“My, how you’ve grown!” That’s a common remark when we see children of friends and family whom we haven’t seen for several months. To us the physical changes in stature and development are clearly visible. However, spiritual growth may not be as obvious because it’s not physically measurable. So how do we know whether we’re growing spiritually?
Some people think it’s measured by practices such as church attendance and prayer, but a better method of evaluation is to consider what the Bible says about this subject.
Growth requires nourishment of some kind, and in the spiritual realm, the nutrient is instruction from God’s Word. It’s an essential element for beginning the Christian life and also for every day thereafter. The only way to be saved is to hear the gospel or to read about it, either in the Bible or a doctrinally sound publication. First Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Then Peter instructs believers to continue in the Word: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).
Our need for instruction is demonstrated by Jesus, who continually taught large crowds, small groups, and even individuals. And often He would call out, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt. 13:43). Obviously, just receiving instruction doesn’t guarantee the understanding and obedience that produce maturity.
Our need for instruction is demonstrated by Jesus
How we listen to instruction from God’s Word is of utmost importance, and James points out several different kinds of listeners in his epistle. First, there is the deluded listener. James admonishes believers: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
Deceived listeners assume that simply hearing the truths of God’s Word is sufficient for growth. They sit in church every Sunday being taught from Scripture, but because they don’t carefully consider what they hear, it doesn’t have any impact on their thinking, attitudes, or practices.
The second kind of listener is the one who is distracted. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (vv. 23-24). This is the person who reads a passage of Scripture or hears a sermon, and may even feel encouraged at the moment, but quickly forgets what it was about.
When we let the temporal cares of this world distract us from that which is of eternal value, we become like the thorny soil in Jesus’ parable about the various responses to hearing God’s Word. “These are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).
Third, there is the attentive listener. This is the one “who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it” (James 1:25). This isn’t a casual look but a concentrated examination and consideration of what we’ve read or heard in God’s Word. Then we apply those truths to our lives, and allow ourselves to be guided by them.
The fourth listener is characterized as obedient. Rather than becoming a forgetful hearer, this person is “an effectual doer” who “will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25). He takes seriously Christ’s commands to love God and others (Mark 12:30-31), serve one another (Gal. 5:13), and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). His faith isn’t a private matter but the motivating reason for personally ministering to other people by meeting practical, emotional, or spiritual needs.
Spiritual growth isn’t measured merely by how much we know about the Bible but how obedient we are to what we’ve learned. If the instruction we receive isn’t accompanied by involvement in other people’s lives, we haven’t truly grown as we should. Genuine spiritual growth is revealed by increasing Christlikeness, which is manifested by our selfless love, care, and concern for other people. When we grow in this way, we become better representatives of Christ’s church to the world, as well as better friends for the Christians around us.
As fellow believers, we should motivate each other to “do” God’s Word. The author of the book of Hebrews says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). While the Spirit may be willing, the flesh is sometimes weak, but working together can inspire us toward greater obedience to the Word. Mutual discipleship is a powerful benefit of belonging to the body of Christ.
Jesus gave His disciples the following warning and promise: “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him” (Luke 8:18). Therefore, let’s ask the Lord to make us careful listeners and faithful doers of His Word so we can grow in grace and spiritual maturity.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. On Father’s Day, let’s gratefully remember our fathers and thank God for them. May He bless them for their love and sacrifices, and may fathers everywhere faithfully lead their children to become men and women of God, instructed in His Word and strong in faith.