So many believers struggle to grow in their relationship with Christ. Perhaps, it is because they have never been discipled or they are unsure about the proper steps to help them become mature Christians. If you struggle in your spiritual life, this article will help you understand the Christian growth process and provide practical ways to help you move in the right direction.
Growing as Christian requires: (1) Understanding the spiritual growth process; (2) evaluating the areas in your life needed for spiritual maturity; (3) establish a biblical plan to address those areas, and (4) implement an accountability partnership to keep you moving forward. Below is a detailed explanation of each step and some practical advice to help you get started.
(1) Understanding the spiritual growth process.
A lot of Christians attend church, hear a good sermon, but unfortunately never fully enjoy the benefit of really growing in their relationship with Jesus. They know you are supposed to grow as a believer but don’t quite understand the spiritual growth process. Over the years as a pastor, I have helped numerous believers grow in their relationship with Christ and it begins with rightly understanding how the Christian walk works.
Foundational to growing as a Christian is understanding when a person becomes a believer, he or she becomes a new creation in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). What this verse means is when you are saved God changes your heart (spiritually speaking). In other words, God breaks the bondage of sin in your life and renews your soul, so you become a new creation in Christ.
Also, there are a lot of other wonderful things that take place when you become a Christian. Such as:
- You are declared righteous before God (Justification). Even though practically you may not always live righteously God still sees you as righteous because of Jesus’s finished work on the cross.
- You are also adopted into God’s family. Once you become a believer the Bible says you become an heir with Jesus and child of God (Romans 8:16-17).
- We are forgiven of our sin (past, present, and future).
- And we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17).
Once you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit it is important to understand the role the Holy Spirit plays in your life and how to co-labor with Him to really experience spiritual growth. This process is often called, “The sanctification process” (at least part of it), which simply means as you grow you become more like Jesus in your character, words, and deeds. It is also important to understand that the sanctification process is a life-long process. You should never stop growing as a Christian until you meet Jesus face to face. However, a lot of Christian don’t understand the sanctification process, thus, they never experience all that God intended for them. I want to break it down in steps for you to make it easier to understand.
Step One: The Holy Spirit has a job to do in your life.
First, He guides you in all truth. For example, Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17 ESV). And, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV).
Part of the responsibility of the Holy Spirit in your life is to help you learn what is true and right. Overwhelmingly, He will use the Scripture to teach you what is true and right. Beyond the Bible, sometimes, the Holy Spirit will also use your circumstances or other believers to help you learn how to live before the Lord. However, it is important to recognize that the Holy Spirit will never lead you in a direction that is contrary to the Bible.
Step Two: The Holy Spirit will convict you when you live in a way that is not pleasing to God and contrary to the Bible (John 16:8).
Over the years I have observed a lot of Christians don’t always like this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s role in their lives because it means you can’t intentionally sin and have true peace in your heart. In other words, when you sin the Holy Spirit will convict you of that sin. You must be willing to confess that sin to God and ask for forgiveness to experience the fullness of God’s peace in your life (1 John 1:9). It has been said, the Holy Spirit is the “Hound dog of Heaven” because if you truly are a Christian, you cannot run or hide from His work in your life.
Step Three: You partner with the Holy Spirit to help you grow as Christian.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). Paul is not saying in these verses that our salvation is based on works, rather he is talking about the sanctification process. Once we are saved, we must grow in our walk with the Lord by co-laboring with the Holy Spirit. However, as verse thirteen states, it is God (through the Holy Spirit) that empowers you to actually work out your salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, even though you must do certain things to grow as a Christian it is the Holy Spirit that will enable and empower you to do those things.
Step Four: The Holy Spirit uses the spiritual disciplines to help you grow as a Christian as you apply them to your life.
Think of the spiritual disciplines like a train that delivers you to the right destination. Your destination (goal) is to grow in your love for Jesus and seek to glorify Him. In other words, the primary objective of Christian growth is to know Jesus better and to become more like Him. The spiritual disciplines are daily and periodic actions you take that will help you grow closer to Jesus. They are like a delivery system that leads you into the presence of Jesus.
Please understand, spiritual disciplines are not the goal, they are the means to the goal. There are a lot of Christians that think if they just have a daily quiet time or read the Bible through in a year that makes them a mature believer. Unfortunately, they are treating their spiritual life like a performance instead of a relationship. They see the spiritual disciplines as a checklist providing “evidence” they are mature believers when in reality their hearts are far from God. The best way to understand the spiritual disciplines is they are an act of God’s grace. A gift given to believers to help us fall more deeply in love with Jesus.
