I’m fond of telling my students that spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident, though we like to act like it does. Many Christians seem to think that they’ll grow to where they need to be spiritually simply by virtue of owning a Bible and occasionally attending church. This just isn’t the case. We recognize that for growth to happen in life, steps have to be taken to encourage that growth. Whether you want to grow a garden, get in the gym and get stronger, or just grow up, you have to provide resources that stimulate growth and provide them consistently. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident. We have to encourage that growth. With that in mind, here are five ways to encourage spiritual growth in your own life, taken from Philippians 3:12-21.
- Recognize that spiritual growth is a lifelong process. “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). What goal is Paul talking about? According to 3:10: “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings…” If Paul, who saw Jesus and heard His voice and gave up everything he had built his life around in pursuit of Christ, believed that he had not yet achieved his goal of truly knowing Him, we should probably assume that we haven’t reached the goal, either. The Christian walk is a lifelong commitment and we should never come to a point where we think we’ve “arrived.” Beware of an attitude that says, “I don’t need education or study. I don’t need to learn any more.” Not everyone will get a seminary education, but everyone should use whatever resources they can to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of spiritual growth.
- Pursue Christ passionately. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14). To grow spiritually, pursue Christ passionately. Paul writes of forgetting what is behind him, whether failures or accolades, as he pursues Christ. Pursuit indicates passion. You can’t pursue something lazily. That’s just jogging. To pursue something is to pour everything into the effort required to chase it down. Are you pursuing Christ? Or just jogging along from one Sunday to the next? What is one change you can make to pursue Christ more passionately? It might be setting aside more time for Bible study, joining a committed small group, or surrendering to that thing God has been calling you to for some time. Whatever change is needed, He is worth it.
- Follow Christ-centered examples. “Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17). As many have said, spiritual maturity is not just taught. It is also caught. You’ll learn just as much from spending time with gospel-oriented people and observing their examples as you will from sitting in a room reading a book. Find good examples of Christ-centered lives and surround yourself with them. I read once (I can’t remember who to give credit to, unfortunately) that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think of who those people are in your life and ask, “Do I want to be the average of those people?” If so, great. If not, make some changes. Find good, Christ-centered examples to follow and avoid ones that lead you away from spiritual growth. While we were dating, my wife and I were fortunate to have had many examples of strong, gospel-centered marriages to look to as we were preparing ourselves for marriage. My dad has always been an example to me of pursuing Christ through personal study. He’s always reading, but he never reads fiction. He’s always reading a Bible or the biographies of saints of old or a book on some spiritual discipline. He has been a valuable example to me for years (even though I still enjoy reading fiction). Find good examples and surround yourself with them.
- Be a Christ-centered example. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We talked of finding good, Christ-centered examples, but we should also strive to be good, Christ-centered examples. Paul’s wasn’t seeking fame in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul was okay with them following him because he was following hard after Christ. He knew that, even if they didn’t know it, they were actually following Christ, not Paul. Are you that kind of example? Strive to live so that you can say to others, “Sure, watch me. Follow me. Because you might not even know it, but you’re actually following Christ.”
- Let your hope be your motivation. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). As you pursue spiritual maturity, let your hope be your driving motivation. Remember that you are in pursuit of something much greater than fame or fortune. You are in pursuit of eternal life with your Savior. Forget what is behind and reach forward to the prize that is ahead.