The purpose of this temporary human life is to seek and prepare for life after death in God's eternal Kingdom (John 3:15-16). If you haven't already, God wants you to make this the number-one goal of your life (Luke 12:31). So use your understanding of His spiritual tools and get started toward that goal! Or maybe you started but got discouraged or sidetracked, or relapsed into old habits. Read on, and we'll show you how to enjoy solid, steady progress.
Physical life is evidenced by ongoing growth and development, and so is spiritual life. We must always be learning, changing, overcoming and serving to become more and more like Jesus Christ. For those spiritually dead or asleep, God's Word says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and . . . [make] the most of the time" (Ephesians 5:14-16, Revised Standard Version).
Don't feel overwhelmed. God doesn't expect giant leaps. What He is looking for is that our steps, no matter how small, are going forward and not backward. Don't dwell on past mistakes or future worries. Focus on what you need to do today and thank God for each bit of progress (Philippians 3:12-14; Matthew 6:33-34).
When we are first "baptized into Christ," we are as "babes in Christ" (Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 3:1). But we must not remain as spiritual babies. "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2, emphasis added throughout).
Christ didn't say that following Him and thereby entering the Kingdom would be easy. He compared it to squeezing through a narrow gate, saying that few in this age would be able to do so (Luke 13:24). But what is most valuable deserves the highest price. Jesus compared God's Kingdom to a treasure and a "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:44-46). God's Kingdom is worth any and every possible sacrifice (Luke 14:33).
God doesn't expect us to rely on our own human strength. He does expect us to work diligently as if success all depends on ourselves, but to pray regularly and earnestly, knowing that success will depend primarily and ultimately on Him (Philippians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:15; Proverbs 3:5-6).
Spiritual tools and weapons
Paul compared God's "tools" or strategies for entering the Kingdom with armor and weapons, because anyone trying to be a follower of Christ is automatically involved in spiritual warfare with our archenemy, Satan the devil (Luke 10:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:3).
We are not defenseless if we are courageous and use God's equipment. "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:11, New International Version). The next few verses list God's protective armor.
Verse 17 defines the primary offensive weapon—"the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"—which means our need to study, understand and live by God's Word, the Bible. This is linked in the next verse with prayer.
God's weapons and armor are mighty (2 Corinthians 10:4). The question is: Will we put on the armor and will we wield the weapons?
And will we use the spiritual tools that were explained in the previous articles in this series?
To recap the main points of this series, make your goal to pray and read your Bible, as well as meditate, every day. Just as we begin to feel weak when we miss meals, we begin to weaken spiritually when we miss a day of spiritual nourishment.
We need to fast occasionally for the reasons explained in the article on fasting. We need to sincerely repent toward God every time we realize we have been guilty of a sin. To receive God's forgiveness and to come under His grace, we need to be baptized (Acts 2:38). Then we can receive the gift of His Holy Spirit, which puts us into the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Then we need to be actively involved in the Church the rest of our lives—for the many benefits we receive and for the opportunities to serve God by serving His people.
We must grow to maturity
We mustn't let up, but must keep growing! In Ephesians 4, Paul beautifully explains the purpose of God's Church and its leaders: "To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity . . . and become mature . . . Then we will no longer be infants . . . Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (verses 11-15, NIV).
Perhaps the best definition of spiritual maturity is the godly love described in "the love chapter," 1 Corinthians 13.
Kindle or rekindle your zeal
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he had reason to believe that Timothy's zeal was cooling off, like a campfire starting to die out. Paul wrote, "Therefore I remind you to stir upthe gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). If your fire is dying, stir it up and fan it into flames!
When the author of the book of Hebrews, apparently Paul, wrote to the Jewish Christians who had been in God's Church for many years, he knew that many of them had quit growing and had "become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11). He said they were so immature spiritually that they still needed "milk, not solid food" (verse 12, RSV). He said, "Let us . . . go on to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1, RSV).
Finish the race
Paul compared the life of a believer with a race to win a valuable reward: "Run in such a way that you may obtain it [eternal life]" (1 Corinthians 9:24). He said, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me" (Acts 20:24, NIV).
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."
It's not enough to train for a big race. It's not enough to start a race. What really counts is crossing the finish line. Ultimately, the only thing in this life that matters is crossing from mortal life to immortal life.
When Paul knew his "departure" was near, as he would soon be executed, he said: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NIV).
Let's hope we can say the same thing at the end of our lives. We can if we use God's tools for spiritual growth, are faithful to Him and keep growing! GN