Written by Paul J. Bucknell on May, 22, 2019
Spiritual Growth: A Biblical Perspective
Christian growth is not a well-understood topic. From my experience in my own life and as a teacher of God’s Word, the clearer a person grasps how a Christian grows, the easier it is for him or her to spiritually develop.
The average person in the pew has no idea how to articulate how a Christian grows. Even worse, they rarely understand how this growth process takes place. This article clarifies the process by which a Christian grows and allows the Christian to excitingly move ahead in his or her Christian life.
How can we better understand Christian growth? The scriptures have provided us several key concepts which enable us to get well acquainted with the process by which a Christian grows.
The Beginning of the Life Process
Let’s start by looking a Romans 1:16-17.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH”” (Romans 1:16-17).
The phrase in Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” helps provide a framework to understand this growth process. The Christian life is all about growth, but before it has grown, it possesses a birth or beginning for all start as one spiritually dead—having no spiritual awareness. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Without spiritual life, there is nothing to grow. No life, no growth. But as Romans 1:17 teaches us, we gained that spiritual life through faith. God revealed His righteousness “from faith,” which points to the beginning point when a believer first believes or expresses faith in Christ.
Paul developed this point quite clearly in the first five chapters of Romans. A new life in Christ comes only through faith in Christ Jesus. People are not able to gain a sufficient righteousness to avoid God’s wrath through their lives. Faith is needed to obtain forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness. Without His righteousness, God’s wrath necessarily falls upon their sinful lives.
The Christian’s life begins with faith. Faith is the means by which the believer is illuminated to their sin, the power of God’s forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who understand biblical truth well affirm it is by faith in Christ that a person is saved. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Continuation of the Life Process
Much more has been said and written on how a Christian gains a new life than on what happens afterward (think growth). There are plenty of testimonies on how God brought individuals into the family of God, but few on how the Lord grows them. For many, the excitement of spiritual birth outweighs spiritual life. We need to break this approach. Paul tries to do this through his teaching.
Paul writes, “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17). The apostle refuses only to write about our Christian birth, no matter how great an event it is. He rightly uses the obtaining of salvation as a starting point. We start with faith, but we still need the Lord to build up our faith. Allow me to describe these words using some commonly-used theological terms.
Defining Our Spiritual Progress
The “from faith” refers to the beginning of the new life (justification by faith) obtained through faith in Christ, which the first five chapters of Romans clearly introduces. We are justified or declared righteous through our faith in Christ Jesus. He died as a propitiation (sacrifice) for our sins. Faith in Christ appropriates that forgiveness.
The “to faith” depicts the results from that new birth. This second stage is named sanctification. Some Christians only want to focus on their faith as a ticket to heaven. Paul shows that this concept is never right (Romans 6:1-2). It is an abuse of saving grace. God saves us for a purpose.
Real salvation leads to deliverance from the power of sin where the amazing power in the Gospel sets to work itself out in our individual lives. We are made holy. Faith is, likewise, required to live this stage out.
The third popular area of change or development is called glorification. Glorification occurs when a Christian gains his new glorified body. Although this is a very important stage for the believer and will dwarf the others by virtue of its eternality, it is not mentioned here in Romans 1:17 because it is not characterized by the word faith. Glorification brings the whole operating sphere of faith to a close because of our new sight. 1 John 3: 2 captures this thought well.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).
Here I would like to further address the topics of Christian growth that have to do with faith, and especially that later part known as sanctification. Although much more could be said about acquiring this new faith, evangelical proponents have fittingly written much on this topic by stressing the place of faith in salvation. What stands inadequately addressed is the average Christian’s notion of spiritual growth.
The Place of Christian Growth
The first part of salvation called justification by faith issues believers into the second stage. The faith that saves is also the faith that sanctifies. Faith continues on through a believer’s life and is said to grow or be established or built up. The saving faith that provides righteousness enables us to obtain a relationship with God where we can then start proceeding closer to Him. This advance is denoted by the phrase in Romans 1:17 “to faith” and persists throughout one’s life on earth (sanctification). This is where a believer gradually becomes more Christlike, putting off the old and on the new ways of God. What is it that makes those significant changes in the believer? It is the power of God.
The Power of God
In Romans 1:16 the apostle identifies the gospel as the power of God for salvation. This power describes the life-giving power given by the Holy Spirit. Divine life is imparted to a believer at salvation (i.e., regeneration).
John uses this word “life” to signify the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit in a person. Perhaps the most commonly known connection is found in the phrase being “born again” or “born above” in John 3.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
The Holy Spirit is inextricably linked with our new spiritual life. This is the power of God at work. God is doing an amazing re-creation of life in us. As children of God we increasingly take on God the Father’s likeness—this is the practical growth aspect of holy living. Growth necessarily follows birth. Growth develops only when life comes into being. Most Christians are unaware of this spiritual process, getting get too involved with church attendance and giving. Yet, when we miss out on this, we have a huge disconnect with how the power of God is at work in our lives. This uninspiring type of Christian life is commonly seen as results in no discipleship training among Christians. Without the exercise of this faith, there will be little or no Christian life.
Christian Growth and Faith in the Scriptures
Our concepts of growth are not only based on this phrase “to faith.” Many other passages speak of the development of one’s faith, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Abraham and Noah are two examples among many who Hebrews 11 depicts as having a genuine and life-changing powerful faith in God. Their faith advanced their intimacy with God and God-directed works in this world. This faith is not a given as it appears true with some but missing with others—like those who grumbled in the wilderness.
Paul teaches the importance of faith in Colossians.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).
“As you received Christ Jesus” speaks about entering into salvation. A person enters salvation by faith (i.e., belief). Paul is very clear about this. But notice how he links saving faith with our growing faith, “So walk in him.” As you received Christ (through faith), so walk in Him. The way we enter the faith is the same by which we grow. The problem is that many believers only speak and think of believing as in the past when they were saved. They do not see themselves as needing to grow in their faith even though the scriptures clearly speak about it.
Paul expands on this in verse 7, “Having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…” “Rooted” again speaks of our entrance into faith in Christ and then refers to the process of being built up. Both rest on faith.
Ephesians 4:13 also points to the “to faith.” “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”
Although many other verses speak about the important place faith has in our sanctification, we will mention only one more. 1 John 2:12-14 speaks about the three stages of Christian growth here on earth. Little children would refer to those who just gained their new life by faith in Christ. Young men refer to those who have not fully matured to fatherhood. They exercise their faith and overcome the lies of the devil. The fathers deepen their relationship with God and train the younger. Faith is what secures their relationship with God but also an entity that is strengthened and passed on.
The spiritual process of life is here defined by the analogy of growth in a person’s physical body. This spiritual life is the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the power of God at work in us to make us more like Jesus.
Faith is critical to our Christian growth. Love, joy, and other characteristics are part of our faith, but faith is different. Faith is the means by which we manifest these other characteristics of Christ. By strengthening our faith in Jesus, the power of God actively works within us and enables us to love the unlovable, care for the careless, and hope for the hopeless. Without faith, we enter these situations only with our human reserves. Faith in Christ, however, enables the Holy Spirit to actively live Himself out through our lives, bearing forth Christ’s likeness unto God’s glory.