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Excerpt from Kingdom Living: The Essentials of Spiritual Growth by Dr. Tony Evans

Tired of religion? Longing for relationship? You're not alone. Most Christians yearn to grow spiritually, but many don't know how to begin. Some seek maturity through deeds or doctrine. But Tony Evans reminds us that flourishing faith comes from a vibrant walk with Christ.

In the excerpt below from Kingdom Living: The Essentials of Spiritual Growth from Moody Publishers, Tony Evans addresses the importance of spiritual growth as a part of living on mission for Jesus—our gift to you when you support Moody Radio through Fall Share.

The Necessity of Spiritual Growth

Getting a handle on spiritual growth is crucial for at least two reasons. First, it is God’s command and, therefore, His will for us. And second, the alternative to growth is stagnation and eventual deformity. There’s a good reason you won’t find a hymn called “Backwards Christian Soldiers” being sung in any churches. Failing to grow is not an option for believers—at least not if we want to please God.

It may help to begin with a definition of spiritual growth that will serve as the basis for this book. Spiritual growth can be defined as that transformational process by which we allow the indwelling Christ to increasingly express Himself in and through us, resulting in a greater capacity on our part to bring God greater glory, be a blessing to others, and advance His kingdom on earth.

Spiritual growth involves more of Christ being expressed in your life and less of you. John the Baptist said it best. As Jesus’ ministry and popularity grew and John began to step into the background, John’s disciples came to him and said, “Do you realize what’s going on here?” (John 3:22–26). John responded, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). We are growing spiritually when more of Jesus is being expressed through us than us ourselves.

Spiritual Growth Demands Nourishment

It often helps to follow a definition with an illustration of what we’re talking about. One obvious way to illustrate spiritual growth is by looking at its physical counterpart. Going back to our topic of newborn babies, I’m sure you know that every infant not only wants but also often demands food. Everything within that child cries out, “Give me something to eat. I’ve got some growing to do!”

If you have ever heard a newborn baby cry out of hunger, you can appreciate the apostle Peter’s words of admonition to Christians: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). This is one of the best one-sentence descriptions of spiritual growth you’ll find in the Bible. We may not know exactly how spiritual growth works, but this verse helps us because it compares spiritual growth to physical growth.

The issue for a newborn baby is the development of the life he or she has been given. Now that may seem so simple and obvious that you wonder why I even mention it. But it has been my experience as a pastor that this key principle of spiritual growth is often overlooked for exactly that reason. Spiritual growth is not first and foremost a program or a curriculum, as I said above, but the nourishment and development of a life.

Now I can hear someone saying, “Well, a baby may not be following a program, but her mom certainly is.” That’s true. There is a well-established, proven program of nourishment that any mom needs to follow if she wants her baby to experience healthy growth. That’s why I said there is nothing wrong with various programs or steps as long as they are facilitating the growth of spiritual life. The goal of spiritual growth is to feed the life you were given by the Holy Spirit at the moment of your conversion, or new birth, so that you may, as Peter wrote, “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Paul put it this way: “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

The point is that your spiritual DNA is complete because you received the life of Christ at your conversion, and nothing can be added to Christ. Our challenge as Christians is to maximize what we already have, not run around and look for that which we don’t.

Spiritual Growth Demands Relationship

As you know, a baby is dependent on other people for the nourishment needed for proper growth. This demands a relationship that begins even before birth as an unborn child draws nourishment from the mother through the umbilical cord. In this case the importance of that relationship is clear because the baby is feeding off of the mother, whose life is supplying life to the child. If that relationship is disrupted, the baby is in serious trouble.

A child in the womb is not studying a book, listening to a teacher, or following a program. He or she is simply piggybacking off of a life that is, ideally, already mature and strong. As long as the umbilical cord isn’t cut or blocked—as long as the baby stays in right relationship with the mother—growth will continue to occur.

The spiritual application of this physical truth is, of course, the importance of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s interesting that Jesus did not say, “I have come to give you My program,” but rather, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So if we are not growing as we should, even though Jesus came to give us not just life but abundant life, then maybe it’s because we have chosen to focus on the program rather than the Person. Spiritual growth is progressively learning to let Christ live His life through us, and that only happens by relationship.

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