Growth: How can one progress faster spiritually?
The first step in spiritual growth is to be sure you are not just “religious,” but saved and heaven bound. This means you’ve been delivered from God’s condemnation. You, and even the members of your household, can all be saved the same way. Notice what the apostle Paul told a Philippian jailor about this.
29 Then he [the prison guard] called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. [Emphasis added]
Even though there was a time when God required certain “works” to express one’s faith, such is not the case today. This and more changed with the revelation God gave the man called the apostle Paul.
I Timothy 1:15-16
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. [Emphasis added]
Paul’s salvation came as a wonderful expression of God’s grace. Such is the case with our salvation too.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
Even though many people, even regular churchgoers, are confused about this in our time, works of no kind on our part have anything to do with one’s attainment of salvation and entrance into Heaven.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. [Emphasis added]
It is putting one’s faith in Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection that provides people with salvation and the means to their entrance into Heaven.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [the good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
It is faith in His work that provides salvation for anyone. It is then that one gains spiritual life, the life of God. Until that happens, a person is alive physically, but they are spiritually dead.
1 And you [people who have accepted His means for salvation] hath he quickened, [SUZOOPOIEO = to make alive with] who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [a reference to Satan], the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience [speaking of unbelievers]:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation [ANASTROPHE = behavior or manner of life] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath [objects of God’s condemnation], even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with [SUZOOPOIEO = to make alive with] Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) [Emphasis added]
Many correctly call this being born again. We were all born once, but only those who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation are said to be regenerated, that is, born again. As I’ve said, this new birth occurs in us by God’s grace and through our faith, not our works.
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration [PALINGENESIA = born again (PALIN = again & GENESIA = born)], and renewing [ANAKAINOO = making new] of the Holy Ghost; [Emphasis added]
[For more details on the meaning of regeneration and the new birth, go to my article entitled Regeneration: Are people “born again” today?]
To be regenerated is to be born again to gain spiritual life. Such has been the need for all mankind in every generation since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned, they died spiritually immediately and then died physically eventually.
Once you’ve been born into the family of God, your main objective in life from that point on should be to grow and become mature spiritually. Good physical growth demands healthy foods and what some would call a balanced diet. Such is true in a similar way with spiritual growth. For this to happen there must be diligence in one’s work to understand and believe the Word of God.
II Timothy 2:15
15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
In his last recorded words in the Bible the apostle Peter tells us this same thing about the need we all have to grow in our understanding of God’s Word.
II Peter 3:18
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. [Emphasis added]
Our Lord spoke of the importance of this when He faced and resisted the temptations of Satan.
4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. [Emphasis added]
Only by diligence in studying God’s Word can there be sustained spiritual growth. Without it there can not only not be progress, but there can be retrogression in one’s thinking.
Most believers today think they can grow on little “snacks” they get on Sunday mornings. Many people also put a lot of stock in what are often called devotional materials. These writings may provide some titillation, but not much growth, if any. Furthermore, many of such writings take Scriptures out of context and make them say things they do not mean. This is no way to grow spiritually and to enjoy the benefits thereof. The means to true spiritual growth has always been the same. It demands that the individual become a student of God’s Word. These people are often called disciples in the Bible. To be a disciple of Christ today you must be a student of the writings of all the Bible, but especially the writings of the apostle Paul.
I Corinthians 14:37
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I [the apostle Paul] write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Paul isn’t our example just in the general sense. It is his relatively new teaching that came through a series of special revelations from our Lord that we are to follow, and Paul is our example on that.
I Corinthians 11:1
1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. [Emphasis added]
This is why Paul speaks of the gospel message he proclaimed as HIS gospel.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
It has always amazed me how so many have glossed right over such statements.
I Timothy 1:11
11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. [Emphasis added]
We are even told that we’ll be judged in eternity for the manner in which we learn and apply Paul’s teaching.
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. [Emphasis added]
Things written before Paul are there for our learning but not necessarily for our application because they often conflict with his teaching.
4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. [Emphasis added]
Christ’s teachings in His earthly ministry when He was here in the flesh were quite different from what they are now through His heavenly teachings that come to us through the writings of the apostle Paul.
II Corinthians 5:16
16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. [Emphasis added]
Again, what we know about Christ and His will for us today primarily comes through the writings of the apostle Paul. It is Paul, not Peter or the others, who is said to be OUR apostle. If we’re to grow spiritually, this is essential to know.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
To understand all this demands that we commit ourselves to consistent study of God’s Word. We are told that a group called “the Bereans” served as a great example for this.
10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. [Emphasis added]
In addition to learning from these Scriptures, we must apply what we learn. This is essential for progressing spiritually. But there will always be sources of opposition to this. We must beware of all those who would oppose the correct teaching of Scripture. Typically, the greatest opposition you’ll ever experience will come from “religious” people. They may be well-meaning, but they are wrong! They will often hold a majority position on things, but that means nothing. You will find that God’s people are typically in a small minority.
