Spiritual Growth 101 – progress in the faith
We all like making progress. I think that is a part of being human. If you’re on Facebook, you probably have friends who are celebrating some form of progress. You probably have friends who have celebrated:
Plexus success stories
or Personal Records in Crossfit
or body fat percentage loss
new record times in running a mile
or perhaps your friends have posted about a healthy meal that they have made and are celebrating progress in their eating habits
or perhaps your friend posted about their grades in school or their graduation, whether high school or college
or perhaps you received a linked in notification to congratulate one of your contacts for their promotion at work.
People celebrate progress. We all like making progress; and I believe that is human nature.
As followers of Jesus, we should strive to make progress in the faith and celebrate it. We should set goals for spiritual growth.
In fact, this is something we see commended in the Bible.
2 Cor 10:15b Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand
1 Pet 2:1-31 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Peter ends his second letter in this way – 2 Pet 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
So as you can see, spiritual growth, progress in the faith is something that is commended in the Bible. It is something for which we should strive; we should aim to progress in our faith.
As the pastor I’m responsible for taking the spiritual temperature and facilitating spiritual growth in the church, for bringing others alongside me to make progress in the faith. I preach on Sunday mornings, and at various times and seasons have led bible studies, small groups, and done one on one discipleship. And this alone can be powerful to bring about spiritual growth and progress in the faith of the church, for the word of God is a powerful life changing agent. When it is received, believed, and applied it brings life change, spiritual growth, progress in the faith. Now, the degree to which one makes progress in the faith hinges upon how intentional he or she is. He can come on Sunday mornings and hear a 40 minute message and make progress. But, imagine how much more progress he will make if that 40 minutes on Sunday is accompanied by 40 minutes a day in the word of God.
I recently attended the parent information night at my children’s school. Our children will grow in their literary skills by coming to school, but their growth in that area – or any area of that matter – also requires homework. They encouraged that our children spend a certain amount of time reading each night so that they would make progress. THIS IS WHAT THEY GAVE US:
I have you captive for 40 minutes give or take on Sunday mornings and I’ll do my best to keep you awake, but if your progress or my progress is dependent upon what happens at NCF alone, that progress will be limited; just as my children’s progress in literacy is directly proportional to the amount of time invested on their own at home (and thus requires homework), so also your progress in the faith and my progress in the faith is proportional to the amount of time we invest on our own; it requires homework.
I can’t control what you do on your own outside of Sunday mornings, but for the next few weeks we are going to be intentional about encouraging you in a certain direction and that direction is toward progress.
CITIZENSHIP IN THE KINGDOM ISN’T CONTINGENT UPON SPIRITUAL GROWTH – FAITH IN JESUS YOU’RE IN, BUT IT IS FOR YOUR GOOD AND GOD’S GLORY
We just finished a failblog series in which one of the points was that though we all fail and fail in the realm of sin, the good news is that in Christ those fails are not counted against us. So as we move forward in this series, don’t misinterpret any of this content to in any way condemn you as if to say that if you’re not measuring up in this area, or if you’re not making progress in that area, or if you’re not growing spiritually, then maybe you aren’t a follower of Jesus or maybe you’re not a part of God’s family.
Don’t respond to this content in a woe is me I’m a big failure manner. Let this series be an encouragement to you, not a discouragement. Now if God’s spirit brings about conviction that leads to progress, that’s one thing, but in no way is this message or this series designed to bring condemnation. Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS FOR OUR GOOD
While there is no condemnation, while we are forgiven even though we fall short, progress in this area is in our best interest; spiritual growth is for our good and for God’s glory. And get this, it is for our JOY.
Phil 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. Progress in the faith goes hand in hand with joy in the faith. Progress in the faith is for our good and for our joy.
You don’t HAVE to set goals for
in order to remain in God’s good graces, but they are for the good of your soul.
Just like everyone on Facebook celebrating their progress doesn’t HAVE to set goals for:
They don’t HAVE to but they CHOOSE to because they know that such progress is good for them.
PROGRESS RARELY HAPPENS WITHOUT SACRIFICE
Now, when it comes to making progress, there is one fact that cannot be overlooked and that is that progress usually requires sacrifice. Anyone who wants to make progress in weight loss knows this. They choose to sacrifice a cheeseburger and instead eat a salad. And sometimes, that brings with it a sacrifice of time. It takes longer to plan and prepare healthy meals than to grab an unhealthy snack or fast food.
