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What does it take to grow and become spiritually mature? Why don't some Christians grow as they should?
God's word presents the steps we can take toward spiritual growth and maturity through Bible study, patience, and the diligent practice of good works.
People understand the concept of growth in human physical development, and we know why it is important.
Babies are physically and mentally immature, but we expect them to thrive. If they don't, there is a problem.
My best friend in high school didn't grow up and may have been almost a dwarf. But in his senior year, doctors gave him injections to make him grow.
Spiritual growth is a similar concept, but much more important.
Growth is development or improvement toward a goal called "maturity" (or, in the Bible, "perfection"). When someone is "born again" as a child of God, they are spiritually immature. Over time, he should develop the qualities or abilities that the Bible says characterize maturity. A congregation matures as individual members mature.
Many Scriptures describe the need to grow and mature spiritually:
Ephesians 4:14,15 - No longer be children, but grow up in Christ.
2 Peter 3:18 - but grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 - The Thessalonians grew greatly in faith.
Philippians 1:9 - Paul prayed that their love would increase more and more.
Many problems arise when members do not grow: some return to the world, others cause conflict through ignorance, or become a stumbling block through irregular attendance, worldliness, or indifference.
The purpose of this lesson is to study the steps that every Christian must take to grow spiritually.
Just as a baby needs to do certain things to grow physically, Christians need certain kinds of activities to grow spiritually. When the limbs do not grow, it is because one or more of them is missing.
I. A DESIRE TO GROW
A. We will never grow unless we want to grow
In the physical realm, children WANT to grow.
"I want to grow up to be like mom/dad/MichaelJordan..." "I can't wait until I'm 16 to drive."
Parents and children are very excited when children learn something new: first step, first word, drawing, etc. Everyone wants them to develop new skills.
Parents sometimes use this to encourage children. When Tim was little, he wanted to drink milk because Bill Buckner (Cubs first baseman) advertised it.
Likewise, in spiritual matters, Christians must WANT to grow.
1 Peter 2:2 - Desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow.
Some seem to enjoy being spirit babies. They don't want to grow. It's easy to be a baby, without responsibility. Others feed you, dress you, change your diaper. In church, you don't have to teach, rebuke sin, or work. It's a free ride!
But being a baby is not the purpose of life. We are born babies so that we can grow up and be productive and useful. In the same way, we are born again, so that we can become mature Christians, actively serving the Lord.
One of the conditions to become a child of God is REPENTANCE. It is necessary to make the determination to abandon sin and GO TO WORK in God's vineyard. Then one must bear the FRUITS of repentance. This will lead us to grow and improve in God's work. Otherwise, we will not fulfill our purpose of becoming God's children.
1 Peter 2:21 - Jesus gave us an example, and we are to follow in his footsteps. We must ask ourselves, "Don't I want to grow up to be spiritually strong like Jesus?"
B. We must maintain that desire to grow.
Some members who previously wanted to grow may lose that desire.
They may start out burning for the Lord, but they lose their zeal. They develop a spirit of indifference or abandonment.
Others develop a level of maturity and stagnate. They are satisfied, thinking that more growth is not needed.
The scriptures teach that growth is always necessary.
Philippians 3:12-14 - Even Paul, with his maturity, did not consider himself as having reached perfection (maturity) to the point of giving up striving to improve. He forgot about the achievements (and failures) of the past and moved on to greater achievements.
Matthew 26:31-35 - Peter thought he had reached a level where he would never deny Jesus. But that same night he denied it three times.
1 Corinthians 10:12 - Therefore, whoever thinks he stands firm, see that he does not fall. Christians never get to the point where we are so mature that we cannot fall.
One of the main reasons Christians don't grow is that they don't see the NEED to grow. They have no desire to work and serve to the best of their ability. When people develop a burning hunger and thirst to work for the Lord, they will develop the other steps they need to grow.
Do you have that burning desire to accomplish more for the Lord? Have you set specific goals for the work you want to do for God, improvements to make, new levels to reach?
