The Foundation for Spiritual Growth
How do you perceive God? What is the impetus for your spiritual growth?
Unlike other spiritual paths, “Christianity [offers] a direct, personal, love relationship with the Creator God” (Keller et al., 2017). Throughout the scriptures, God’s love transformed the lives of the great men and women of faith. The Protestant reformers were drawn to the depth of God’s love and grace and the gift of his only son. However, today, some religious adherents believe the letter of the law (works) is more important than the spirit of the law (love). Jesus subverted this false belief long ago with his sacrificial love. He also gave two great commandments which show love to be the foundation for spirituality in Matthew 22:37-39:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
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As believers, we are called to an intimate relationship with God. He wants us to love him with all our hearts, soul, and mind. And as God transforms us, we love others as ourselves. In the ten commandments, this spirit of love is clearly reflected. The first four commandments teach us how to love God and the remaining six show us how to love each other. Love is the foundation for Christian spiritual growth.
Biblical accounts reveal women’s extraordinary love for Christ and we can learn a lot from them, too. In addition to the twelve disciples, Christ had women followers who he respected and cherished. Women who deeply loved Jesus courageously came to his Crucifixion. A woman was the first to see the risen Christ. One woman washed his feet with her tears and dried his feet with her hair. It has been said, you can always tell how close a religion is to God by the way they treat women. Perhaps, we should add other oppressed groups, too. The oppression of women is pronounced in some religious groups. For example in one Christian community when a couple divorces or separates, the woman is ostracized but the man maintains his position or status. Double standards that are not biblically validated always impede spiritual growth in a community of faith.
Perception of God
Our perception of God greatly impacts our spirituality and the way we relate to others. The Bible describes God as love. Consequently, even God’s justice is love. However, there are false perceptions of God. Those who see him as loving tend to be driven by grace and forgiveness when relating to others. Individuals who view God as primarily punitive or harsh usually react to their own and others’ moral failures in the same way. They may become self appointed enforcers of justice in religious communities. The Medieval spiritual discipline of mortifying the flesh with a small scourge whip reflects a perception of an extremely harsh god. That view of God is grounded in a works-based spirituality. Several examples in the Bible show us that under-girding an arrogant facade of moral rectitude is a multitude of sins. So, when people embrace a false perception of God who are they worshiping? Those who embrace the view of God as anything other than love, be assured Christ will one day say, “ I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-22).
As we grow to love God, he develops the fruit of the spirit inside us. Like a fig tree, we have to be pruned and nurtured to maturity. Fig tree farmers cut back branches to allow the tree to put more energy into producing larger and sweeter fruit the following year. Sometimes we are impatient with our spiritual growth. But when we surrender our will to God we have to trust him to do the work. God’s timing is perfect in the ripening of our fruit. He knows how to conform us to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29) even though our spiritual journeys may differ. The twelve disciples did not undergo an instantaneous spiritual transformation. Yet, in some Christian communities, there exists social pressure for adherents to self-create an image of uprightness. This is a works-based approach to spiritual growth instead of a faith-based approach and it always fails.
In Conclusion, a deep abiding love must be the foundation of our relationship with God and others. Love is a choice but God perfects our love. Also, when we form a love relationship with God, we must walk by faith. We trust his promises and believe he only wants what is best for us. As we drink from the well of his wisdom and knowledge, we are emboldened in truth. Christ is formed in true believers (Galatians 4:19).
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2004). New York: American Bible Society.
Keller, T., (MDiv, T., Ramsey, R., Oshman, J., Walker, A., Lanier, G., . . . Medders, J. (2017, January 06). What we need to learn from the early church. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-we-need-to-learn-from-early-church/