Let's begin by using our imaginations. Imagine that you are a young adult. You're married and in your late twenties and you've just had your first child. The child was born healthy and everything appears to be just fine. During the first several years, your baby grew at a tremendous rate, like babies are supposed to do. Your child learned to crawl, walk, and even talk. You love your child so much. However, you noticed something rather unusual on your child's fifth birthday. Your child hasn't grown any in an entire year! Would you be concerned about your child in these circumstances? What would you do?
I suspect any parent would be concerned if their child hadn't grown any in a year's time. Likely all of you would take your child to a doctor immediately. You would want to know what was wrong. After all, it is just not normal for a five-year-old to stop growing. A child who is cared for properly should continue to develop until maturity is reached.
But, what about you: are you growing physically? The answer for most of you is "no," because you've already become full-grown as human beings. We all know that there comes a point in time where we stop growing physically. It is then that our bodies are at their fullest potential (physically speaking). From then on, our bodies slowly begin to decline physically. Because of this fact, aren't you glad that we are much more than just physical beings? We need to praise God that there is more to life than just our physical existence!
I want to ask you another question: are you growing spiritually? The answer had better be "yes," or else you're sinning! It is a command of God that Christians grow spiritually. II Peter 3:18 - "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen." God doesn't just say: "Do your best to grow" or "Give it a shot." He commands us to grow spiritually. We've already noted that it is not normal for a child to stop growing physically, and, according to the Scriptures, it is likewise abnormal for a Christian to stop growing spiritually. We should praise God that we never have to stop growing spiritually! II Corinthians 4:16 reads - "Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day."
I want to accomplish two things in this lesson. (1) I want to examine five items that are absolutely necessary if one is to grow spiritually. You've got to have each of these five things if you're going to mature and fulfill God's command that you grow. Interestingly, these five items are also necessary for humans to grow and develop properly physically. (2) I also want you to look back into your past and compare it with the present. Where are you spiritually? Have you grown closer to God in the past year? Have you slipped some? Have you been growing spiritually or have you been stagnating or even losing ground?
Let's begin by contemplating some REQUIREMENTS FOR GROWTH.
A human life will never reach maturity until after it is born. Can you imagine how absurd it would be for a baby to stay in the womb until it matured into adulthood? That would never work. After a baby is born, it has room to continue its development toward maturity.
Now, make the comparison spiritually. A human life will never reach maturity until after he or she has experienced the new birth. No one can grow as a child of God unless they've been born again! In John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemus - "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." No human being can mature spiritually as God would have him too until they obey the gospel and are born again.
Have you ever heard someone say: "I'm a born-again Christian"? Rather redundant, isn't it? Think about it: What other kind is there? In order to be a Christian, one must be born again! If you carefully study John 3, you will learn that being born again is accomplished through baptism. Interestingly, a human is called a "babe" after it is born again (I Pet. 2:1-3).
Have you been born again? Have you repented, confessed Christ, and been baptized for the forgiveness of your sins?
Without fuel for the body, growth is not possible. Most Americans eat three meals a day everyday. But, how many of you read your Bible yesterday? What about the day before? Disciples of Christ should be studying and meditating upon the Scriptures daily! Personally, I enjoy eating and look forward to it, unless I'm sick. A person who has no appetite for the word of God is an individual who is spiritually ill.
Jesus declared - "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). You're smart enough to feed your body daily. Are you smart enough to feed yourself spiritually every day also? The Bible is spiritual food. It is both milk and meat. It is milk to the babes in Christ and it is meat to older Christians (cf. Heb. 5:12-14). By living on the milk of the word, one grows and becomes able to digest the more difficult things in the Bible, the meat of the word.
Most have seen TV commercials regarding those who live in poverty overseas with their puny, malnourished bodies. Have you ever seen someone in the USA who is sickly and malnourished? I certainly have. In fact, I see them everyday. I see something that is infinitely more sad than a malnourished physical body. I see individuals who have become Christians and, for some reason or another, are starving themselves to death! That's right, too many of us are not eating properly spiritually, and there is no excuse! It's not like there is a shortage of spiritual food available to us. In America, we have access to a Bible or two or three. The food is there, so why aren't more people eating? Most feed their physical bodies over twenty times a week, but what about your spiritual body? Do you just feed on the Scriptures in the assembly of the church? Is that the only time your Bible gets opened? May it not be so with you!
I'd like to encourage you to try something, if you have enough courage and conviction. If a day passes in which you don't study God's word (and thus feed yourself spiritually), determine to skip all physical eating the next day.
