How To Know If You Are Growing

Title: How To Know If You Are Growing

Bible Book: Ephesians 4 : 11-16

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Growth, Christian; Development, Christian; Christian Living



When our children were little their pediatricians watched their growth and development very carefully. If you’re a parent then you know what I’m talking about. This careful observation began the moment they exited the womb as nurses weighed them and measured their length. In subsequent check-ups they were measured again and again. And weight and height weren’t the only things they looked at to see if our children were developing properly. They also monitored their reflexes, muscle development and coordination, vocabulary, etc. I remember that at each check up the doc would enter all these measurements into a formula that compared our kids to the development of other infants their age.

After this calculation the doctor would say something like, “Sarah’s doing great. She’s very healthy. Keep doing what you’re doing because she’s in the 90th percentile for her age.” This of course meant that she was farther along than 90% here infant peers, which was a good thing. It meant she was growing right. She was maturing properly. I bring all this up because the New Testament says that in a very real sense all Christians begin their spiritual lives as “babies.” Remember? Jesus said that when we accept Him as Savior and Lord we are “re-born.” With this word picture our Lord was teaching us that no matter what our physical age, when we become Christians we experience a new birth, a spiritual birth. It follows then that, just like physical children, once we are born spiritually, we should grow and mature.

1 Peter 2:2-3 refers to this when it says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…” But you need to understand: our standard of spiritual growth and development isn’t other believers. I mean, we don’t compare ourselves to the development of other Christians and say, “I’m in the 90th percentile so I’m doing okay.” No, our standard is Jesus Christ Himself. As verses 13 of our text says, we are mature when we attain, “…the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Well, the question I want us to answer on our first Sunday of the new year together is this:

“How do we know if we are maturing-growing-developing as we should? How do we gauge our personal spiritual growth as Christians?”

How do we know if we are “putting away childish things” as Paul said, and conforming “…ourselves to the image of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 13:11, Romans 8:29) I mean, you can’t monitor a spiritual baby’s growth in the same way you do their physical growth. We can’t weigh or measure our souls. So how do we know if we’re making progress as believers?

In his book, The Miracle of Life Change, which our Wednesday night group studied together this past fall, Chip Ingram lists four check points found in our text for this morning that can help us answer these questions. Think of them as litmus tests that can be used to measure different aspects of spiritual progress.

A new year is always a time of evaluation and goal-setting, so I thought it would be good for us to take this four-fold criteria for spiritual growth and use it as a sort of spiritual health check-up as we begin 2006, our 40th year as a church family.

My thought is that after this morning’s time of spiritual examination and evaluation we can each work to get back on track in those areas of our spiritual development where our growth has not progressed as it should. So let’s get started.

(1) The first evidence of developing spiritual maturity is doctrinal stability.

This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 4:16 when he says,

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

In this verse Paul is reminding us that one way we know we are growing in Christlikeness is if we have a settled knowledge of His written Word. In other words, if we are indeed maturing, we have to have studied the Bible enough to have a firm grasp of the basic, essential beliefs of the Christian faith. We’ve read the Bible not just for information but for transformation such that these Scriptural truths become part of our way of thinking-our convictions-and as a result we are maturing, or as Paul puts it in our text, we are “no longer children tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14 NASB)

Paul uses the example of children here in Ephesians because as any parent knows, when we are little, when we are physically immature, we are notoriously fickle. I mean, kids will be interested in one thing for five minutes; then they change their minds and focus on something else entirely, and five minutes later they move on to a third thing. The focus of their attention changes with the wind-if you doubt this then notice how many different toys your kids have. This is because whenever something new comes out they forget their current favorites and long for this new toy.

And, as Paul reminds us, children can also be easily fooled. It is fairly simple to deceive them. Please understand, I’m not putting kids down. This “immaturity” is part of what it means to be a child. It’s why they need mature parents to guide them and protect them!

Well, Paul uses this characteristic of children to communicate the sad fact that many adults don’t grow out of this aspect of childishness and as a result they are easily manipulated; they are gullible.

