Just as birth, growth and development, and death are primary components of physical life, so, too, the spiritual life features significant lifecycle events. We are born to new life, we grow and develop in our spiritual lives, and one day we will be completely transformed into Christ’s likeness. Or, to put it another way, we have been made holy, we are being made holy, and one day we shall be made completely holy. Today, we live in the “already, but not yet.” The exciting truth is that God plays a significant role in each phase of our spiritual lives.

It is by God’s initiative that we begin our spiritual lives. The apostle Paul taught the church at Corinth that Christ is the one who made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. In 1 Corinthians 1:20 he writes, “God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom.” (New Living Translation) And later Paul writes to the same group of believers that, “God made Him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:20) Elsewhere, Paul describes this event as Christ trading His riches for our poverty so that we might become rich—in spiritual riches (II Corinthians 8:9). Some have referred to this transaction as The Great Exchange.

We have another exchange to look forward to—when we will exchange our weak, mortal bodies for glorious, imperishable bodies. At some point in the future, God will complete the work He began when He saved us. Paul deals with this aspect extensively in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians when he discusses the resurrection from the dead and the nature of the glorified body. The apostle John described our future hope this way: “What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He [Christ] appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

So we see that God began this work and He will finish it. As believers, we sometimes have a tendency to view the in-between phase as solely our responsibility. The truth is that God plays a crucial role in our spiritual growth and development. However, this truth does not imply that man’s role is unimportant. It is the interaction between what God does and what we do that produces growth. Paul provides remarkable insight to this complementary dynamic when he writes in Colossians 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul was aware that he had a responsibility to expend effort; however, he also recognized that, without God working through him and giving him strength, his efforts would come to nothing.

As noted by Kenneth Boa in his book That I May Know Him, author and seminary professor Howard Hendricks has described the spiritual life as “the life of Christ reproduced in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit in obedient response to the word of God.” This perspective on spiritual growth balances our responsibility to be obedient with God’s enabling power.

We can better understand God’s role in the growth process by looking at the two primary ways He influences us. God works in us both internally and externally, as discussed in the following sections.

God influences us internally.

God’s internal influence in our spiritual growth takes place primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit living in us. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in our lives permanently. Speaking to this point, Paul challenged the believers at Corinth: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) This indwelling of the Spirit is the basis of all else that happens in our spiritual lives.

The Holy Spirit produces a permanent change of heart that causes the believer’s disposition to be tender toward God instead of hostile to Him (Romans 8:5-8). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel spoke of this heart transplant as God taking away hearts of stone and giving hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). He went on to say that, after surgery, the transplant recipients would follow God’s decrees and be careful to keep His laws.

Believers who are indwelled by the Spirit also need to be filled with the Spirit—submitting daily to His lordship and control. As we yield ourselves to God, the Spirit impacts our lives in the following ways.

He writes God’s law on our hearts.

God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, foretold the day when He would make a new covenant with His people (through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). He said, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33) This new covenant would not be written on tablets of stone but would rather be engraved on hearts by the Holy Spirit. Even today we contrast the phrase “the letter of the law” with “the spirit of the law.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the law down to the letter. However, it had not been written on their hearts. As a result, Jesus would say of them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones.” (Matthew 23:27) Elsewhere, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus charged the religious leaders saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) It is only when God’s Spirit writes His law on our hearts that we can worship Him in spirit and in truth.

He gives us holy desires.

Along with writing God’s law on our hearts, the Spirit also grants us the desire to follow what God’s law tells us to do. As Paul explained to the believers at Philippi, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) In other words, it wouldn’t do any good for us to know that God wants us to be holy if He didn’t also give us the desire to be holy. Though we still have to battle against our sin nature that wants us to continue in sin, we now have the Holy Spirit leading us to pursue righteousness.

He convicts us of sin.

In the devotional booklet Our Daily Bread, the story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” inquired an old deacon. “Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved I’m a sinner running from sin!” She was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted.

The girl’s words in this story, “I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever,” ring true with many Christians who are experiencing spiritual growth. This greater awareness of sin occurs because the Spirit reveals more and more sin to us. As we pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me,” the Spirit will point out to us areas that we still need to work on. Whenever we become aware of sin, we recognize that the Spirit is doing His job.

He gives us power.

The Holy Spirit also gives us power⎜power to walk in obedience, power to do good works (Ephesians 3:20), power to stand against evil (Ephesians 6:10), power to stand up under adversity (2 Corinthians 12:10), and power to bear witness before an unbelieving world (Acts 1:8 and 4:33).

He bears His fruit in our lives.

The result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is that we will bear His kind of fruit. Examples of this fruit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is the evidence of growth and maturity. If we are growing, we will bear fruit. If we are not growing, we will be unable to bear fruit. It’s that simple.

