The Priority of Growing in Christ

A dead twig will never grow; a dead corpse will never move. This article does not focus on the spiritually dead in the institutional church even if they are baptized and are long term members. No one can convert the spiritually dead, only God. So, the prayer for the spiritually dead in the institutional church is “Heavenly Father, have mercy on them because they might not realize that they are spiritual dead! Converted them, if not they will die in their sins! In Jesus’ Name, Amen”.

This article focuses on those who have been converted by God. In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul describes what God did when he converted us. Before God converted us, we were spiritually dead “in the trespasses and sins” and “were by nature children of wrath” (2:1,3). God converted us by making us “alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heaven places in Christ Jesus” (2:5-6). If you have been converted by God, you have spiritual life in Christ Jesus.

 

Growing deeper in Christ’s love

If you have this spiritual life in Christ Jesus, you need to grow in comprehending this spiritual life. In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul prayed for the Ephesians “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit” in their inner beings (3:14-16). The purpose of strengthening with power is “so that Christ may dwell” in their hearts through faith (3:17a). If the Ephesians have been made alive in Christ, why do they still need to be strengthened with power through the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith?

Paul is not praying for the Ephesians’ conversion all over again. He is praying for the Ephesians that God would give them assurance,

which means “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit”. The goal of this strengthening is that the Ephesians may believe (by faith) that Christ dwells in their hearts.

However, Paul’s prayer for strengthening did not stop at Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith. He prayed that through the strengthening with power, the Ephesians have the ability “to comprehend, with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” that they may be filled “with all the fullness of God” (3:17b-19).

This love of Christ is beyond human’s ability to comprehensively describe (surpasses knowledge) yet Christ’s love is knowable through the strengthening with power by the Holy Spirit. Those who began to comprehend are being filled with all the fulness of God. Thus, those who have been converted by God are to seek growth in deeper understanding of Christ’s love for them.

What is the outcome of this deeper comprehending of Christ’s love? Dever explains, “As you realize your own spiritual state and dependence on God for your own Christian (spiritual) life, you don’t become indifferent, you become grateful – profoundly and deeply thankful to God that he has had mercy on you and on so many others. Your hope becomes more certain, because you realize that your hope isn’t based on your own faithfulness but on God’s faithfulness. That’s a tremendous encouragement to anyone who knows himself to be a sinner. God loves us out of his own nature of love”.[1]

 

Growing in Good Works

This spiritual life in Christ Jesus that God gave us will also lead us along the path of good works, “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10). These good works are opportunities that God put along our path for us to do. God does not need us to do all the good works that world needs but God does desire that we seize the opportunities for good works that he places along our path.

While we are not saved by good works, we are converted by God for good works. What do we mean by good works? In Galatians 6:7-10, Paul defines good works as sowing to the Spirit as opposed to sowing to the flesh (6:7-8). Whatever we do for God such as doing good to everyone, “and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10) is good work. In Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus defines good works as whatever we do for him when we do good “to one of the least of these” of his brothers (25:40, 45). Thus, a growing desire to do good for others without being weary is what we seek (Gal 6:9).

 

Growing in loving others

The third area of growth is loving others. Doing good for those outside the Christian community is one area of loving others. Here the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mat 22:39; cf. Luk 10:25-28) is the principle for us to follow. The concept of “neighbour” is not restricted to those who lived next to your house but to everyone who helps those in need.

In the context of the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), a lawyer asked Jesus “who is my neighbour?” (10:29). Jesus told the parable of the Samaritan to answer the lawyer’s question. At the end of the parable, Jesus did not directly answer the lawyer’s question. Instead, Jesus turned the lawyer’s question around. Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” (10:36). The lawyer answered “The one who showed him mercy”. Jesus exhorted the lawyer to go and do likewise (10:37).

By turning the question around, Jesus points out that it is unimportant to ask “who is my neighbour?” Instead what is important is to be a good neighbour to those who are in needs. A person-in-need does not need to be like the victim in the parable; it could be anyone who needs some help along the way such as needing a cup of water. Thus, loving others is about seeking to meet the needs of others.

The second aspect of loving other is to love those within the Christian community. The command to love your neighbour as yourself applies too in the Christian community. However, there is a further command, which is the New Commandment. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Joh 13:34).

In the Christian community, we are not just neighbours; we are fellow disciples, whom Jesus loved. If we have experienced how Jesus treated us, we should treat others the way Jesus treated us. If we have been forgiven by Jesus, we forgive others whom Jesus loved (cf. Mat 6:14-15; Eph 4:32). If we have received kindness from Jesus, we show kindness to others whom Jesus loved (cf. Tit 3:4-5). If we have been served by Jesus, we follow Jesus in serving those whom he loved (cf. Mar 10:45).

Therefore, we are to grow in loving others. Such growth needs the Holy Spirit to produce while we learn to cooperate with the Spirit. Cooperating with the Spirit begins with prayer of surrendering and desiring for growth. It also means confessing and repenting from any unwillingness to love. It also means praying for wisdom to relate with others.

 

Growing in Wisdom

In any situation, whether in family relationship or working environment or Christian community, we need wisdom to obey God’s commandments, which are mostly clear. The struggle is on how to put these commandments into actual actions. So, we need to pray that we grow in wisdom. God will generously give to all without reproach (cf. Jam 1:5).

Beside praying, reading the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes will provide wisdom in dealing with human affairs (cf. Pro 1:1-6). These two books are written based on observation guided by God about life (Pro 6:6-11; Ecc 1:13-14). They provide axioms to guide us in applying the commandments of God. So, let us heed what the author of Proverb says, “Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment” (Prov. 4:7 NLT).

 

Signs of life

If we are growing in these four areas, these are signs of spiritual life. Without the Holy Spirit working in us, we will not be able grow in these four areas. While we are to take personal responsibility to pray for growth in Christ, to read the Scripture, and to keep confessing and repenting before God, it will be the Holy Spirit that transform us from inside out. God has already predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29-30). He will complete what he has begun in our lives (Phi 1:6).

 

[1] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of Healthy Church, 219. The word in bracket is mine.

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