“Please understand, the spiritual disciplines are not the goal, they are the means to the goal.”
A brief list of some of the spiritual disciplines are provide below with links to some of the better resources on the topics.
As you practice these disciplines empowered by the Holy Spirit your life begins to be transformed from inside-out as you grow in your relationship with God. It is also important to note that there is no “secret sauce” or “magic bullet” to bypass what God has told us to do in Scripture. These spiritual disciplines are non-negotiable if you want to grow as a Christian. For a great book on the spiritual disciplines check out Donald S. Whitney’s, The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
(2) Evaluate the areas in your life needed for spiritual maturity.
As you think about which spiritual discipline to begin practicing, take a few moments and evaluate your walk with the Lord. If you are a new believer, the greatest thing you can do is spend time studying the Bible. If you are already consistently having a daily devotional time with the Lord, determine what other areas in your life need to be addressed.
I am a big proponent of the idea that the Christian life involves every facet of who you are as a person. In other words, growing as a Christian is not just about Bible study or prayer, but also about how you treat others, your attitude, your work ethic, your health, etc. With that in mind, ask God to show you what areas in your life need to be addressed. It may be that your prayer life is healthy, but how you treat your spouse or children needs more work. Here are some questions that can help you determine where to start:
- Bible Study: How often are you spending time in God’s Word? If the only time you are reading the Bible is when you go to church, you need to start setting aside at least 15 minutes a day to study the Scripture. If that seems overwhelming, determine what is more manageable and get started. As you form the habit of Bible study, you will find your thoughts start becoming more in line with Scripture and God will use that to transform your life.
- Prayer: Oftentimes, prayer and Bible study go hand in hand. If the only time you pray is before meals and emergencies, you need more time communing with the Lord. Try starting your day off with prayer thanking God for another opportunity to serve him. Then, before you go to bed take a few moments and thank Him for another day of life. As you grow in your relationship with the Lord your times of prayer will become more important, and you will find you need to set aside greater amounts of time to talk with the Lord. For a more detailed explanation on how to have a more powerful prayer life check out these articles.
- Church: One of the most effective ways to help you grow as a Christian is attending a strong Bible-believing church. In many ways, the church is your spiritual family. If you are not attending church take steps to make it a priority. Begin with attending a worship service but try to get involved in a small group Bible study at the church as soon as possible.
- Finances: Are your finances a mess? If they are, take steps to develop a spending plan (budget). If you need help, check out these two websites: (1) Crown or (2) Dave Ramsey I mentioned finances because there are over 2000 verses in the Bible about money and stewardship. When you are managing your money well it can reduce stress and provide greater peace in your life, which often helps you focus on other aspects of the Christian walk.
- Relationships: Jesus said, “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). Simply put, if your relationships are horrible, you probably need to spend more time with Jesus. Your relationships can serve as an indicator of the spiritual condition of your heart. In other words, if you are bitter and angry at someone it probably means you are having a hard time forgiving that person or experiencing jealousy or envy. Take a few moments and think through the various relationships you have with others. If you find some of the relationships are not what God intended, determine what adjustments need to be made to make it better.
(3) Making a plan for Christian Growth.
Once you evaluate what areas in your life need to be addressed develop a biblical plan to move forward in becoming more like Jesus. I use the words, “biblical plan” because becoming a stronger Christian is more than setting goals and achieving them. At the same time, I am convinced that being proactive, developing a plan, and having goals produces far greater results than living the Christian life in reactive mode, just hoping you can change somehow without any effort.
The first step in your planning is to realize that true biblical change can only occur when Jesus does His work through you. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). As I mentioned early, it is the Holy Spirit that ultimately empowers and enables you to change. Apart from His work in you, according to John 15:5, you can do nothing that is truly God-transforming in your life. In other words, spiritual growth is not done in your own strength, it requires God’s power at work in your life.
Second, be realistic in your planning. I have seen numerous Christians over the years set goals, like fasting for a long period of time without any prep time or attempting to get up two hours early every day to have a Bible study and pray when they were not ready for such a drastic life change. Don’t get me wrong, it would be wonderful to set such lofty goals, but when you have spent years developing unhealthy lifestyle patterns it can be difficult to overcome them without taking smaller steps first. Often what occurs is the person setting unrealistic goals fails to accomplish them and gets discouraged and gives up altogether. I personally think setting smaller goals in the beginning and achieving them will provide greater motivation to stay the course.
