Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Excerpt 14 of 22

Five Characteristics of Spiritual Growth

The mystery of the Christian life, then, is the mystery of how God’s Spirit works in us and through us. His role is to regenerate us, cleanse us, renew us, fill us, transform us, and strengthen us.[i] Our role is to keep in step with him. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). The following passage and its surrounding context provide a clear picture of what walking by the Spirit looks like and suggests several important insights about the nature of spiritual growth. 
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:13-26)

My purpose isn’t to give a detailed explanation of these two lists (the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit), but to briefly discuss five characteristics of spiritual growth.[ii]

1. Spiritual Growth is Relational 

First, spiritual growth always happens in a relational context. Did you notice how this passage is framed with “one another” commands? Paul commands us to serve one another through love (v. 13) and warns us to not devour one another or become conceited, provoking and envying one another (v. 15, 26). Many of the virtues he lists as fruit of the Spirit have a strong relational dimension – love, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. “Spiritual growth is not something that is normally expected to take place in isolation from other believers.”[iii] So how are your relationships with others? Are you serving others in love? Do you demonstrate patience and gentleness to your spouse and children? Are you kind to strangers? Genuine transformation will always affect how we treat others.

2. Spiritual Growth Involves Conflict 

On the other hand, we also learn that spiritual growth involves conflict. It never happens in ideal conditions. Expect a fierce contest between the Spirit and the flesh (v. 16-17)! Conflict is normal in Christian experience. No one walks in the Spirit without waging warfare against unruly passions and desires (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). The flesh with its passions and desires must be nailed to the cross (v. 24). The Spirit leads us to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13-14). Though the mortification of sin isn’t the same as positive growth in grace, we will never outgrow our need for it this side of glory.

 3. Spiritual Growth is Inside-Out...

4. Spiritual Growth is Symmetrical

5. Spiritual Growth is Supernatural...

[i] It would be difficult to overstate the significance Scripture gives to the Spirit and his role in our lives. Meditate for a moment on the Spirit’s work.
·       Christ bore our curse and died in our place so we could receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:2-3, 5, 14).
·       Jesus teaches that we must be born of the Spirit in order to see and enter the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:1-8).
·       The Spirit gives us understanding of the gospel and makes it effective in our lives (1 Cor. 2:4, 12; 1 Thess. 1:4-5).
·       The ministry of the new covenant is a ministry of the life-giving Spirit who brings freedom and transformation (2 Cor. 3:5-18).
·       The Spirit is the agent of our sanctification, spiritual cleansing, and renewal (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5).
·       The kingdom of God consists of life and joy in the Spirit (Rom. 14:17), and the Spirit causes us to abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).
·       Our access to God is in the Spirit (Eph. 2:18); in the Spirit we worship God (Philip. 3:3) and pray (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20).
·       We are joined to the body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and God inhabits us as his new temple through the Spirit’s indwelling of the church (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:22).
·       We know that we abide in God and God in us, because he has given us his Spirit (1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13).
·       The Spirit secures our salvation by sealing us for the future day of redemption (Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22).
·       God gives his Spirit as the down-payment and guarantee of our inheritance in Christ. The Spirit assures us that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:19-22; 2 Cor. 5:5). 
·       God pours his love into our hearts through his Spirit (Rom. 5:5), and gives us assurance of our sonship by causing us to cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6).
·       The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
·       We now serve God not under the old written code of the law, but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6).
·       We walk in the Spirit and set our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-6).
·       God’s glorious Spirit rests on us when we suffer for Christ (1 Pet. 4:14).
·       The Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts to know God better (Eph. 1:16-19), strengthens us in our inner being (Eph. 3:14-16), and fills us with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-21; 5:18).
·       The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in our hearts and enables us to put sin to death, promising to give life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:9-14).
[ii] My understanding and explanation of this passage was shaped by a helpful sermon by Tim Keller on Galatians 5:16-18, 23-25 called “How to Change.” This sermon is available for download at Accessed 3 September 2008.
[iii] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995) 135.