A. We need Spiritual Food from the Word of God.
A child cannot physically grow without proper nutrition.
Good parents care about proper nutrition. They want their children to eat what is good for them, not bad for them. We were moved by images of children starving because of poverty.
Most children WANT nutrition. Babies cry for food. Once when I was a child, I was so hungry that I cried and my mother felt very sick.
Even adults know that we need food and we don't like to spend a lot of time without it. We want it every day, regularly, several times a day.
In the same way spiritually we cannot grow without feeding on the Word of God.
1 Peter 2:2 - Like newborn children, long for the pure milk of the word, that you may grow.
2 Peter 3:18 - Grow in grace and in the KNOWLEDGE of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Matthew 4:4 - Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
[Eph. 4:15; Food. 5:6]
B. To obtain this food, we must study the Bible and attend church meetings.
The Scriptures show the need for regular feeding.
Hebrews 5:11-14 - The Christians were rebuked for not growing up as they should because they had not studied. Time and time again, members go astray or are spiritual dwarfs because they observe correctly.
Acts 17:11 - The Bereans were able to determine if the truth was being taught because they searched the scriptures DAILY. We need REGULAR nutrition.
Psalm 1:1,2 - Meditate on the word of God day and night. Children and adults need physical food on a regular basis and are very upset without it. But are we content to go days at a time without feeding on the word of God? [119:47,48,95-99; Joshua 1:8]
Do we make use of the opportunities the church provides for food? It never ceases to amaze me when the church throws a spiritual feast and the members choose to do other things. How many times do we miss the regular meals provided for our stomachs?
Answer this questionnaire to verify your spiritual nutrition.
How much time did you spend this week watching TV?
How much time watching sports or shows, or reading newspapers, magazines, etc.?
How much time have you devoted to some hobby or outside interest that may not be immoral but isn't necessary?
How many hours have you spent studying your Bible?
How many church services have you attended? How many did you miss that you might have seen?
What do you feed better: your spirit or your body? Are you feeding your mind with the word or the pleasures of God?
Christians need a regular nourishment of God's word to grow.
third EXERCISE AND PRACTICE
A. Exercise and practice are essential for physical development.
Athletes and musicians know that they must exercise and practice to improve.
Skill development requires continuous repetition: playing a song, shooting shots, shooting baskets.
Athletes run, lift weights, and practice hour after hour to build strength and stamina.
Illustration: A man once owned an apartment next door to a professional cellist. He thought it must be exciting to play in an orchestra. So he listened as the man practiced the scales, the exercises, and the songs over and over again.
Children practice skills over and over again to learn them.
Children who are learning to walk try again and again. They are proud to learn a new word, so they use it until they drive you crazy! They want to play the same thing over and over again: play the same tape, put clothes on a doll.
Parents encourage children to repeat what they are supposed to learn: math exercises, spelling, reading, piano. They get tired, but we encourage them because that's how they learn.
"Practice makes perfect", or at least promotes improvement.
B. Exercise and practice are essential for spiritual growth.
Hebrews 5:14 - Those who are of legal age, by use, have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Growth requires exercise and nutrition.
1 Timothy 4:7 - Exercise yourself in godliness.
Like children, athletes, and musicians, we must repeatedly work to apply Bible principles in order to be effective in the Lord's work.
To learn to TEACH, we must do it over and over again: teaching your children, home studies, Bible classes, preaching sermons, over and over again.
To learn to LEAD SINGING, practice songs at home, sing with your family, lead repeatedly at church meetings.
To understand the BIBLE, study it repeatedly, talk to others, train yourself, memorize it. Go in and dig.
To learn to PRAY, do it over and over again.
Children may not be good at activities at first, but parents encourage them to do it again and again. Likewise, older members should encourage younger members to use their talents. They may not be skilled at first, but they learn by doing.
We need to encourage teachers, preachers and music leaders. Do not claim. Of course, do not stay at home. They need the practice!