When I was in college one Friday night several of us from the BSU went out to a local carnival. As we walked through the midway heading for the roller coaster one guy called us over to his booth and talked us into playing a game of chance. He said it was easy to win; he would roll special wooden dice and each roll would earn us points according to a special score card and all you needed were 100 points to win a brand new color TV!

At first we were hesitant. We knew it was wrong to gamble, but he said, it wasn’t really gambling. He even gave us the first roll free and it scored us 75 points! We couldn’t believe our luck so we paid him $3 to roll again. This got us up to 85 points so we gave him another three bucks. This time we lost a few points but his shrewd talking convinced us to try again. Well, we kept giving him money for additional rolls and our points would go up almost to 100 but the next roll would somehow push our total back down.

To make a long story short, we ended up losing $42 to this guy before we realized we were being duped. As I walked away I noticed that the grand prize he had promised us, the “brand new color TV” he had on display, was covered with dust. It had been sitting in his booth a long time! Apparently this con man was the only winner at his game of chance.

Well, the tragedy is that many Christians are just as gullible as I was that night in that they don’t mature when it comes to doctrine. And because they don’t they are deceived in much the same way. In fact, the word, “trickery” here in Ephesians 4 refers to skill in manipulating dice. So Paul is talking about spiritual con men-charismatic, silver-tongued, but nevertheless false teachers-very effective tools of the adversary who “sit in their booths” on the “midway” of life and prey on weak, immature Christians, tricking them into embracing foolish beliefs and behaviors. They are able to do this because many Christians don’t grow as they should and because they don’t these baby believers are not doctrinally stable. They are not grounded and so they are always up for the latest spiritual fad that comes along, even if it involves beliefs that are contrary to Scripture.

This reminds me of a cartoon I read this week about a pastor who sat behind his desk with a look of utter disbelief upon his face. Standing in front of him was church member who said, “Pastor, according to my horoscope this is a good week for you to preach on false doctrine.”

All kidding aside, the adversary has people with cleverly disguised but heretical beliefs all over the place these days, so doctrinal stability is very important. For example, as I told you last year, this spring Tom Hanks will star in the blockbuster movie version of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, a book that says Jesus was not God’s Son, that He did not actually die on the cross, that the true “gospel” is a secret wisdom (wisdom that has been hidden by the church for thousands of years), that the cup of Christ was actually the womb of Mary Magdalene, who, according to Brown’s book is the true “goddess” to be worshiped.

A few weeks ago I heard about another example of false teaching in the form of an increasingly popular book by Philip Gully, called Is Grace True, a book that basically says grace means everyone gets to go to heaven and that the Bible is not authoritative.

Well, the sad truth is that there are many believers who are buying into false teachings like these. And the fact that they are doing so shows their spiritual immaturity. They do not have the convictions, the doctrinal stability that mature Christians do and so they are easily duped.

I’m reminded of Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:2-3 where he says, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

Well, how are you doing when it comes to this first measurement of maturity? Would you judge yourself as someone who is doctrinally stable? Are you well-grounded in the Word of God? Do you regularly, systematically study the Bible alone in your personal devotions, and as I said a moment ago, not just for information, but also for transformation?

Are you in a Sunday School class or small group where you study Scripture with other believers? Are you stable doctrinally such that you can “correctly handle the Word of Truth?” (2 Timothy 2:15) as a tool for dealing with erroneous teaching?

Do you know it well enough to use it to “rebuke and correct” false beliefs? (2 Timothy 3:16) For example, are you ready to deal with a Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocks on the door and tells you that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh? Are you grounded enough in your understanding of Scripture to say, “Yes He was. John 1 says, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ That’s Jesus!”

When they say that Jesus’ second coming has already happened, but that no one saw it, are you prepared to reply, “No it hasn’t. Jesus has not returned yet. I know this because the Bible teaches that when He comes back every one will see Him. Revelation 1:7 says, ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.’”

When Mormons sit in your living room and begin to talk about working their way to heaven with good deeds are you ready to point them to Ephesians 2:8-9 where it says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. not by works, so that no one can boast.”

As we begin 2006 ask yourself, how doctrinally stable are you?

(2) The second evidence of a spiritual growth is authentic relationships.

Paul refers to this aspect of our “spiritual check up” in verse 15 of our text when he says, “Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the Head, even Christ.”

