19 October 2006

Is spiritual growth automatic?

by Dan Phillips

Continuing in my series on Things I Know Nothing AboutTM....

No, seriously; I was praising God this morning for an area of small growth—which, yes, is the only sorts of areas of which I'm ever aware—and it brought on this reflection.

My mind went to a jarring image. I thought of a stillborn child. You see the child, lifeless. You could will it alive, you could plead with it to live, you could order it to live. Your efforts would be fruitless. Nothing in your power will make that child live.

How do you know it is not alive, without the benefit of a medical degree? It doesn't cry. I'm sure parents over the globe will agree with me that your child's first cry is one of the most wonderful sounds you've ever heard in your lives. It isn't that you love the sound of crying; it is that this is how you know your child is alive, and doing what living babies do: they cry. They wiggle. They struggle. They demand food. They're alive.

There is a parallel in the Christian life. If none of those activities has its answering spiritual image, life is unlikely. Newborn babies do not need to be reasoned with to have an appetite. They don't need to be told to express their needs in the best way they know. They don't need to see a Powerpoint presentation on moving and wiggling.

Now, I imagine one portion of my readership, at this point, is thinking that I am going to say that Christian spiritual life is like that. At the same time I imagine another portion, perhaps of equal size, who thinks I'll say it isn't. And—drumroll—you're both right!

It is like the newborn in that we don't give ourselves life. God makes us alive by sovereign grace alone (Ephesians 2:1ff.). In our re-creation, our regeneration, we become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). We're declared perfectly righteous through faith, as a gift (Romans 3:24; 5:1). We're blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3ff.). We're baptized with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), gifted (1 Corinthians 12:11), filled full in Christ (Colossians 2:10). We die to sin, and are alive to God (Romans 6).

In sum, we're given all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No crises are necessary, forehead-slaps, second-blessings, upgrades, nor reboots are necessary to the essential equipment we need for Christian living: it's all there, original factory equipment.

Now comes the all-important But.

But first, a word from our false teachers. Various forms of false teaching come in here and preach that the rest is pretty much on auto-pilot, or should be. The Lord saved me from a New Age-type cult; early in my Christian life, I came on higher-life type books that seemed eerily similar to what I'd just been saved from. They held forth a vision of abiding in Christ so that I would be the glove, and He the hand. He would live His life through me—in my stead. I've heard various other forms since; they're still popular.

One man ended up fleeing my church, because he didn't like all the "law" he kept hearing. (He hadn't heard that all us dispensationalists are supposed be antinomian—or maybe he thought I wasn't a very good one.)

In one conversation he, influenced by a popular writer, told me that Christ lives his life through him, and commandments are not necessary.

Trying to be pointed, as always, I asked, "So, if you found yourself tempted to cheat on your wife, you wouldn't just remember the commands 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' or 'Flee fornication,' and get the heck out of there?"

"No," he said, "the flow of the life of Christ just wouldn't lead me in that direction."

Uh-huh.

So here's the problem with that line of thinking. It's a ruinous lie.

As I pointed out to him (to no avail), the New Testament is chock-full of commands, and not one of them is addressed to the Holy Spirit.

Here's the disconnect with my baby analogy. You don't have to reason with a healthy, living child to do those things. But you do with Christians.

You don't have to tell a newborn to have an appetite, or to grow. But evidently God thinks He does have to tell us, "like newborn babies," to "long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). He thinks He has to command us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14). He thinks we need to be told to "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18).

God doesn't trust us to intuit from the "flow" of the blah-blah-blah that we must, we have to, we need to "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11).

And I broken-record you again: not one of these commands is addressed either ot the Lord Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit. You won't find one syllable such as "Holy Spirit, hold off from fleshly lusts for this passive little sock-puppet," or "Jesus, love God with all of each believer's heart, soul, mind and strength instead of him." God addresses us. He gives what He commands, and then commands what He will—but He does command. And He commands us.

Perhaps you have a different plan for growth. If you do, it's wrong.

Is spiritual growth inevitable? For a Christian, yes. Where there's life, there's growth. Where there's literally no growth, life is at best undetected.

But automatic? No way.

Dan Phillips's signature



38 comments:

Joe L. said...

Nice butter tub graphic, it's a keeper. LOL

DJP said...

As with most clever graphics and (I believe) all Pyro graphics, credit goes to Phil.

centuri0n said...

First of all, that hurts, Dan.

But seriously: I am so mad at you for using the butter tub before I did.

DJP said...

I love the sound of the other shoe dropping.

Paul E said...

