A while ago, an acquaintance of mine was radically converted by Jesus. Let us call him David for the purpose of this article. It was exhilarating to see the change in David’s life.
As time went on, I began to wonder how I could stimulate growth in David’s life. So I sat down and began to list what David would have to do in order to grow spiritually. Reader, the list went on … and on … and on.
He should pray – right? He should read the Bible, learn memory verses, go to church, join a Cell Group, give money to God, find a place of service, fast, meditate, ask for Spiritual Gifts, love others, ask “what would Jesus do?”, get a prayer partner, read good Christian literature, listen to praise music, share his faith with non-Christians, put a fish sticker on the back of his car, add a Bible verse to his company letter head … and my head was beginning to spin.
If I had given David that list, he would have been tempted to go back to his uncomplicated pagan days, when life consisted of fishing, drinking beer and making money.
I did not want to give David a long list of do’s and don’ts for fear of making out that Christianity is complicated or like other religions which rest on the efforts of man. Yet though Spiritual growth rests on the work of Christ, it does require us to do something as well. That’s why the more serious suggestions on my list ARE legitimate stimulants to growth. But were there some simple truths I could teach David that would act as a catalyst for growth in his life? Here is what I came up with:
Spiritual growth is initiated by conversion
To begin with, we must recognise that every person who has been born again is poised for spiritual growth. Paul describes you as having been “dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1)”. Dead things do not grow. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ (2:4-5)”.
In short, it is impossible to grow spiritually if you have not been converted by God. Spiritual growth begins at conversion. That is when it is initiated.
Never overlook or minimise the work God has already done to prepare you for spiritual growth. Take a moment to reflect on the metaphors the Bible uses to describe you conversion. Your old self was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), and you have been resurrected (Rom. 6:4). You have been releasedfrom slavery to sin (Rom. 6:22). You have been reborn (Jn. 3:3-5). You have been re-created (2 Co. 5:17). And if that is not enough, God has replaced your heart of stone with a heart of flesh that is alive and responsive to Himself (Ez. 36:26).
Can you see that God has done an amazing miracle in your life? He has poised you for spiritual growth. Living things grow, and you are alive with Christ. However, God DOES expect you to work with Him if you wish to grow. Your work would be fruitless if you had not been made alive by God. But since you have been made alive, there is fruitful work to be done.
Spiritual growth continues when the Spirit is in control
On-going growth is determined by who is in control of your life. Very simply, you can choose whether to be controlled by the Holy Spirit or by something that Paul labelled with the Greek word sarx.
Sarx is translated – depending on your Bible version – by the phrase “sinful nature” or more literally “flesh”. I think “flesh” is better.
Paul gave the word sarx a unique theological meaning. In the normal usage of the day, sarx referred to the living material that makes up plants and animals. But in Paul’s letters, sarx refers to the Christian’s sinful or evil desires. The flesh finds sin attractive. The flesh does not want God to be in charge. The flesh is self-centred. The flesh is not motivated by love. If you let the flesh take control, you will not grow, in fact you will die.
But how can you deal with the flesh? Paul covers this subject in Romans 6-7. In Chapter 6, we see that conversion is described as resurrection from death and a transfer of ownership. If you have been converted, you are no longer owned by sin. You are owned by Christ. For this reason, you have the power to say NO to the flesh. Yes, you can choose to obey the flesh, but you do not need to.
In Romans 7, Paul goes on to show that growth under a system of laws or rules does not work because of the flesh. In contrast, Chapter 8 describes growth that does work when we have had a change of ownership and have chosen to refuse the flesh. Paul concludes in Romans 8:12&13:
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (NIV, 2011)
The Holy Spirit changed you on the inside at conversion, but because He is within you, He continues to give you everything you need to grow by overcoming the flesh on a daily basis. Sometimes, he will use the Bible to help you kill your evil desires – remember that the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). Further, He provides things like wisdom, guidance, special fruit such as love, joy and peace, and discernment.
So growth is a matter of control. If you want to grow, you must allow the Spirit to control your life by asking Him to help you overcome the flesh. But is there a simple concept we can use to sum up what we have been talking about. I think there is, and it has to do with being filled with the Spirit.
Spiritual growth happens when you are filled with the Holy Spirit
At this point, it is very important to note that if you have been converted, you have the Holy Spirit in you. Paul puts it this way: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). Further, the Holy Spirit is a person, so you have as much of Him as you will ever have. But how much of you does the Holy Spirit have?
This is why Paul commands, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)”. A person that is drunk on wine has yielded control of himself to alcohol. A person that is filled with the Spirit is controlled by the Spirit.
The form of the Greek “be filled” verb tells us three things: 1) it is a command, 2) God does the filling, and 3) the filling must happen on a daily basis.
So how can you be filled with the Holy Spirit? Since God does the filling, you should: 1) ask Him to take control of your life through the Spirit, and 2) you should ask Him to do it every day. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer.
In conclusion, therefore, if you want to grow spiritually, remind yourself that you are poised for growth because of the work God did to convert you through faith in Jesus. Then I would recommend that you pray the following prayer.
Father God, thank you for converting me and for giving me new life so that I can grow. Thank you for giving me your Holy Spirit. I long for you to fill me with your Spirit. Take control of my life through the work of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit I want you to have your way in every area of my life. Today, I will turn away from the flesh. Today, I will not be controlled by sin or my sinful desires. Instead, I choose to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
If I were you, I would start by praying this prayer with another Christian. Explain to them why. Then pray by yourself along the same lines every day, responding in obedience to God throughout the day. Happy growing and may God receive the glory as you receive the joy!!