Don’t miss this very important word combination here. Paul says that authentic relationships involve speaking the truth in love. In other words it’s loving someone enough to tell them the truth, even when it’s painful for us to do so.

And please understand. This kind of mature action is indeed done in love. It’s motivated by love, because truth without love can be harsh, judgmental, legalistic and unforgiving. Truth without love promotes a pharisaical brand of self-righteousness and immature believers do this all the time. They can speak the truth, but only mature believers speak truth with love.

And understand, it is indeed loving to speak the truth. I mean, love without truth condones sin. It’s actually unloving not to tell someone truth they need to hear.

I mean, when members of a church family truly love one another, they speak up when a brother or sister in the Lord needs correcting for their own good. This is because, as Urie Bronfenbrenner says, “A family is a group which possesses and implements an irrational commitment to the well-being of its members.”

Love without truth is wishy-washy and unbalanced. Some call it “sloppy agape.” In fact, love that is not based in truth is not really love but rather phony emotionalism. Someone once put it this way, “Truth without love is brutality but love without truth is hypocrisy.”

Well, mature believers are lovingly committed both to people and the truth, not just to people and the truth when it’s convenient. In other words, we know we’re genuinely maturing in Christ when we see a brother or sister in the Lord who’s moving in a direction that would be harmful to them or harmful for the body, and despite our fears, we go and tell them-not others-tell them-the truth they need to hear.

We schedule a breakfast or a lunch or you meet them for coffee to tell them something like, “I love you too much to simply stand by in silence when I see what’s happening in your marriage.”

Or, “I love you too much to not tell you that you’re beginning to compromise your integrity at work.”

Or, “I need to tell you-in love-that you are compromising your witness by constantly bragging about going to happy hour.”

Or, “This guy you are dating is bad news. You really need to pray about this and ask for God’s leading.”

I mean, when maturing believers see the need for a one-on-one encounter like this they practice their words, they pray, they get knots in their stomach, they don’t sleep the night before, but they go through with it. They go to the person and speak the truth in love.

If you’re a maturing believer, you’re the kind of friend about whom they say, five years later, “If it weren’t for you, I would have shipwrecked my life. Thanks for being honest with me.”

And one thing that makes believers mature is the fact that they welcome people who speak the truth in love to them. They cherish the truth of Proverbs 27:5-6 where it says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”

You know, the sad fact is this particular caliber of spiritual maturity is not embraced as much as it should be. I mean these days we tend to be lazily tolerant of sin. We shy away from telling a fellow believer that he or she is living contrary to the Word of God. We would rather be “friendly” than pay the cost of being true friends. We don’t like those uncomfortable conversations. It’s just easier to ignore foolish behavior in the lives of fellow believers.

And as a result we have Christians in the body of Christ who are living with significant spiritual blind spots that are keeping them from knowing or reflecting the beauty of Christ in their lives. They are also producing chaos and destruction in their relationships and it’s in large part due to the fact that we are simply not mature enough to be willing to speak the truth in love.

Well, let me ask you, how many people would call you that kind of friend, someone who is loving enough and courageous enough to tell you when you are doing foolish, sinful things? If you have friends like that, thank God for them! And then go and thank them for putting themselves in a very uncomfortable position out of concern for your welfare.

If you don’t have friends like that, make a resolution this year to get some! Ask God to give you Christian friends who are mature enough to confront you when you need it.

And we all need it from time to time!

(3) The third evidence of spiritual maturity is full participation in the Body of Christ.

Look at verse 16 where Paul says that the whole body-the church-is, “joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.” Please note three key words that stand out in this verse: “whole,” “every,” and “each.” Maturing believers understand the importance of these words.

They know they are one of the each individual parts and their every relationship fits into the whole called the body of Christ, the local church. They know that they are specially-gifted for service in the local church and so when they move to a new area, they join a local body of believers and get involved. They understand that Christianity is not a spectator sport so they are fully engaged in the ministry and mission of their local church.