Good post Dan. I was reflecting this morning on how blessed it is to understand that at conversion, I was infused with sovereign divine grace and life, causing me to worship in repentance and faith. That same infusion of sovereign grace and life is that by which I (Paul E.) can physically consciously conduct my life in obedience to all the imperative tense verbs in the NT. Praise Him!

Craver VII said...

Yes that butter tub was fantastic. (Also, I could see "butter tub" being a wife's pet name for her slightly chubby husband, so I will not let Mrs. Craver read this post.)

djp, did you roll the "r" and bounce up on your toes when you said, "It's a ruinous lie."? I could totally picture that.

...Inevitable growth, but not automatic. I hear you, Bro.

Lee Shelton said...

Another great post, Dan. Are you sure you're dispensationalist? ;)

DJP said...

(Checks chart.)

Yep.

(c;

Ephemeral Mortal said...

Great post Dan. Very timely for me as i've just completed reading Only One Baptism of the Holy Spirit by Dr. Peter Masters, which deals with this very thing. Great stuff.

Lindon said...

Dan writes: Is spiritual growth inevitable? For a Christian, yes. Where there's life, there's growth. Where there's literally no growth, life is at best undetected."

Would joining the church basketball league count as growth?

Just kidding...but I, unfortuantly know some who think 'Christian' activites = growth.

Wow, I had not thought I would run into another dispensationalist on pyro!

Bike Bubba said...

Now lads, that's a margarine tub. Butter never comes in that kind of pot. :^)

(which actually makes the metaphor better...good work, Centurion! But don't your wives ever buy you the good stuff?)

In the same way, the metaphor of childhood and Christian growth seems to resolve how we both automatically grow, and yet need to be admonished to grow, no? I realize that we can take an analogy too far, but I don't think it's wrong to point out that babies naturally eat; kids need to be told to eat their hamburger before drinking all of their Coke.

Dave Marriott said...

Very timely post in my own life. Although our glorification is inevitable if we are in Christ, we are still responsible to carry out the imperatives of scripture. This Christ-life stuff sounds great, the only problem is that it isn't true and doesn't work. When it comes down to it, I have to decide to obey.

cheers for dispensationalism...you claim the title (as do I). You mention the commandments as being applicable to daily life. I agree with you. On what basis do you hold this? Because of its restatement in the NT? Because it is God's moral law and transcends the dispensations? Another reason?

DJP said...

In a word, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21.

There are other words, though.

(c;

Kymanika said...

I liked that, thanks. For to long I thought such things were automatic. No wonder I found struggling with sin so unbearable that I quite trying and damaged my own growth and blessing for to long.

That hit home, thanks.

Libbie said...

*Gives a 'yay! for the Peter Masters book mentioned*

Although I do feel odd 'yaying' for such a sober man. But I always cheer his sermons. Dh has made me promise not to do it should I ever hear him in the flesh.

donsands said...

Great balanced study. Thanks.

Here's a couple quotes from Luther's commentary on Romans.

"The Law gives occasion to sin unless there is the assistance of divine grace, and the heart, mind and will are divinely directed toward keeping the Law." -Luther

"The Law was given, in order that we might seek after grace. Grace was given, in order that we might fulfill the Law." -Augustine

"We are delivered from the Law in the sense that by faith in Christ we obey the Law, and by grace freely and willingly do what the Law demands of us. ... Though we often sin and are not perfectly willing, we have made a begining and move forward" -Luther

DJP said...

Antonio, the problem you have with Pyro is the same problem you seem to have with the Bible.

You just don't read and follow the rules.

To be fair, I deleted the posts responding to Antonio's spam.

Antonio said...

I have an on-topic comment to this post. In order to keep this comment thread clear from controversy, I have posted the comment on my blog which can be accessed through my profile.

Respectfully,

Antonio da Rosa

Phil Johnson said...

Antonio:

For the record, I did not delete your "comment," but I don't blame Dan for deleting it. A message on someone else's blog that prints out to a length of more than 3 pages is not an appropriate "comment." It's spam. It's an attempt to commandeer someone else's forum.

You do this all the time, even though you already have your own blog. Why not post the long, tedious replies to others there, and then include a link in your comments on blogs you are supposedly "commenting" on.

This problem has been pointed out to you repeatedly, and not just here. I'm not sure why you persist in doing what you have been asked not to do.

