Who’s Responsible for Spiritual Growth – You, God or the Church?

Hope AgainPsychologists say one of the primary causes of arguing in households is the dispute over what is called “the division of labor.”  Which task belongs to which person? If the bed goes unmade, if the dishes go unwashed, if the diaper remains unchanged, who is responsible?

For many Christians there is complaining and confusion about the division of labor as it relates to spiritual growth.  Who is responsible for Spiritual Growth? Is it the individual? Is it the church? Or is it God?

There are 3 Approaches to Spiritual Growth, which one do you tend to be?

  1. Zap Me

Some Christians say it’s solely the job of God. They say, “If I do anything at all, if I make any effort to be holy its legalism. I’m living in the flesh.” They say human action is futile, doomed from the start.  They object to any call for extra effort or costly following by saying that human effort is opposed to grace. Some pastors will say anytime they speak of costly sacrifice, obedience, people will say, “we are about Grace, that costly stuff is legalism” They may be the name and claim it group, saying things like, “I just claim the fruit of the spirit!  I wake up in the morning and just claim joy!”  I don’t have to do anything but claim joy!”  That would be nice but it is just not the way things are set up, or I would just claim “breakfast!”  and zap!  Or “paycheck!  Zap!  No effort!

2. Rambo Christian

On the other hand, some Christians take a Marine approach to spiritual life, evaluating spiritual growth as a product of one’s effort alone.  “Run! Push! Cram, On your knees and give me 20 minutes of prayer!”  The church then becomes a place of contest to see who is the most holy, who has memorized the most Bible verses, who has witnessed to the most people, who has the most regular quiet time, who has prayed the most. People with this checklist mentality believe as long as they think if they’re doing these things they must be growing spiritually, even if love and joy aren’t present.  If its all up to me I better never relax I got to be doing something spiritual ALL the time, I’ll listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV wear Christian jewelry, wear Christian apparel and drink Christian coffee, phone service, Christian magazines, book clubs and list goes on!

3. Super Church

Then some think that their spiritual growth is all the church’s responsibility.  If they are not growing well then look no farther it’s the church’s fault! They will say things like “My church doesn’t have an adequate program for spiritual growth.”  “If I could find the right church, I could grow spiritually” “My small group leader is not very good, I could grow a lot spiritually if he had his act together!” “I am not being fed!”  Or very similar, they blame others: “My husband/wife doesn’t give me the spiritual leadership I need to grow spiritually.” I’ve told him over and over, start leading me now!” But he doesn’t lead the way I tell him to lead!  If I had a spiritually mature spouse I would grow spiritually.”  “My co-workers pull me down, if I had a job around other Christians I would grow spiritually.”  “I want to work for a Christian business or corporation.”

The truth is that spiritual growth is a process where you join God AND others.  It’s a “both/and.”

First, Paul puts the responsibility in our lap and says:

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation.  Philippians 2:12

work out your salvation”   What does that mean?

  • This is not saying that a Christian must do something to earn salvation.
  • The word translated “work out” was the same Greek term popularly used for “working a mine” or “working a field.”[i]
  • Our lives have tremendous potential, like a mine or a field “working out your salvation” is getting the most value from your salvation.

 Examples:  Our body & exercise

 One of our members, Jason Perez is a 4th degree Black Belt in Karate.  In visiting with him, I found that it is a fairly lengthy process of training. I asked, “How long does it take to get each belt?”  He explained to get a black belt, it would take at least four years of continued training and testing.

“So if I walked in and said, I want my black belt, how much do I have to pay, I have a busy schedule just give me a black belt! Would I get one?”    No! I would get a black eye. I have to follow the workouts listen to my instructor and work with my instructor?  Not just demand it.


An injury & the doctor

 My wife Niki is a Physical Therapist.  Sometimes they use the initials “PT.”  I joke with her that it stands for “pain and torture!”

