“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2). “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). These scriptures tell us that it is possible for God’s children to grow; it is God’s will that we should grow and how we may grow. Growth is important. This can be observed in the natural realm; plants bear fruit only through a process of growth; animals become full-grown through a process of growth. We also observe the importance of growth in the human family; an infant grows into an adult through proper growth. We don’t expect as much of an infant as we do a full-grown man or woman; neither do we expect the child to remain an infant (I Cor. 13:11).
The fact that growth is important can also be observed in the spiritual realm. We realize that it is vital that we become strong, well-developed Christians and this is not possible without growth. As in the natural realm, God doesn’t expect as much of newborn babes in Christ as he does of older members. What is required for spiritual growth? How do we grow into mature Christians? In answering this question we can compare spiritual growth to physical growth. What are the requirements for proper growth in the natural realm? Let’s look at some of the things that are necessary.
First, proper food is necessary for growth. This means that we must eliminate the wrong kind of food and include the right kind; spiritually we must do the same. We must rid ourselves of all the doctrines and commandments of men (Matt. 15:9; Gal. 1:6-10). We must be careful not to “wrest” the scriptures “to our own destruction” (II Peter 3:16). In Ephesians 4:22-32, Paul shows us that when we become Christians we “put off concerning the former conversation the old man” (v. 22) and “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (v. 24). He then proceeds to list a number of things that we are to get rid of and tells us what we are to replace them with. We are also instructed to “study to show thyself approved unto God” (II Tim. 2:15). We should have the same interest in studying the Word of God that the Bereans did. They “searched the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).
Second, the proper environment is required for growth. Physically this means that we need proper ventilation, lighting and sanitation. Spiritually it consists of avoiding evil in all forms (I Cor. 15:33; Rom. 12:9; I Thess. 5:22). When we place ourselves in an environment where we are tempted to sin growth is stunted at best. We should seek out friends and companions that will influence us for good instead of being a hindrance to our spiritual development.
Third, proper exercise is required for growth. Without exercise the physical body cannot develop and remain strong. The same is true of the spiritual man. The writer of Hebrews speaks of “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14b). Paul exhorted Timothy to “exercise unto godliness” (I Tim. 4:7). In comparing physical exercise and spiritual exercise, Paul wrote: For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8). Spiritual exercise consists of prayer (I Thess. 5:16-17), worship (John 4:24; Matt. 4:10; Heb. 10:25), self-denial (Matt. 16:24), service (Mark 9:35) and steadfastness (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 15:58; James 1:2-4).
What are the benefits of Christian growth? We gain the ability to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:14; Phil. 1:9-1); we bear fruit (Phil. 1:11). We become able to teach others (Heb. 5:11-14; II Tim. 2:2). It should be the desire of every Christian to grow into the strongest possible Christian and continue that growth throughout life.
-Paul M. Wilmoth