One of the memories from my upbringing happened in the mission field. One day my parents suggested that to measure our growth rate we mark our height on one of the doorposts of our home. Being the oldest, I was the tallest of the four children. My siblings became a bit jealous of that fact, and determined to increase their food intake so they might grow faster and reach and surpass their older brother in stature. An interesting contest started.
I would like to suggest that we all set up the goal of growing in Christ, becoming like Him. I am not saying to grow in the commandments. Or grow in the doctrines. Or grow in the church. Without reducing the importance of those areas, our biggest need is to grow in our oldest Brother, Jesus Christ.
We Can’t Be Static
If Christ reigns within (Rom. 8:9), then we live in a process of change. “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Cor. 4:16, RSV).* “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). Christ, our supreme example, sets the tone for us. The Bible says that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Almost everything in nature changes. Everything that is alive grows. If there is no growth, certain death is the outcome. Physically, when we are born we are supposed to grow. If there is no growth, we die. The same happens in the Christian experience. When we are born again, we are supposed to grow. It involves constant change. There is no neutral ground. If there is no growth, spiritual death is certain.
To be without Christ cuts us off from the source of life and change, and makes our ultimate destruction inevitable. Salvation is not a one-time experience, something that happens only by accepting Christ. It is not something that occurs once and is done. It involves, rather, a process, a growing in Christ (Heb. 5:11-14). It is a process that includes justification and also sanctification, a purification that ends in redemption.
Rachel was an attractive young member of one of my churches, the daughter of one of the church elders. She was a real problem in the church, among other things, dressing in an extremely provocative way—short skirts, low neck lines. Her parents, members, pastors—all talked with her to no avail. Her situation was brought before the church board.
I approached her, using all my persuasion skills as a young pastor fresh from theological training. Nothing happened.
Suddenly we all noticed that her way of dressing and other external details changed. Surprised as everyone else I talked with her one day expecting to hear that it was one of my “powerful” sermons that did it. But her answer was very simple. She had fallen in love with a young member of a very strict religious group. She loved him so much, and knowing that he could not approve of the way she looked, she started to dress and arrange herself differently. He had never brought up the matter with her. Her love for him produced the transformation that all the talks and sermons could not do.
Miracles of transformation occur when we really fall in love with Jesus. We start growing in Him. The sanctification process begins in full—a dynamic, progressive experience. Eventually we become fully developed, full-grown Christians.
“Two thousand years ago an aged preacher penned in three words one of the most sublime truths of the ages. Those three words sum up … [what Christian life is all about]. The preacher was the apostle Paul; his message—as truly for us today as for the church at Colosse—declares, ‘Christ is all’ (Col. 3:11)…. If you and I ever walk the streets of gold … , it will be because we have found the one way in this life—the Jesus way—and followed it…. ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12, KJV)” (Robert Pierson, We Still Believe, pp. 49, 50). This is the touchstone of the great Christ-centered Advent message, salvation in Christ.
As a theology student in 1967, and as part of my practicum, I was assisting one of our church’s great preachers in an evangelistic series. Aside from the visiting and giving Bible studies, I was assigned in the evenings to be at the main entrance of the huge theater to welcome the visitors.
Growing in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb. 10:25.)One evening a young woman entered and handed me a piece of paper, saying that she needed to talk with the person whose name was on it. When I told her I was the person whose name was on the paper, she started to cry and cry. After a while, embarrassed because people were coming in and wondering what was going on, I took her to the nearby palm-lined boulevard with seats in the center. Her crying continued, her eyes like waterfalls, her tears flowing like a torrent. I watched that beautiful young face distorted by anguish.
After what seemed like an eternity, she composed herself and started to share her story. Alice (not her real name) had grown up in an abusive home. As a teenager she fell deeply in love. Soon the young man started to ask her for what he called “proof of love,” and they had sexual relations. But he was just using her to satisfy his passions, and soon discarded her.
After that she met another boy. Vulnerable as she was, again things ended up in sex, and after a while that boy also left her. A third person then entered into her life. She felt that this love was pure and sincere. But the story repeated itself and this time, to make matters worse, she discovered she was pregnant.
The third boyfriend, hearing about it, disappeared, leaving her on her own. Fearing her dad and following bad counsel she had an abortion.
So at the tender age of 17, here she was with me that May evening, seated on that boulevard, feeling rejected by everyone; guilty—because she believed she had killed an incipient life, her own baby. She felt abandoned by her parents and boyfriends, alone, desperate, not knowing what to do.
How God Works
It was a neighbor of hers, to whom I’d been giving Bible studies, who, after noticing she’d become suicidal, wrote my name on that piece of paper that evening, hoping we could help her. As she cried, I was asking the Lord how to help her.
Suddenly she stood up and started to shout, “I am lost! I am lost! There is no hope for me! I will throw myself in the way of the first bus that comes. I am lost!”
When, finally, she calmed down, I read to her the story of the adulterous woman and how Jesus forgave her and said: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). Slowly peace came to that heart. We prayed together, and I gave her a copy of Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White, recommending especially the chapter on forgiveness.
Years later I returned to that same big city and went to visit the modern building purchased as an evangelistic center after the successful evangelistic effort had ended. And who was there as the receptionist of the center? Alice! An intensely spiritual, clearly happy woman, totally at peace with herself.
She surely had grown in Christ! And that growth experience should be yours and mine, as well.
*Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Victor A. Schulz is an international evangelist residing in Alberta, Canada.