“The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth” (J. C. Kromsigt).
One of my favorite things about trees, especially mature ones, is the way they provide shade and shelter from the natural elements. Yet, everyone knows a seedling doesn’t give much of either. Trees need a consistent supply of sun, water, and nutrients over a long period of time to survive and thrive. In the Bible, Jesus uses the image of plants to describe spiritual growth (Matt. 13:1–32; 17:17–20; John 15:1–7).
Christians often wonder whether they are growing in holiness. Sanctification is a slow process of dying to the flesh (mortification) and living unto God (vivification). Just as it is impossible to know exactly what a tree seedling is going to look like in ten years, it is futile and frustrating to evaluate a person’s growth in Christ over the short term.
Throughout the New Testament believers are encouraged to grow in long-term community with each other in the local church (Acts 2:42; Eph. 4:11–13; Col. 3:16). The apostle Paul describes this dynamic of growth within the body of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15–16)
Jesus describes this organic union with his people by using the metaphor of a vine and its branches:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)
The Bible instructs all believers to gather regularly to hear the preaching of God’s Word, receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper (these are also known as Sacraments), and pray together (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 10:16). Christ is present in these means of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 18:20; John 14:16–17, 26).
While the Holy Spirit is not limited to using Word, Sacrament, and prayer in his work of sanctification, these are God’s ordinary means of grace. Christians should be diligent to attend a church where they are properly bathed and regularly nourished with sound biblical preaching and teaching. Supplemental Christian resources (like this website) can be helpful aids, but they are not meant to be substitutes for regular participation in the local church community.
Christians don’t have to worry about whether they are being sanctified. God has promised to conform all his children to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), for “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Christians do need to obey God’s command to gather regularly with their fellow saints under the oversight of a faithful minister (1 Pet. 5:2–3). This is the way God has ordered his church on earth so that his sheep are properly cared for and guarded from the snares of the evil one (Heb. 13:17). You can be confident about your spiritual growth in Christ, because God is in control (Eph. 1:11–12).