“…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.”Colossians 2:2
A couple weeks ago I had one last meeting with a guy I’ve been meeting with almost weekly through ATLAS for the past few years. During that meeting he said, “I really thought I’d be further along in my walk with God than I am.”
I know the feeling.
Sometimes Christians can get discouraged when we focus on how far we have yet to go to become like Jesus. We get frustrated and impatient with our sin. The irony is the more we grow in Christ, the more we realize how much further we have yet to go.
We have marks on one of the door frames in our house that has tracked our daughters” growth over the past nine years. The thing is I haven’t really noticed their growth from one day to the next. But it becomes very clear that they have grown (a lot) when we stand them back up against the door frame (or stand them next to Mom) and see how far they’ve grown since last year.
Like standing my daughters up against our door frame, sometimes we need to stop and take measure of how much we have grown in Christ since he brought us to faith, not to celebrate ourselves but to celebrate God’s faithful, patient work in us.
For Christians, growing in Christlikeness can be a confusing thing. We’re fickle and impatient creatures, so the idea of long, slow, steady, faithful growth doesn’t sound that appealing to us. We often want our discipleship like we want our diets. Fast and easy. We want the “quick fix” with low effort and high reward.
Six Truths About Growing In Christ
Paul’s call to the church in Colossae was not a quick fix. He called them to keep maturing, keep faithfully obeying and growing in Christ day by day and to not get distracted or deceived by the empty promises of outward religious works.
In chapter two of Colossians, Paul shares at least six truths that help us rightly understand growing in Christ.
God Makes Growth Possible
Dead things don’t grow. Obviously this is true physically. A branch that breaks off from a tree stops growing.
But it is just as true spiritually. We can’t grow spiritually if we are spiritually dead. No one can grow in Christ without God first making them alive.
And that’s exactly what God has done for those who believe. God makes growth even possible by first bringing us to life.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
God moves first to regenerate – make alive – our dead hearts. Then we’re able to respond in faith to the gospel. Then we can grow in love for God and love for our neighbor.
But he first makes us alive in Christ.
God Gives Us The End Upfront
After God makes us alive and we respond in faith and believe the gospel, God then gives us upfront what he will work to form in us over the rest of our lives – he declares us righteous. He declares us holy. All of Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience is now credited to us. I call this “gifted righteousness” because Christ’s righteousness is given to us as a gift. We didn’t do anything to deserve it.
But while God gifts us with Christ’s righteousness, he then also helps us with our “gradual righteousness.” He helps Christians become what he has already declared them to be. He gradually aligns our actual righteousness to match our “gifted righteousness.”
In Colossians 2:18, Paul writes, “Let no one disqualify you” by bowing to their insistence that you follow their worldly way of thinking and living. This is because in Colossians 1:12, Paul told them that it was “the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of saints in light.” Our inheritance, our right-relationship with God himself is possible because God made it so! He qualified us to be with him for eternity by punishing Christ in our place and granting us Christ’s righteousness.
So the motivation of our growth then isn’t to earn anything. The highest reward is already ours! We’re not trying to grow ourselves so we can earn something from God. We’re now learning to live out the identity God has given us when we believe in Jesus, which is his children! We get to grow and change to become like Jesus because that’s what he has destined to do in our lives. (Romans 8:29)
If You’re Alive In Christ, God Calls You To Live Like It!
Since you’ve been made alive, since you now believe, since we have God’s “gift righteousness,” Paul calls the church to now then walk in Christ.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)
Our gift righteousness now fuels our gradual righteousness. Because Christ is ours, his love for us will fuel our love, joy, and obedience in him. Since we’re alive in Christ, we should live like it!
Chapter three of Colossians then goes into more detail about how we can faithfully walk in Christ.
God Causes The Growth
As our gradual righteousness inches closer to aligning with our gifted righteousness, one truth Paul reminds us of is that the growth we experience is from God himself.
Paul writes, “the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19)
He taught this to the church in Corinth too. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
Since God is the one who gives the growth, our response should be faithful obedience to the means of grace God uses in our lives. Our response should also be patience, especially as we work to help others grow in Christ.
God Grows Us In Community
But as God grows us, one thing we need to understand is that growing in Christ is always growing in community with others. Paul makes this point in Colossians 2 when he talks about how the whole body grows by holding fast to the Head, Jesus Christ.
“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19)
Yes, there are aspects of the Christian faith that are done individually, such as a believer’s private devotional time. But Christian growth never exclusively happens alone apart from God’s church. God knits us together as his church because God has said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
We are hard-wired for community. Christ-centered community is fertile soil for our souls to thrive and grow.
So You can’t grow yourself (God causes the growth). And you also can’t grow yourself (you need the church).
God Grows Us From The Inside Out
Finally, Paul makes clear that as we grow in Christ, our own outward religious works are of no value in defeating sin. We can’t change ourselves from the outside in. God grows us and changes us from the inside out.
Talking about religious regulations, Paul writes that even though they “have indeed an appearance of wisdom” they actually “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)
Trying to do religious things in order to earn favor with God will accomplish nothing. Likewise, relying on religious works as a way to kill sin in your life will profit you nothing.
“For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:10-14)
Outward religion is no help for our inward sin. God’s grace is what we need to be able to kill sin in our lives and grow into Christlikeness.
Stand Mature In Christ
Paul worked diligently to “present everyone mature in Christ” and his co-laborer Epaphras prayed that they “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 1:28, 4:12)
My prayer for you too is that you would continue growing up to maturity in Christ. I pray you understand that the slow, steady, faithful walk of following Jesus day after day is worth it. Don’t be deceived by the lies of this world or distracted by the things of this world. Don’t give up. Press on.
For those who believe in Jesus, we have this promise:
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)