Anyone who wants to see progress in their IRA or 401K, knows this. They elect to have a percentage of their check allotted to their retirement plan every pay period. They sacrifice spending money right now in order to put it into their retirement plan. Progress rarely happens without sacrifice.
SACRIFICE VS INVESTMENT
But I want to challenge us all to shift our thought process from thinking in terms of sacrifice to thinking in terms of investment. When you give up something good right now, in order to receive something better later, it shouldn’t be viewed in terms of sacrifice, but in terms of investment.
Let me put it more briefly: sacrificing something good today to receive something better later is an investment.
A cheeseburger is good. But sacrificing that good cheeseburger today yields a future return: health. And health is better. My mom has a sign on her fridge that says “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” That is a reminder to her that the sacrifice of tasty but not necessarily healthy food is an investment in future health – something better.
Having extra money in your pocket to spend right now is good. But sacrificing that good spending money today by putting that in a retirement fund yields a future return: money at retirement. And having money at retirement is better than not.
Sacrificing something good today to receive something better later is an investment.
Progress rarely happens without sacrifice, but the sacrifices we make in order to grow spiritually, our sacrifices for the sake of progress in the faith are worth it because as a result of giving up something good now, we receive something better.
In order to make progress in the faith, we may sacrifice listening to a really good audio book in order to listen to the Bible which is better for our soul today, tomorrow, and forever. What is that audiobook doing for us when we step back and view our lives from God’s perspective, when we look at the big picture? It is not necessarily bad. It’s entertaining. We could even say it’s good. But when the sacrifice of something good yields something better, it is an investment.
In order to make progress in the faith, we may sacrifice watching a really good TV show in order to spend more time studying Scripture, or meditating on a passage, or in a bible study, or in fellowship with other believers in a small group, a community group. That TV show may be good. But all of that is better for our soul today, tomorrow, and forever. What is that TV show doing for us when we step back and look at the big picture? That TV show isn’t necessarily bad. It’s entertaining. We could even say that it’s good. But when the sacrifice of something good yields something better, it is an investment.
Again, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not going all legalistic on you. I’m not saying don’t listen to audiobooks. I’m not saying don’t watch TV. I could have inserted any number of things in the blank to make the point. The point is in order to make progress in the faith we may have to make sacrifices but when the sacrifice of something good yields something better, it is an investment. And what better to invest in than our souls, in the Kingdom and glory of God?
Just so you know that I’m not picking on TV and audio books, I’ll bring it closer to home and share with you some of my own experiences not to toot my own horn or make you think highly of me and say “David is so spiritual” but so that you’ll know that I’m not up here trying to encourage you to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. Because that is sheer hypocrisy. There are only so many hours in the day so something has to give somewhere, right?
I LOVE watching college football. Love it. And watching college football isn’t necessarily bad. For the past four years, I have sacrificed that in order to protect family time and put final touches on my messages, which are better. I have given up something good for something better and it is an investment and it is worth it. While college football is entertaining, when I step back and look at the big picture, what would I have gained and what would you have gained by me watching college football on Saturdays? In the grand scheme of things, nothing really. It’s not life changing. I did watch the super bowl last year and the only thing that any of us gained from that was a lousy sermon illustration. I choose to give up something good for something better, for my joy and your joy and my progress in the faith and yours.
I LOVE playing softball. Love it. And playing softball is good. While playing softball is fun it’s not life changing. For the past four years I have sacrificed that good thing in order to protect family time and spend evenings leading bible studies, leading youth group, doing premarital counseling, and studying, which are better. I have given up something good for something better and it is an investment and it is worth it for my joy and your joy and my progress in the faith and yours.
There are others in this room who have done the very same things; they have given up something good for something better.
Some people have given up an extra 45 minutes of sleep every Sunday (and sleep is good) so that they can drive to Round Rock, get Round Rock donuts so that they can ruin your weight loss progress.
Some people have given up a number of things in order to plan, oversee, and execute our children’s ministry.
I know a guy who gave up who knows what in order to learn how to play guitar so that he could lead us in praise and worship. And on a weekly basis he sacrifices time to practice for Sunday mornings to invest in our spiritual growth, that we may worship distraction free.
I know people in this room who have made the sacrifice of making their homes immaculate and opening those homes to us so that we could invade their space and have small group. They sacrificed something good for something better, for our joy and progress in the faith.
I know people in this room who have sacrificed a number of things to prepare the PowerPoint, Set up, nursery, you name it. This church is full of people who make sacrifices and there are too many to name.