God influences us externally.

God does not depend solely on His internal work in our lives to bring about spiritual growth. He complements this strategy with an external component that can be seen in the following ways.

Through life events

God uses difficult circumstances, consequences of our choices, and persecution to mold us into the kind of people He wants us to be. Responding appropriately to unfavorable events or circumstances is a frequent theme in the New Testament writings. Christians are challenged to see God’s hand in these things and to use them as opportunities to grow and develop in faith. James tells us to welcome times of testing as our friends (James 1:2). This is not a fatalistic or masochistic mind set; rather, it represents a mature understanding of the greater purposes that can be achieved through these tribulations. Suffering produces perseverance; discipline produces righteousness. And, as we endure these events and circumstances, we remain confident that God causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Unfortunately, some interpret difficult circumstances as a sign that God has deserted them or no longer cares about them. They resent or resist the situation they find themselves in and decide to wait until things change for the better before they pursue spiritual growth.

Dallas Willard challenges this mindset when he writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s Kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being ‘right,’ we will simply have no place to receive His Kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life.”

Through the results of our walk

God also uses positive results from our walk to motivate us to continue our pursuit of holiness. We are told in Scripture to obey God, to spend time with Him in prayer, to study His Word, and so on. As we exercise these spiritual disciplines, God brings about growth. When we engage in healthy activities such as proper diet, rest, and exercise, we feel better and this motivates us to continue. So it is with the spiritual life. The more we grow, the more we desire to grow.

Through the influence of other believers

God also brings about spiritual growth through the influence of other believers. It is part of God’s plan for His children to work together and to help each other in many ways. Whether it be the teaching or preaching of believers so gifted or through the encouragement, modeling, challenge, rebuke, or accountability that someone provides, fellow believers are an important means of growth. The apostle Paul certainly understood this dynamic and the role God enabled him to play in the lives of other believers. He referred to believers as his spiritual offspring and, at one point, wrote to the believers in Galatia that he “was in the pains of childbirth until Christ was formed in them.” (Galatians 4:19) What a profound picture of the influence of other believers on our spiritual growth!


Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” This knowledge of God’s role in our spiritual growth leads us to a position of humility, gratitude, and dependence. Further, a deep understanding of God’s ongoing work of grace in our lives should motivate us to take responsibility for the role we play in our growth and energize us for the task. This aspect of spiritual growth will be discussed in the next Pocket Principle.

Application Suggestions:

• List some examples of ways you have seen God influence your spiritual growth.
• Meditate on Philippians 2:12-13. As you meditate, think of an area in which you have experienced spiritual growth. Write down the part God has played and the part you have played.

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“The average church member’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is so vague it is nearly nonexistent” (source unknown).

It is important for Christians to understand the person and work of the Holy Spirit and how they can follow Scripture’s command to be filled with the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit an equal person of the triune Godhead, worthy of our worship and obedience, but also His ministry is of utmost importance in our lives. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that it was good for them that He go away so that He could send the Spirit (John 16:7). What an incredible thought this must have been to the disciples, who were fearful and full of grief because Jesus was talking about leaving them. But obviously, He meant what He said.

The Holy Spirit is instrumental in the process of salvation. The Spirit brings conviction to our hearts and shows us our need of a Savior. Jesus describes the new birth as being born of the Spirit (John 3:6). At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer and is the defining characteristic that he is truly a believer. In fact, Paul writes that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all (Romans 8:9). By contrast, Paul says that those who truly are Christians are marked with a seal, who is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). John echoes this thought when he writes, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (I John 4:13)

However, the work of the Spirit is not limited to our initial conversion experience. Scripture emphasizes the importance for every believer to be filled with the Spirit. Our entire Christian life should be characterized by a continual reliance on the Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit” is a constant refrain of the New Testament epistles, letters that were written to give instruction to the early Christians. Alternate phrases such as “living by faith,” “drawing near to God,” and “submitting to God,” relate to this same idea of being filled with the Spirit.

In Scripture the phrase “filling of the Spirit” is used to describe the empowering, wisdom, and guidance the Spirit brings into a believer’s life. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come and give them power — power that would enable them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). When the Holy Spirit did come upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, He filled them with power, with the result that they lived holy lives and impacted the community.

Take Peter, for example, the disciple who had three times denied knowing Jesus the night before He was crucified. In Acts chapter two, we see Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, standing up and addressing the crowd that gathered to see what all the excitement was about. Through the power of the Spirit, Peter boldly spoke words of truth and conviction, such that several thousand became followers of Christ that day. Throughout the rest of the New Testament and throughout the history of the church, we witness the transformation that takes place when the Holy Spirit fills and controls a person.

