Books on Christian Growth often follow one of three basic approaches. The most common of these follows a systematic theology model, sometimes taking into account the order of salvation, or more often focussing on biblical sanctification or holiness. The second type focusses more exclusively on holiness and practices that promote it, such as prayer. More recently the tendency is toward down to earth Christian self–help manuals, majoring in ‘how it feels’ to be a believer or how to tackle mental health issues.
Against this background Growing in Christ proposes something different. Each word of the title is important. Growth must be an onward and upward movement, but at each stage from start to end it must always be ‘in Christ’. Otherwise, it is not Christian growth, but simply ‘feelgoodism’.
This presentation draws on the biblical images for the growth of God’s people and of individuals in that context. It sets growth against the biblical theological background of the creation, the exodus, and the foundation of God’s new covenant people in Christ. The biblical story prepares us for the ultimate stage of growth, union with Christ in the new creation.
Growth must be an onward and upward movement, but at each stage from start to end it must always be ‘in Christ’. Otherwise, it is not Christian growth, but simply ‘feelgoodism’.
Following a brief introduction, five consecutive stages of biblical growth are presented.
INTRODUCTION. WHY IS CHRISTIAN GROWTH IMPORTANT?
The story of the Bible is that God’s presence transforms deserts into gardens. What is true of the big project for the world and his people is also true for individual lives. Faith in Christ grows and bears fruit, resisting adverse pressures in a hostile world. Flourishing in the wasteland is achieved by ‘growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ’. Followers of Christ grow because they know who they believe, what they believe and why they believe it. The Bible illustrates these foundational realities and uses key images for growth. It also indicates the conditions that favour it, and the successive stages of growing up into Christ.
CHAPTER 1. GOD’S PLANTING
God’s act of planting is the beginning of growth. God is the giver of life, and spiritual life begins with him. The biblical pattern for beginnings is presented by God’s acts in creation, in the exodus from Egypt, and in the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ. Personal growth which begins with regeneration and new birth is an aspect of God’s planting his people. It is part of God’s new creation, accomplished by his word and Spirit. It plants new life in a world that is passing away.
CHAPTER 2. BEING ROOTED
The second stage of growth is the rooting of the planted seed. Believers are rooted in Christ. Like the branches of a vine, they are grafted into him and partake of his life, the life of Christ is theirs as it flows into them. This promotes stability and growth. Rooting in Christ means being grounded in God’s people. Biblical doctrine is about the mighty acts of God in salvation. God saves and unites his people in Christ according to his eternal purposes. That is why biblical roots are vitally important.
CHAPTER 3. GROWING UP
From childhood to adulthood. The third aspect of growth is a steady development. Growth takes place when sap flows into the branches, buds appear, blossom breaks out, leaves grow and fruit ripens. Growth in grace comes through an increasing understanding of the wonder of God’s salvation. We are ‘mentored’ by the big picture of salvation presented by the developing story line of Scripture. We grow by ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’ as we learn to piece together the pieces of the Bible picture.
CHAPTER 4. MATURITY
Maturity is the expression of a life that grows up into Christ. It is the outcome of union with Christ as the qualities that characterised his life transform those who follow his example. The apostle Peter encourages believers to make ‘every effort’ to attain spiritual maturity. This involves the renewal of the mind. A Christ–like mind makes believers more truly human, in the image of Christ, living as he lived. Maturity is also expressed in the struggle against sin with the help of the Holy Spirit.
CHAPTER 5. FRUIT FOR ETERNITY
Fruitfulness is the end point of the growth process. The New Testament attributes it to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a foretaste of the new creation which is the real outcome of the work of Christ who is the ‘first fruits of those risen from the dead’. Real fruit is harvested in eternity. It grows now by living in hope of the future, because God is a God of hope who delivers from the slavery of sin and futility. Hope encourages believers to see things critically from God’s top–down perspective.
CONCLUSION. ENCOURAGEMENT IN GROWTH
Spiritual growth in Christ is stimulated by encouragement. It takes the needs of others to heart by caring for them, accepting their challenges with them, and serving by bearing their burdens with them. Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles is a model of how encouragement leads to growth in Christ’s service.
A final factor that marks this book out from others on the subject is that I seek not only to present biblical models so that believers may learn from them, but I also suggest practical ways in which they can act upon them to be personally engaged in the dynamic of growing up into Christ. The book has questions at the end of each chapter for personal reflection or group discussions.