So that phrase preaching to the choir is certainly applicable to this portion of the message because most everyone in this church knows about making sacrifices, but I want to challenge all of our thought processes so that we think not in terms of sacrifice and everything we are giving up, but that we would all think in terms of investment in everything we are gaining – for our joy and progress in the faith.
THAT KIND OF PROGRESS IS MEASURABLE – EXPLAIN
Now when it comes to progress in the areas I named at the beginning, it’s easy to measure. It’s easy to measure Crossfit progress. How much did you lift this time? Is it more than last time? Progress. That’s easily measurable. It’s easy to measure progress in weight loss. How much did the scale say this time? Is it less than last time? Progress. That’s easily measurable.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE PROGRESS IN THE FAITH? HOW DO YOU MEASURE SPIRITUAL GROWTH? While the Bible speaks in terms of growing and making progress, we don’t exactly have a formula so it’s really a matter of inference and there are a number of things that we could call spiritual disciplines, some of which I have already mentioned in passing and others that we will camp out on for the next few weeks.
But one illustration that I find helpful to describe progress in the faith is that of a pregnant woman. This is NOT a foreign concept to us as a church.
Though not with us anymore:
Not to mention
I’m probably forgetting someone here. But you get the picture.
Now think about a pregnant woman and her progress in the pregnancy. She goes from knowing, to growing, to showing.
It all starts with…well, you know what it starts with, so let’s skip to the part where she starts feeling like something is a little off and she says maybe, just maybe I might be pregnant. So she goes to CVS pharmacy or Walgreens and gets an EDT test. Then she does whatever she does with it, I’m not even sure what she does with it but then, she knows. It starts with knowing. So she goes on Facebook and tells everyone what she KNOWS. She knows that she is pregnant. She KNOWS that her life will never be the same; she is changing and her life is changing.
She now has conceived; a seed has been planted within her and that seed begins to GROW. So the KNOWING is followed by GROWING. And while everyone now knows they may not see that growth that is happening within her but that seed is nonetheless GROWING. She doesn’t necessarily look any different for a while. In fact, a few months go by before anyone can see the growth, before they can see progress in the pregnancy. But after a few months not only is she GROWING, now she is SHOWING.
The GROWING is followed by SHOWING. You can see her progress. You can see her growth. It shows. Her belly is getting bigger and bigger. That which has been planted in her is now evident to those on the outside. They see that she is different. They see that her life will never be the same. They see progress. And then eventually, there is absolutely no hiding it because the life that is in her is now coming out.
I think that is a beautiful illustration of spiritual growth – a beautiful illustration of progress in the faith.
Paul uses the growing seed illustration in his first letter to Corinth.
1 Cor 3:6-7 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
When it comes to our faith, we see the same progression of Knowing, growing, and showing. Progress in the faith begins with knowing. We come to know Jesus through KNOWING the gospel, knowing the truth. A seed is planted within us. God’s spirit comes to make His dwelling in us by his spirit. We KNOW that our life will never be the same; we are changing and our life is changing.
GROWING in the faith
And that seed planted within us begins to GROW. As we spend time in the word, as we come together to worship, to fellowship, to study, as we spend time in conversation with God in prayer, as we develop these spiritual disciplines because we have a new perspective on life and we now see the bigger picture and we now understand that some things are more important than others, we understand that while some things are good, other things are better, we begin to sacrifice some good things for the sake of better things and in the process we GROW spiritually.
And while others may be aware, while others may know that we KNOW Jesus they may not see that growth that is happening within us but that seed is nonetheless GROWING. We don’t necessarily look any different for a while. In fact, some time may go by before anyone can see the growth, before they can see progress in the faith. But after some time not only are we GROWING, now we are SHOWING.
SHOWING in the faith
You can see our progress. You can see our growth. It shows. Our faith is getting bigger and bigger. That which has been planted in us is now evident to those on the outside. The life that was once planted within us that life is now coming out. They see Jesus bursting out of us and spilling over to impact others; they see that we are different. They see that our life will never be the same. They see progress in the faith.
Since we know Jesus, let us grow in our faith and let us be the salt of the earth and the light of the world that those who observe us will see our good deeds SHOWING and as a result give glory to our father in heaven.
So let us strive to grow spiritually, not because we have to, not because if we don’t make a certain amount of progress, we lose citizenship in the Kingdom or favor with God, but because it is for our good, it is for our joy, and because it brings glory to God.
And while progress involves sacrifice, let’s shift our thinking in this area so that rather than thinking in terms of sacrifice – what we’re giving up, we think in terms of investment – what we are gaining, which is far far better.