Third, start with the end in mind. When I think about my walk with God, I think about the Apostle Paul’s words, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). When you look at the context of this verse, the Apostle Paul’s greatest desire in life was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Paul was laser focused on finishing well before the Lord. In the same way, our goal should be to finish well too. One practical way to help accomplish that goal is by imagining what you want to be like in the latter years of your life. For example, if I want to be a godly humble servant, I imagine myself as an older man helping and trying to bless others. Oftentimes, I will think of an individual in the Bible or someone that exhibits those qualities and use them as a benchmark to help me keep moving in the right direction. I like what John Piper once told me in a preaching class. “It is good to have some dead heroes, whose lives have stood the test of time – that way they can’t fail you” (paraphrase).
Planning with the end in mind helps in two ways: (1) It provides a mental picture to help apply scriptural truth to your life. Envisioning what it looks like to be a mature believer can make it easier achieve that goal. (2) It can also remind you that the Christian journey is a life-long walk with the Lord. Sometimes you may feel like your journey is one step forward and two steps back but if you keep that picture in mind it can give you hope to persevere even when you fall short. Ultimately, like the Apostle Paul, we are aiming toward the prize of finishing well before the Lord.
Fourth, determine what is the first area in your spiritual walk you will address. Years ago, I read, The 4 Disciplines of Execution. It is a secular book, but it really helped me to be more strategic in determining what should be the most important spiritual goals I start with first. In the book, the authors are mostly addressing organizations, but I applied the principle to my own life and ministry. Start by asking yourself, “If everything else stayed the same in my life, what is the one thing that I could change that would make the greatest impact in my life spiritually?” As you think about this question, take time and pray, seek God’s wisdom to determine where to start.
(4) Implement an accountability partnership.
I have argued for years that most believers undervalue the role the body of Christ can play in helping them grow as Christians. As believers, we are inseparably linked together through our union with Christ, and we all have the Holy Spirit indwelling within us. Furthermore, God has given each of us certain spiritual gifts and talents that can be used to encourage each other to be more like Christ. So, one of the greatest things you can do is find another believer that you respect and ask that person to hold you accountable. I have provided some sample accountability questions by clicking here (accountability questions). You can write your own questions as well, but here are a few tips to get the most out of your accountability relationship.
(1) Determine the type of accountability relationship you will have with the other person. Will he or she be your mentor and simply hold you accountable or will it be a mutual relationship where you hold each other accountable.
(2) I recommend men hold other men accountable and ladies hold ladies accountable. Unless your accountability partner is your spouse, I have found it is more effective when the same gender holds each other accountable. Often, men and women struggle with different issues and temptations. Having a person of the same gender hold you accountable can be more effective because that person can often identify with the struggles you are having and help you be more honest about your situation. Also, it can help alleviate possible temptations that might come from developing a closer relationship with the opposite sex.
(3) I would have no less than five accountability questions and no more than ten. You can always adjust your list if needed, but when you have more than ten questions it may be difficult to adequately work through each question on the list before you meet with your accountability partner. At the same time, having too few questions may cheat you from maximizing time spent with your accountability partner.
(4) Your accountably questions can be written out in the form of goals, things you wish to overcome, or both. There is no set pattern for what questions you should use in your accountability list. However, each question should be specific to what you want to accomplish or what you hope to overcome. Make your list work for you. Take time and pray about each question. You may decide after a month that you need to change one of your questions – that is okay. Just make sure the questions are important to you and help you move forward in your relationship with God.
(5) Determine up front how often you will meet with your accountability partner and for how long. I recommend meeting at least once a month. Some people may need to meet more often depending on what you are trying to accomplish. The meeting can be over a meal at a restaurant or in a more private setting. I also recommend setting an end date to conclude your accountability relationship. In other words, determine in advance how long the accountability partnership will last. You can always extend it, but by having an end date it provides a way to easily end the relationship if it no longer effective.
By implementing these four steps you will be on your way to growing as a Christian. Certainly, there are numerous other things that can help you grow, but these four steps are an essential part of the journey. As a pastor, I believe these steps are best utilized in the context of a local church where you have biblical leadership consistently teaching you God’s Word and providing guidance for your life. Every Christian needs a local church they can call home. You will not regret it!