“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.’
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25, NIV).
The fruit of spiritual growth is fullness, the completeness of Christ’s image stamped upon our inmost being. It is spiritual maturity, from the inside out, so that others may see Christ glorified. It begins when we first believe and receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, and it continues throughout our life all the way to its ripening on the day of Christ Jesus. And this we can trust to be for our highest good.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The spiritual growth process is incomplete this side of eternity because it involves a daily dying to self. It is not a one-time deal in which we hand our hearts over to God and then everything’s hunky-dory. I remember those first couple of days after I was saved. I thought to myself, “Great! My life is like a blank slate now. I can start afresh. In fact, I’ll never sin again!” Well, of course, before the week was out, I’d sinned. Being born again may be a one-time instance, but maturing in our faith is a lifelong process and never easy. It is a daily struggle to hand over our will and our way to God, for He will do with it as He pleases. Selah.
This letting go and letting God is the very heart and challenge of the Christian walk. It is not about what He can do for us, but what He will do in us and through us. This is what it means to be Christ-centered. It means we give up our very selves to God who promises to change us into something we, on our own, can never be, that is, the image and likeness of Jesus Christ:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are these fruits in abundance throughout your daily life? How sweet is your fruit?
Sometimes I feel I’ll never mature. I find myself struggling with the same issues again and again. It’s a good thing faith is not a feeling, because the truth is that while I may tire and grow discouraged at times, the Holy Spirit does not. He is ever at home in my heart, transforming and perfecting me according to God’s plan.
The process of spiritual maturity is like hiking. Being born again is liking starting at the trailhead while being on the mountaintop at the same time. It’s a case of the now and the not yet. Your sins are forgiven and when God looks at you, He sees Christ. It’s so exciting! And yet you are a baby Christian, with a long growth and development process ahead of you. You have to learn to sit up, crawl, stand, and then walk.
You take your first steps up the trail. As you put one foot in front of the other, you begin to realize it is a long, long way to the top. Your backpack is heavy and the trail is so steep and hard. You wonder what on God’s green earth you’ve gotten yourself into. Anxiety strikes and your breath comes faster and harder. You worry that you’ll never make it to the first rest-stop, much less the mountaintop! Yet only a short time later, the uphill climb doesn’t seem quite as rough. You make it to that first rest-stop, albeit huffing and puffing, but you make it. After a while you get up and start hiking again. The backpack doesn’t seem so extraordinarily heavy; the trail not so steep. Thereafter, every leg of the journey is a little easier even though you’re sweating and breathing hard. You start to notice some interesting flora and fauna around you. Once in a while you find a low view to appreciate. Pretty soon you don’t even need to sit down to rest; you just stand for a few minutes leaning on the top of your staff with the pack, now quite manageable, on your back. The hike is not easy by any means, but you are stronger than before. Steeper climbs, scree slopes, and icy waterfalls take greater energy, balance, and care, but you’ve found the rhythm of the hike and the knowledge that you are closer to the top spurs you on. Eventually, through twists and turns, switchbacks, roots and rocks, you hike your way to the top, above marmots and boulders, where the view and sense of victory are incomparable. It is worth the struggle. Later on, when your boots are off and your feet are up, you think back over the hike. No part of it seemed so difficult than carrying that heavy pack up those first few steps. Even the miles of trail up and down humpback ridges were easier than those beginning steps. And no hike is more difficult than the first hike of the season.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).
For those who are born again, God assures us that He will lead us up the mountain to its peak. We may stumble, slip, or fall, but He has us safe in His hands. We can be certain that God will continue to mold and mature us into the sweet fruit of the image of his Son:
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
That is like God saying, “You will reach the top.” You respond, “Throw me the rope”. Be encouraged.
“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).