Understanding How Christians Spiritually Grow
Paul J. Bucknell
These factors shape a Christian's growth (called sanctification). The more we are aware of these factors and align our choices with these new affections and disaffections, then the more quickly we will grow. How do we do this? Let's concentrate on three main points.
1) Recognize these new desires
The more clearly we recognize these new 'tastes,' the more we can affirm them. A key enemy of the Christian is distraction. Entertainment is pervasive. Nothing is obviously bad or evil with many of its activities such as sports. But they take up time and require focus. After we come to know the Lord, if we are distracted with other things, we might not recognize our new desires that awaken from our new spiritual nature. Just as a baby is a new individual who requires time and care, so we need to nurture our new nature. Entertainment destroys the needed quietness to do this. If we do not recognize these desires, then we will not attend to them. If we let our desire to study the Bible fall to the wayside, then we will grow spiritually weak.
2) Affirm these new desires
By recognizing these new spiritual desires, this gives us the opportunity to give regular and constant attention to each of these areas. These desires are extra strong and vibrant when a person is first born again because of God's extra grace and the contrast to one's old ways. Now is the time to start regularly getting into God's Word, getting with God's people, worshiping the Lord, avoiding the sinful way of the world.
We don't realize that our growth is directly related to how well we allow our heart to follow the leading of these three actions. Just as a baby has a sucking instinct, so our new life in Christ creates a new thirst for God's Word, a hatred for sin and a love for God and His ways. As time goes on in our Christian lives, we will devise practical ways to express these desires in our own context. The more we affirm and develop these desires, the more we will be protected. We can see this from our illustration on the left where limited development of these desires leaves holes for the enemy to penetrate and cause trouble in our lives .
3) Discern and reject competing desires
Although as Christians, we no longer need to obey the old fleshly desires, they are still there as long as we have this body. We will see these desires to spring up and claim our attention. They beckon us to fulfill them. If we give in to these old desires, then our lives will be dominated by these sins (illustration at right). We should notice that these are from the old man. We have died to the old man. We are no longer to take instructions from him - even to fill our desires.
How will we recognize them? It is easy. They are the outcomes of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21 just before the fruit of the Spirit. They are always completely contrary to the work of the Spirit.
For example, if you have a desire to get attention, you should note this is contrary to the spirit of serving of Jesus Christ. A desire of getting attention is linked to pride, the assumption that you should be are better than others and should be served by them. Or perhaps you keep arguing with others. This is the spirit of dispute rather than peace.
By being attentive to our new spiritual desires and fulfilling them, we build up good spiritual disciplines (habits). We will get up early in the morning and read God's Word and pray. As we focus on these special needs, we will be better at discerning the calls from our old man as temptations. Then we can reject them for what they are.
What if you have messed up somewhere? It is actually easier to get back than you think. Confess and repent from your sins. Then get back into reading God's Word and prayer. You will see that God is ever so willing to help you. By reading God's Word, you will be more attentive to your love for God and His ways and reminded of what displeases Him and you. You will quickly build up the protective shield around yourself again.
These are the Spiritual Shapers or Growth Factors for our Christian lives. As we focus on them, we grow and do not stumble. If we live out what we should, then we are protected from our flesh. We should not be preoccupied with our troubles but with doing what is right. Galatians 5:16-17 says,
Of course, remember this is but a simple outline rather than a detailed course. But they are sufficient for any of God's people to guide them into rich Christian living. Study 2 Peter 2:1-11 for a deeper and more penetrating look at growth factors.