4. TIME AND PATIENCE
By definition, growth takes TIME. It is progress and development over time. Here are several important lessons:
A. Don't expect to achieve your goal overnight.
Children do not instantly become adults.
At birth, they are so small that you can store them in a small basket. Soon they will no longer wear new clothes every month. Eventually, they may wear clothes from their parents or even older. But that takes time.
Sometimes children get impatient. "I can't wait until I'm 18 (or 21)." We say, "Don't be in a hurry. It will be here soon." Time flies by and sure enough, what they expected has come and gone, and they look back and wonder how time went by so quickly.
Similarly, spiritually, don't expect maturity overnight.
James 1:4 - In order to become perfect and mature (integral), lacking nothing, we must be patient.
Some newborn Christians want to know everything and do everything right away. They may not be willing to use TIME to STUDY and DEVELOP the skill. However, they want to be like the mature members, and they want the other members to treat them with the same respect that they treat the mature members, before they have time to grow up.
Sometimes the older members get impatient with the new members. We don't understand why new converts have trouble with some basic concepts. Sometimes these new members explain, "I was never really taught what the BIBLE says before." They have no background in Scripture and it takes TIME to grow.
Remember that people who can be mature today did not become that way overnight. He took years of study and practice. And new converts will not mature overnight. It will take time.
New members should not get discouraged or give up. Older members should not be impatient or overly demanding. Remember how our children were slow to grow up and how we had to show patience with their immature ways as they grew up. But growth will come as long as people try and we give them time.
B. Don't be discouraged by mistakes and reprimands.
Children make many mistakes and often need to be told that they are wrong.
How often does a child fall while learning to walk? They fall over and over again, racking up bumps and bruises. They spill the milk, they don't hold their spoons well, they fall off their bikes and come to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run in scoring and hitting position.
Parents are continually correcting, instructing, and punishing until we almost feel sorry for the children. Growing up is hard!
If children are to mature, they must continue despite mistakes and scolding. And one day they will remember their own childish mistakes and just smile.
Likewise, new converts will make many mistakes and often must be told that they are wrong.
Some of the greatest characters in the Bible made terrible mistakes and had to be reprimanded.
* Moses excused himself when God called him to lead Israel out of slavery.
* David committed adultery with Bathsheba and was rebuked by Nathan.
* Peter denied Jesus three times.
* Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion.
* Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus.
* All the apostles abandoned Jesus when he was arrested and crucified.
Matthew 16:21-23 - Shortly after confessing Jesus and being highly praised (v15-18), Peter contradicted Jesus and was severely rebuked.
Yet all of them are remembered as some of the greatest servants of God.
Great servants are not people who live without ever sinning, but people who learn from their mistakes and faithfully serve God.
Judas betrayed Jesus and is remembered as a traitor. Peter denied Jesus three times and is remembered as a great apostle. What is the difference? Judas, after betraying Jesus, hanged himself. Peter, after denying Jesus, repented and began to preach the gospel.
Proverbs 29:1 - A person is destroyed, not simply because he does wrong, but because he becomes stubborn when rebuked and does not repent. What is needed is repentance and patience to learn to do the right thing.
The story is told of a boy who fell out of bed. When asked what happened, he said: "I think I got too close to square one." This is exactly why so many people turn away from God after conversion: they stay too close to the "entry" point and don't reach maturity.
There is no shame in being a baby if you were born a few months ago. But if a person has been a child of God for several years and has not grown, he has a problem.
Everyone needs to grow as a Christian, and everyone can if they apply biblical growth principles.
Note: If you want to go deeper into the topics mentioned in this lesson, see the links listed below.
(C) Copyright 1968, David E. Pratte; evangelioway.com
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Topics for further Bible study
The importance of biblical knowledge
How to study the Bible
What is needed after baptism?
Why do we need salvation from sin?
How can you be sure of forgiveness?
Is Jesus really your Lord?
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.