In this lesson we will discuss more about what it means to be filled with the Spirit, but there is a mysterious aspect of being filled that cannot be explained. In the third chapter of his gospel account, John captures a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of the Jews. Jesus was discussing the necessity of the new birth and, in this context, He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Just as there is a mystical element to the Spirit’s work in salvation, so too there is a mysterious element to the Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives that cannot be fully explained. However, we can begin to understand how a person is filled with the Spirit by understanding two biblical explanations.

A Helpful Analogy

The apostle Paul’s instruction recorded in Ephesians 5:18 provides important information about the filling of the Spirit. This verse reads as follows: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

There is a comparison and a contrast between the verbs in this verse. Being filled with the Spirit is compared to getting drunk with wine. The gist is: “Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by wine. Instead, allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit.” Just as habitual drunkards become known for being controlled by alcohol, so Christians who live spirit-filled lives develop a good reputation. Nineteenth-century American evangelist Dwight Moody was to have a campaign in England. An elderly English pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Such is the reputation of one who lives under the control of the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is also contrasted with getting drunk with wine. Wine depresses, while the Spirit stimulates and inspires. Being filled with alcohol causes a person to become sluggish, confused, and out of control. By contrast, being filled with the Spirit leads to a person being alert, engaged, and ready for action.

Understanding the Language

The complex verb structure of Ephesians 5:18 needs to be explored to better understand the analogy. There are four parts to the verb structure in this verse. The English translation is unable to reflect all the facets of the original Greek, so we need to study this verb in some detail. The following four points provide further insight.

The filling is a command.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands the believers at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit. This command shows that it is God’s will for believers to be filled with the Spirit. It is not an option; it is imperative to the Christian lifestyle. A scuba instructor would never tell a student, “The oxygen tank you have strapped to your back is your source of life. When you go under water, you can open the valve if you so desire.” Rather, he would command, “You must open the valve to your tank when you go underwater. It is the only way you can survive.” For a believer to attempt to live the Christian life without the filling of the Spirit is as foolish as it would be for a scuba diver to attempt to go deep under water without opening the valve to his air tank.

The command applies to all believers.

The understood subject “you” in Ephesians 5:18 is plural. The plural subject shows that the command was written to the whole church and not just to a particular person or to a select group of individuals. This command applies to all believers, young or old, male or female, introverted or extroverted, immature or mature. Being filled with the Spirit cannot be equated with maturity in Christ; however, it is a key part of the maturing process. We could perhaps say that one can be filled with the Spirit without being mature, but no one can reach Christian maturity without the consistent work of the Spirit in his life.

The filling is not done by us.

The verb is in the passive mood. When “be filled” is translated in the passive mood, it reads, “let the Spirit fill you.” In other words, it is something God wants to do for us. It is not something that requires us to meet difficult conditions first (other than submitting to His lordship, which can be difficult indeed). We do not need to achieve a certain level of expertise, we do not need to acquire certain knowledge or to learn special techniques—we simply need to let God fill us with His Spirit.

The filling needs to be an ongoing process.

The verb is in the present tense. In the Greek language, the present tense often conveys the idea that the action of the verb is repeated again and again. Thus, the filling of the Spirit needs to continually be made a reality through conscious dependence on God.

Unlike the effects of alcohol, the filling of the Spirit does not take time to wear off. The moment we choose to resume control over our own lives (when our feelings get hurt, when we get pushed into a corner, when we decide we want something we shouldn’t have or for whatever reason), we are no longer filled by (under the control of) the Spirit.

Dual Aspect of Being Filled with the Spirit—Repentance and Trust

When a person becomes a Christian, he repents (turns from his sin) and trusts Christ (turns to Christ) to give him salvation, forgiveness, and power to overcome sin in his life. Before salvation he is heading one direction; after salvation he is going the opposite direction. As Peter explained in his address to the crowd, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God…then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, New Living Translation)

When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of people in this world⎜those who are controlled by their own sinful nature, and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God (See Romans 8:5-8). All those who have not yet believed in Jesus for salvation fall into the first category because the Spirit is given only to those who have become children of God. Christians should always fall into the second category, but the reality of life is that we continue to sin and follow our sinful nature rather than walk in the Spirit. Because we continue to struggle with sin even after we become Christians, it is necessary to confess our sins and consciously trust God to empower us to live for Christ. In other words, it is necessary to continue the pattern of repentance and trust that first brought us to salvation. We should do this whenever we become aware of sin.


In order to enjoy new life in Christ, in order to please God and to walk worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus, in order to fulfill our destiny as Christ’s ambassadors ministering His love to a needy world, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit through repentance and trust, continually acknowledging our dependence on Him. As Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Application Suggestions:

• Meet with God and work through the Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit section below.
• Read Romans 8:5-8. Note the difference between a person controlled by the Holy Spirit and someone controlled by his sinful nature.

Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit

Guidelines for being filled with the Spirit:

• Ask God to bring to mind any sin(s) in your life or any areas He wants you
to obey or trust Him in.
• Write down whatever God brings to mind. Confess and repent.
• Write I John 1:9 across the list of sin(s), and destroy the paper.
• Acknowledge your dependence on God, and ask Him to fill you with His
• Believe that God wants to fill you with His Spirit and that He has.

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The story is told of a reporter who was interviewing an old man on his 100th birthday. “What are you most proud of?” he asked. “Well,” said the man, “I don’t have an enemy in the world.” “What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!” said the reporter. “Yep,” added the centenarian, “I’ve outlived every last one of them.”

Unfortunately for the Christian, no matter how long he lives there are enemies that will always be with him. Scripture identifies three such enemies⎜the world, the flesh, and Satan. These enemies present constant challenges to the believer and can make spiritual growth more difficult. However, if we rise to the challenge, the difficulties we face with these enemies can also be a source of growth as we develop endurance and mature in godly character (James 1:2-4).

Experienced combatants tell us that the first rule in battle is to know the enemy. This lesson is designed to give the believer a better understanding of our enemies, thereby increasing our ability to defeat them and decreasing their ability to hinder our spiritual growth. Our three primary enemies, as identified in Scripture, are described below.

The World

The first enemy that the believer must contend with is the world. By world, we do not mean the physical surroundings we inhabit. The most common use of the word “world” in the New Testament is that of an evil kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom ruled by Satan (Ephesians 2:2) and populated by nonbelievers who are alienated from God and hostile toward Him (Colossians 1:21). When Christ comes back to earth to establish His eternal Kingdom in all its fullness, this temporary evil kingdom will be done away with.

When a person places his trust in Christ as Savior, he passes from death unto life, from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light. Believers are no longer members of the worldly kingdom, but citizens of the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14, 21-22). The Apostle Peter reminds us that we are foreigners and aliens here (I Peter 2:11).

Although believers are a part of God’s Kingdom, we must live in this evil world, and we are affected by it. Scripture tells us that this world system is characterized by the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in possessions (I John 2:15-17). Or as author Charles Swindoll puts it in Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, “The world system is committed to at least four major objectives, which I can summarize in four words: fortune, fame, power, pleasure.”

We are surrounded by unbelievers whose lives are driven by these objectives; yet, as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, we must stand firm and resist the temptation to be swept along by the current. The result is that we are mistreated and persecuted for our values and beliefs, sometimes purposely and sometimes inadvertently. Sometimes this opposition will take the form of ridicule, sometimes of outright hostility. Sometimes we just have to deal with the subtle, lonely feeling that we are out of place here and do not belong. And, of course, there is the ever-present pain of living in a fallen world, characterized by unhealthy relationships, harmful behaviors, and other consequences of sin.

Some believers have misunderstood what our stance should be regarding the earthly kingdom in which we live. They think that the only way to be true to God is to live apart from this world as much as possible. They try to avoid contact or relationships with unbelievers, and they often criticize other believers whom they consider to be compromising with the world. Interestingly, Jesus faced similar criticism from the religious leaders of His day. As children of God and members of His eternal Kingdom, we have a responsibility to be a positive influence in the midst of the people around us. We are not to let the world influence us toward evil, but rather we are to be God’s ambassadors and influence this world for Him.

The Flesh

The second enemy of the Christian is the flesh. Some years ago, the cartoon strip Pogo featured the character of that name surrounded by pollution and destruction. Pogo is seen remarking to his sidekick, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed, just as we humans have done much to pollute and trash God’s creation, so we have a sin nature that continues to pollute and corrupt God’s new creation in us. The enemy lives within.

All humans are born with a sin nature. This sin nature is more than just wrong thinking or bad habits. It is an inner bent and set of desires that influence us to oppose God and His righteousness. J. Oswald Sanders, a noted Christian author, wrote in his book Enjoying Intimacy with God that the flesh is “the evil principle in man’s nature, the traitor within who is in league with the attackers without. The flesh provides the tinder on which the devil’s temptations can kindle.” James, the brother of Jesus, describes the influence of our flesh when he writes that we sin when we are lead astray by our own lusts (James 1:14).

The unbeliever is controlled by this sin nature. The Christian still has the sin nature residing within, and must battle against it until the sin nature ceases to exist at death. Although the Christian still has to contend with the sin nature, he has become a new creation in Christ and has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the indwelling Spirit, we can overcome the sin nature at any given moment in time. In fact, it is impossible to yield to the flesh or sin nature at the same time that we are yielded to the Spirit of God, since the two are contrary to one another. “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh,” writes the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:16. And he affirms confidently in Romans 8:12, “You have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” (New Living Translation)

The Devil

Our third enemy is the devil. Far from being a cartoon character with little horns and a pitchfork, the Devil is a real enemy, a dangerous enemy, and one that seeks to cause us harm. Scripture warns that the Devil goes about looking to catch Christians off guard so he can destroy them. The Devil and the army of evil spirits at his command in the invisible realm hate Christians because we have cast our allegiance with his archenemy. Once a high-ranking angel in God’s Kingdom, the Devil chose to rebel against God. Now he is the embodiment of evil and opposes God and everything He stands for.

