Joy through Spiritual Growth (Phil. 2:12-13)

Who is responsible for Spiritual Growth? Is it the individual? Is it the church? Or is it God?

3 Approaches to Spiritual Growth:

  1. Zap Me

Some Christians think spiritual growth is 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 lament,  “Anytime I speak of costly sacrifice and obedience.   People will respond, “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!

  1. Bootcamp 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 it’s 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 subscribe to Christian tv service, 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 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 “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

work out your salvation

  • 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.


Our body & exercise: 

I have a friend who is a black belt in Karate and taught classes at a dojo.  I once asked him for fun:

“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?

He said, “You would get a black eye, not a black belt!”

He has told me about some very tough exercises, training, tests and sparring that he had to do.

So for me to get a black belt I have to follow these 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, often referred to as PT, we joke that her initials PT stand for Pain and Torture.

If I were to hurt my knee, would have to go see Niki for more pain and torture?

No first I would go to the doctor.  He would diagnose my injury and prescribe the proper treatment. He would hand me a prescription to come see Niki.

Then I would come see Niki and she would give me exercises, treatment and usually exercises for home, a home workout.   

Notice that 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 as stated. By working out the process I enjoy the benefits of the physician and therapists’ contributions to my health. What if I questioned Niki?  To think, “we’ll I’ve had some biology classes and P.E. why should I do therapy like you say?”  If I survived her anger, and continued in my foolish behavior and did not get any better because I was not cooperating. I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on ignoring the doctor and ignoring her.

Music & the Worship Leader:

 As a church we do music each week with various instruments and vocalists.  They practice and rehearse most of the week and then meet on Wednesday’s and again before the service to go over what they have rehearsed together.  When a song is chosen, they refer to the notes, chords and the music.

One of leaders explained it to me this way:

We play the notes we know… look up the notes we don’t, practice the timing and flow, etc…

I’ve asked, “Are some songs pretty hard to learn?

They said, “Oh yeah, but we stay at it and by working through this process the song is eventually performed and hopefully is a benefit to listen to.”

If they do not practice or if they change the notes of the song and it doesn’t sound right, is it the fault of the one who wrote the song?  That would be the easy excuse but not the truth.

 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.


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.

 *Let’s talk about control, we are control freaks and one of the toughest lessons in life, one of the toughest lessons spiritually is 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 or run an errand.

There are some things I cannot control

But some things I can do nothing about. Like 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!

Think about the differences between a motorboat and 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 prefer the motorboat.  I like to be in control. It seems faster and easier than having to cooperate.

Sailing is different.   Do you prefer sailing?  When 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 or am I complaining?

 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.

Some may say, “I am not being fed!” It’s humorous how we complain and say we are not being fed when there is a table of food before us or a catalogue full of groups to attend.  We have memory verses, discussion questions, each week in our program.  We have free Our Daily Bread devotionals and free bibles.  We invite people to read along with each Bible book in The You Version app.  There so many devotions and bible readings that can be delivered to our phones. We have these choices every day, every week, every month and we leave them on the table and do not dig in.   In our Groups, we have fellowship opportunities, serving opportunities, worship opportunities and mission opportunities but they are left untouched by many. It’s like food that is not being eaten, the ones who are incorporating them into their lives will tell you, “I am growing.”  Those who leave the opportunities on the table often revert to complaining.

Complaining, that’s the topic of another post.

Please understand your part and God’s part in spiritual growth.  Joy will follow.



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

About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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