Heading in the right direction

Subscribe to Decision

Get your own subscription, or renewal, or bless someone by giving Decision Magazine as a gift.

This article originally appeared in January 2014 Decision Magazine

Spiritual Birth and Growth

God’s goal for us is spiritual maturity. The Bible says, “Therefore let us … go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). The Bible also urges, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). The goal of a child’s life is maturity—and the goal of a Christian’s life is spiritual maturity.

What is maturity? On a human level we know it isn’t just a matter of age. We have all met people who were adults in terms of years yet acted like spoiled little children: self-centered, irresponsible, inconsiderate, impulsive, unwise in the decisions they made.

Such a person, we say, is immature, no matter how old they are in years. A mature person, on the other hand, isn’t just physically mature; he or she also has grown up emotionally and socially. They have learned to be considerate and responsible and to realize that their actions have consequences, both for themselves and for others.

In a similar way, spiritual maturity isn’t just a question of how long we have been a Christian. Sadly, far too many Christians never grow and develop in their faith. If asked, they may be able to give a testimony of what God has done for them—but often it’s something that happened many years ago! Spiritually they are in limbo, and if someone examined their spiritual lives five years ago and then looked at them again today, they would see little difference. They have been born again, but they are still babies in Christ.

They are like the Christians to whom Paul wrote in Corinth: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).

Barriers to Spiritual Growth

Why don’t we grow in our faith? Sometimes it’s because of a particular sin we have tolerated and allowed to block God’s work, refusing to admit it or give it up. Or sometimes we don’t grow spiritually because we give in to the pressure of those around us who care little for Christ or may even be hostile to Him—family, friends, fellow students, neighbors, co-workers.

In my experience, however, most Christians fail to grow in their faith either because they don’t realize they ought to grow or because they don’t know how to grow. They know Christ died for them and that they will go to Heaven someday, but they don’t know what ought to be happening to them in the meantime. They remain spiritually weak and immature, never experiencing the fullness of life that Jesus promised His followers. Does this describe you?

You can be sure that Satan delights in an immature Christian. An immature Christian is an ineffective Christian, making little impact for Christ on the lives of others. An immature Christian also is an inconsistent Christian, living for Christ one day and forgetting Him the next. An immature Christian provides plenty of ammunition for those who say they don’t believe in Christ because they think the church is full of hypocrites.

Don’t let anything—or anyone—stand in the way of your growth in Christ. Begin now, by asking God to remove whatever barriers are keeping Him from working in your life. Then make it your goal to become—with God’s help—the mature Christian He wants you to be.

The Goal

What, however, is spiritual maturity? To put it another way, what exactly does God want to do in our lives as we journey along His path?

The Bible gives us the answer: God’s will is for us to become more and more like Christ. It is that simple—and also that complex.

From all eternity, the Bible says, God’s plan was for us “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). We are part of His family—and because of that we should bear His likeness! This is spiritual maturity, and if you make this your goal, it will change your life.

The Key

It’s a mistake to think God’s will is for only a few “super-spiritual” people, or that we must withdraw from our daily responsibilities if we want to become more like Christ. Listen: God’s will is for you to become more and more like Christ right where you are.

Jesus didn’t isolate Himself from daily life; He became involved in people’s lives wherever He went. At times He withdrew to rest and spend time alone with His Heavenly Father—and so should we. But Jesus also knew what it was to live under pressure, yet He never wavered from God’s plan for His life. Neither should we. In His last recorded prayer for His followers, He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

How do we become more like Christ? How does it happen? It happens as we submit every area of our lives to His authority. Nothing must be excluded from His influence, and nothing must be withheld from His control. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). John the Baptist declared, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Is this your goal?

Nothing Left Out

When I gave my life to Christ as a teenager, I knew I needed God’s forgiveness, and I also knew that my life ought to change. Only gradually, however, did I come to realize that God didn’t want just part of me; He wanted all of me. Only gradually did I realize that He wanted me to submit every area of my life to His authority. I believed Christ was my Lord, but only later did I begin to understand the implications of this for my life. I am still learning.

This, I suspect, is true for most of us. We begin our new lives in Christ joyfully, thankful that God has forgiven us and wanting to leave our old, sinful ways behind. But as time passes, we begin to wonder if we’ve left them behind after all. Try as we might, old habits remain and little seems to have changed.

What is the problem? It may have several dimensions, but at its heart, we have failed to submit to the daily authority of Jesus. We have ignored His Lordship. Perhaps we have been trying to change our lives in our own strength instead of seeking His help—but whatever the reason, we have not turned every part of our lives over to Him. And when we fail to do that, we block the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t take lightly what it means to submit every area of your life to Christ’s authority. Take your body, for example. God gave it to you—but do you allow its desires to control you? Or what about your mind? Every day you are besieged with ideas and images that dishonor God—but do you allow them to saturate your thinking and influence your behavior? Or think about your motives. Do selfish goals and priorities set the agenda for your daily life? What about your tongue? Would you be ashamed to have Christ overhear your conversations? Would He be pleased with your language? The list could go on and on: our relationships, our finances, our attitude toward those of another race, our concern for those in need, our emotions—everything.

Never forget: God’s will is for us to become more like Christ—and this only happens as we submit every area of our lives to His authority. D ©2006 Billy Graham

Excerpted from “The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World,” by Billy Graham. Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version 1984.