As a baby grows naturally from infancy to childhood, adulthood and parenthood, so the Bible teaches us we also grow from spiritual birth to maturity in Christ. God has made the natural world to reflect the spiritual. Growth is a sign of life and health. Lack of growth is an indication something is amiss as Peter instructs us:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9 ESV).
This present life is a preparation for the life to come. In this preparation we will need to grow spiritually and overcome three things – the world, the flesh and the devil. The goal of growth is to become Christ-like through bearing fruit which is the character of Jesus. In a word, we, as children of God, are to be like Him. With growth and fruit we will be able to endure the trials and temptations of this life and be prepared for persecution and spiritual deception.
We need to know God’s word (The Bible) and apply it. This is crucial for every believer. As Peter says:
Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2).
It is through God’s word the thoughts and intentions of our heart are judged:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
In the apostle Peter’s second letter we are encouraged to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ‘ (2 Peter 3:18). This growth is necessary lest we be ‘carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness‘ (3:17). Earlier in Peter’s letter we are told that God’s power ‘has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him‘ (1:3). This knowledge is clearly not just academic but is to be shown in experience, in our lives, for Peter goes on to say that if faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love are increasing (that is, growing) we will be fruitful and prepared to enter God’s eternal kingdom (1:8-11). Yet we should know that it is always through God’s power we are prepared and equipped.
Understanding who God is and His way with His people is also crucial to our spiritual growth. A false or distorted understanding here will prove to be a serious impediment to our spiritual journey. We are urged to know Him and Christ. Again this means that we are to know Him, not merely intellectually, but in experience. We need to not only know His word but to obey it. As the apostle John says: ‘By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments’ (1 John 2:3). We need to know both His kindness and severity (Romans 11:22). If we emphasise one to the detriment of the other we will inevitably stumble. God wants to forgive us (through Christ) but He also wants us to be holy.
To be holy may be misunderstood to mean an adherence to church ritual and tradition or what ‘spiritual’ Christians do. In fact to be holy means to be separated from sin and to be separated for God’s purpose. The Bible tells us we are both made holy and to be holy and without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Yet we must not make the mistake of thinking we must be holy to be saved. Rather when we are saved we can be holy by the power of the Spirit of God who comes to dwell in us.
To grow in Christ we will need to love what Christ loves and hate what He hates, putting aside our old ways and putting on new ways and attitudes. And it is our thinking which first needs to change through the renewing of our mind (more on this in Living As God’s People).
Some of what will be said may seem difficult and hard but such things need to be faced honestly if we are to avoid potential snares along the way. The Bible encourages us to feed on the solid food of God’s word not just the milk, if we are to grow in discernment and maturity (Hebrews 5:12-14). It is not my intention to pass judgement on any but to encourage a humble respect and obedience to God’s word. It is my hope also that you will be encouraged to grow in your love for God and Christ, increase in faith and holiness, avoid the potential snares and by-ways, give encouragement to those struggling with sin or trying circumstances and know God’s grace and strength are sufficient.
This is written to encourage you to live for God according to the ability He has given you. It is not that we all must attain to a certain standard but that we put every effort to attain to the standard of life God has revealed to us. We must run in such a way so as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). Yet it is not in our own strength but that of His Spirit living in us. So don’t be discouraged!
What Does It Mean to Be ‘Saved’?
First, I have felt it necessary to understand what it means to be saved. The terms ‘being saved’ or ‘born again’ have in some ways become clichés. We use them often but do we understand their full meaning and implication? What are we saved from and what are we saved for?
I have a long held concern that many believe to be saved simply means to be forgiven of one’s sins and obtain a right to enter Heaven (true though this is – but only in part). To some being saved can mean something as simple as ‘making a decision’ and putting up their hand at a church or evangelical meeting. Sincere though such acts may be it needs to be realised that such initial acts of faith are just the beginning of God’s work of salvation in us. God’s salvation in Christ, goes much further since it is His intention:
To redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14) and to be
A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).
So we become, not just ‘saved’ people but His adopted children, citizens of His kingdom. We also become priests who serve and worship Him. Salvation, then, is not just for our sake but for God and His purpose for us. He achieves this by bringing every believer into a vital spiritual union with His Son. Through the cross of Jesus and His resurrection we are raised from spiritual death and receive new life, the life of His Son. We are adopted into His family as His children so that we may share in His inheritance and bring glory to Him (Ephesians 1:5-7).
Scripture shows us salvation in three tenses: past – we have been saved; present – we are being saved and future – we will be saved. We need all three. More on this in ‘Salvation: What God Does’.
It is God’s will, that believing in Him, we grow to know Him and He us. This is an intimate spiritual union which will be explored in the pages to come. It is only through our union with Jesus, in His death and life that we experience deliverance from both the penalty and power of sin. The outcome of this will not be religious people who merely hold to a creed, but a real people, who show the life of Jesus through enduring the trials and pressures of this life.
Scripture shows us that self-denial, self-discipline and suffering are all part of the normal Christian life. It teaches us that, while faith is needed to begin and continue in the Christian life, our humble and trusting obedience is also needed. Our relationship to Christ is never passive and it is through faith, growth in wisdom, testing circumstances and the power of His Spirit that we might become complete in Him (Colossians 1:28-29).
Jesus said the way to eternal life would not be easy:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13,14 ESV).
Here we have a simple statement of how we begin our life in Christ and what we can expect along the way. Christ is the narrow gate. There is no other way by which we can come to God. Jesus says the way is hard that leads to life, the word ‘hard’ here meaning to suffer affliction ( from the Greek word thlibo). As we also read in Acts:
Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
This affliction will be encountered as part of a spiritual battle against the world, our flesh and the devil which no child of God will be spared. More on this will be explored in The Spiritual Battle: the world, the flesh and Satan.
Is It Sufficient Just To ‘Believe’?
It is also of concern there is a prevalent idea that once faith in Christ has been expressed we need do nothing more to enter God’s eternal kingdom. According to this idea we just need to ‘believe’. Yet scripture gives numerous warnings which show that through continued wilful neglect we can fail to enter God’s kingdom. These warnings are not to discourage us but to inform and prepare us for the journey ahead. God is gracious and in Christ we are given everything we need to endure trials, grow in holiness and enter His eternal kingdom. Therefore we need never despair as will be seen later.
Our time on this earth is limited and precious. So we need to make every opportunity to live for Christ, grow in Him, do His will and in so doing be prepared to enter God’s kingdom.
I have not written this as an armchair theologian but as a fellow traveller on God’s way, who also has weaknesses and endured trials. It is my hope that what is written here may in some way contribute to our understanding and appreciation of God’s wisdom. I, as we all do, see only in part this side of eternity. In this respect I have much to learn and stand to be corrected.
But first a brief review of God saving the people of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh and out of Egypt which will help us understand what we are saved from and what we are saved for.