Every Christian should want to grow spiritually, but spiritual growth is not automatic. Just like malnutrition can stunt physical growth and a traumatic event can stunt emotional growth, these four misconceptions can hinder your spiritual growth.
1. Spiritual age does not equal spiritual maturity. If you’ve been a Christian for 40 years, that doesn’t automatically mean that you are more mature than someone who’s been a Christian for only a few years. We see this in everyday life. Sometimes you’ll find a 16-year-old that is more mature than a 40-year-old. Age doesn’t automatically equal maturity. Spiritual growth isn’t automatic. It’s something you have to be intentional about.
2. Spiritual growth is not simply you trying harder to be holy, but allowing God to work in you and transform you. This is the whole point of the book of Galatians. Spiritual growth is not a checklist of things you have to do to earn God’s approval. The Apostle Paul talked about the difference between living by the flesh and walking in the Spirit. Living by the flesh is you trying on your own to be a more holy person. That will absolutely wear you out.
Living by the Spirit is like having a navigation app tell you where to go when you drive somewhere new. Living by the Spirit is not one of those self-driven cars that does all the work for you. Living by the Spirit doesn’t mean you don’t take responsibility. Living by the Spirit is like having a navigation map point out where to go and where to turn. The Holy Spirit is guiding you. But not only is the Holy Spirit your guide through life, He’s your power. He’s the engine in the car of your life, propelling you forward. It’s still up to you to turn the steering wheel where the Spirit tells you to go. It’s still up to you to push the little pedal on the bottom of the floorboard, but when you push the pedal it’s the engine that makes it go. The Holy Spirit will guide you and the Spirit will empower you to grow, but you still have a part to play.
3. Agreement is not the same as obedience. This is the flip side of #2. It’s important to understand that there is a huge difference between agreement and obedience. Let me illustrate it this way: I think we would all agree that eating healthy is good for you. If you struggle with your weight or perhaps your health, I would bet that you would agree that you need to make healthier choices when you eat. Agreement is not the issue. It’s following through with what you agree with that makes all the difference. To grow, we actually have to do something.
4. Spiritual disciplines don’t exist to punish you, but to free you. Anytime you hear the word discipline, we automatically associate negative thoughts to it. No one likes to be disciplined. No one likes discipline. But we need it. Spiritual disciplines don’t exist to punish you and steal your joy. And spiritual growth is definitely not a checklist of things you have to do to keep God happy. Again, go back to the book of Galatians.
God doesn’t give us spiritual disciplines as a way to punish us or keep us in chains, but as a way to free us. Think of it like diet and exercise. Diet and exercise are both disciplines. And we can look as diet and exercise as a way to punish you and make you miserable, which will pretty much guarantee that you won’t stick with diet and exercise. In reality, diet and exercise don’t exist to punish you, but to free you. To free you with more energy, with a better outlook on life, to free you with better health and to free you from the complications of obesity and bad health.
In the moment, no one is saying “diet and exercise are amazing!” But once you see and feel the results, aren’t you glad that you diet and exercise? Spiritual disciplines operate in the same way. They don’t exist to punish you, but to free you.