Godly Desires for Growth
Most fathers and mothers watch eagerly as their children grow. They point with pride to each new sign of growth. Children also long for the day when they will be grown up. Then they are mature enough to accept full rights and duties in the family. From the viewpoints of both parents and children, nothing is more sad than a lack of normal growth.
All of this is true when applied to our spiritual life as well. God desires a growing fellowship with humans. Humans also desire this relationship and feel lost without it. Even when man does not understand what he needs, he is searching for this fellowship with God. But he cannot find it until he accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. Then, as a believer man cannot experience the level of fellowship which God desires until he accepts God’s purpose for him. That purpose is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We can say, therefore, that Christian maturity fulfills the desires of both God and man.
Growing up is fun but difficult. I am sure you remember exciting things about becoming an adult. But you have not forgotten the hard things either. This course, as the Holy Spirit uses it to teach you, will challenge you and help you grow. As you grow, you will become aware of new rights and more important duties in God’s family. Apostle Paul writes in the Bible, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Such growth is necessary for you also.
GOD’S DESIRE FOR MAN’S GROWTH
We will begin our course in Christian maturity by considering God’s reason for creating man. Have you ever asked, “Why did God make man in the first place?” Maybe you have wondered, “Just what does God expect from man?”
Several times God stopped the process of creating the world to view His own work. Each time He saw that it was good. On the sixth day, God created man according to His plan. Man was made in the image or likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Without man, the creation had been incomplete. The creation of man fulfilled the plan of God. Through fellowship between God and man, man would grow in God, glorifying Him, and fulfilling the purpose of his creation.
To “fear God” means to respect and reverence Him. Certainly that includes respect for His purpose for man.
From the Fall to Redemption
Unfortunately, the story of creation does not end with man’s fulfillment of God’s glorious purpose for him. Because of man’s sin, he fell and became unable to fellowship with God and glorify Him. The thoughts of fallen man were far from God. His desires led him away from God. His actions were often offensive to God. Sin ruined man by keeping him from the fellowship with God that was God’s purpose for him.
But God loved man so much and desired his fellowship so greatly that He provided the plan of salvation. God’s plan was to restore the broken fellowship through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. God sent His own Son to die for man so that he could be redeemed and again have fellowship with Him.
The likeness of God in man was damaged by the fall. But through Jesus Christ, God brings man back into His own likeness. This is a major theme of the New Testament. We become like God as we grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
From Redemption to Maturity
Maturity may be defined as a “state of having been brought by natural processes to completeness of growth and development” or “pertaining to a condition of full development as a man of mature years.” As we will see, the natural processes which lead to maturity can be hindered or helped. The ministry of the church of Jesus Christ is to help each believer become a mature person like Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:11–16, to which we will later devote almost a full chapter, gives this basic truth.
DIRECTION OF HUMANITY’S GROWTH
There is within every man a hunger to find his reason and purpose for being. Much of the restlessness among all people is caused by a search for life’s meaning. Man needs a goal. Even when unsaved, a man feels linked with destiny and eternity. He is searching and longing for a satisfaction which can only be fully found in fellowship with God. Human personality can be fully developed only in a God-man relationship that pleases God. As long as man remains apart from God, his desire for spiritual growth cannot be fulfilled.
There is an emptiness inside every unsaved person which is like an alarm or signal placed there by the Creator. When man does not fulfill God’s purpose for him, he experiences spiritual distress which may be likened to the physical pain of losing an arm or leg. People often find a temporary escape from such spiritual distress through sin. The temporary nature of this escape may be compared to the relief that certain medicines give to physical pain. Man’s denial of his need to know and serve the Creator is an act of sin that prevents spiritual maturity.
Our human spirit is, in a sense, a borrowed godlike nature. Only in our spirit are we truly like God. It is our most precious gift. It is our spirit which demands purpose.
We can say that every person is born with a pressing need to be growing toward a goal. Often a person feels this need in terms of schooling, wealth, or status and promotion. In truth, this need can be satisfied only by a proper relationship to the Creator. It is met as we become more and more like Him. We are then able to have true fellowship with God. The need or desire in every man for growth is a quality that becomes a godly desire only when man focuses his desire on Christian maturity.
