“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
God is primarily in the business of remodeling our thought processes – our values, attitudes, ways of viewing things. This inner mind is the primary arena for growth. A normal Christian loves more and more like God loves; grows in self-control, contentment, humility, and courage; grows in understanding of God’s ways; and is increasingly other-oriented and less self-oriented in the choices of life.
The inner transformation is visible in outward conduct. One’s character changes, and even those personality traits that reflect sinful thought patterns are changed. Note that this growth into more Christlike behavior is in areas of unconscious sin or sins of omission, falling short of Godlike qualities. In deliberate sin there is no pattern of gradual growth. What tools does God use to make us more like Him?
Through prayer our companionship with God reaches its highest intensity. Not only do we grow more like Him through this companionship, but we find that prayer is the great means of victory at the moment of temptation.
The Bible is God’s means of revealing His character and thus His will for our thoughts and actions. Therefore, the more we know His Word, the higher potential we have for conforming to His will. It is the milk and bread and meat of the soul. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated in His hour of temptation that Scripture is a great weapon in spiritual warfare. As we study it diligently to understand it and as we meditate on it constantly to apply it to life, we will be prepared to use it effectively to overcome temptation.
The congregation of God’s family is indispensable for spiritual growth. United worship and observance of the ordinances, teaching, fellowship, discipline, service, and witness within the responsible structure of the church are God’s ordained means for the growth of each member.
Suffering may be God’s great shortcut to spiritual growth. Our response to suffering determines its benefit to us, of course, for the same adversity may be destructive or life building. The response of faith, that is, confidence that God has permitted the trial for His glory and our own good, transforms a potentially evil circumstance into a means of making us more like the Suffering Servant Himself.
These four “tools of the Spirit” are indispensable to Christian growth. But though they are equally available to all, not all Christians seem to mature at the same pace.
Some Christians use the means of grace more diligently than others. Although in a passive sense all believers may be equally “yielded” to the will of God, the Christian life is nevertheless a war, and some are more aggressive and seem to have more of a will to fight. Though faith must rest, relying on God to do what we cannot do, it also must wrestle, struggling in warfare. Christians live in a world that is opposed to all they yearn to be. Some seem more aware of these adversaries and more persistent in opposing them.
We are fools if we compare ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor. 10:12), for we can never have God’s full perspective. If we must make a comparison, we should compare ourselves with our model, the Lord Jesus. On the other hand, it is proper to compare ourselves either with what we once were or with what we would be, apart from the grace of God. Comparisons along these lines give God the credit and bring us closer to His perspective. May we recognize how far the Spirit has brought us in our Christian growth and where we have yet to go in becoming what He intends for us! What hope! What joy! What glory! To this end we pray.