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. [Emphasis added]
There are many comments about all this in Scripture, but Paul sets forth clearly a general statement of warning about it.
II Timothy 3:12-13
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. [Emphasis added]
Yes, some of the greatest evil in the world comes from “religious” people. That’s always been the case. We must never allow these people to influence us. Our influence is to come from those Scriptures specifically directed to us. THEY are to be our chief source of influence.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. [Emphasis added]
In Paul’s writing to the Ephesians, he says this same thing but in different words.
17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled [PLEROO = filled, to make full] with the Spirit; [Emphasis added]
Practically speaking, being “filled” with the Spirit is being fully influenced by God’s Word. This is to do with an ongoing decision to allow God’s Word to influence our decision-making. Doing this day-to-day is spoken in Scripture as “walking in the Spirit.”
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. [Emphasis added]
As we “walk” through life, we’re to learn to let every decision be influenced by the things we’ve learned from God’s Word. This is also what it means to be yielded to God.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. [Emphasis added]
As you choose to make a habit of this, you will grow spiritually. But no one can grow up spiritually overnight. Like growing and developing physically, it takes time. There are no shortcuts. But devoting a portion of each day to study will eventually get you to maturity. But as we work on this, Christ will live and function through us. It is for this kind of function that we were saved.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. [Emphasis added]
All believers have good reason to be serving God, but many choose not to do this. These people are still saved and secure in their salvation, but if they continue in this mode, they’ll no longer be making progress in their spiritual growth. As Scripture tells us, they’ll then be living like unbelievers, letting their sinful nature dictate much of their decision-making.
I Corinthians 3:3
3 For ye are yet carnal [controlled by their sinful nature]: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? [Emphasis added]
If you’ll read through I Corinthians, you’ll see that there’s hardly a sin these believers weren’t committing. When it says they “walked as men,” it means they were acting just like unbelievers.
The final thing I wish to say about growing quickly to spiritual maturity is to do with the people with whom you involve yourself. It includes the people you think of as friends, but this especially involves the people who provide you with Bible teaching. All these people will tend to be either a help or a hindrance to your spiritual growth. Here are some questions for you to consider.
What’s happening with all this in your life as you’re reading this?
Who are these people who serve as your closest associates?
Who are the people you think of as your best friends?
It is much like the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Another favorite of mine is “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” You don’t want to isolate yourself from the world, but you certainly do need to insulate yourself, being very cautious about who you’re allowing to influence your thinking. The apostle Paul gives us an excellent example of this.
I Corinthians 5:9-11
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world [speaking of unbelievers], or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother [speaking of people who are thought to be believers] be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. [Emphasis added]
Paul later gave a second warning to the Corinthian believers about this.
II Corinthians 6:16-18
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Being the “temple” of God reminds us that as believers we have God the Holy Spirit living in us.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. [Emphasis added]
People we choose to associate with day-to-day can have a huge influence on us and our thinking. Therefore, as I was saying, we must be very cautious about this. People who are not progressing spiritually can hinder and place limits on our own spiritual growth. Your closest friends need to be people who are working to progress spiritually as you are. Your objective and that of every maturing believer is laid out in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Our chief goal in studying the Bible is laid out plainly.
12 For the perfecting [KATARTIZO = to render fit] of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [OIKODOMEO = building] of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [TELEIOS = fully mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness [PLEROMA = fulness, used for the virtues and excellencies] of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: [Emphasis added]
But to achieve this objective of “growing up into him in all things” we must heed the warning Paul gives us in Philippians chapter three.
17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) [Emphasis added]
My book that is entitled Discovering God’s Rich Blessings in Times of Suffering addresses the misery people could avoid if they’d only fix their eyes upon the things of God. King Solomon proves to be one of the best of all examples of someone who missed out on so much because his focus was only on the material things of life. The book of Ecclesiastes is his testimony about all the foolish things he pursued in his search for happiness apart from God. Instead of growing and developing in spiritual maturity, he allowed himself to be totally distracted with all the many temporal things of life that were available to him. As it was with him, so it can be with us. We can go with life God’s way, or we can choose our own. But only sustained progress with a positive attitude toward God and His Word will put us and keep us on the path of spiritual growth and maturity. The priority Paul gave God’s Word and to his own spiritual progress is summed up in this next verse.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
So, where are you today in your spiritual growth? Are you moving forward? Is there noticeable progress? Are you moving on to higher levels of understanding and application? What are the distractions you’re currently having to address? Who are the people who are contributing to your spiritual progress? Are there some people in your life that you need to avoid? These are all important questions we all need to honestly address regularly. Otherwise, the cost can be huge. The choice in all this has and will always be ours to make.