Have you ever watched someone trying to dam a rapidly flowing river? Sometimes it is almost impossible because there is a great power surging forward which is extremely difficult to stop. That movement is called the dynamic. Dynamic is an inner force that demands movement.
God has placed this force within man yet allows man to choose the direction for this force. You might say the river of desire within a person moves in various directions seeking its course. People without God are referred to in the Scripture as forceful moving waters (Jude 13). Unsaved people use this dynamic for self-goals. These are ultimately unsatisfying. We believers, on the other hand, must learn to use this dynamic to move toward maturity in God.
Through Jesus’ Life
Jesus Christ came into our world as a revelation of God’s concern that we find our true purpose. Jesus is a model of the correct “God-man” relationship. His wholeness was the result of a life lived in correct relationship with its source. His life, death, and resurrection opened the way for man to truly fulfill his purpose. What sin had robbed from man, Christ restored to him. Through faith in Christ we are born into the family of God and discover the right direction for the dynamic of our spirit.
Through Assurance of Salvation
Some people think that to be born again is the ultimate Christian goal. But the mere knowledge that we are Christians does not guarantee us a dynamic Christian life! Dynamic living implies being in motion and growing. Just as a newborn baby grows because he has life, so must the new Christian. He now has the possibility of moving in the direction God wants him to. But growth is not automatic—the believer must want to grow toward Christian maturity.
Your first step toward Christian maturity must be to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection was for the forgiveness of your sins. Your next step is to recognize and confess Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. The person who believes and confesses receives the Spirit of Christ upon his human spirit as Master and Lord. Then the Holy Spirit gives to him a dynamic drive toward man’s true purpose. In this drive, man will encounter many obstacles. But through all these obstacles, man can make progress with the Spirit’s help toward maturity in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3:23, “You are of Christ” implies that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Master.
Through Understanding Natural Growth
Christian maturity may be defined as a process, similar to natural growth, whereby we are brought to spiritual completeness.
Our life in Christ is compared to a seed. In the Bible, growth and maturity are often illustrated by farming. When we are born anew, it is through an incorruptible seed. The Bible describes this special seed in 1 Peter 1:23.
First John 3:9 refers to God’s seed which remains in us as believers. You know that in all life the potential for full growth is in the tiny seed. For example, the potential for the full grown corn plant is in the corn seed. It is hard to believe that a great tree can come from a small seed. Yet it does. The nature of the plant contained in the seed can only be seen through the growth process.
In the newborn believer, potential for his likeness of God is the seed of the Word of God. His new life is a dynamic, which can through spiritual growth move onward toward Christian maturity.
Remember that just as God can cause the natural seed to grow, so also He can cause spiritual seed within us to grow. And, just as God requires the farmer’s labor in the growth of natural seed, so also He requires that the believer’s own effort be a part of the process of growth of the spiritual seed within him.
Notice particularly from the definition of Christian maturity in this text that we are brought to spiritual completeness by a process that is similar to natural processes. The image of God in man—man’s spirit—is a dynamic force which was meant to flow within the banks of a proper and wonderful fellowship between creature and Creator.
Although broken by sin, that purpose can now be restored through Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us clearly that there is a measuring rod for our maturity as Christians.
Perhaps you are asking yourself, “Why isn’t Christian growth an easier process?” Again, the answer can be seen in nature. Seed has many natural enemies. It can be buried too deeply or not deeply enough in the soil. Wind can blow it away. The soil can be stony or filled with thistle seed. Many farmers face what seems an impossible task to produce a harvest. The fact remains that good seed will always produce if it is given right conditions.
The greatest enemy of the seed of godlikeness in man is Satan. He is the enemy of any likeness or reflection of God in the world. He designed the temptation which caused man to fall from his original purpose. He directs a world strategy which attempts to keep unsaved men from the gospel. He plans further to keep the Christian from growing in the likeness of Jesus Christ—the goal of Christian maturity.