The Spiritual Growth of the Believer
R. T. Prechous, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
1 Cor. 3. 1-3; Eph. 4. ix-16; 2 Peter I. 1-8; 2 Peter 3. 18
AMONG THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS a Christian should ask himself are 'Am I stronger in the faith than when I lint believed?'. 'Am I growing up in grace, or am I still only a babe in Christ?' Many believers take for granted the possibility of Christian maturity, and expect it to happen to them automatically. Eternal security is a wonderful truth, but it is also a real challenge, for liberty and security do not mean license. It is true that nothing a sinner can do will gain salvation, for 'by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God', Eph. 2. 8. It is equally true that sinners who are saved by God's grace have a responsibility and should be exercised as to growth in grace, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3.18. There are three factors which must be recognized if we are to attain to this spiritual condition which is pleasing to God.
1. Growth is Essential to avoid Weakness and Failure
1 Cor. 3. 1-3
Paul always speaks plainly, and in this passage the believers at Corinth are shown how, after years of Christian profession, they are still only infants. They still live in conditions, and follow practices so similar to those of their unconverted days, that, as far as Corinth was concerned, no one could point them out as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were carnal, that is fleshly, or selfish. They were not described as natural men (that would have been to infer that no conversion had taken place at all) but just worldly-wise folk. They followed men and their teachings and became so weak that they could not masticate the good strong meat of the Word and Paul had to serve them with 'baby food'. This condition resulted in their falling out between themselves. Strife and divisions existed among them, instead of the unity that Paul insists should be the portion of all believers. Paul's words are as true today as they were when he wrote them. He also wrote some very challenging words to Timothy, 2 Tim. 3. 1, regarding the perilous times they were living in. How we need to heed these exhortations of the apostle today. We also are living in perilous times. So many things are offered to believers today, not only worldly pleasures, which alas do attract many of God's people, but things purporting to be spiritual, but which are, more often than not, an attempt to take the Christian's attention away from the need to grow in grace. How assemblies suffer today because of what are termed divided loyalties, seeking service anywhere but in the place in which the Lord has put them. Service is good. Service is enjoined on the believers but he must first be sufficiently instructed in the Word of God, becoming strong in the faith, not attempting to do the thing, for which he neither has the understanding nor ability. God help us not to become fashioned to the age in which we live but transformed, by the renewing of our minds, as Paul states in Rom. 12. 1-2; then we shall be able to prove the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. Having thus carefully considered the necessity of Christian growth, let us now sec:
2. The Provision Available to Facilitate Spiritual Growth
It is only necessary to read our second Scripture portion Eph. 4. 11-16 lo realize that no believer, however young, need remain under-developed if he will accept God's provision unconditionally. Here we read of men of God in the assembly who, having been given particular gifts by the risen Lord through the Holy Spirit, are ready to exercise those gifts to the benefit of the assembly as a whole. No believer has the same gift as his fellow; God believes in variety and just as we are all of differing temperaments, so God takes what we have and suits a gift to fit our ability. The purposes of God in placing such brethren in the Church was, and still is, that there may be the 'perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ'. We have been saved to serve, and God 'fits out', and therefore expects the willing believer to fulfil a definite service, peculiar to his ability. God has no duplicates, so let us diligently seek the Lord's face to reveal to us what He requires of us, then obediently do it to His glory. Let us also work together for the building up of the Church, for every Christian is an integral part of that edifice, which is day by day, being fitted together according to the divine pattern. When we begin to experience this unity in variety, we will cease from being merely children and sometimes childish, and be fully protected from false teachers and their doctrines. The winds of deception will not affect us, and we will know and act the truth, in love, not seeking our own glory, but the glory of Him, our blessed Lord Jesus of whom it is written 'And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell', Col. I. 18-19.
We are now to consider the last thought in this study, which is:
3. The Believer's Responsibility to be Obedient in order to Grow
On this subject the apostle Peter has some very important things to say which we would do well to read, consider and then seek to put into practice in our everyday lives. Read 2 Peter 1. 5-8 and 2 Peter 3. 18. In these passages, Peter seems eager that his readers should be fruitful as well as useful Christians. He desired that they should abound, that means develop; that they should be diligent, that means being useful as opposed to being useless. He insists that all believers can experience these blessings, but although they are available we must qualify for them by strict adherence to the Word of Clod and His require¬ments stated therein, so that they be seen in our lives, an advertisement for the Lord we seek to serve. God demands surrender of our will to His will, and holiness of walk, even as our blessed Lord walked when down in this world. He did all things that pleased the Father. In exchange, we are offered boundless blessings, overflowing joy and wonderful peace. Study carefully the seven qualities enumerated in these verses, and let us prayerfully measure up to the high standard that they set before us.
1. Virtue - That is moral excellence. The display of our behaviour before men.
2. Knowledge - This is moral discrimination, the intelligence we show before men.
3. Temperance - Self control is indicated here. How our actions impress men.
4. Patience - This is really one of the most important qualities looked for in the victorious Christian. It means our WAITING on God for the revelation of His purpose for us; not simply talking to God, but listening to and for His voice.
5. Godliness - This is simply our moral conformity in entirety to the will of God.
6. Brotherly Kindness - This is that mutual sympathy and thoughtfulness for our brothers and sisters who need our care, our kindness, and in some cases, and alas, often forgotten, our practical assistance in times of stress.
7. Love - This quality has to be shown to all men, and not only those whom we hold in high esteem because of natural relationship or because of Church unity. The apostle does add, 'especially those of the household of faith', but if we showed a little more love to those who are not of this community, who knows, how many might be won for the Saviour whom we profess to follow? Let us realize our responsibilities in seeking to work out, what the Spirit of God has put in us, searching and obeying the Scriptures of truth, that we may grow in grace, and achieve that spiritual development which is pleasing to God.
Next issue: 'THE SPIRITUAL FOOD OF THE BELIEVER'.