In keeping with His perfect purposes, God who is all-powerful is allowing the Devil to have limited authority for a season. The Devil and all his helpers will eventually be rendered powerless, and he will be thrown into a lake of fire where he will be tormented forever. The final chapter in the story has already been written, so the Christian does not need to worry who will win out in the end.

In the meantime, however, the believer must contend with this enemy. He must stay on guard and recognize when the Devil is on the attack. Far from being helpless against the strategies and attacks of the Devil, the believer has the power to resist him. Peter wrote that we should stand firm against the Devil (I Peter 5:8- 9). In fact, James wrote to the early believers, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) And in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul goes into detail regarding the equipment that we have been given to fight our enemies (Ephesians 6:13-18). He states specifically that this armor and these weapons, such as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, have been given to us so that we can “take our stand against the devil’s schemes.”

One of the Devil’s favorite tactics is to try to create doubt in the mind of Christians. Satan is known as the father of lies (John 8:44), and he is a master at distorting the truth. This has been his approach from the beginning. His method with Eve was to distort the truth and create doubt in her mind about the goodness of God. He exercises the same tactic with believers today. And, if we listen to the Devil’s lies and allow unfavorable circumstances to sway our opinion, we can find ourselves doubting the goodness or power of God. It is imperative that we immerse ourselves in God’s Word and arm ourselves with His truth.

The words of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, an old Christian hymn written by the reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, continue to encourage twenty-first century believers as we battle the Devil. Excerpts from the first and third verses read as follows: “For still our ancient foe, does seek to work us woe, his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure. For lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.” In these verses we are reminded of the power of the enemy yet, more importantly, of the victory we have through Jesus Christ.

Conclusion⎜More Than Conquerors

An important part of spiritual growth is learning to overcome our enemies in this life. The believer must be aware of his enemies and make use of the weapons mentioned in Scripture to combat these enemies. As we engage in battle, we rest secure in the promises of God’s Word. In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul asks rhetorically, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” After listing several things that could potentially defeat us, Paul states emphatically that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:34). He then goes on to affirm that nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Application Suggestions:

• Think of an area of your life in which you have ongoing struggles. How might these 3 enemies (world, flesh, Devil) play a part in these struggles?

• Read Ephesians 2:1-3

Write down some of the ways the world, the flesh and the Devil interact with each other against us.


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Plant with dead GrowthScientists marvel at the interconnected nature of all living organisms. Though many stubbornly refuse to recognize the fingerprints of God in creation, they still speak in awe of the complex design of things they observe and refer to the delicate balance of nature.

A simple flower provides a prime example. The plant is comprised of many parts, each playing an important role in its overall health. Damage to any one of these parts affects the well-being of the flower. If a rodent eats away at the roots, the plant doesn’t get the minerals and water it needs. If the stem is damaged, food cannot be delivered where it is needed. If insects strip away the leaves, photosynthesis (the conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide to food) does not take place. If the stigmas are damaged, the necessary pollination cannot occur. To have a healthy plant capable of growth and reproduction, each critical part must be healthy.

In the same way, humans are very complex organisms with highly interdependent parts. And it is not just the inter-connected nature of our physical organs and body parts that is important. The various dimensions of our being also have a strong impact on one another. For example, our physical health affects, and is affected by, our emotional health. Proverbs 17:22 says that, “A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Along similar lines, Proverbs 14:30 states, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

Historically, the church has focused primarily on the spiritual dimension of the believer’s life and has not always recognized the need to minister to the whole person. This limited perspective of the church’s calling is a tragic misunderstanding that has hindered not only the growth of individual believers but also the ability of the church to impact the world for Christ. Until a person develops emotional health and healthy relationships, he will only be able to advance so far in his own spiritual walk and will be limited in his ability to minister to others.

Because we are complex beings, understanding spiritual growth demands that we understand many components of our lives. One of the primary connections that we need to understand is between the emotional and relational facets of our lives (what we are calling the restorative dimension) and the spiritual aspect. It is critical that we give attention to the restoring dimension of a believer’s life as well as the spiritual dimension. Spiritual growth will not occur in many areas unless there is maturity in the restorative areas discussed below.

We need to develop emotional health.

