October 20, 2017

Is Spiritual Growth Worth the Work?

Do you ever get tired of striving to grow spiritually one baby step at a time – and sometimes going big steps backwards instead of forwards? Do you wonder if it’s truly “worth it” to practice self-control, to be consistent, to love the unlovely? Do you ever think… you’re going to heaven anyway, so what’s the big deal about becoming a better Christian right now?

The day-to-day struggles can be wearying. And when you consider how many commands there are in Scripture about how we are to live — qualities to develop, temptations to avoid, or good things to pursue — how can we ever hope to do it all? To achieve spiritual maturity?

For example, we have this list in 2 Peter 1 of qualities that we should develop as we mature in Christ:

“Supplement your faith with virtue,
and virtue with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control,
and self-control with steadfastness,
and steadfastness with godliness,
and godliness with brotherly affection,
and brotherly affection with love.”

And so we go about life, struggling to add these things to our character repertoire.

We try to emulate virtuous living. We add knowledge by listening to good preaching and discussing spiritual topics with our friends. We practice self-control in what we eat, what we spend money on, how we spend our free time, and what we say to others.

We emulate people who are steadfast in difficult circumstances — heroes like Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, David Livingstone, Apostle Paul. We promote godliness in our churches. We value the affection of our Christian family, and try to give back what we receive. We preach about having love toward all, and place it as the highest platform of achievement.

But sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. Sometimes we get weary of well-doing. Sometimes we wonder why we are trying so hard to add these things to our lives.

Are we to develop virtue, discipline, and love simply for the sake of being called virtuous, disciplined, and loving? Is there a point to developing these qualities, more than simply being able to say that we did so? In other words — how does it benefit us right now?

For that, we must keep on reading:

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you
from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind,
having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Therefore, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure,
for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance
into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

At first glance, it looks like Peter is simply offering negative reasons for pursuing spiritual maturity: it will keep you from being ineffective, unfruitful, nearsighted or blind, forgetful, falling.

But turn those around, and fill in the gaps with the rest of the passage, and you get six positive reasons for all that hard work — six ways that pursuing spiritual maturity can benefit you right now, in the mundane everyday-ness of life.

  • Effectiveness and fruitfulness. If you diligently pursue spiritual maturity, your life will not be repulsive or stagnant like an algae-covered pool of water. Rather, you will grow and thrive steadily like a tree that flourishes for the benefit of all. And though you may produce some glorious flowers or exotic fruits — more likely, you will evidence that fruitfulness in the strength of your roots, the firmness of your backbone, the sweetness of your shade.
  • Greater intimacy with Christ. Being effective and fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” could also be said this way: you will flourish in how well you know the Savior. Compare it to a dating or newlywed couple, who continually strive to know each other better — if they are fruitful in developing that knowledge, then they will grow closer and more emotionally intimate. So it is between us and Christ. The more you strive to know Him, the closer you will be to Him.
  • Discernment in spiritual matters. Peter clearly warns that those who lack these specific qualities in their lives are “so nearsighted that [they are] blind.” Yet when you work diligently to develop these qualities of spiritual maturity, your eyes will be opened more fully to the blessings of the Gospel! As your character grows more Christlike, so will your spiritual eyesight.
  • Full assurance of salvation. While doubts may enter your mind, they ought to have no foothold in your life if you are continually growing in Christ. Because as you flourish in your knowledge of Christ, becoming more like Him and enjoying deeper fellowship with Him on a continual basis, His Spirit will assure you that He has cleansed you and freed you from all sin’s power, and that you belong to Him.
  • Stability or steadfastness. The admonition is that “if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Of course, you will never be perfect as long as you are on this earth; however, this refers to a consistency and single-minded purpose that unbelievers or stagnant Christians can not possess. Because as you grow in spiritual maturity, you will also grow more confident in Christ’s work, His Father’s character, and your identity in Him.
  • Rich entrance into Heaven. This perhaps is not an immediate reaping of diligence; however, it gives a certain expectation for future blessing. Upon entering heaven and bowing before the Father’s throne, the diligent Christian will surely hear a soul-satisfying “well done, good and faithful servant!” What could be greater than the honor of the Creator bestowed upon the created?

Spiritual growth is hard work — nobody denies that. It is a struggle to be disciplined and to faithfully love the unloveable. It is a struggle to think on what is true, honest, just, lovely, and commendable. It is a struggle to consistently demonstrate the qualities of 1 Corinthians 13.

None of us do it perfectly, nor will we before we reach heaven. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It doesn’t mean we should just do what comes easily, and shrug our shoulders at the rest.

Is Spiritual Growth Worth the Work?

Find your strength in Him, rest in His perfection, and remember that it does not depend on you. But keep striving diligently to know Him more intimately and reflect Him more clearly. For in due season, you will surely reap the rewards — the fruitfulness, the intimacy, the discernment, the assurance, the stability, and the heavenly riches — if you do not give up.

 

Tell me something! What encourages you to keep pursuing spiritual growth, even when it feels hard and unproductive?

 

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