An essential part of any life is growth. Where growth is absent, death is abundant, and it is no different for the Christian life. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” When Christians are born again through faith in Christ, they are Spiritual infants, and from that point until their death or the return of Christ they are in the process of growing towards maturity. It is an expected reality that Christians will mature spiritually, and when that doesn’t happen there are stark warnings against it in Scripture. The book of Hebrews especially deals with believers who had grown idle and complacent in their faith and no growth was apparent. In the epistle we read, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Hebrews 5:12-13, ESV). The church being addressed here found themselves in a perpetual state of Spiritual infancy because they had done nothing to cultivate Spiritual growth. In the economy of God, He has ordained specific means to bring about Spiritual growth. The process of implementing these means in order to cultivate such growth, is the process known as “Spiritual formation.” In this blog I wish to put forth 3 disciplines that are vital in spiritually maturing as a believer.\
The first discipline is to be intentional in persistent prayer. Prayer is the great act of humbly laying ourselves before God and offer Him praise and thanksgiving, seek out His will, and put forth requests to be answered. A direct network by which we may approach the throne of God boldly and commune with the Triune God as we pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Where a consistent and intentional prayer life is not cultivated, Spiritual growth will be hampered. The importance of prayer in our daily walk and spiritual formation is a constant teaching in the Scriptures. When we are anxious we are called to pray (Phil. 4:6), when we are suffering we are called to pray (Jam. 5:13), when we are in need we are called to pray (Jam. 4:3), and when we feel distant from God we are called to pray (Ps. 145:18). If we are to grow as believers a healthy prayer life will be a vital step in that process. This prayer life should be practiced both individually and corporately. Individually simply means that a person should cultivate a private and personal prayer life, a practice very much implemented by our Lord during his earthly ministry (LK. 5:16). And corporately can be done in a prayer group, family prayer, or a prayer service, but such corporate prayer is vital in discerning the will of God for a family, church, organization, etc.
The second discipline is to be immersed in God’s Word. If prayer is the breath to our Spiritual lungs, God’s Word is the nourishment to our Spiritual body. The Bible is absolutely clear on the role that God’s word plays in the believer’s Spiritual formation. In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy he writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). Where biblical nourishment is not properly maintained, spiritual formation will always be stumped. There is a direct correlation with how much of God’s Word we intake, and how we live in relation to God (Ps. 119:11). There are many ways in which we as believers can immerse ourselves in God’s Word in order to cultivate our Spiritual maturity. One such way is by journaling meditations, thoughts, and applications that arise as we study through the Scriptures. A second way is through reading through large portions of Scripture at a time. Doing this allows the persons mind to be captivated by grand story of God working to redeem people through His Son the God-Man Jesus Christ. Such a practice is vital in growing in one’s understanding of biblical theology, and seeing the flow the teaching, arguments, narrative, etc., rather than often systematizing or divorcing texts from their greater context because of verse/chapter divisions, etc. Immersion in God’s Word is integral to our Spiritual formation as believers.
Lastly, the final disciple in spiritual formation is to be involved in Christian community. From the beginning has been “not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Everyone has heard of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” well it is no different for a Christian, it takes a community to grow Christians. There are many aspects of Christian community that are vital to Spiritual formation. The first is accountability. In Matthew 18, Jesus established a program that ultimately sought to restore true brothers and sisters who had stumbled, while driving out those who were not truly of the body. Christian accountability is all about protection, reconciliation, and encouragement. As the writer in Proverbs states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). This accountability helps guard us from the temptations that so often linger in our lives and help keep us from stumbling. Secondly, the Christian community is the direct recipient of individual’s maturity and growth in the utilization of their own Spiritual gifts. It is this corporate edification that leads to the exact verse this blog began with regarding the growth of Christians in Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). A final reason that Christian community is a vital part in our Spiritual formation is because it teaches us how to love. As Francis Schaeffer argues, “Love is the distinguishing mark of the Christian” (Schaeffer, 14). You cannot learn to love in the absence of community, and yet it is this love for another that Jesus specifically says is the most notable aspect of how to know who his disciples are (JN. 13:35). Through accountability, edification through the different giftings, and the knowledge of how to love, Christian community is vital in growing as the spiritually mature sons and daughters God is calling us to be.
Schaeffer, Francis A. The Mark of the Christian. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970.