“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV)
We can all relate to Paul’s words to the Corinthians church. We too were once children, with a different way of understanding our world, a different set of skills and abilities, and different priorities and motivations. As we matured, we gained knowledge and wisdom, developed talents and learned skills. We set aside the selfish, pleasure-seeking agenda of childhood and worked to become productive and responsible members of our families and communities.
Why Spiritual Growth Matters
Growing spiritually is like growing physically. Just as we need to eat well, exercise regularly, and engage in beneficial social activities as we move from childhood to adulthood, we also need to take an active role in our own spiritual growth by engaging with scripture, exercising our spiritual gifts, and connecting with God through prayer and other believers through the church.
Spiritual growth is a theme that is addressed throughout the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews expresses frustration with his audience, who seem content to not progress in their faith, saying “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:11-12) He then proceeds to explain why our spiritual growth is so important, adding “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” The more we mature spiritually, the more we grow in righteousness, and the better equipped we are to identify and withstand evil.
Writing to the Colossians, Paul describes our growth as casting off the behaviors that we have outgrown and putting on our new selves and the qualities of Christ. (Colossians 3:5-12) We do this, he continues, so that the peace of Christ may dwell in our hearts and His message may dwell richly among us. To mature spiritually is to become more like Christ.
How We Grow Spiritually
Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). For just as Jesus saved us and made us new, He continues to supply our nourishment. Our primary function is to stay connected to Him, which we do through studying scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers.
Sometimes, our faith is tested through trials. James reminds us that the testing of our faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3), and Peter tells us to not be surprised by trials (1 Peter 4:12). These are the times in which we are made to cling more closely to the vine, strengthening our dependence on Jesus.
And the result is that, by His power working through us, we fulfill His kingdom's purpose of bearing good fruit for Him. The Holy Spirit brings forth spiritual fruit such as love, joy, peace, gentleness, and more in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). And as we see these qualities in increasing measure in our lives, the Father is glorified in our lives as we are shown to be disciples of Jesus (John 15:8)