Developing emotional health begins with learning to think correctly because emotions are a natural response to our thinking about, or interpretation of, the things that happen around us or to us. Thinking correctly involves both what we think (content) and how we think (process). Incorrect thinking is often based on an incorrect or inadequate view of ourselves, of others, or of God. These viewpoints or perspectives are largely formed in childhood and are influenced by the people and events closest to us. It is critical that we learn to counter falsehood with truth.

Consider the following example: A student receives a “B” on a test and feels worthless. The “worthless” feeling is the content of his thinking. He arrived at this content or conclusion by the following thought process (beliefs that led to the student’s conclusion). First, “I must always be perfect in order to be valuable.” Second, “I made a mistake, and therefore I am not perfect.” Third, “Therefore, I am not valuable. I am worthless.” Both the content and the process need to be corrected. The key is to be able to identify where one’s thinking goes wrong or, to put it another way, to identify which proposition is not true. In the example above, the second phrase is true (he did make mistakes; he is not perfect), while the first and third are not. The student’s thought process starts on a false premise and inevitably ends with a false conclusion.

The experiences of the prophet Elijah as recorded in I Kings chapters 18 and 19 provide a good illustration of the principles we have been discussing. On the heights of Mount Carmel, Elijah enjoyed two great spiritual victories⎜the defeat of the prophets of Baal and answered prayer for long-awaited rain. However, the enormous expenditure of physical and emotional energy left Elijah discouraged and despondent, and he descended into self-pity.

God, knowing the interdependence of the various dimensions of Elijah’s being, first provided food and rest. Then He confronted Elijah with the truth he needed to hear to correct his wrong thinking. In verse 10 of chapter 19, Elijah said to God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty (a true statement). The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword (also true statements). I am the only one left (a false statement), and now they are trying to kill me too” (again, a true statement). Essentially, Elijah was accusing God of giving him a raw deal, and it was an incorrect premise that led him to this faulty conclusion. In His response, God didn’t waste time affirming the parts of Elijah’s argument that were correct; he simply charged him to carry on the work and informed him that there were 7,000 other faithful servants who had not bowed the knee to false gods.

Along with learning to develop right thinking, we need to develop certain emotional skills if we are to achieve emotional health. These skills include learning to process emotions in the present and learning to process emotions that have been buried.

We learn to process emotions in the present by being able to identify how we feel and express those feelings, even if they are unpleasant. It is often helpful to talk about your emotions with a trusted friend. Use words that describe how you feel. Say “I feel . . . angry, sad, anxious, confused, embarrassed, secure, happy, relieved, daring.” Be as specific as you can and don’t use a “weaker” or “safer” word when a “stronger” one is appropriate. If someone has offended you, you may need to talk about your emotions in a controlled way with that person. Once you have processed your emotions, you need to release those that are negative. This release may mean choosing to forgive, if someone has offended or wronged you.

Consider the example of King David of Israel as someone who knew how to process emotions. David was “a man’s man,” feared by his enemies and respected by his friends. His resume included such feats as the slaying of the giant Goliath, killing a lion and a bear with his hands and a club, and winning victories in numerous battles. Yet David was a man who was able to express his emotions. If he was happy, he freely and unashamedly expressed joy. If he was angry, he called down curses on his enemies. If he was despondent, he cried out in anguish to God.

Some of us may be uncomfortable with the force of David’s emotions (or of other’s emotions expressed in Scripture, including God’s). While it is important to remember that David often used figurative language, including hyperbole, metaphor, and simile, this does not lessen the reality of what he was expressing. In fact, poetic language is a gift from God to be used in just this way. The same can be true of music, dance, painting, and even play. (Note the successful use of “play therapy” to help children express their emotions.)

Another necessary skill is learning how to process emotions that have been buried. “Burials” often take place when we don’t know how to or don’t feel the freedom to process emotions in the present. To deal with buried emotions, remember the unresolved, painful situations and allow the related emotions to surface. If emotions do not surface, you may need to seek help from someone who understands emotional issues (for example, a counselor or members of a recovery group). Once buried emotions surface, they can be dealt with as “emotions in the present” (using the suggestions above).

Some people may get stuck at some point in the attempt to deal with buried emotions and need to seek outside help to complete the process. Just as the Holy Spirit gifts individuals within the body of Christ as teachers, preachers, and missionaries, so He gifts some believers to minister to emotional needs. Ideally, a believer would look first within the church for help. Sadly, that help is not always present or the person needing it doesn’t know where to find it. However, even non-believing counselors can be used by God to accomplish His purposes in the lives of His children.

We need to develop relational health.

Developing emotional health rightly precedes a discussion of developing relational health, because relational health is impossible for a person who has not achieved at least some measure of emotional health. In order to be able to relate to another person in a mature, healthy way, you must first understand and be able to manage your own emotions. Or, to put it another way, until you are comfortable in your own skin, you are unlikely to feel comfortable around other people or to make them feel comfortable around you.