As most of you know, my son, Daniel is in med school and one thing I’m learning from him as I look over his shoulder to see what he is studying is how vast and complex the human body is. It contains an almost endless list of organs and cells and systems and sub-systems, each of which fulfills a vital function when it comes to keeping the body healthy. How anyone could believe that we humans just accidentally evolved is beyond me!

Well, the older I become spiritually the more I understand that the local body of Christ is just as complex. I mean, there are tons of jobs to do here, each of which contributes to the health of this local body of Christ, known as Redland Baptist Church.

The comparison doesn’t work on all levels, but in a very real sense this church has parts that resemble those in an actual physical human body. For example, there’s what I think of as our “digestive system,” those body parts who feed us nutritious Scriptural truth in Sunday School and worship and the small groups that meet on here on Tuesdays and in homes during the week. Remember, as Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And to be healthy this church needs to be “fed” Scriptural truth so this body part is vital!

And then, there’s what I refer to as our “repair system,” those people who serve on the building and grounds committee and keep our facility looking good. They keep a constant watch on needed repairs whether it involve new carpet or a new roof or a new furnace. They keep the physical facility healthy.

There’s also our “circulation system,” those body parts that circulate financial resources needed to purchase Bible study materials, and go on mission trips and finance youth ministry events. This includes the tellers who count money every week and Buddy who records giving and Hugh who writes the checks and the stewardship committee that helps us make and keep to a budget

Next, there’s the heart of Redland, those people that keep our fellowship loving and strong by planning picnics and parties, preparing our midweek meal and cleaning up afterwards. This also includes those people who serve as deacons, men and women who preserve harmony in the body helping us to love one another so we can function together as one.

There is our staff, who don’t serve as a “head” but rather constantly point us all to the True Head-Jesus Christ-urging us to constantly follow His leading. Our pray-ers help in this as well, not only those faithful prayer warriors that meet every Wednesday to pray for our church, but the 75 or 80 who give an hour of every week to pray. All of these people fulfill the vital function of seeking the Lord’s guidance for our church body.

And then there’s our reproductive system, people who enable us to reach others for Christ and in that way adding to the family of God. This includes people who serve on the welcome center committee, people who bake bread to give to visitors before guiding them to a Sunday School class. It also includes our Outreach and Evangelism committee and all those members who share the gospel whether it be here in Montgomery County with their neighbors and co-workers or on a mission trip to New Hampshire or Mexico or Romania or Kenya, or wherever God sends us. It includes all of you who serve at St. Martin’s soup kitchen or the Manna food bank.

I could literally go on and on and on and on. I mean you would not believe all the different things that have to be done in order for this church body to function and be healthy. But mature believers understand this principle so they are fully involved! They know that as members of the One Body-the local church-we belong to each other; we affect each other; we need each other. They know that this “body” didn’t just accidentally evolve, but that God specifically designed us, gifted each individual body part, and because He did, each believer, no matter how insignificant he may appear, has a ministry to other believers. Maturing believers know that the Body grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to and with each other. They’re not just hearers of the word, they’re doers as well!

Unfortunately this is another aspect of Christian maturity that is becoming more and more rare. I say this because to me it seems that many Christians these days seem to think of the church as a place they can go and come from as they please. They go for worship but that’s about it. They don’t get involved. They don’t participate.

My brother Matt is a minister of Discipleship at a mega-church in Kansas. They had nine Christmas Eve services this year. In fact, they couldn’t squeeze them all into Christmas Eve so they had two Christmas Eve services the day before. I guess to be accurate you would have to call those services the Eve of Christmas Eve services.

Matt went on to talk about the new campus they are building and how many services they’ll still have to have each weekend to pack them all in even with this new larger facility. But then he got less excited as he told me that in spite of the huge crowds that come they have a very serious problem. They can’t seem to get people involved in the ministry and mission of the church. For example, they have about 3000 who attend worship each week but only about 1200 are in a small-group, and they have no Sunday School.

In my opinion, this is part of the problem with the “mega-church” mind set. It almost encourages people to think of church as a place you come to watch a show of sorts instead of a local body to belong to. It makes it easy for someone to slip in and slip out unnoticed instead of getting involved and investing their lives in a local ministry.

And mega-churches aren’t the only place that you see this kind of immaturity. We see it in churches our size as well when you compare Sunday School attendance and worship attendance totals.

