Signs of Spiritual Growth
You will find the pencil marks on pantry door frames or kitchen walls in many houses. Measuring your children’s height is fun, encouraging and shocking at the same time. Wow, you’ve grown that much?! Over time these height marks turn into little treasures. Some parents even refuse to paint over them.
We mark growth because we expect growth. It is part of a child’s normal development. When there is none, we start to worry.
Anticipating growth should apply to the spiritual realm as well. God doesn’t want us be stuck in spiritual infancy. If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, we must anticipate growth. While it is the work of the Spirit in us, we must let Him work on us. We’re accountable for the progress made.
The Bible speaks often about spiritual development:
- “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
- “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more” (1 Thes. 4:10).
- “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).
- “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:5).
- “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
But how do you measure spiritual advancement? Height marks on the wall won’t do. The challenge is compounded by our propensity toward self-delusion and pride.
Spiritual growth may not be quantifiable in the same way as physical growth, but this doesn’t mean we’re completely in the dark. At least not according to J.C. Ryle, a saint from the past (1816-1900). In his book, Holiness he discusses the reality of growth, the means of growth but also the signs of growth.
He highlights six evidences of a growing soul.
- Increase in humility. The person whose soul is growing, feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year.
- Increase in faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. There is more joy that he knows such a wonderful Savior and he sees new things about his riches in Christ.
- Increased holiness of life and conduct. Increase in dominion over sin, the world and the devil. This individual has become more careful about his temper, his words and his actions.
- Increased spirituality of taste and mind. The Christian doesn’t neglect his duties in this world, but the things he loves best are spiritual things. He doesn’t condemn all amusements and recreations of the world, but they have a continually decreasing place in his heart. Spiritual companions, occupations and conversation are of ever-increasing value to him.
- Increase in love to others, for all men, but especially toward the brethren.
- Increase in zeal and interest for the salvation of sinners.
This type of spiritual advancement will not happen overnight. It increases over time. We need to have a long-term view. Ryle recommends we evaluate ourselves at certain seasons. A Saturday night, a Communion Sunday, the return of a birthday or the end of the year. “All these are seasons that ought to set us thinking, and make us look within. Time is fast flying. Life is fast ebbing away... Surely I becomes us from time to examine ourselves, and take account of our souls”.
Our identity is in Jesus Christ, not in our spiritual progress. But Scripture does remind us that the faith that saved us is active and alive (Jm. 1:23). We are admonished to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:13). Let’s strive to grow from spiritual infancy to spiritual fatherhood (1 Joh. 2:12-14) so that our joy may be full and our usefulness to the Lord increases.