Although we might not be initially inclined to think of spiritual growth as a pattern, there is a definite expectation in Scripture that that everyone who becomes a Christian will grow spiritually. Just as in the physical realm, when a child is born into this world, there are certain growth expectation, goals, and milestones that parents look for in healthy children; so also God looks for growth in His children.
We are born into the family of God. Jesus said, (John 3:3-5) “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” We all therefore start off as “infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1) and immature. This is important for every new Christian and older Christian to know and remember — the knowledge, understanding, and faith of a new Christian doesn’t begin full-grown; it should expected that it will start small (like the mustard seed) and grow. The apostle Peter wrote (1 Peter 2:1, 2) “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
That being said, however, staying immature is not expected, and immaturity is viewed by God with alarm. The writer of Hebrews wagged a finger of rebuke at some of those he was addressing telling them, (Hebrews 5:11-14) “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Peter gave to his readers a whole list of things that they needed to grow in throughout their lives in 2 Peter 1:5-11. And the apostle Paul even pointed out God’s provision in the church to help the church to grow spiritually — Ephesians 4:11, 12 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
But much to the frustration of some disciples of Christ, the maturity process sometimes takes a little while, too long for the impatient. This is to be expected. Children don’t grow up overnight, even though they’d like to. And the same could be said for professional athletes — it takes years. How do children and professional athletes reach their full stature, maturity, and skills? They do the things that promote growth, maturity, strength, and skill. So also with mature Christianity.
What are those things that lead to mature Christianity? We probably need to look no farther than Acts 2:42-47 for the essence of it, where we see some 3000 new Christians shepherded and guided by the inspired apostles in their spiritual growth:
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Please notice that they devoted themselves 1) to the apostles’ teaching, 2) to the fellowship, 3) to “the breaking of bread”, 4) to prayer, and 5) to sharing. Let’s look at these things individually to learn more about them.
They devoted themselves to the apostles teachings
Since we don’t have any living apostles to teach us, we might think this to be something that we cannot do; but actually the New Testament was itself largely composed by some of the apostles — Matthew, John, Paul, and Peter. To these and the other apostles Jesus commanded, (Matthew 28:20) “teaching [My disciples] to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So as we read the New Testament we are actually reading the apostles teachings. Why is this important to spiritual growth? These teachings are about how Jesus Himself lived, what He taught, and what He did (see the Gospels). They help us to seek spiritual wisdom and see the unseen (e.g., 1 Cor. 1-4). Moreover, their words, being inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) guide us “into all the truth”.
Such teachings are described as our nourishment, milk to the baby — (1 Peter 2:1-3 ) “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” And even beyond the metaphor of milk, these teachings are characterized as the kinds of guidance that children need — 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Using the metaphor of raising a child or coaching an athlete, you could say that devotion to the apostles’ teachings would fall into the feeding and training categories — essential for growth, development, and strengthening.
Next time we’ll talk about fellowship and “the breaking of bread” as part of the pattern for spiritual growth.