5 Characteristics of Spiritual Growth

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

The mystery of the Christian life is how the Spirit works in and through us. Our role is to keep in step with Him (Gal.5:25).

1. Spiritual growth is always relational.

The passage is framed with “one another” commands. Love one another (v.13) but do not provoke one another (15, 26). The fruit of the Spirit are very relational. Spiritual growth does not take place in isolation from other believers. Genuine transformation will affect how you treat and relate to one another.

2. Spiritual growth involves conflict.

It never happens in ideal conditions. Expect a fierce conflict between the Spirit and the flesh (vs.15-16, 24; cf. 1 Pt.2:11; Rom.8:13-14). Conflict is normal in the Christian experience.

3. Spiritual growth is inside out.

Spiritual growth is organic, not mechanical; fruit is grown, not built. Notice that the fruit are not “works of the Spirit” like the “works of the flesh” (vs.19-21; Cf. 2:16; 3:2,5,10; 2:20; Jn.15:1-17). Compare a Christmas tree to a real tree. You can hang ornamented suit on the Christmas tree but that does not make it alive, but the real tree bears real fruit, which shows that it is alive. We are dependent upon the Spirits work of renewed life to bear fruit at all.

4. Spiritual growth is symmetrical.

The nine qualities of fruit listed grow together. (note: singular form of “fruit”) There is a unity to the fruit like a bunch of grapes instead of a bunch of separate fruit in a basket. All the fruit are found in all Christians. You cannot discern spiritual growth by the presence of one or two fruits of the spirit; all must be present. “You are only as spiritually mature as your weakest trait.” (Tim Keller; cf. 6:1-2) Genuine spiritual growth is balanced, symmetrical growth.

5. Spiritual growth is supernatural.

Spiritual growth and holiness is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will not grow if left to ourselves. We must depend on the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the Spirit. Even Jesus, our example, depended on the Spirit (Rom.8:9).

Spiritual growth leads us to greater humility. The process of growing up turns out to be the process of growing down (163-164).

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.158-164

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