Do you know that God has a goal for your life? Most people think the goal for their life is Heaven. But, Heaven is not the goal. Heaven is the reward. Heaven is the "Well done, my good and faithful servant" - let's-celebrate time! If Heaven were the goal, then as soon as God drew you into a relationship with Him, He would take you there. But, God has a goal for you. His goal for you is summed up in this, "For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29) That's it - God's goal for you is to look like His Son, Jesus!
Salvation happens in an instant as God draws you to Himself, you repent of your sins and you place your life in His hands, but sanctification takes a lifetime. Sanctification is, simply, discipleship - the process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Discipleship is more than merely information or behavior modification. Discipleship is life-transformation. Jesus wants to come in and transform every area of your life. He wants to grow you deeper in your faith and use you for His glory. So, how do you know if you are achieving God's goal for you?
After walking with many people on the path of discipleship at church, we have identified four markers of spiritual growth. These markers help you identify if you are maturing in your faith and looking more like Jesus.
Marker #1 - Identify with Christ. At this marker, you begin the journey. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him take up his cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23) The call is to follow Jesus. This means moving away from our own agenda and moving onto His agenda. This begins in salvation and continues in baptism. Baptism is an outward expression of our inward commitment to follow Christ. In baptism we identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Jesus was 30 years-old when He was baptized, and it was at the beginning of His ministry. Most people think that they should be baptized when they know more about Jesus and the Bible. Actually, baptism is at the beginning of the journey. It is a spiritual marker to express that you are following Christ wherever He leads. The Bible says, "Repent and be baptized," so baptism follows your salvation experience. Also found at this marker is joining a local church. It is one thing to "date" the church and still another to make a "commitment" to a local body of Christ-followers. Jesus loves His Church, and closely identifies her as "the bride of Christ." (Ephesians 5). Have you committed your life to Christ and been baptized? Are you a part of a local church body?
Marker #2 - Grow in Faith. At this marker, you join in a Small Group or Community Group. Spiritual growth happens in community. If you look at how Jesus did ministry, He engaged 12 guys - this is a Small Group. They studied the Word, did ministry and shared life together. Being a part of a Small Group is transformational. The Bible says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17) This is what separates Christianity from other major world religions. Many other religions focus on separating yourself from others and achieving a "higher state" through meditation and union with a "higher power." Christianity is about locking arms with other believers and growing in your faith together. There are times to be alone, but it is for a personal renewal - through solitude and meditation - and then you return to reengaging in community. Also found at this marker is a call to spiritual disciplines. Personal prayer and reading God's Word are the two essentials to spiritual growth. When you move from being a "spiritual child," to a "spiritual young man" to a "spiritual father" (1 John 2:12-14), you do this through feeding. A spiritual child must be fed by others, a spiritual young man or woman learns to feed themselves (through their personal time with the Lord and His Word) and spiritual fathers and mothers are ones who feed others. Now, you never stop growing and learning. In fact, there ought to be a hunger for more. Taking deeper discipleship classes and Bible Studies reflect our desire to learn and grow in our faith. What are you learning? How are you growing?
Marker #3 - Share the Mission. At this point in your spiritual growth, you develop a desire to serve. Just information is not a fully mature disciple; otherwise the Pharisees (the religious leaders of Jesus' day) would have been very mature, but Jesus' harshest words were for them. It is one thing to know what the Bible says and another thing to live it. Jesus said, "The Son of Man came not be to served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28) Serving is a mark of spiritual maturation. We live in a world that wants to make it all about "me." Serving is the antidote to this. When we serve, we move onto God's agenda and away from the world's. It is counter-cultural. Finding a place to serve at church as well as in our community reflects Jesus. Jesus got His hands dirty. If anyone could sit on a Throne and have everyone serve Him, it's Jesus. But instead, He came and washed feet - a task reserved for the lowest servant. Jesus saw needs and met them. He was in the middle of the need, not sitting on the outside and "supervising." Seeing needs and meeting them is what God calls us to do. Learning that interruptions in our day are opportunities for God to break into our schedule and for us to do ministry. Developing a life that is looking for opportunities to serve others. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Life's most important question is what are you doing for others?" If you think that only going to another Bible Study is the way you grow spiritually, then you are not maturing fully. Bible Studies are very important, but they should prepare us to live more like Jesus; not to simply sit and soak. "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22) Additionally, to a world of materialism and a culture of excess, the only antidote is giving. Giving is also a mark of spiritual growth. Not just building bigger houses, buying nicer cars and amassing more and more stuff in this world, but learning (and desiring) to give and invest in the things of God. Do you tithe? But, then do you desire to give even more to impact God's Kingdom? Do you realize it is all His? How are you serving others?
Marker #4 - Multiply Your Life. Jesus poured His life into His disciples and they, in turn, invested in others. This is how the Kingdom grows. The apostle Paul poured into Timothy, Titus, Silas and many others. Who are you investing your life in spiritually? Some people consider their faith as private. Not Christ-followers. In fact, a mark of spiritual maturity is feeding others. Pouring your life into others. Having spiritual conversations and making disciples. As any teacher will tell you, you learn and grow more when you teach then when you simply sit and listen. There is something about the prayer and preparation that goes into teaching and leading. There is also a higher standard. The Bible says that teachers will be judged more strictly. Why? Because of their influence and impact. When you move into this role as a spiritual leader, it is a higher calling. Whether you serve as a Small Group leader, a deacon, elder, overseer or in a ministry/church staff role, there is a higher call on your life. Your obedience, or disobedience, impacts more than just you. Parents especially feel this extra weight and responsibility. The same is true spiritually. Now, this is where you truly evaluate how all your actions line up - not just when you are teaching, but in every moment because you know little eyes are watching all the time. This calls you to keep growing and to constantly hold on to Jesus. You realize your desire is not to point people to you (how great you are), but to point people to Jesus (He is Sovereign and all they need). Then, the real fruit of your discipleship is not your spiritual children, but your spiritual grandchildren. Watching those you pour into then pouring into others and leading the next generation to Christ. Jesus had so much joy watching His disciples do ministry (Luke 10), and I know He has that same joy as He watches us pour our lives into others. Who are you pouring your life in to? If you are a parent, are you discipling your kids spiritually or simply spending all your time focused on homework and sports? How can you grow in your spiritual leadership?
Discipleship is all about Jesus - it is not about another person or about another study. Jesus is the "author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). God's call is for us to fix our eyes on Jesus and to follow Him every day. He has incredible plans for your life - better than your own! As we follow Him, we grow to be more like Him. His ways become our ways and His thoughts become our thoughts. Your life begins to be filled with peace, joy and purpose. Things of the world that formerly brought anxiety in your life begin to lose their power and you feel God's love filling you. Are you becoming more like Jesus? What "Next Steps" do you need to take as you follow Jesus? Where are you in your own faith journey and what do you need to do to grow deeper in your faith and to pour into the lives of others for Christ.
May we all keep pursuing Jesus until we reach "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13) It is truly the journey of a lifetime! Just know, I am praying for you and cheering you on as we pursue Christ together!
May our God richly bless you as you accomplish God's goal for your life and look more like Jesus!
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