As a matter of fact, there seems to be a concerted effort to flout the blogrules by some of the no-lordship hordes who have descended here in recent days. That's to be expected from antinomians, I suppose, but it's not really a good strategy if your goal is to convince people of the soundness of your doctrine.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

"cheers for dispensationalism...you claim the title (as do I). You mention the commandments as being applicable to daily life. I agree with you. On what basis do you hold this? Because of its restatement in the NT? Because it is God's moral law and transcends the dispensations? Another reason?"

DJP:

This is a struggle that I am having with dispensationalism. We have taught people for years that there was a Dispensation of Law and now one of Grace. But this seems to say that people were saved in the OT by keeping the law. This seems really at odds with the idea of a sin nature and our inability to approach God. I heard a preacher say recently that Jesus intensified the Law of Moses (Matt 5). It seems much more in keeping with Jesus's style to believe that he was telling them things that they should have realized. Well, I am getting long-winded. I have been struggling with this on my blog.

Lest I spam(!): my question is how do we fight against this kind of virtual antinomianism?

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

Thanks donsands for the quotes. They are very good!

DJP said...

Jon -- thanks for (A) asking (B) something I know the answer to!

Dispensationalists have addressed that question again and again and again, always with the same answer: no one was ever saved by keeping the law. The charge (when made as a charge, which you didn't do) has long ben a bogeyman criticism. A couple of older writers (old Scofield Bible, for instance) made badly-worded comments that gave that impression -- but covenant theologians have done precisely the same.

Then you ask about virtual antinomianism, but I'm not sure of your exact referent. So I'll give an answer, and you re-focus me if it's wide of your target.

If by "we" you mean "we dispensationalists," my answer is "by not doing what we accuse others of doing; that is, by not applying a different hermeneutic to different passages."

If we (dispensationalists) consistently apply the G-H hermeneutic to all of Scripture, we'll affirm that while we are not under the law of Moses, we are connected to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-21), that we show love for God by keeping His commandments (1 John 5:3), and that we abide in God's love experientially by keeping His word in Gospel obedience (John 14:21-24).

Chris HH said...

DJP, great post!
Thought I'd agree with you for a change! ;-)
I also love the graphic!

I think Php 2:12-13 is a great illustration of the principle. We need to work out what God has worked in.

DJP said...

< thud! >

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

DJP:

Thanks for the early morning feedback. I called it virtual antinomianism because, like most heresies no one actually wants to come out and say they are against the law. But when you explain away any need to keep the law or even know the law, as is too common, then you are virtually antinomian.
But to the point, I agree with you that growth is necessary for life. I think that a lot of Christians struggle because they do not know what growth is supposed to look like. Christ kept God's whole law perfectly. So, at least in my mind, as I become more Christlike it should look like keeping God's law out of a heart of love for My God!

Paul E said...

Dan said:
Dispensationalists have addressed that question again and again and again, always with the same answer: no one was ever saved by keeping the law.

I heartily agree!

Taking Jon's question a step further: "What was the way of salvation in the OT, particularly all history prior to the prophet Isaiah?"

bluecollar said...

Dan, Great post. I even linked to it in my blogroll.

DJP said...

"Antinomian" is one of those words that everybody uses as if it had an agreed-upon definition. I'm not sure that's the case, though.

The word itself strictly means "against law." It certainly should apply to the nutters who reject any concept of law for the Christian. But one blog writer said that anyone who doesn't believe Christians are under the Law of Moses is an antinomian, for instance.

So it's possible for the same person to be called an antinomian by one group, ad a legalist by another.

Minding one of this deathless bit of dialogue:

Glen: It's a crazy world.
H.I.: Someone oughta sell tickets.
Glen: Sure, I'd buy one.

Even So... said...

Give me some cigarettes, those huggies over there, and oh yeah, any cash you might have in that there drawer...

C.H.H. said...

"Perhaps you have a different plan for growth. If you do, it's wrong."

Vintage Phillips, this. We love you, Dan.

Chris

Bobby Grow said...

Dan said:

". . . And I broken-record you again: not one of these commands is addressed either ot the Lord Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit. You won't find one syllable such as "Holy Spirit, hold off from fleshly lusts for this passive little sock-puppet," or "Jesus, love God with all of each believer's heart, soul, mind and strength instead of him." God addresses us. He gives what He commands, and then commands what He will—but He does command. And He commands us. . . ."

Ok, but this is all presupposed by the fact that we are in Christ . . . and under the "law of Christ" which is not a codified set of rules; but rather is framed by the intra-trinitarian relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which we have been graciously brought into through Christ (cf. I Cor 6:17; Jn 17; etc).