Skills necessary for relational health include the following:

Developing intimacy. Intimacy is the ability to connect with another person at a deep level. This involves sharing thoughts and feelings about you.

Setting boundaries. Boundaries are limits, or markers, that define a person as separate from others and what is unique about that person. Boundaries define what a person is, what he chooses, what he feels, what he likes, what he wants, and so on. A person needs to set his own boundaries and not allow others to set them for him.

Developing good communication skills. These skills include speaking clearly, listening carefully, and giving constructive feedback.

Just as Jesus is a model for spiritual growth, He is a model for emotional and relational health. He developed intimate relationships, even at the cost of breaking social barriers of His day. He set appropriate boundaries. Although He made Himself available to people and their needs, He had a strong sense of “who He was” and did not allow others to deter Him from His mission. Also, Jesus communicated effectively, both with individuals and in group settings. Because He was emotionally healthy, He was able to develop strong, healthy relationships with others.


It is critical to a person’s spiritual growth that he develop emotional and relational health. Just as spiritual growth is a life-long process, so developing emotional and relational health are life-long processes. The important thing is to stay on the path and continue the journey. The good news is that these various dimensions of our being have a positive relationship to one another. As we grow spiritually, it will help us to grow emotionally and relationally. As we grow emotionally and relationally, it will help us to grow spiritually. When discouragement comes, recognize and process that emotion in the moment and practice right thinking by remembering this truth⎜”He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 73

List the emotions described by the Psalmist. Describe how the Psalmist dealt with his emotions in this Psalm.

• Read Matthew 12:9-15. How is Jesus’ ability to set boundaries tested in this situation?

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Definition of Equipp from WebstersTo attain spiritual maturity the believer must grow in two dimensions of the Christian life, equipping and restoring. In this lesson we will focus on the equipping aspect. Webster’s dictionary defines equip as “to furnish for service or action”. The equipping dimension prepares the believer to serve others on behalf of Jesus, in effect, to carry on His work.

In Luke’s gospel narrative, he records that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). For some Christians, it can be difficult or uncomfortable to think of Jesus as needing to grow in these ways. That is part of the wonder and the mystery of the incarnation—God taking on human flesh, along with its limitations. Just as He needed to learn to crawl, walk, read, and write, so He needed to grow in wisdom and spiritual understanding. If the sinless Son of God needed to grow, it should not be surprising that we as fallen human beings should need to grow spiritually. This growth occurs as we mature in the areas discussed below.

Growth in Knowledge of God, His Ways, and His Will

Knowledge of God, including His character, His ways, and His will is essential to spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of this principle led him to pray for the believers in Colossae as follows: “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).

Paul’s prayer for these believers provides insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth. The more we grow in spiritual wisdom, the more we will live pleasing to God, doing the good things He desires us to do. This action leads to a greater knowledge of God and more spiritual wisdom. And so the circle of growth continues.

This knowledge of God is interactive and experiential, not just an accumulation of information. A person can study the sport of scuba diving, can watch others scuba dive, and can even speak intelligently about scuba diving with other people, but until he actually puts on the equipment and dives into the water, he is not a scuba diver. And though he may study advanced diving techniques, he will not become a skilled diver until he has spent many hours in the water. Similarly, there are many people who know much about what the Bible teaches, but they have not embraced the teachings of scripture as truth in their hearts and put it into action. They may know about God, but they do not know God.

The early focus of learning is centered on such subjects as God’s character, who Jesus is, and how to walk with Jesus daily. These topics are necessary for a healthy relationship and lay the foundation for further growth. As we grasp a basic knowledge of who God is, we learn how to please Him and follow His leading. We gain this knowledge through daily interaction with God in the circumstances of life.

Growth in Ministry Skills and Abilities

As mentioned above, the point of acquiring knowledge is so that it can be put into action. One of the ways we act on our knowledge of God is to minister to others or, as Paul puts it, “to bear fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10). In the early phases of the Christian’s walk, our focus needs to be meeting the practical needs of others. We see this principle in the way Jesus taught His followers how to minister. When His disciples were new believers, Jesus gave them practical responsibilities such as dispensing food, providing transportation, controlling the crowds, and bringing their friends to learn about Him.

Jesus knew that the best way for His disciples to learn was through on-the-job training. Many businesses and other types of organizations have discovered this principle as well and are delivering more training on the job and less in the classroom. Even schools and universities are beginning to rely less on formal instruction and more on training. Sadly, many churches do not yet seem to understand the importance of this principle. What is learned in worship services and Bible study classes is essential, but it must be balanced by practical application. It is important that newer believers have the opportunity to learn and practice ministry skills under the guidance of more mature believers.

