THE PRIMARY MEANS of growth God has given us is His Word. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:2 that “like newborn babies, [we should] crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Although Peter does not explicitly use a word for Scripture, five commentaries I researched all agree that “pure spiritual milk” is a metaphor for the Word of God. Just as a newborn baby is frequently hungry and cries to be fed, so we are to have a similar spiritual hunger for the Word of God that we may grow.
We saw in chapter 4 that spiritual growth is called transformation. Actually, the verb “transformed” is used only twice by Paul—in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Romans 12:2. In 2 Corinthians, the emphasis is on the Spirit as the agent of transformation. In Romans 12:2, the emphasis is on the renewing of one’s mind. Although the Word of God is not explicitly mentioned, it is implied as the instrument of transformation. We know the only way we can avoid conformity to the values of this world is consistent exposure to the Word of God, so that its teaching can continually influence and change our values and convictions.
So whether we think in terms of spiritual growth or spiritual transformation (two terms which actually mean the same thing), we see that the Word of God is the primary instrument that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives. This being true, it is vitally important that we have a firm conviction that the Scriptures in our Bible are indeed the very words of God to us.
THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
The Scriptures themselves frequently assert that they are the very words of God. The purpose of this book as an introductory study to Christian growth does not allow for a detailed investigation of these claims. However, examining two key texts will help us develop the conviction that the Bible is truly God’s Word to us.
The most familiar of these is 2 Timothy 3:16 which says that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” Or as the ESV translates it, “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” Due to the fact that the King James Version of the Bible, which was our primary English translation for 350 years, says “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” we have come to speak of this truth as “the inspiration of Scripture.” But we need to keep in mind that inspiration in that context is not the same as thinking, Today I received inspiration from a beautiful poem. Rather, the word refers to the fact that the Scriptures were indeed breathed out by God.
The second key text to help us is 2 Peter 1:21: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” We know all of Scripture was actually written by many men over a period of about 1,600 years. What Peter is telling us is that the Holy Spirit so moved upon and influenced the minds of these men as to render them the instruments of God for the infallible communication of His mind and will to us. This means that within the framework of each man’s vocabulary and writing style, the Holy Spirit so guided them that they chose exactly the words and not just the thoughts that He intended them to use.
RELIABILITY AND AUTHORITY
Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is both reliable and authoritative. By reliable, I mean we can trust the Bible to tell us all we need to know about God, about ourselves, and, most of all, about His plan of salvation for sinful human beings. By authoritative, I mean it expresses the will of God that we are to obey. This includes not only the moral will of God—how we should live our daily lives—but also the will of God concerning the message of salvation.
In Romans 1:5 (ESV), Paul speaks of our response to the gospel message as “the obedience of faith.” Trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior is an act of obedience to the revealed will of God just as much as loving our neighbor as ourselves.
THE INDICATIVE AND THE IMPERATIVE
Bible teachers often use two grammatical terms, indicative and imperative, and are fond of saying, “The imperative always follows the indicative.” They are not referring to the structure of English grammar but to the fact that what God requires of us (the imperatives) must follow the announcement of what God has done for us through Christ Jesus (the indicatives). Obviously, in the text of Scripture, indicatives and imperatives are often intermingled. So it is in our thinking that the indicative must always precede the imperative. Our response to God’s imperatives must always be built upon and grow out of what God has first done for us through Christ. Remember the “bookends” illustration in chapter 1. We cannot successfully put the books of God’s imperatives on the shelves of our lives without first putting the bookends of His indicatives in place.
I learned this the hard way. When I first began to grow as a Christian, I viewed the Bible as God’s rule book to guide my conduct. The indicative—the message of the gospel—was in my mind applicable only to unbelievers. I assumed as a believer I didn’t need the gospel anymore except to use it as a tool for evangelism.
But I found that I do need the gospel every day, even as one who has been a Christian for more than fifty years. One mark of a growing Christian is the increasing awareness of one’s sinfulness—not of the “big” sins, such as murder and sexual immorality, but of the “refined” sins of pride, a critical spirit, jealousy, resentment, selfishness, impatience, and an unforgiving spirit. All the imperatives in the world will not help me deal with those sins if I don’t embrace the indicatives of the gospel: Christ is my righteousness and hence the basis of my acceptance by the Father, and Christ is the source of the power I need for dealing with those sins.
So when I say the Word of God is the primary means of growth God has given us, I am not thinking only of His moral commands intended to direct our everyday lives. We need to grow as much in our understanding of the gospel as we do in understanding the moral will of God. We’ll explore this topic more in chapter 9, but I wanted to introduce it here because I want us to grasp the truth that the gospel is as important to our spiritual growth as are the moral commands of Scripture.
THE INTAKE AND INFLUENCE OF SCRIPTURE
If the Scriptures are the primary instrument of growth in our lives, how do we interact with them in such a way that they will be used by the Holy Spirit to help us grow? There are four ways we can bring ourselves under the life-changing influence of the Word of God.
The most common way is through the teaching of others. For most of us, that will be through the sermons of our pastors and perhaps the teaching we hear in a Sunday school class. In our day of mass communication, it may also include the tapes of messages from other speakers or radio and television teachers. The teaching of others also includes the reading of Christian books.
There are many examples of teachers in the Bible. Moses was not only the leader of the Israelites, he was also their teacher. Almost the entire book of Deuteronomy is an example of his teaching. The prophet Samuel was a teacher (see 1 Samuel 12:23). The writer of Ecclesiastes called himself “the Teacher” (Ecclesiastes 12:9–10). Paul, who was himself a teacher, wrote to Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). And, of course, Jesus was the Master Teacher.
As we submit our minds to the teaching of others, we want to determine as best we can that these teachers are qualified to teach, that they have been called and gifted by God and are intellectually and spiritually qualified. Another criteria we should establish before submitting our minds to someone else’s teaching is this: Do they teach the Bible? This is especially needful in the area of choosing books to read. Many Christian books today are not grounded solidly in the Bible but instead represent only the thinking of the author.
Therefore, whether we are listening or reading, we should follow the example of the Berean believers who “received [Paul’s] message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They were open to Paul’s teaching, but they were not gullible. A radio preacher with a silver tongue or a writer with a skillful pen can be quite persuasive. But that does not necessarily mean they are teaching the truths of the Bible. What we hear and what we read must be tested against Scripture. If you do not have the ability to do this yourself, it would be good to check out your favorite radio preacher or the latest book you are reading with your pastor or another Christian who has the necessary maturity and knowledge to guide you.
The second most common way of bringing our minds under the influence of Scripture is through a consistent Bible reading program. Reading the Bible for yourself brings you into direct contact with Scripture. While you may not get the insights into a passage which a gifted Bible teacher can give you, your own reading gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to impress upon your mind truths from Scripture that are particularly applicable to you at a certain time. In addition, through a regular Bible reading program, you can cover the entire Bible in a year or two and thus familiarize yourself with the whole scope of Scripture.
Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.