Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Growing Spiritually Deeper in Christ

Growing spiritually deeper in Christ may also be understood as growing deeper in faith, spiritual growth, maturing in Christ, discipleship, and Christian spiritual formation. I prefer the word Christian spiritual formation as we all are being spiritually formed from the moment of conception whether we know it or not. Our minds and hearts are continually being informed, formed and transformed by our parents, spouses, children, society, culture and many other influences we are exposed to everyday. Christian spiritual formation has the nuance that this formation and transformation is the result of the cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the person who is being formed.

The metaphor often used for spiritual growth is that of a seed germinating and growing into a tree. While this metaphor is useful for growth in faith or development of spiritual habits and virtues, it is limited in that it does not reflect what spiritual growth actually is, and does not have a biblical basis. The parable of the Prodigal Son as told by Jesus gives an apt metaphor for spiritual growth. The playboy son who squandered his father’s fortune, impoverished and returned home to a warm homecoming by the father. To the prodigal son, it is a journey of self-discovery; that he is his father’s son. Spiritual growth is the process of rediscovering who we are in Christ; restoring the fallen image of God within us and entering into the communion with the Triune God. It is a journey of becoming who we are already are.  T.S. Eliot describes this well:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. 

Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one[i].
(Little Gidding V) 

There are two components, three dimensions and four principles in this journey. The two components of spiritual growth are what we already possess. By Christ’s work on the cross, we are redeemed.  Our ‘hearts of stone’ are replaced by ‘hearts of flesh’ and each of us is given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:31-33; Eze. 36:26-27).  It is the interactions of these two components that will result in spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit will work on our heart of flesh through the three dimensions of spiritual growth. 

Spiritual growth is personal but not individualistic. Spiritual growth has the dimensions of being personal (between the person and God to result in growing into Christlikeness), communal (between the person and other persons so that they together become the people of God), and missional (between the person in community to become agents for God’s redemptive purposes). These three dimensions of spiritual growth are expansive and prevent inward looking, self centered spiritual development. Spiritual growth is personal, in community and purposeful.

The four principles of spiritual growth are; (1) listening to the Holy Spirit; (2) saying no to self and yes to God; (3) journeying with one another; and (4) seeing where God is working and joining Him there. These principles serve to build spiritual habits so that we become sensitive to the presence and activities of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In doing so we continue to restore the fallen image, which is intrinsic inside us (our sinful nature) to become that of the true image who is Jesus Christ. In other words, we become more Christ-like in our inner being. These spiritual habits include reading and studying the bible, praying, fellowship, evangelism, and being obedience to biblical teachings in all aspects of our lives.

We have all the provisions for spiritual growth. We only have to say yes to the two components (if we are not Christians yet), accept the dimensions, and practice the principles. The Holy Spirit is ever willing to help us. The apostle Paul said it truly, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).

Soli Deo Gloria

[i] fire and rose, ‘divine wrath and mercy’ become one




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