The New Covenant is based upon better promises (Hebrews); and is presupposed by an internal heart change (i.e. a circumsised heart Ez 36:24ff II Cor 3). You seem to equivocate on "law"; or at least you seem to be driven by a hermeneutic that presses continuity between old cov new cov to fast and hard (which btw is the Covenant theology herm. and not disp.)

DJP said...

Bobby:

1. Your assumptions are your own, not mine, and not expressed in this article.

2. Your implied question is already answered in the two paragraphs preceding the one you cited.

3. A "law" that is not particularized into any "rules." Sounds deep; is silly.

Bobby Grow said...

DJP,

1. As your assumptions are yours ;).

2. What implied question?

3. Silly, hmmmm . . . , all I'm trying to get at is the "frame" you, in particular, and Calvinists in general, seem to place around the keeping of moral principles found in the scripture. I didn't deny, in my comment, that the Lord gives imperatives in the NT, all I wanted to communicate is that the presupposition of those commands is based in our relationship with Jesus Christ. You didn't seem to emphasize this in your post; rather you seem to emphasize that we serve a God who makes contracts with us . . . your post fails to emphasize that in fact we are in a "marriage relationship" with Jesus Christ which places the commands in the NT in a whole different light from the God who makes contracts with us. We keep His commands because we are madly in love with our bride-groom (II Cor 5:14; Eph 5:18ff), and He provides those commands (parameters) because He is madly in love with us, and wants the best for His bride-groom. The law of Christ is indeed particularized, but rather than your rules . . . I would say they are the parameters He has set out for our relationship to be healthy and fruitful with Him.

I would highly doubt that you and your wife relate to eachother based upon a set of "rules" or a "law [s]"; do you?

Jerry Morningstar said...

"I would highly doubt that you and your wife relate to eachother based upon a set of "rules" or a "law [s]"; do you?"

Don't commit adultery isn't a bad place to start.

Bobby Grow said...

I guess the nuance I'm trying to capture is being lost on you folks . . . so I'll stop for now.

The nuance: that there is a marital framing of our relationship with God; and not a contractual suzerin-vassal type of relationship between God and man.

I think the typical Calvinist understanding here marginalizes the intimacy we have with God through Christ.

Jerry,

do you really relate to your wife (if married) via a set of laws and rules; i.e. do you frame your marriage this way?

Jerry Morningstar said...

Bobby - I think we relate in all of our relationships based on a set of 'rules' given us by God.

The golden rule is a perfect example: 'do unto others as you'd have done unto you.'

I have to look at the rule and then apply it thru the power of the Holy Spirit.

In marriage - I am given this rule: 'Love your wife as Christ loved the church.' [Eph. 5:25]

Does this come automatically?

No - not in the least. If you think it does - I would encourage you to take a look at Ravi Zacharias' book 'I Isaac take Thee Rebekah' - he handles this with great wisdom and humor.

I don't think a Spirit led Christian should shy away from Spirit given rules. 9 of the 10 commandments are repeated in the NT and expected behavior of the NT believer.

Bobby Grow said...

Indeed, we do have rules/parameters; but how does the NT frame our relationship as an intimate marriage relationship; or as a contractual boss/servant relationship?

My point: that typical Calvinist theology uncritically, and some times critically, has recieved a view of God that is "thomistic"--which emphasizes God's monadic nature vs. the relational trinitarian God which is revealed in the scriptures. This reality has implications for how we frame our discussion around how we view our relationship, and consequent dialogue with God.

Jerry Morningstar said...

"does the NT frame our relationship as an intimate marriage relationship; or as a contractual boss/servant relationship?"

Bobby - I think there are many pictures used to describe the relationship of God with His people in a NT framework. These other pictures help give a balanced view of our relationship to God. Consider a few:

The fact that Jesus is called, 'Lord' - is highly significant

The word kurios = lord, master, owner

That is not exactly the picture most of us would use to describe a marriage relationship. But - it is a necessary picture to describing a right relationship with God. Our whole problem [sin] is that we resisted God's authority over us. We spurned His laws and said, 'Who is this God that He should reign over me?'

Salvation is coming to see the error of our ways and saying, 'I repent - you're the Lord - save me'
It is to confess Jesus as Lord [Rom. 10:9]

In addition - there are the parables of the good stewards - entrusted with responsibility by the owner and who accountable to Him.

There is the imagery of the Shepherd/ sheep.

Teacher/ disciple

The marriage imagery is intended to convey the love Christ has for His church - not that the bride gets to do whatever she wants, etc.

I don't believe you are advocating that the believer should do whatever he wants - but I'm not sure why you are uncomfortable with the idea of commands/ laws in a relationship with our Lord.

In Christ