If I were to hurt my knee, Niki says that I would first go to the doctor.  He would diagnose my injury and prescribe the proper treatment.  He would hand me a prescription to go the therapy.   Then when I go into see her, she would do an evaluation, then she would give me exercises for me to work out.

So far, everything has been done for me – the diagnosis, prescription, and the therapist. It now becomes my responsibility to follow the doctor’s orders and therapists as stated. By working out the process I enjoy the benefits of the physician and therapists’ contributions to my health. Now be honest, would it be like me to question Niki?  To think, “we’ll I’ve had some biology classes and P.E. why should I do therapy like you say?”  Yes! And If I survived that and continued in my foolish behavior and did not get any better, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on!

*In each of these cases we see that there is cooperation, there is a process to follow.  Some things are provided for us, and some things we have to work through. The same is true of spiritual growth.

Now the passage explains that it is also  “GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU

with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  Philippians 2:13


We see God has a part too.  We need to know that…

  • Spiritual Growth is a shared project between me and God
  • I have a role to play but I can’t control it.

 Confession, I’m a control freak and one of the toughest lessons in life and one of the toughest lessons spiritually is understanding what I can control and what I cannot control.

 There are some things I can control:  I can make a phone call, drive a car, run an errand.
There are some things I cannot control: I can do nothing about the weather – only God can change the weather.  Like Aggie Football, only God can help the Aggies!
There’s a third category. There are some things I have to cooperate with:  Think about going to sleep. You can’t make yourself go to sleep the way you can make a phone call. We tell our kids this all the time, “Go to sleep, but I can’t, they reply.”  There are things you can do to cooperate with sleep, “Go in a dark room, lay down on a soft mattress, soft pillow, put on one of my messages!  You’ll be right to sleep in no time!

Spiritual Growth is like the difference between a motorboat a sailboat.  In a motorboat I’m in control. I start the engine, control the speed, and go wherever I want.  Do you prefer a motorboat to a sailboat?  I like to be in control, so I prefer a motorboat.

Sailing is different.  Do you prefer sailing?  I’ve only been sailing a few times, and I’m sailing, I’m not passive, I have a role to play – I hoist the sails and steer with the rudder – but I am dependent on the wind. There’s no room for believing I’m in control, because if the wind doesn’t blow, I’m not going far, just drifting! When the wind blows, on the other hand, amazing things can happen.

In John 3 Jesus compared the work of the Spirit to work of the wind.  It’s free and powerful, way beyond our control. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit, through whose life the winds of God are blowing.  The challenge to us is to hoist the sails, grab hold of the rudder and let the wind of the spirit mold and shape and direct our lives. My question to you is…

Am I cooperating with God and the church for maximum spiritual growth?

Many times we are not cooperating with what God is doing. We are not willing to cooperate; we think we can call the shots.  As a church we offer opportunities for people to grow spiritually but these opportunities often stay on the table and are not incorporated or ingested into the lives of those who attend.

Each semester we have a catalog full of GROWTH GROUPS with bible studies, book studies, men’s, women’s and youth groups, financial groups, marriage groups and parenting groups.  We have memory verses and discussion questions each week.  We have this blog. We have Our Daily Breads and bibles for free at the Ridge.

There so many devotions and bible readings that can be delivered to our phones daily. We have these choices every day, every week, every month but some leave them on the table and do not dig in.   In our Growth Groups, we have fellowship opportunities, serving opportunities, worship opportunities and mission opportunities but they are left untouched by many.  Its like food that is being eaten, the ones who are incorporating them into their lives will tell you, “I am growing!”

I pray you will take advantage of the growth opportunities that are around you.




[i] Charles Swindoll, Laugh Again: Experience Outrageous Joy. (Dallas: Word, 1991),97

About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
This entry was posted in Hope Again - Philippians and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who’s Responsible for Spiritual Growth – You, God or the Church?

  1. Jocelyne says:

    This is a useful and excellent share. Will definitely share it with people I know.

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