can't produce growth and guilt can't produce growth, but we think sometimes, "If I just feel bad enough about myself, maybe I'll get better."
Just logically, you can see that that wouldn't work. If I feel bad about myself, I don't get better, I just feel bad.
Romans 8:34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us…
When we celebrate Christmas in a few weeks, we're celebrating the fact that God does not condemn us in Jesus Christ. God wants to come into our lives, give us His grace, and never condemn us again. If God doesn't condemn us, why do we spend so much time condemning ourselves as if that's going to work, change us? It doesn't change us. This is the great promise of God.
If I don't grow by feeling bad about myself, if it doesn't work just to have a list of rules, and doing good things doesn't cause it, what does?
I HAVE TO PUT ON THE NEW.
2 Cor. 5:17 "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
This is a promise for those who are in Christ, for those who have trusted their lives to Christ and His leadership. It's a promise to those who've said, "Jesus, I want You to be a part of my life." It's an incredible promise. It's not just a new list of rules, a bunch of meetings that you have to go to. The promise of the Christian life is the old has gone, and the new has come.
Put off the old, put on the new. Stop talking the old way, start taking in a new way. Stop worrying about my money, start trusting God when it comes to finances. It's God's new way of living.
It’s about being transformed from the inside out. God communicates, "I want you to look like Me on the inside. I want to give you My character. I want you to look like Jesus Christ on the inside."
There's ups and downs in it. It's not perfect but it's growth and you're moving ahead. That's the process of taking off the old and putting on the new.
The Key to Spiritual Growth
What I'm saying to you today is the Christian life is not a life of rules. The Christian life is a life of new power. You're living a new way because you have a new power in your life. Maybe you've met some who've been trying to live the Christian life by rules or by doing good or by feeling bad but that's not what the Bible teaches about true Christianity. Real faith in Christ is built on God's grace.
The question that comes up is "Where do I start in this thing of growth?" One word: trust.
Start with trust. Start by believing in God's ability to accomplish this growth goal in your life. The motivational power for growth isn't found within you. It's found within Him. The motivational power is this: God wants and is willing and is working for us to grow everyday of our life. The minute I come to Him and give my life to Him, He's working for me to grow.