January 17, 2012

Eat Your Veggies – 3 Ways to Grow Up Spiritually

by Clint Archer

In his peculiar short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald supplies a disturbingly fresh look at maturity and social development. What is so curious about Benjamin, is that he is born old, and with the passing of time, becomes young. The novella is a fascinating take on how people mature, love, and grow up, and the ironic infantile state of the infirm elderly.

Sometimes in the church we encounter the curious case of the well-churched immature believer. Often we find that when a person is a baby believer, freshly saved from their sins, their formerly lackluster life suddenly morphs into an Incredible Hulk of untamed enthusiasm. They evangelize zealously, pray constantly, read their Bible devotedly, and enjoy serving in church.

But sadly, it is not uncommon to witness that this verve is but a fleeting sugar rush of novelty. The preciousness of salvation begins to grow commonplace, church becomes a routine, Bible reading a chore, prayer incidental. Sermons they used to relish are now a bland plate of brussel sprouts. As the years grind on, they dutifully trudge through the motions of spirituality, but the light flickered out years ago.

I have met folks in the church who would say they have been saved for decades, but are petty, grumbling, selfish, and pessimistic. They are spiritually grumpy old men.

How about you? Have you grown immature with age? Have you let the furnace of passion from your conversion grow cold? Or have you steadily grown in your knowledge, wisdom, and most importantly application of God’s word? If not, here are three actions to take this year to pursue spiritual growth…

1. Swallow Your Food:

A toddler submissively being spoon fed his peas by a diligent mom will grow to be healthy. But if the kid stores those peas in his bulging cheeks instead of swallowing, or surreptitiously hands the mush to his canine accomplice under the table, the nutrition can’t take effect. In the same way people sitting attentively in pews may look like they are being fed a healthy mouthful of expository spinach and beans, but if there is no application to their lives, they will lose vibrancy in their walk with the Lord, and slowly waste away into a chronic spiritual anorexia.

How often have you heard a person boast, “I read my Bible every day,” but have obviously neglected to apply any of the verses on boasting about it? This is how pastors fall into the sin the preach against. It is how parents devolve into what Synge called plaster saints, hollow and fake. And it is why children who were cherubs in church become ogres in college. They are all hearers of the word, but not doers (James 1:22). They are like disheveled brides who looked in the mirror before walking up the aisle, but then forgot what they looked like, and did nothing about the crooked veil ans smudged mascarra.

If you want to grow spiritually apply what you hear. Take notes from the sermon, take one point and write it in your day planner on each day’s page. Make an appointment with godliness. And resolve to pray, put off wrong behavior and put on right behavior by God’s grace.

2. Avoid Junk Food

It doesn’t matter how much wheat grass you consume, or how much you juice, if you keep stuffing your face with Cinnabon, you will never slim down.

Don’t just avail yourself of good content through sermons, Bible reading, and study; you need to make a concerted drive at ingesting avoiding spiritual lard. Heb 12: let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run.

For you this may be abstaining from your steady diet of soap operas which make you think it’s normal to live a life of gossip, drama, revenge, and comas. Perhaps for you it’s an obsession with sports which keeps you away from family time. Maybe it’s social media, overeating, smoking, or toxic relationships. You know what you the cancer is which you need to cut out. Get amputative, a la Matthew 5:29.


3. Exercise Your Soul

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert. Bill Gates and his programming, the Beatles and their German jam sessions, Yo-Yo Ma his cello, even Gladwell himself and his writing; no one expects to get good at anything without time, effort, and persistence. And lot’s of it. Why do some Christians feel like they will attain steady growth in Christlikeness if they just “let go and let God”?

It is the goal of every Christian to become an expert in glorifying God. We ought to expect to lose some sweat in the process. I’m not talking about hardcore synergistic sanctification, I just mean let’s apply Phil 2:12 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Employ the spiritual disciplines. Donald Whitney defines disciplines as that which places you in the path of grace. I.e. it’s not your Bible reading plan that will sanctify you, it’s the Holy Spirit who does that. But your discipline places you in the path of direct blessing just like the sycamore tree put Zacchaeus in the way of his Savior.

Remember 1 Tim 4:7 “Train yourself for godliness”? You’ve heard enough preachers wax eloquent about gymnadzō to know this was a sweaty word. Godliness takes time, effort, and persistence. How’s that going for you? Or are you a Keswick lay-z-boy recliner type Christian?

These are by no means the only three tools in God’s extensive tool belt of sanctification, but they are three which you can be intentional about. [Footnote: The obvious and most effective of implements are trials, but are best used by a Professional. Self-inflicted trials can be counterproductive; as the monastic movement demonstrates.] But applying the word, avoiding encumbrances, and employing the spiritual disciplines, never hurt anyone’s maturity.

If you are a young pastor, you don’t have the luxury of incremental growth. You need to get serious about your maturity quick.

What are some ways you have found the Lord use to make you grow in holiness?


