1 John 2:14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Satan’s chief approach to harming Christians is not through temptation to sin, but through the lure of false doctrine and unscriptural thinking. He will often “disguise himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). This “light” comes in the form of false doctrine and cults. Teaching which often resembles sound doctrine, but upon investigation turns out to be gross error. The spiritual young man has overcome the wicked one by becoming established in his understanding of the gospel through the study of the word of God. He has built upon the emotional and relational aspects of salvation and has added a solid, biblical theology. As a result, he possesses a discernment which enables him to distinguish truth from error. He is “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14).
Colossians 2:6-8 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Learning and applying scripture is the key to spiritual growth. This is the main tool that God has given us for spiritual growth. Even the spiritual gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 are really just different ways of ministering the word of God to promote spiritual growth.
2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Spiritual growth depends upon our consistent learning and applying of God’s word. Through scripture we learn doctrine, are reproved, are corrected and are instructed in how to live righteously. It is through scripture that we are equipped for “every good work.” The spiritual young man has learned this and spends quality time studying the word of God.
1 Peter 2:1-2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–
We will never progress from spiritual immaturity and instability to being firmly grounded in God’s word if we do not have a sincere, heartfelt desire to study scripture. The growth of many Christians is stunted because they do not have the right view of the word of God. They have failed to incorporate it into their daily lives and have failed to learn how to study.
Spiritual young men know doctrine. They understand the word of God and are rigid defenders of it. They are ready and willing to go to battle over right doctrine, yet they have much growth ahead of them. What are some ways that they might make their immaturity obvious?
1 John 2:13-14 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Paul was one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. He was a spiritual father to many churches, yet one of his sincerest desires was to “know God.” This speaks of more than a simplistic awareness that God is our father. To “know God” in this sense is to have an intimate relationship with Him. These spiritually mature Christians have progressed from a simplistic knowledge of God their father as spiritual children. They have learned scripture and have become defenders of it as spiritual young men. But they have progressed even further, by not only knowing scripture, but by living it. They have entered into an intimate and sustained relationship with God the father.
The spiritual father has experienced answers to prayer. He has endured trials with God at his side. He has seen the word of God proven true over and over again. He not only knows scripture, but he has applied it, proven it and lived it. He has prayed for wisdom and has received it. The spiritual father bears the fruit of the Spirit and has developed a Christ-like character. He not only knows scripture, but he has the wisdom and discernment needed to practice and share it.
Always Growing, Never Arriving
Philippians 3:8-13 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
With all of the above being true, consider v12-13 of this passage. According to the first part of verse 12, and the first part of verse 13, what was the Apostle quick to state about his progress in spiritual growth?
With all of the Apostle Paul’s spiritual maturity, he was quick to tell the Philippians that he “had not arrived”. His growth was not complete. He had not reached full maturity.
There is no such thing as sinless perfection or complete spiritual maturity. We will not be entirely like the Lord Jesus Christ until we are glorified with him in Heaven. Like the Apostle Paul, our goal in this life should not be the attaining of spiritual perfection, but rather the continual progress towards increasing Christ-likeness. As long as we exist in these sinful bodies and in this sin-cursed world, our efforts toward spiritual growth will be tainted by sin and hindered by our weakness. For this reason, our focus should be on progression and not perfection.
The healthy Christian life is one of continual progression in spiritual maturity. Healthy Christians grow. This is the natural and inevitable outworking of the spiritual life that God has given us. The genuine believer has received spiritual life through the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Holy Spirit inevitably produces growth and fruit.
Spiritual growth is a work of God inside of us, yet we have the power to help or hinder the process through our obedience. Responding to God with faith and obedience yields growth. Bearing up under trials by trusting in Him, yields growth. Availing ourselves to the resources for growth which he has given us (scripture, prayer, fellowship, preaching, etc), yields growth. On the other hand, disobedience, faithlessness, and neglect of God’s resources prevents growth, produces doubt and forfeits all the blessings which accompany obedience.
The heart’s desire of every genuine believer should be spiritual growth. This inward desire should overflow into real, tangible action as we seek to obey the Lord, abstain from sin and avail ourselves to his means for growth. We will never arrive at a place of perfection in this life. But our short time here should be spent becoming more and more like Jesus Christ through spiritual growth.