Today’s blog post is an excerpt from my new book, “God’s Best-Kept Secret”, which released last week. I wrote this book because over 20 years of counseling and teaching revealed that most Christians don’t realize God never meant for them to try so hard. As a result, they feel defeated, discouraged and even depressed. I hope this passage will be an encouragement to you as it helps you better understand your identity in Christ.
“I don’t seem to be growing spiritually, and I can’t figure out why,” said Antoine. “My life as a Christian today seems no different from when I first believed in my early twenties. I’ve been involved in Bible studies, in men’s groups, and I know a lot about Scripture. I occasionally fast and give financially to my local church. Plus, I’ve attempted to share the gospel with people God puts in my path.
“Yet I feel like something is missing. I’ve talked to my pastor and other spiritual mentors. They were sympathetic. But they mostly offered me books to read about discipleship and spiritual growth, which just seemed to put a different spin on everything I’m already doing.”
Antoine’s voice lowered. “I haven’t told anybody else what I’m about to tell you, but I’m starting to feel worn down. I’m concerned that I may never grow spiritually and I’ll forever feel stuck as a Christian.”
Like Antoine, do you ever feel you are stuck in your spiritual growth? Have you tried different options to grow spiritually but still feel stagnant? Consider this perspective. Maybe the reason you feel stuck is that you’ve never really believed you are righteous.
I know that sounds like a bold statement. So first, let’s make sure we understand the accurate definition of “spiritual growth.” It’s easy to think spiritual growth is only about increasing our understanding of Scripture, praying fervently for longer periods of time, and serving more effectively. These can certainly be some of the evidences and aids of spiritual growth, but I believe spiritual growth is much more. Spiritual growth (maturity) is living more and more like who we are in Christ, which is directly tied to the idea of our righteousness.
In Isaiah 61:3, God prophesied that the Messiah would fundamentally change who we are and that he would be glorified as a result. Look at what he says: “So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (NASB).
In this verse, God calls us oaks of righteousness. When an oak tree first pushes through the ground as a seedling, it is 100 percent an oak tree already. For the remainder of its life, it will simply grow more and more into the oak tree it already is. In the same way, God wants you to understand that you’re as righteous as you will ever be the moment you are saved. You and I will never be more righteous no matter how long we live. From that point until we die, however, we can grow more and more like who we already are as a righteous person in Christ.
That verse ends by saying that because God made us righteous, we can glorify him. The clear meaning is that because we are righteous in our identity in Christ, we can live like who we are. This is spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. This is what gives God glory.
What does giving God glory look like? It means we will think more and more like a righteous person. We will trust God in us more and more like a righteous person. We will act more and more like a righteous person. In other words, we will spiritually mature as a righteous person.
In contrast, one thing that can hinder spiritual growth is failing to believe we are righteous. Hebrews 5:13 says, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (NASB).
Our spiritual growth is compared to the growth of a person who by now should be a mature adult but is still an immature infant. Think about the picture being painted for us in this Scripture. If a three-month-old is drinking Mama’s milk, that is adorable. But if a thirteen-year-old is drinking Mama’s milk, that is weird! Yet many Christians are unaware that they are spiritually stunted and acting immature just like that thirteen-year-old.
Unless we have received very clear teaching that we are righteous and have embraced that truth by faith, it is impossible for us to fully mature in our spiritual lives. A spiritual ceiling we will never be able to break through looms over us until we are convinced we are righteous.
To be clear, this righteousness is our identity in Christ. It’s who we are in the core of our being. It’s who we are in our spirit. It’s the essence of who we are as children of God. It’s that oak of righteousness we are in Christ.
This Scripture is not saying we will live a perfectly righteous life. We will not. We will sin as long as we live on this earth. I will say, however, that in my many years of teaching these truths, I’ve watched numerous Christians progressively live a more righteous life. On the other hand, I’ve seen those who believe they are simply “sinners saved by grace” actually live a more sinful life. We truly do live our lives in a manner consistent with who we believe we are in our hearts.
Excerpt from God’s Best-Kept Secret. Copyright 2017 by Mark Maulding. Published by Baker, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.
For many of us, the attempt to live for God can leave us feeling burdened rather than free. Yet that’s not the kind of life God intends for us to experience. What if he never meant for us to try so hard? What if overcoming sin doesn’t rely on our own self-control? What if loving others isn’t about saying and doing all the right things? What if we could feel closer to God without doing anything?