Weekly Devotional

Biblical Keys to Spiritual Growth: The Church

The way of spirituality: Forsaking 'self'; Embracing Christ's family

…[Jesus] ]gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

Ephesians 4:11-13

Over the last few weeks, we have learned more about spirituality, or spiritual growth, as described in Christianity. So far, we’ve explained the basis of our relationship to God through Christ, and the walk in the Spirit, guided by Scripture and prayer by which we begin to grow. That’s our vertical relationship: the essential relationship with God. This week, we conclude our series on Christian spiritual growth with an honest discussion of the horizontal dimension: our spiritual relationship with other believers. 

Our identity: members of a living body

The “normal Christian life” is not meant to be limited to an individual believer and his or her relationship to God. In recent years, much teaching on spiritual growth has focused on the individual, to the exclusion of spiritual growth in community. However, a person’s church is central to his or her spiritual identity.

All people are created as relational beings — and Christians are meant to serve one another as a person-in-community. The church community serves as a spiritual family in which spiritual growth is encouraged. When the Church gathers, members inspire one another to go deeper with God through corporate worship, reading and hearing the Bible, and prayer. Generally speaking, every church gathering should be characterized by these aspects. It should be our goal to “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation,” to help individuals orient themselves to the gospel.

Life-change: a function of the whole organism

In Ephesians 4:12–13, Paul discusses the importance of maturing in faith by addressing and describing the Church community as a whole, not as isolated individuals. In the Gospel of John, the words of Jesus to the Church are very clear: we are to make God known through our life together as the body of Christ. God’s intention is that we mature in community, not just on our own. Change is a community project.

Sin: a challenge for the whole community

One huge implication of this claim is that sin is a community concern. Even our private, secret sins hinder the community's ability to be all that it can be. Despite its faults, the Church remains the best example of life-change. This is because it is the God-given context for spiritual growth. Other believers help us to see more of what it means to walk with Christ.

Even when people see us struggling with sin, we model growth, if they also see us turning in faith to God. God uses people to reveal things about ourselves that we cannot see on our own. God uses many people—often people with contrasting personalities—to bring about positive change in one’s heart. And that doesn’t mean just the happy people or the people with whom we get along, but also the difficult people, the annoying people, the people who are nothing like us. God places us all together in the tumbler of life to smooth out our rough edges. This requires that we receive truth and speak the truth in love to one another. According to the picture painted in the Bible, the church is to be a community of confession, accountability, encouragement, rebuke, and love.

There is usually reluctance among us to speak the truth in love because we fear the other person’s response. But the Bible also calls us to rebuke and confront each other. Without rebuke and confrontation, sin often silently charts its own course until it blows up with devastating effect. Church communities that practice loving rebuke and repentance are communities of grace, which allows being honest, open, and transparent about struggles. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:

"The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. But the fact is, we are sinners."

The key is that we accept each other as we really are, just as Christ has accepted us. God desires that His children reflect his character.

For Christians, descriptions of the general view of spirituality as higher consciousness, self-improvement or self-knowledge has an obvious problem: self. Many routes to spiritual growth generate nervous self-concern or overabundant spiritual pride. But this need not be so. An honest assessment of one’s spiritual state and attempts at spiritual growth will lead to an awareness of one’s limits. While there may be many different spiritual paths today, the Christian gospel offers a uniquely satisfying road to spiritual growth.

Because Christian spiritual growth is focused and dependent on God’s grace through Jesus Christ, the gospel allows one to avoid self-occupation and insufferable self-assertion. Christians may avoid nervousness and pride in spiritual growth by returning to the good news of Jesus—namely, that they are secure in their spiritual status before God based on Jesus’ work alone, not their own. The gospel is the true foundation of spiritual growth. Rooted firmly in the gospel, spiritual growth proceeds through the power of the Holy Spirit, directed by prayerful Bible reading within the context of a robust church community.

Pray this week:

Lord Jesus, forgive me where I have consciously or unconsciously thought of Your Body as a task or liability rather than a gift. Will you show me how I can serve you by serving your Church?

Do you have problems finding or integrating into a church? Click below to let one of our caring volunteers know so that you may join in prayer together about this important issue.

Connect with us

Like this?

Like what you just read? Sign-up to get this as an email in your inbox here!

Sign Up