As believers grow spiritually, God often increases their ministry abilities and opportunities. This pattern is clearly seen in how Jesus trained His disciples. Although He began with giving them simple acts of service to perform, He gradually increased their responsibilities. He sent them out on their own to minister and gave them positions of leadership within the larger band of followers.

Christ not only gave His followers hands-on training, He also set the example. His days on earth were marked by selfless service to others. In his gospel account, Mark quotes Jesus as saying that, “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ servant leadership is a theme that surfaces frequently in the gospel accounts, as he healed the sick, fed the hungry, humbly interacted with the outcasts of society, taught His followers and, finally, laid down His life that others might have eternal life.

Another area of ministry is sharing with others what Christ has done in our lives. Some believers are intimidated by the thought of this, but it really should be quite natural. If a new restaurant in town has great food, we tell others about it. If we find a diet that works, we spread the news. If we stumble across a helpful gardening tip, we pass it on to other gardeners. How much more should we desire to tell others when we have found the Source of life?

This is what the early followers of Jesus did. Andrew found his brother Simon Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.” Phillip found Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote.” The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well in Sychar told the townspeople, “Come see the one who told me everything I ever did.” The blind man healed by Jesus told the religious leaders, “This one thing I know. I was blind but now I see!” This is what we should do⎜simply relate to others what Christ has done in our lives.

Growth in Faith and Trust in Christ

A further area of equipping is growth in our willingness and ability to exercise faith and trust in Christ. Growth in faith means growing in strength of conviction and quickness to obey. Simply put, it means putting into action what we believe to be true. In fact, the putting into action is the proof that we truly do believe something to be so.

Some years back, there was a tightrope walker who performed unbelievable feats high above the ground. A promoter heard of this performer and offered him a substantial sum of money to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. The event was widely promoted and drew large crowds of people, eager to see the daring (or folly) of this artist. When the moment came, the performer calmly walked above the rushing waters, to the wild cheers of the crowd. Then he walked across blindfolded. The cheers grew even louder, almost drowning out the roar of the falls. It appeared that the show was over, but the artist had one act left to perform. He had a wheelbarrow raised to the rope and, addressing the crowd, asked if they believed he could walk the wheelbarrow across the falls. The crowd responded enthusiastically. Then he asked for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow, and the crowd fell silent. All had said they believed, but none was willing to act on that belief. As Christians, we demonstrate our faith by a ready willingness to “get into the wheelbarrow.”

Growth in trust means applying our faith in more and more areas. It is one thing to recognize Christ as our only way of salvation and place our trust in Him as savior. It is quite another to begin to trust Him in all areas of our lives. After all, we have grown up learning to be independent and to trust in ourselves—our knowledge, our abilities, and so on. However, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us, we need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Admittedly, this is hard to do. But it is an important part of the maturing process. God, in His wisdom and providence, continues to bring circumstances into our lives that give us opportunities to trust Him and expand our faith. As we encounter these circumstances, God provides the resources to deal with them, as we take a risk and trust Him.

James Brown, pastor of Evangeline Baptist Church in Wildsville, Louisiana tells the following story. “Some years ago when I was learning to fly, my instructor told me to put the plane into a steep and extended dive. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen. After a brief time the engine stalled, and the plane began to plunge out-of-control. It soon became evident that the instructor was not going to help me at all. After a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, my mind began to function again. I quickly corrected the situation. Immediately I turned to the instructor and began to vent my fearful frustrations on him. He very calmly said to me, “There is no position you can get this airplane into that I cannot get you out of. If you want to learn to fly, go up there and do it again.” At that moment God seemed to be saying to me, “Remember this. As you serve Me, there is no situation you can get yourself into that I cannot get you out of. If you trust me, you will be all right.”

It seems that God sometimes gets us into tough situations just so we can learn to trust Him. The Bible certainly provides enough examples, whether it be Abraham standing over Isaac on the altar, the Israelites huddled on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians in fierce pursuit, Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace, Jesus’ disciples fighting a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, or any number of other events. One of the most important things that every Christian must learn is that God can be trusted, regardless of circumstances that would make it appear otherwise. Until a person reaches this place of trust, he will be limited in what he is able and willing to do for God.


To become mature we need to grow in our knowledge of God, in service, in faith, and in trust. As always, God provides everything we need to grow. He has set the example, His Word and His Spirit teach us, and He brings circumstances into our lives to accomplish His purposes. Even the faith required for growth is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We can rejoice that He graciously provides us with everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. (2 Peter 1:3)

Application Suggestions:

• Read John 2:1-11. How do you think this situation impacted the growth of the disciples?

• Think of a situation in your life that is impacting your spiritual growth. Write down evidences of growth that is occurring because of this situation.

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