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Carl Brook

    Good article, Clint. The swipe at monasticism was unnecessary, however. ‘Getting amputative’ is what monastics are all about. Cheers, Carl

    • I appreciate your comment, and I didn’t intend to jab anyone’s attempt at getting radical about cutting out temptation. I had in mind the extreme asceticism and masochism of medieval monks, like self-flagellation. Thanks for the tempering though.

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  • 1. He doesn’t give me riches, so I **appreciate** the hand that feeds me all the more; and He actually surprises me in His miraculous ways of sustaining me.
    2. He has allowed me to fall so that when I repent the heinousness of the sin is emblazoned in my brain and I learn to hate it all the more.
    3. When I fail Him it creates in me a deeper, deeper dependence in/on Him.

    4. He makes me realize that EVERY sin I commit is against Him personally, and this really, really hurts.
    5. More and more it is not other’s sins that sorely vex me, but my own sin of intolerance, and who the heck am I to see the beam in another’s eye, especially since I have been forgiven soooooo much.
    6. He makes me realize that ‘I’ am not the epicenter of the Universe. He is! So get over feeling slighted by anyone, and love others asking for NOTHING in return.

    Of course there are many more, but these are really **pressing** on me, in a very good way lately. And most important of all is God’s Word. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (Jhn 17:17).” Thanks, Clint. 🙂

    • MET, thanks for your sincerity and transparency, I find it inspiring. Isn’t it amazing how our Lord knows each on of us and customizes his workmanship on our souls? Thank you for sharing so openly.

  • Overall good article, though I don’t care for the term “spiritual disciplines” and the reference to Don Whitney. Bob DeWaay has written some very inciteful articles about the subtle error of the spiritual disciplines; see for instance, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue111.htm about Donald Whitney, Spirituality Without Boundaries.

    The classic term “means of grace” as described by the Puritan and other writers (J.C. Ryle, for instance) is a better way to describe our spiritual growth.

    • Thanks for your input Lynda. I’m a huge fan of Whitney, but I also use the term means of grace when I preach on the topics. The NASB uses the word “discipline” to refer to our responsibility, so I guess that’s why I’m ok with either.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t think Lynda’s problem is with the word “discipline” Clint. That was not her main point.

        • Hey Elaine, I’m aware that some people take exception to Whitney’s view that we need to exert effort in our sanctification. But I think that when a person reads his work carefully, he explains and qualifies what he means well.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t rely on many godly men to guide me and lead me in truth. Having said that, I take into account what many of you here at TCG say, as I have come to trust your discernment and wisdom (that does not mean I am a blind follower though).

            I have not read Whitney’s works extensively. Early in my Christian walk I came across CIC and Bob DeWaay’s reviews and critics, and they have helped me greatly.

            I guess my question is, would you say DeWaay is wrong about his criticism of Whitney? How so?

            Or is this a case of “chew the meat and spit the bones” for you?

          • Since you asked such a clear question, let me be courteous enough to put into print my clear answer: Yes, de Waal is wrong. He is knit-picking on nuances of Whitney’s wording to extrapolate what Whitney means, when the book Whitney explicitly clarifies his views on what de Waal is saying. This isn’t the place for a full discussion, but one example of de Waal’s method is to say: “So Whitney is out of bounds to tell us we must do certain things that are not in the Bible if we want to achieve godliness on no other grounds than he said so.” No where does Whitney say these things MUST be done, he explicitly says that these are ways people in the past have found helpful. That is why he acknowledges “more” than those he lists. De Waal’s critique is based on how he would have reacted in college if he got this teaching then. Really? As a writer now, I know how after something is in print you notice little ambiguities you could have locked down. I’ve met Whitney. I’ve sat under his ministry. I’ve read what he’s written and used it in men’s groups. The material is GOLD! Thanks for the question, Elaine.

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  • Billyquan

    Clint, Good post. It is tough to stay passionate and focused as we get older in our faith. As someone saved at a very young age, I have always had a heart for the folks who were blessed to grow up in the church. Your Christian walk can become a routine so easily when you grew up with it. These are 3 great ways to keep the main thing the main thing. Thanks.

    • I appreciate you sharing that Billy. Thanks.

  • What does Whitney now think about Dallas Willard? He references Willard (who promotes spiritual formation and mysticism) in his book, including in a section on “hearing the voice of God.” I agree that Whitney is more biblically sound than Willard (or Foster). But as far as I know, Whitney has never publicly retracted anything regarding them, or made any statement of disclaimer that he disagrees with Willard’s teaching.

    • I have no idea what Whitney thinks of Willard’s teachings now. If you ever find his comments on it, feel free to send them to me (seminoid@clintarcher.com), I’m considering doing a post on this topic.

  • Anonymous

    Since I cannot reply to your reply Clint, just wanted to say thank you for your reply. It’s good to know where people clearly stand. I know it’s kind of off-topic to the blog post, so I won’t comment anymore.

    • No problem Elaine, you always make me think. Feel free to take it up in the comments of the “Inspiring the Aspiring” post at Café Seminoid. Or you can mail at seminoid@clintarcher.com

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