Growing in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom.
Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church.
We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of humanity. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.
(1 Chron. 29:11; Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Matt. 20:25-28; 25:31-46; Luke 10:17-20; John 20:21; Rom. 8:38, 39; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; 1 Thess. 5:16-18, 23; Heb. 10:25; James 1:27; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 1 John 4:4.)
1. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GROW IN CHRIST?
To “grow in Christ” means to deepen our relationship with Him.
Jesus saves us the instant we acknowledge our belief in Him and accept His sacrifice for our redemption. With this new peace in our hearts, we can focus on getting to know Him better. As well as the plans He has for us.
Think about the concept of friendship, at its basic level. At what point do you consider someone a friend? When do you look at someone and think, “I know this person pretty well”?
Does it take a couple weeks, or maybe a few months? Or is it something you spend years working at, constantly developing a stronger relationship with this person?
We can’t know everything about someone after just one conversation with them, nor can we expect to know exactly what they’re thinking after knowing them for just a few weeks.
The same principles apply to our spiritual friendship with Christ.
Is it enough to go to church once a week and hope that’s “enough” to keep our connection strong? It can surely help. But what matters most is our active pursuit of a deeper relationship with God by learning more about Him and spending time in prayer.
It’s worth noting that when we accept Jesus Christ, our lives might not look different right away.
The same co-worker might annoy you. You might still be jealous of a sibling who seems to have it all together. You might still have a hard time resisting the same old vices.
It can be discouraging at times if we still feel the effects of our “old lives,” even after Christ has saved us.
But true growth is often gradual—spiritual growth included. God knows what we need and doesn’t force us or rush us. The important thing is that we’re now in the process of growing in Christ and developing a Christ-like character.
We’re admitting that we can’t achieve righteousness on our own, and that we need Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s grace. We’re surrendering the pressure we put on ourselves to do the best or be the best, and letting the Holy Spirit be the one to direct the enrichment of our lives. This act of letting go is actually what sets us free! (1 Peter 2:16, Galatians 5:1).
Our beliefs become more and more evident as we deepen them. As we pray, learn, test, try, observe and reflect, our relationship with God grows and our faith develops. It gradually permeates our intentions, our priorities and our actions.
2. JESUS AS OUR EXAMPLE FOR A CHRISTLIKE CHARACTER
While He was on Earth, Jesus Christ lived a pure and blameless life of love. He did this with the same human limitations we have, all through a constant connection with God, His Heavenly Father.
Since humanity’s fallen nature makes us incapable of living perfect lives through our own power (Romans 3:10, 23), we need God’s help. We look to Jesus (1 Peter 2:21) to help us live selflessly and make good choices.
Like the branches of a grape vine that can only bear fruit when they are given strength and nutrients through the vine, we can only grow in Christ if we maintain a connection to Him. His power and grace are the only things that can truly make us righteous.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15: 5-8, ESV).
As part of remaining in Christ and embracing the grace He offers, we are called to follow Christ’s example, to live our lives the way Jesus did while He was on Earth. During His ministry, Jesus told the people:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28, NKJV, emphasis added).
Jesus asks us to serve and to offer ourselves for others, just as He did. Such selflessness may sometimes feel difficult or unnatural, but with God’s help, our feelings and choices become more in tune with what Christ asked of us. That’s what it means to have a Christ-like character.
When Jesus was on earth, He didn’t spend His time chasing after the things “of the world,” such as striving for wealth, popularity or success. He spent His time on others, feeding them when they were hungry, healing them when they were sick, and comforting them when they were hurting.
That’s how Jesus offered Himself for others and that’s the example we ought to follow.
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The Bible is our guide to deepening our relationship with God. We can find all kinds of advice and examples we can apply to our own lives.
And it’s not hard to get started! Let’s focus on four essential building blocks of a growing spiritual life:
Prayer (Colossians 4:2)
Reading the Bible (Psalm 119:105-107).
Applying what we learn (James 1:22-25, Philippians 4:8-9).
