Using the Hero’s Journey to Understand the Christian Journey, Part 4: The Growth

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Life is about growing and maturing. The Bible tells us what spiritual growth looks like and how to recognize whether or not we are maturing.

This is the fourth article in my series on the Christian hero’s journey, in which I use the hero’s journey as a framework to understand the Christian’s spiritual journey.  So far, I’ve examined the call, the wise mentor, the struggle, and now the growth.

The Christian hero’s journey in many ways is one of growing up in Christ Jesus.  Part two (the mentor) revealed that, as Christians, we’re supposed to grow and mature.  Part three (the struggle) highlighted that struggle and hardship serves as a catalyst to our growth.  Two questions now remain: what does it mean to grow spiritually in Jesus Christ and what does it look like?  This article will answer each of these questions.

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What It Means to Grow in Christ

When it comes to understanding what it means to grow up in Christ, the first to realize is that this is not something we do all by ourselves. We do not cause our own spiritual growth any more than a child causes his or her own physical growth.  Rather, God is the one who grows us and matures us spiritually.  We see this clearly in Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

In this verse, we see that God is the one who begins the “good work,” and it is God who “brings it [that good work] to completion.”  Thus, the work that happens in us is God’s work, not our own doing.  The work that Paul is referencing is the work of salvation, which includes justification and sanctification.

Justification, put simply, is God’s act of declaring someone righteous by crediting that person’s sin to Christ and crediting Christ’s righteousness to the person.  Sanctification is God’s act of maturing a believer, making him or her more and more in the likeness of Christ.

Thus, we see in Paul’s letter that a believer’s growth is not something the believer does, but something God does.  The believer is the recipient and beneficiary of God’s work.

God can grow a person using various means.  Sometimes God uses good, pleasant times to help a believer experience a small portion of God’s goodness and grace in this life.  At other times, God uses hardship and struggle to help a believer learn to trust God and be better prepared to be used by God to minister to others who are struggling.

We do not cause our own spiritual growth. Rather, God is the one who grows us and matures us spiritually.

We can respond to God’s work in our lives in one of two ways: we can either humbly submit to him or rebel against him.  As a believer, we should desire God’s work in our lives and in our persons, so we should humbly accept what God does and delight in his work.  However, many people—including Christians—too often choose the other option: rebellion.  When we do, we do not grow, but instead we sin.

The fact that God is the one who matures us does not mean we do not have a role. As we submit to God’s work of maturing us, we are supposed to live in accordance with his work.  Paul wrote,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

This verse reminds us that although God is the one who saves us and the one who matures us, we must submit to God and walk in his will.  We must submit to God’s person, to his authority, to his will, and to his word.

No we know what it means to grow: growing means to being transformed by God through Jesus.  However, what does it look like to grow?  To put it another way, how can we tell if a believer is growing and maturing?

We must submit to God’s person, to his authority, to his will, and to his word.

What It Looks Like to Grow in Christ

There are two passages in particular that give us insight into how to recognize spiritual growth in ourselves an in others: Colossians 1 and 2 Peter 3.  In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul wrote,

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to 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; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Colossians 1:9-12

In this passage, Paul gives us four different things that show us what it looks like to grow and mature as a believer in Jesus Christ:

  • An increasing understanding of God’s will so that we can walk in it (v. 9)
  • Bearing fruit in our good works (v. 10)
  • Being strengthened by the Holy Spirit to endure hardship (v. 11)
  • Giving thanks to God for what he did through Jesus (v. 12)

Thus, a Christian who is maturing will grow in their understanding of God’s will, will bear fruit in what they do (that doesn’t mean they will be rich—Paul’s talking about spiritual fruit), will grow in strength to endure hardship, and will continually give thanks to God.

In his second letter, Peter’s words summarize Paul’s teaching quite well:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

2 Peter 3:18

Thus, a Christian who is maturing will grow in their understanding of God’s will, will bear fruit in what they do (that doesn’t mean they will be rich—Paul’s talking about spiritual fruit), will grow in strength to endure hardship, and will continually give thanks to God.

Two other passages also help us understand how to recognize spiritual growth in ourselves and other.  In Ephesians 2:10, Paul talks about a believer walking in God’s will “which God prepared beforehand.”  He then elaborates on what that work is in chapters 4-6: the good works are everyday actions of serving and loving other people.  Thus, a maturing believer is serving others.

The other passage we can look to is in Galatians, where we learn more about the “fruit” that maturing Christians bear (see Col 1:10):

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:19-23

A maturing believer is one who is putting aside the sinful nature as seen in the list of sinful character traits and behaviors, and is instead exhibiting the fruit of the spirit in his or her daily life.  That doesn’t mean a Christian who is maturing will never sin.  On the contrary!  Each one of us sins every day.  However, a maturing believer recognizes their sins, repents of them on a daily basis, and by the power of God strives to walk in righteousness bearing the fruit of the spirit.

The indications of a maturing believer are not grandiose or lavish.  Rather, they are seen in a person’s daily life and in how they interact with other people.  Spiritual maturity is expressed in the little things and the everyday things.

A maturing believer is one who is putting aside the sinful nature, and is instead exhibiting the fruit of the spirit in his or her daily life.

Bringing It Home

Now that you understand what it means and what it looks like to be a growing, maturing believer, it’s time to ask ourselves if we are maturing.  Each one of us should look at our lives honestly and see if we are showing any indications of spiritual growth.

If you are not showing indications of growing spiritually, repent and submit to God’s work.  If you are maturing, find ways to mentor and help someone else along their Christian hero’s journey.

About John L. Rothra
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