Loren Seibold looks at what it means to be “born again” and how to continue the Christian growth.
I was there when Megan took her very first breath.
Megan is my niece. I (along with her father and her physician) was one of the first to see her enter our world: first, just the top of her tiny hairless head, followed by the rest of her pink (and, at that moment, rather slimy) little body. A few minutes later, she was wiped clean, wrapped in a blanket, and placed in my sister’s arms. We were thrilled to meet her in her entirety.
We’ve been just as delighted to see Megan grow, year by year. There are pictures on our mantelpiece of Megan as a newborn; then as a pudgy toddler; then starting school,
a third-grader with missing teeth; in middle school; and right up to the present when she’s a tall, confident
high-schooler. And our photo collection isn’t finished: I fully expect that a time will come when we’ll have pictures of Megan’s children on our mantelpiece.
Our pictures track Megan’s physical growth—changes in her face and form from one year to the next. That’s only one part of her growth, though. As she’s grown in stature,
her talents have developed, her personality has blossomed, and her intellect has expanded.
In short, Megan has grown in many dimensions. But as important as all the other types of growth is this one: She has grown into a dedicated, thoughtful Christian.
Just as living things have a beginning, so does each Christian. Jesus told Nicodemus that accepting him
is like being “born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus thought the idea preposterous, but as the conversation progressed, he came to see that Jesus was talking about a brand-new start, one so dramatic that it’s like a new life.
One who is born again realizes that the past is over—that today is the first day of the rest of life. He or
she sees the world through new, and different, eyes. Hope blooms where there was once despair. There’s a joy that is different from any other kind of joy, for it comes from the realization that having met Jesus, life will never be the same.
There are no special qualifications for physical birth; thousands enter the world every hour, through no choice of their own. Nor is it difficult to qualify for the new birth. You must only desire it.
When a jailer asked Paul and Silas, “ ‘What must I do
to be saved?’ ” their answer was simple: “ ‘Believe in the
Lord Jesus’ ” (Acts 16:30, 31). That’s all; and that’s enough to become a newborn Christian.
I’ve seen a number of people experience that new birth, and I can tell you that it is a miracle—as astonishing in its way as seeing a baby come from the womb of its mother.
Yet birth is not enough. Babies must grow. Seedlings become redwood trees, tadpoles grow into frogs, kittens become cats, baby giraffes stretch into fifteen-foot-tall adults, and newborn whales become giants of the deep. Any baby that doesn’t grow has poor prospects. And just so with “baby” Christians.
There’s no such thing as a perpetually newborn Christian. Unless you grow in Christ, you’re in spiritual decline.
The apostle Peter, whose own remarkable story of spiritual growth the Bible recounts in some detail, outlined spiritual growth like this: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Notice Peter’s two distinct parts of spiritual growth.
First, we may grow in grace. The word grace is a slightly ambiguous one; it may mean the poise and
smoothness of an accomplished dancer or athlete, but in this case it refers to qualities like kindness, generosity,
thoughtfulness, and forgiveness. In short, Peter says that Christian growth will be in the direction of becoming more like Jesus Christ in our words, actions, and choices. A good idea, don’t you think?
Second, Peter says we will grow in our knowledge of Jesus. If that new birth is real, we’ll long to read the
stories of Him, to know what He lived for, as well as what He died for. We will want to know how He asks us to live now, as well as what He has planned for this earth’s future.
I must warn you that either one or the other of these is still not enough. Knowledge alone is insufficient.
I once saw a class listed in the catalog of a secular college called The Bible as Literature. The professor made it clear that it was not a class in religion. It had only to do with analysis of the plots of Bible stories (which he regarded as myths) and the beauty of biblical language. Knowledge alone doesn’t create faith.
On the other hand, grace without knowledge is insufficient, too. Perhaps you’ve met a kind, thoughtful,
generous atheist. While I’d prefer him kind and good to unkind and hurtful, as a believer in the Bible, I must caution that his decency and integrity will not earn him eternal life, for “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
My friend Tom complained to me once, “I just can’t seem to grow a nice flower garden.”
“Have you put fertilizer on it?” I asked.
“Fertilizer?” he asked quizzically.
“Have you pulled the weeds? Removed the stones ? Planted your bulbs and seeds correctly?” I countered.
“I guess I have some work to do,” he said.
Growth, you see, is not automatic. Living things need care and nutrition to grow. And so do Christians. Let me suggest several ways that you can cultivate your spiritual growth.
One is a continuing connection to God through Bible study. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for
my path” said the psalmist (Psalm 119:105). If you’re on a journey to spiritual growth, God’s Word is the only map to rely upon.
Another is prayer. Human friendships can’t thrive without communication, and neither can Divine ones. In prayer, God and human beings speak to one another—and hear one another. One of the most profound facts in the entire universe is that the immortal, eternal, all-knowing
God listens to every word we say to Him! More, He anticipates our needs: “ ‘Before they call I will answer,’ ” He says. “ ‘While they are still speaking I will hear’ ” (Isaiah 65:24).
Equally important is fellowship with other growing Christians. I am a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a gathering of wonderful Christian people who have dedicated themselves to growing toward maturity in Christ.
Toward that end we encourage one another to practice specific Christian disciplines. In addition to Bible study and prayer, we gather for regular fellowship on Saturday, the Bible Sabbath. We share our means to assist the cause of Christ. We pay attention not only to our minds and spirits, but to our bodies, in order that we may be not just happy and holy but also healthy. In general, we Seventh-day Adventists hold one another to the standard of doing those things Jesus would do.
Some argue that they can be Christians without church. But the isolated Christian is handicapped. He misses out on a unique relationship God has established with believers gathered for worship: “ ‘ For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’ ” (Matthew 18:20), He promises.
Finally, growth in Christ requires standing against temptation. Believe me, there is a devil, and it is his studied desire to see us fail. I’ve known too many people delayed on their journey toward spiritual maturity by their choice to do something they knew they shouldn’t.
How can that happen to a growing Christian? Those who have experienced it say the problem begins in neglecting the very elements of spiritual growth we’re talking about
Asks the psalmist, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer: “By living according to your word. . . . I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin
against you” (Psalm 119:9, 11).
Fortunately, God has made provision for our failures. “If we confess our sins,” said John, “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And the result is that even sinners can claim forgiveness and inherit God’s gift of
“eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).