Meeting with other believers (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Setting aside regular time for prayer and Bible study helps us get in the habit of incorporating our spiritual growth into our daily lives.
The book of Colossians encourages us to make a conscious, intentional choice to invite Christ into our minds each day:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7, ESV).
The more we focus on all the good things God has done for us, the easier it is for us to trust Him with our problems and decisions, knowing that He will not let us down.
Just like getting to know someone better through conversation, prayer is often the best way for us to grow closer to God.
If we become accustomed to constant communication with Him, we can tell Him about our troubles and thank Him for all He’s done for us. The Bible tells us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).
But our relationship with God isn’t just a growing list of Bible verses. Our actions do matter. Our faith is meant to show!
But what does that mean? Do we need to stand on the corner reading the Bible out loud? Should well call all our friends and tell them to repent of their sins?
Here’s where we can look back to the idea of Jesus as our example. He put His faith in action through service and ministry.
An excellent way to demonstrate faith in action is to seek out ways to serve others in your community. This helps us uphold a “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father… to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26, ESV).
We can also strengthen our relationship with Christ through fellowship with other believers. By meeting together and sharing God’s love with others who follow Him, we not only strengthen our relationship with God, but can help others strengthen theirs as well.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).
God knows it can be difficult sometimes to keep our faith strong in a confused and chaotic world. This is why He reminds us to meet together and encourage each other. That’s where we’re strongest.
By choosing daily to commune with Jesus, by putting our faith into action, and by sharing in fellowship with other believers, we can keep our connection to God strong, continually growing in His love.
3. THE EVIDENCE OF GROWTH
What does a strong relationship with God look like? If our connection to God is strong, how will we know?
God impacts our lives through the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, or Trinity. When Jesus went back to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to look after us, to be our guide and teacher (John 14:15-18).
One aspect of a Spirit-filled life is the freedom we can feel from the cares of the world. Without having to run the rat-race, to “keep up with the Jones’s” or to worry about how we’ll make our way in this life (Matthew 6:25-34), we can be truly free.
2 Timothy 1:7 describes this freedom and the spiritual development that comes with it:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV).
When we ask God into our lives and make good use of the strength He offers us every day, there will also be changes in our character. We’ll learn to take on the virtues God instills in us. These virtues are sometimes called the “Fruits of the Spirit,” which often are the observable evidence of the Holy Spirit working within us.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).
Just like Jesus’ illustration about the vine and the branches, God’s presence shows itself in our lives. If a branch is attached to the vine and is getting nutrients, it will bear fruit. If we’re drawing our power from God and listening to the Holy Spirit, we’ll bear fruit too, the fruit of a Christ-like character. The peace, joy, and goodness God gives us can improve our daily lives in countless ways.
Additionally, having the Fruits of the Spirit doesn’t only improve our own lives. It’s designed to bless others and show them God’s power. Jesus told the disciples before He returned to Heaven, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).
Just like Jesus came to be an example of God’s character, we as Christians are also called to show His goodness and love. When other people meet us and see the Fruits of the Spirit, they’ll see God’s character and better understand what He’s like, and how He has the power to change people’s hearts.
Our actions preach the gospel just as much as our words. He can show His goodness through us!
4. GROWING IN CHRIST NEVER HAS TO END!
Spiritual growth, led by the Holy Spirit, knows no limits. Strengthening our relationship with Jesus Christ is a continual process meant to engage every part of our lives.
God is endlessly knowledgeable! He wants our “hearts to be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2, 3, NKJV).
One of His promises is that these mysteries of God are revealed to us “by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God … Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10, 12, CSB).
Since we are now believers and followers in Christ, this is why we are told not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
Anything the world offers us has limits. But through our relationship with Jesus, who is our connection to God the Father (John 14:6), we will never stagnate. God is infinite! There will always be more to learn, to see, to do, which makes up the continual “renewing” of our minds.
We have the incredible privilege of living a life touched by the Creator of the universe and sharing His love with others. And the closer we become with Him, the more of a blessing we have the chance to be.