Summary: God has designed your growth to happen through spiritual disciples such as Bible study, prayer & fasting, and attending worship regularly.
Many of you love to measure your progress. You can measure your progress in so many areas of your life. Tools are available to measure your Body Mass Index where you assess your body fat. You can measure your carbon footprint so to know your impact upon the climate. Athletes will measure the size of their biceps. You can even monitor your social media influence over the Internet. Yet, few Christians have a significant handle on how to measure their spiritual maturity. How do I measure myself in terms of my growth as a believer? Time-lapse photography will allow you to see physical growth over a span of years. But there are no photographs that can show you your spiritual growth.
I want to speak to you about forming some great spiritual habits. These habits are called spiritual disciplines. These personal habits that shape and focus your life. I want to serve as a catalyst for your personal spiritual growth by specifically speaking to you about prayer and fasting.
1. Three Stages of Your Growth
I want you to understand the stages of your personal spiritual growth. Watch carefully how the Bible frames the Christian life.
1.1 Your Growth Begins at Salvation
In 1998, 8,000 college students were survey in a nationwide research project known as QuEST. One question presented students with the following scenario: “Your best friend comes to you and says, ‘I want to become a Christian, but I don’t know how.’ What would you tell your friend?” Assume your friend wants you to answer the question and not to be sent to a pastor or minister. The most common response suggested going to church or encouraging some religious practice. Only fourteen percent of the students interviewed, mentioned Jesus in their answer.
Like Monopoly, you cannot collect your $200 without passing “Go.” You cannot grow spiritually unless you have been born spiritually. In one of the most famous conversations known to history, Jesus says three times, “Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Now, remember who Jesus is speaking to during this conversation. He’s a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, a man named Nicodemus. Right away we know several things about him. First of all, it means he’s old - you didn’t get up there unless you were an older man. Secondly, he’s rich. Third, he’s learned. The Sanhedrin were teachers. Jesus says, “You are Israel’s teacher …” and that’s actually a technical term. In effect, Jesus is saying, “You have a PhD from an Ivy League school. You are a Scripture scholar. You are one of the accredited establishment. You are the cultural elite.”
Jesus says everyone must be born again. The new birth isn’t just for drug addicts, convicts, and gamblers. Nicodemus is the very opposite of a “broken-down” person. Here is a man who’s so religious, he makes sure he tithes off even his birthday gifts! Jesus is coming to a very good person, an incredibly moral person, and says, “You have to go back to the beginning. You have to start at day one.” You must be born again. You must trust in death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Again, you cannot grow spiritually unless you have been born spiritually: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). There are three stages to your life in Christ: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Justification is a synonym of salvation or conversion. There’s a new spiritual power in our lives that breaks the habits of sin: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
1.2 Your Growth Increases Throughout Life
Sanctification is a gradual process after your conversion where you become more and more like Jesus. This growth toward Jesus moves you further from sin in your life: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)