In his newest book, The Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado gives us a word picture of this problem. He writes,

“Colorado aspens provide a living picture of the church. Have you noticed how they grow in groups, often on the otherwise bald sides of mountains? They are sun-seekers and root-sharers Unlike firs or pines, which prefer shade, aspens worship warmth. Unlike oaks, whose roots go deep, aspens roots go wide. They intertwine with other aspen roots and share the same nutrients. Think of it…Light lovers-root sharers-sounds like a healthy church doesn’t it?!

Oddly though, some people enjoy the shade of the church while refusing to set down any roots. God, yes. Church, no. They like the benefits, but resist commitment.The music, the message, the clean conscience-they accept church perks. So they date her, visit her, enjoy an occasional rendevous. They use the church.

But commit to the church? Can’t do that. Got to keep options open. Don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.”

Well, let me ask you. Are you involved? Are you using your giftedness in a local church or are you just a spectator? Are you just dating the church or have you made a commitment to it? Remember, the whole body-the whole church is healthy-if it is “fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies according to the proper working of each individual part.” You are each one of those parts!

Someone once said, “Attendance is a poor substitute for participation in ministry.”

And it is. God didn’t save you to set you on a pew; He saved you to serve. He gifted you to work in a local body of believers so don’t be satisfied with the pew! You’ll never be content or fulfilled just sitting there. You’ll never grow spiritually until you fully participate in a local church body because as Rick Warren says, “We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.”

(4) And then, the final test for spiritual maturity is a growing capacity for love.

Paul refers to this in the last part of verse 16 when he talks about the church, “building itself up in love.”

The caliber of love he’s talking about here is one that always looks at people and responds to people in love. Let me put it this way. When immature people are hurt by others, when people intentionally wound them with their words and actions, their response is to get even, to hurt back. They classify people who hurt them as “the bad guys” and want nothing to do with them.

But not spiritually mature people. No, when they go through times like this their response is to love that person all the more and to wonder, “Why are they this way? What made them into this kind of person?” In other words they display a maturity that expresses itself in empathy and compassion instead of revenge.

I think this aspect of maturity is what John is talking about in his first letter when he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, [we know we are making progress as Christians, we know we are becoming more like Jesus] if we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” [They're still immature] (1 John 3:14)

Maturing believers, Christians who walk in close fellowship with Jesus become like Him in this way, have an almost limitless capacity to love people.

One of the gifts that Becca found under the tree this year was the DVD collection of the first season of Lost, ABC’s hit show about the survivors of a plane that crashes on a desert island. Well, we all started watching it that vacation week between Christmas and New Years and we all got hooked. If you’ve watched it you know how easy it is as you try to decipher all the mysteries of the plot.

Well, one of the key characters is a guy named Sawyer and as we watched the initial episodes it became very easy for us to dislike this guy. I mean, he is literally out for number one. After the crash while others were helping the injured he went through all the luggage and hoarded all the supplies, including medicines and other necessities like bottled water, and he wouldn’t share any of his stash unless paid or forced to do so. He’s slick, selfish; his comments are usually insulting. He’s a bad guy. But as you watch flashbacks you begin to realize how he came to be the kind of person he is. You find out that his mom had an affair with a con man. This con man not only ruined his parent’s marriage, but he stole all their money. And his actions caused his dad to kill his mom and then to take his own life.

In fact he shot himself while sitting on Sawyer’s bed unaware that his 9 year old son-Sawyer-was hiding underneath. And as you see all this, you begin to have compassion for Sawyer because you understand why he does what he does and says what he says.

Well, maturing believers are always wondering about what a flashback would tell them about someone that does them wrong. They always look at people through the eyes of love, wondering what choices, what situations make people the way they are.

I’m reminded of Lloyd Linn, who after 9-11 came to prayer meeting and said that we all needed to pray for Osama Ben Laden.

Mature believers are like this; they reach out to all people in love, doing all they can to help mend their woundedness and bring them to faith in Jesus. Let me ask you: is this aspect of spiritual maturity seen in your life? Do you follow our Lord’s command and, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?” (Matthew 5:44)


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