Oh, but Stephen, I couldn't do that! I might get sick or weak if I didn't eat for a whole day. Exactly! So what makes you think you can do it spiritually for a day or several days or even a week?! Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if feeding our faces isn't more important to us than feeding our souls. I've noticed that congregations often have their largest assemblies when they're having a fellowship meal after a worship service. That's a sad commentary. We aren't reluctant to come together for a meal, but some will hesitate at the idea of coming to fill their souls with spiritual food for evening assemblies or Bible studies. Why? Why do we pass up opportunities to grow stronger? Why do we pass up spiritual meals but not physical ones?
Friends, I tell you the truth, if you're not studying your Bible outside the walls of the church building, then you are sinning. You are not growing and maturing as God expects you to. You're letting Him down. You're not achieving your full potential. And how can you if you're not eating properly? "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15).
Are you partaking of spiritual food as you should be?
Exercise is a requirement for both physical and spiritual growth. Have you ever broken an arm or a leg? Have you ever been laid up for several months? If so, then you know just how important exercise is to staying strong and healthy. The old saying is definitely true: "What you don't use, you lose!" When our physical muscles are not exercised and used, they become weak.
The same is true spiritually. Consider I Timothy 4:7 - "...exercise yourself toward godliness." In Galatians 5:6, we learn that the Christian life is a life of "faith working through love." In fact, we are workers together with God (II Cor. 6:1). We also need to realize that we learn by doing. A baby learns to talk by talking and to walk by walking. We learn to sing by singing, pray by praying, preach by preaching, and win souls by winning souls. If you will study the Bible, pray to God, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, encourage the faint-hearted, restore the fallen, and win the lost, you will become stronger as a Christian! Activity strengthens, but inactivity weakens. Additionally, James 2:18 states that we show our faith by our works. Thus, if you're not doing much work for the Lord, then evidently you have little faith.
God has prepared good works for us to exercise ourselves spiritually (Eph. 2:10). The question is: Are you exercising yourself spiritually?
The fourth requirement for growth is a suitable environment. Those who have household plants know that certain plants do better in different types of environments. Some plants like lots of sunlight but others don't. Some need lots of water while others require very little.
Having a proper spiritual environment is also very important if we are going to grow as God expects us to. I Corinthians 15:33 teaches - "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'" That was Paul's warning nearly two thousand years ago. It was true then and it is still true today. We become like those we hang around and spend time with. If we're spending time with worldly people, and if we're not exceedingly careful, we will begin to act like worldly people ourselves. We will stop growing and perhaps even fall from the faith. This truth is most obvious in the lives of teenagers. Everyone has heard about peer pressure and you've likely experienced it firsthand. Peer pressure isn't always bad. For example, as Christians we can pressure each other and encourage each other to live godly lives. More often though, peer pressure works negatively. Peer pressure often leads to teenage drinking, sex before marriage, illegal drug use, and a host of other sins. God has warned us not to be deceived, however. Don't trick yourself into thinking: "It won't happen to me. It doesn't really matter if I hang out with these people who are living immorally because I'm strong and they won't influence me to commit evil." Wrong!
We must place ourselves into good, wholesome, spiritual environments. Let us dwell on those things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 - "Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things." If we put ourselves into an environment like Paul described, we will be better prepared to grow spiritually.
What type of environment are you living in spiritually? Is it one that promotes godliness or worldliness?
Neither a baby nor a Christian is born full grown. It takes time for the growth and development of both. This realization should be encouraging to recent converts of Christ in that they should realize that once they come to Christ, they won't automatically understand everything and be a mature Christian. But, if they continually feed on God's word after becoming a Christian, remain free from sin and evil influences, and exercise themselves unto good works, they will grow and mature over time.
However, there should be a certain realization of fear implied in this principle. All healthy physical babies develop and mature into adulthood. All healthy Christians grow and develop into teachers of the gospel (cf. Heb. 5:12-14). If you've been a Christian for some time and haven't made any progress spiritually in regards to your knowledge and your spiritual maturity, then you're obviously unhealthy. We know that if a child is not growing then there is something wrong, and we must realize the same is true spiritually for children of God.
But, how can one know if he is really becoming more spiritually mature? If we are adding the Christian graces to our life (found in II Pet. 1) and the fruit of the Spirit (found in Gal. 5), then we are growing. Spiritual growth is gradual, but it won't happen if we don't put forth the effort. We can't just sit in the pews and expect ourselves to grow. If we just hope it will happen we'll end up squandering a great deal of time and ability that could have been used for the Lord. The Lord demands that we grow and work for Him. If you are content with where you're at right now spiritually, you've got a big problem (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). Regardless of where you're at spiritually, you must keep on growing!
I want you to look back into your past (let's say one year ago) and then I want you look at the present. Where are you spiritually? Have you gotten closer to God this year? Have you slipped some? Have you been growing spiritually or have you been stagnating or even losing ground? Think on these things, and act accordingly!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.