by Ed Stetzer
This issue of Facts & Trends has gone back to the basics a bit. It has aimed to help us understand the gospel better, experience more of God’s love, and be more inspired to live out our calling as His redeemed and empowered people, the church.
Throughout, we’ve looked at ways spiritual growth takes place. I want to stay on that subject, breaking it down into its constituent parts, and thinking a little more about the way it occurs. After all, Christianity is about change and newness of life, and growth is certainly part of God’s plan for every believer.
The truth is, having a desire for spiritual growth is not enough in the Christian life. We must be on the path. We’ve found through Transformational Discipleship research that there is a progression, a path involved in making disciples. Paul writes of this path in his letter to the Colossians:
“For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Here are three things that mark the path of spiritual formation:
Being filled with the knowledge of God’s will is a vital part of becoming a disciple of Jesus and continuing to grow spiritually. We can tell people to be more like Jesus all day long, but if they don’t know Jesus, they won’t be like Him. This means reading the Bible is essential to our spiritual growth. Show me someone who isn’t reading the Word of God, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t growing deeper as a believer.
The psalmist says to God, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). The path to spiritual maturity is lit by the Word. In fact, true spiritual depth is about understanding the Word of God and living out its truths. And that should be the goal for all of us.
We don’t learn about God to become theological encyclopedias. Rather, we learn and know so we can live out of our new identity, exchanging old desires for new ones, and old ways of thinking for the mind of Christ.
There is a mysterious transfer of spiritual DNA that occurs as a believer walks the path of discipleship. It is a becoming. The more time you spend with a mentor, read a certain author, or listen to a favorite speaker, the more you will begin to think like that person.
In Romans, Paul talks about being. He says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We begin to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord when we emulate His traits.
Just as our mindsets are formed by our beliefs and training, our actions flow from who we are.
Bearing fruit in every good work is an indicator of development. Just as no one is saved by knowing more about God, no one is saved by doing good things for God. But being a disciple will inevitably result in doing the work of a disciple—not just doing good things but also bearing fruit for God.
We do good works not so good things are done, but as Jesus taught, “So that [people] may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That’s what bearing fruit looks like—it’s God-centered obedience.
If being a disciple is about taking on Christ’s traits, producing fruit is about exhibiting the presence of Jesus. We were designed to produce spiritually. He is the vine. We are the branches.
Paul tells the church at Ephesus, “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Fruit is a sign a tree is maturing. Fruit in a believer’s life is a sign that a disciple is growing. And it occurs as we get on the path of discipleship with Jesus.