All of us know people with problems. One cannot help observing that within the complex structure of life some people become entangled. It comes to expression in many ways.
Take Mary, a young girl who is just old enough to go out with fellows. All her life she has been sheltered within the sphere of parental judgment. Her parents told her what was right and wrong. She had good guidance in church, and the minister emphasized the will of God by precept and example. She attended a Christian school and pretty much associated with other young people of like faith. But, something is wrong. Mary is interested only in being accepted by the gang. She wants to be popular with anyone who will show interest in her. She flirts with the guys and leads them on a wild rampage for her affection. She doesn’t care where they take her, as long as it is away from the scrutiny of dad and mom. Mary has the personality it takes to have plenty of friends, she does her level best to stay on good terms with them all. Sometimes it means a compromise with her moral values. And thus Mary has a real problem.
Look at Jim, who also was brought up in the Christian atmosphere of the covenant. He was different in that he did not really care much what he was taught. He didn’t try very hard to do well in school, and was satisfied to get by with the least in catechism. Sometimes he would skip church, or quite often fall asleep when he did go. He too has a gal, but she doesn’t attend the same church as Jim. They are engaged to be married and Jim has let it be known that he will be leaving his church to attend his girl friend’s church. Oh, he knows there is a difference between the churches, but he doesn’t really mind, and after all, it does not matter much anyway. His ignorance has led him to make such an important decision with little concern. So, Jim also has a real problem.
It is possible for us to join Jim and Mary together as a young couple. They are married now, and from the outside it looks as if they are getting along very well. They are getting ahead financially, and they have a beautiful little girl whom they both love. It is however, quite a different story if we would sneak into their home some evening. It seems that ‘every time they have a difference, they take to yelling and screaming at each other. Sometimes they have a verbal skirmish that leads to physical violence, and pans start flying and dishes get broken. They don’t know how to talk out differences. They also have real problems.
One can find many examples of this kind. Certainly, one doesn’t have to be young to fit into this classification. Look at parents who are bored with life. They work days and flop down in front of the television at night with nothing better to do than laugh at life and waste time. Some work so hard they don’t have time for spiritual things. Others work for their moments of fun, and their sport or entertainment means everything to them. When trouble comes into such a home, the first thing they do is push the panic button because they don’t have spiritual strength to triumph over hardship.
Examples may differ in degree and circumstances, yet what they all have in common is that the people involved lack spiritual growth. This is a matter of real concern to anyone who sees a loved one fall into this spiritual trap. Young people have ways of becoming ensnared. Are you one of them?
EXHORTED TO GROW
I suppose that it is because God knows human nature so well, that He has seen fit to inscribe upon so many pages of Holy Writ exhortations that have to do with spiritual growth. We are constantly reminded of the importance to grow. Consider Psalm 92:13-15, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright: he is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Does this describe you as a child of God, growing like a cedar tree? Look at I Corinthians 3:2, “I have fed you with milk and not with meat: for hitherto, ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” Some people of God need milk, others need meat, in order that everyone who is called Christian may grow! Hence we, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby; if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious,” I Peter 2:2, 3. This growth is not simply a fact that we passively accept, but it is a responsibility we face. We must see to it that we do grow! “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen,” II Peter 3:17, 18. Likewise, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” II Tim. 3:16, 17. Let these passages suffice as representative of the Word of God. Spiritual growth is normal, it is required, and for those that experience it, most wonderful. Again, are you growing?
Reflecting upon the Word of God, our Reformed Confessions also emphasize spiritual growth. In the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44, question and answer 15, “Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since, no man in this life can keep them? A. First, that all our lifetime, we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.” Looking at the Netherlands Confession, Article 24, which deals with man’s sanctification and good works, we read, “Therefore, it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in men, for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture faith that worketh by love, which excites man to the practice of those works, which God has commanded in his Word.” Spiritual growth then has to do with the growth of faith which in turn becomes evident in our everyday lives. Love excites the practice of such works. Finally, we quote from the Canons of Dordt, “Hence spring daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints; which furnish them with constant matter for humiliation before God, and flying for refuge to Christ crucified; for mortifying the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer, and by holy exercises of piety; and for pressing forward to the goal of perfection, till being at length delivered from his body of death, they are brought to reign with the Lamb of God in heaven,” Article two, Fifth Head of Doctrine. We add to this article four, “Although the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced and comply with the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and prayer, that they be not led into temptation. When these are neglected, they are not only liable to be drawn into great and heinous sins, by Satan, the world, and the flesh, but sometimes by the righteous permission of God actually fall into these evils. This, the lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates.”
VALUE OF GROWTH
When we speak of spiritual growth, we do not imply that there are not the normal ups and downs within our spiritual experience. Scripture emphasizes that every child of God has times in his life when he is spiritually strong, others in which he is spiritually weak. The idea is rather that of direction. We must evaluate our general spiritual direction. Is it evident to you that over the years, as you grow from childhood to adolescence to young manhood or womanhood, to adulthood, to middle age, to old age that there is spiritual development? We should look for this and take time to evaluate our lives so that we can be sure that this is our experience.
Besides this type of evaluation, we have to face the duty to nourish ourselves so that we can grow spiritually. There is a close proximity between physical growth and spiritual growth. Parents fuss over their children to make certain that they get the proper food, take their vitamin pills, get the necessary immunization, exercise properly and all the rest, in order that their bodies develop properly. This continues all through life. We are very much concerned about our health. We have to work at it, control our diet so as not to become overweight or underweight. We need proper foods. Health doesn’t just come naturally. So also for our souls, if we are to grow spiritually, we must give diligence unto it. If you are troubled about spiritual growth, if you honestly can’t see any growth, you may have to concentrate more on your nourishment. Are you taking time to be spiritual, are you diligent in God’s Word and prayer, are you constantly evaluating your calling in life and measuring your actions whether they conform? Do you study faithfully and get the most out of it? Food and growth go together, also spiritually.
Finally, we must remind you of the great advantage of spiritual growth. May these few words give us the incentive to make such a true evaluation, and seek nourishment so that we can grow. Consider first, that the more spiritual we are, the more God means to us. What young person doesn’t really want to be sure that he or she is right with God? As long as you know God is for you, you have everything. When you aren’t sure whether you are in the will of God then you get yourself into all kinds of spiritual problems. For this reason the law for us is liberty, for when we are right with God we are spiritually free from the curse of God, from guilt, and thus able to glorify God daily. Secondly, when we are spiritually strong, we are true friends and can enjoy real friendship. Any friendship apart from God is not true friendship and cannot truly satisfy a child of God.
Spiritual strength enables one to enjoy true friendship with others. The reason for this is that God’s love is necessary for any real friendship. If we are spiritually strong, we are filled with the love of God. Thirdly, out of spiritual strength comes spiritual direction. One who doesn’t know what life is all about, doesn’t know what he is to do with his life, doesn’t know w at is right or wrong, is terribly confused and miserable. Spiritual strength gives one unity of purpose and powerful living. Finally, a spiritually strong person can handle the crises of life. Young people encounter many disappointments in school, broken romances, temptations, troublesome times. One has to be spiritually strong to handle all these problems in life.
We hope to examine spiritual growth in the next few months. We must face the important questions: what is spiritual growth, how can we grow, what does it take to grow. As we consider this subject, spend a little time evaluating your spiritual life. Can you do some growing?