Once upon a time, I went out into the woods when I was pondering a question about the future and resolved I would not come back until God told me His will for my life. Then I got cold and went home.
I’ve never seen a burning bush or a message written in the clouds; there have been plenty of times I’ve asked God to reveal His will about this question or that one, but the answers have always come through a process of searching Scripture, listening to trusted friends and mentors, and then trying to make the wisest choice possible.
But there are some things we don’t have to ask about; some things we absolutely know for sure are God’s will for all of us:
- “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
- “For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality…” (1 Thess. 4:3).
- “For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good” (1 Peter 2:15).
And then, of course, there is the fact that it is God’s will for every believer that they grow into maturity. Spiritual growth is God’s will for each and every one of us. But what is spiritual growth? Much ink (some of it mine) trying to qualify and quantify what spiritual growth is, what it looks like, and how we help each other in that effort. Part of the reason for all that ink is because though all spiritual growth has some things in common, people progress at a different rate and in different seasons and, sometimes, through different methods. So what if we looked at it from the opposite perspective? Maybe knowing what spiritual growth is NOT can help us avoid some of the tendencies that can eventually stunt that growth.
Here, then are four things that spiritual growth is NOT.
1. Spiritual growth is not passive.
That’s because no one drifts toward Jesus. If left to our own devices, and without exercising some intentionality, we will always, always, always drift from Jesus – not toward Him. Much as we might not like to admit it at times, in order to grow spiritually we must actually discipline ourselves, exercising acts of obedience and engaging in the spiritual disciplines. In doing so, we fight against the flesh that seeks to hang onto our new lives in Christ and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
2. Spiritual growth is not educational.
A caveat here – it’s not that spiritual growth is not educational at all, but that it’s not primarily educational. There is certainly an element of education involved in spiritual growth, for we must know the Word of God and constantly remind ourselves of the truth of the gospel so that it’s pressed further and further into our souls. But if we think of spiritual growth exclusively in educational terms, we can very easily find ourselves in a situation where our knowledge far outpaces our obedience.
3. Spiritual growth is not isolated.
This is tough news for introverts like me, but if we want to grow spiritually, we must embrace the community of faith God has placed us in. He has given us the gift of the church, not so that we might have a membership card or boast about the size of our gatherings, but so that we can help each other follow Him. Sometimes that means we encourage each other, but other times it means we speak difficult truth. Sometimes it means we rejoice with each other but other times it means we weep. But in all those seasons, we do those things together. Not in isolation.
4. Spiritual growth is not complicated.
People are complicated. But growing in Christ, when you boil it down to the simplest terms, is actually not. Perhaps we tend to make it so because complicating the process gives us an excuse to not involve ourselves deeply in it. But spiritual growth is really, at its core, a willingness to surrender yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit, who will teach you through His Word, the church, and God’s people to live out God’s will in everyday life. Everything else might be helpful, but the core is constant, pure, and gloriously simple.
This is God’s will for you. And it’s God’s will for me. Not that we stay in a state of spiritual infancy, but that we commit ourselves to growth. As we do, let’s make sure to remember that this spiritual growth we are experiencing is not passive, educational, isolated, or complicated, and give ourselves to what God is doing in and through us.