This summer a question came up a couple times during our online Bible studies. How does a Christian evaluate his growth in Christ? Answering this question helps us better understand how to grow spiritually and what spiritual growth really looks like. Addressing this question reminds us that growth in Christ is never passive. To grow in Christ the individual must exert himself. “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)
The believer must be growing. Absence of growth in a Christian is as abnormal as the absence of growth in a child. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
Growth requires diligent personal effort, but growth is never the result of the Christian’s own ability. All genuine growth in Christlikeness is the result of Jesus’ work in us. The Christian’s hard work must be the result of complete reliance upon his Savior.
God has given to us many means of growth. These Holy Spirit enabled disciplines cultivate in the Christian the increase of Christlikeness. The four primary means of growth are:
1). Regular reading and study of the Bible.
2). Frequent prayer
3). Faithful attendance in the church assembly
4). Careful obedience
Without careful obedience the first three disciplines will be of little value. Faith without works is dead, and devotion without obedience is empty. To grow in Christ the Christian must put the truths of God into practice. The person who watches a 50 hour course on how to knit may “know” how to knit, but until they practice and apply the principles taught they do not really know how to knit. Head knowledge is essential to accurate performance, but head knowledge without practice is not true knowledge.
As with all new skills skillful obedience take time, work and quite a few failures. I enjoy watching a television show about knife making. One person on that show said, “You have to fill a five gallon bucket full of bad knives before you can start making good knives.” Lots of failures are part of the growing process. Yet, these failures are in themselves evidence of growth. The person who never tries to do right or is never troubled by failure to obey is not growing. Only the growing Christian cares to do right and cares when he does wrong.
The challenge of evaluating obedience is the intangible nature of many Christian graces. A driver knows when he is observing the speed limit because the gauge in front of him measures and reports the exact level of his obedience to the law. God has not equipped Christians with loveometers or patience gauges to show us our exact level of obedience. Some areas of obedience, like giving, soul-winning and right speech, are more readily evaluated. Many areas of obedience, like peace, joy and meekness, are more difficult to measure. The Christian must do the hard work of Spirit controlled, Bible based, prayerfilled self-evaluation. Growth takes time and it becomes apparent over time. What made you mad a year ago you endure this year with grace. What kept you up at nights you are now able to consider without worry or fear.
Spiritual growth is much like learning any new skill. Growing in Christ requires time, study, practice, correction and repitition. Growth in Christ is a life long process in which the believers increasingly puts away his old, flesh driven habits and increasingly puts in practice the new, Spirit driven habits of Christ. In that process is great joy, victory and fruitfulness.