What would we say of a six-year-old boy sitting in a baby pram sucking his thumb, crying for milk, refusing solid food because it is too hard to chew, and unable to speak a single word because he refuses to attend kindergarten to learn ABCs and his parents are unwilling to displease him? We expect a normal child to develop language and communication skills, to grow taller, stronger, to progress from crawling to walking, running, and jumping. What is true of physical life is true also in our spiritual life. Like our physical life, our spiritual life must also be developed in a healthy way.
A Christian has started a new life in Christ. He is a new baby who needs to grow. 1 Peter 2:2 – “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” In order to develop normally into adulthood, healthy infants need food and nourishment, love and care, regular exercise and to develop resistance against diseases.
The same is true of Christians. Unless our spiritual childhood is healthy, our growth may be stunted, and we remain spiritually immature. Before we learn how we can grow, we must first realise that it is God who makes us grow. 1 Corinthians 3:7 tells us “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
Second, we must understand our goal of growing. Growing into what? Shorter Catechism question 1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. But how do we glorify God? We do so by growing more and more like Jesus. In Ephesians 4:13 & 15 the apostle Paul explains that we are to grow and attain to the fullness of Christ. God’s purpose is that we may become more and more like Christ (Romans 8:29). Christian maturity is Christlikeness. As we gaze on the face of Christ, we are changed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
How does this happen? In physical life, growth depends on nourishment, exercise, a conducive environment, and the body’s developing resistance to and overcoming diseases. The same is true in the Christian life. We need to feed on good spiritual nourishment, exercise ourselves unto godliness, cultivate an environment conducive to spiritual growth and learn strategies to overcome sin and obstacles.
We are what we eat. Having an unhealthy diet will lead to higher risks of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In order to attain healthy spiritual growth, a Christian needs to feed on Christ (John 6:27, 35, 51). To feed on Christ means to learn His word. All Scripture is given by God and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17) so that God’s people could be equipped for every good work.
Feeding on Christ means understanding God’s Word, internalising it, and applying it in our lives. Before we got saved, our minds and hearts were deceived and darkened by sin (Romans 1:21, 25). Now that we are believers, we must be taught how to think properly in order to reflect God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
Like a mirror that shows up blemishes on our face, God’s Word speaks to our conscience and shows us where we have gone wrong. This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. God stops us and tells us “You’re going the wrong way! Turn back now!” He turns us around (repentance) to follow Christ.
The word that Paul used is restoring, taken from the Greek word for orthodontics (correcting irregularities in teeth). It speaks of the healing power of Scripture to straighten twisted and broken lives. Many of us have testified of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ broke the chains of our sin and addictions and cleansed us white as snow.
(d) Training in Righteousness
God’s Word is not only for kids in kindergartens, it is also a tertiary curriculum profitable for adults who are growing in maturity. It is a school gymnasium where we exercise our spiritual muscles by daily trusting God by faith and as we are trained to think biblically before we make every decision. We exercise ourselves unto godliness when we choose to obey God’s way each time we are confronted with a major crossroads decision.
Exercise strengthens the heart and promotes a healthy body. Likewise, Christians need spiritual exercises to strengthen their spiritual life and health. These spiritual exercises are worship, knowledge of God, and witness and service.
We are created to worship our Creator and Saviour. The psalmist sings, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).
(b) Knowledge of God
(i) Read broadly. Read your Bible like a novel. Read it in large sections. For example, read an Old Testament book such as Genesis at a sitting. Pack a quick lunch and read through one of Paul’s letters each lunchtime for two weeks. Read through the other letters over the next fortnight. Read one of the gospels on each Sunday afternoon for a month. Read Acts and Revelation on consecutive Saturdays. You would have completed reading the entire New Testament within a month. Try it! You would be amazed how much you would have learned by reading broadly. It’s really fun. Do it with a friend if that helps you to be more disciplined.
(ii) Read deeply. As all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), you need to meditate on verses and study each book systematically and pray about their applications to our lives. I have found commentaries and dictionaries to be insightful. There are also good books written by learned godly Christians that may help us understand the Scriptures and grasp the wonder of Christ’s love. As a disciple of Christ’s school, study well.
(c) Witness and Service
We naturally feel shy about witnessing to others about Christ. Therefore we need Paul’s encouragement in 2 Timothy 1:8 “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” When we testify for Christ, we find that we grow in faith. When we explain the Gospel of Christ to others, we clarify the basis of our faith and grow stronger. Let us be ready to give an answer to those who ask us why we believe in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
Our witness also includes the way we serve others. Growing as a Christian means that we become more like Christ in our daily lives such that others can see that we belong to Christ. Christ came into the world to serve in love and humility (Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:6-7). If we are not serving others, we cannot grow more Christ-like.
“If we are not growing more like Christ … we are not growing” – Sinclair Ferguson.
Serving includes praying for others, giving time to others, and using our gifts and finances to organise ministries to promote their spiritual growth. In the process of giving, you will discover the joy, rewards, and blessings of giving, rather than receiving (Acts 20:35).
To be continued…