When the Bible talks about how our hearts change when we become children of God, it often refers to the growth as a new birth, or like the sprouting of a good seed. Similar to how we physically mature, we also spiritually mature, and often times we begin as “newborn babies” (1 Peter 2:2) needing to “[grow] in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Similarly, like the good seed planted in the field in Jesus’ parable, we must grow up and bear fruit. (Matthew 13:1-23). Isaiah tells us that the righteous “will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:3). By looking at how nature operates, we can learn some of the mysteries of spiritual growth.
Nothing we as humans can do with all our intelligence or skills can create the smallest object in nature. Only through the God-given life that God has blessed us with can we, or any animal or plant, live. Because of this, we can learn and understand that only through God are we able to grow spiritually. “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” (John 3:6). Jesus came to earth to help us learn how to have the spiritual life that God designed for us.
Similar to birth, growing is also a gift from God. God moves the growth stages along creating blooms from buds, and from flowers to fruit. God is responsible for the seed that develops, “First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens.” (Mark 4:28). Hosea shares this imagery with phrases like “Israel will blossom like the lily” (Hosea 14:5) and “They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines” (Hosea 14:7). Jesus also prompts us to “look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” (Luke 12:27).
Plants and flowers don’t grow because they work, endure stress, and and put forth the effort, but because they are able to receive the things that God has given to help them grow. Children cannot grow faster by changing what they do, think, or say. Similarly, we cannot push ourselves ahead and achieve spiritual growth. However, in each case, the plant, the child, and our spiritual lives all grow by receiving things in their environment that God has given to promote growth. In the case of the plant, it needs an environment of plenty of sunshine, water, and nutrients in the soil. For the child, they need fresh air, sunshine (in moderation), food, water, and exercise. For our spiritual growth, we need Jesus Christ, because He is sunlight for our spiritual lives. Jesus is our “everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19) and our “sun and our shield” (Psalm 84:11). He is our “refreshing dew from heaven” (Hosea 14:5) and He is “refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass, like the showers that water the earth.” (Psalm 72:6). He is “living water” (John 4:10) and “the true bread of God [who] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33).
In a perfect and unrivaled display of love, God surrounded the whole world with grace, like the air we breathe, through the gift of Jesus Christ. All those who choose to breathe the grace in this atmosphere will live and grow spiritually into the men and women that God created us to be.
Similar to how flowers turn and point to the sun, we should look to the Son of God, so that our characters will begin to reflect the character of Christ.
Jesus teaches us the same thing when He says, “For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5). We are as dependant on Jesus Christ for life as a branch depends on the tree for life. Separated from Jesus, there will be no spiritual life and there will be no power to resist temptation. Remaining connected to Jesus, we can flourish and grow in grace and truth. Depending on Jesus for our spiritual life and health can be compared to a tree planted next to a river.
Many people have the idea that they must be responsible for some parts of their growth. They have trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, but now they believe it is their responsibility to live obediently. However, every effort made in this way ultimately will fail. Jesus has said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Our spiritual growth, our happiness, and our value all depend on our connection with Jesus. By remaining connected with Him and strengthening the relationship, both daily and hourly, that we end up growing spiritually. He is not only the Author, but the Finisher when it comes to our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ is first, last, and always—He will be with us at the beginning, at the end, and during every step of the way. David said, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.” (Psalm 16:8).
Next week, we will continue focusing on what it means to grow up into Christ.
P.S. As always, if I missed something, or if you would like to respond on this topic, join the conversation below!