So, it’s a new year. The old one has gone, and many people are seriously thinking about life and ways to change and improve. The new year is a natural time for self-evaluation and goal setting. Often, we think in terms of health, fitness, business, professional development, personal relationships, and so forth. How many of us consider spiritual development, though? What does your spiritual life look like now? How do you want to grow or change in your faith journey?
Many Christians (perhaps most) have no plan at all for faith development and are essentially passive in their faith. Typically, Christians are church members or attenders who get up early on Sunday mornings to attend worship or a Bible class. Sometimes they repeat this process at other times during the week. This is a good start, but it’s not a plan that leads to intentional growth.
When it comes to spiritual growth, the Bible instructs us to be fully intentional with the expectation that Christians should plan to grow and actively develop their faith. In fact, the Bible provides such a plan (2 Peter 1:3-10).
How to Supplement Your Faith
First of all, God gives us faith as a gift — a free gift that we neither deserve or earn — because He is merciful and He loves us so much. By supplementing our faith, we grow to be more productive and useful in God’s kingdom.
Improve Moral Excellence
The pursuit of moral excellence is something that set apart Christians from all others from the very beginning of the spread of the Gospel. When the faith was young, moral purity set believers apart from the rest of the world (see this letter from Pliny to Emperor Trajan, about 111 AD). There was moral difference in the outward behavior among Christians, and that moral difference should be evident in our lives. Our behavior validates or invalidates our faith claim.
Is there something in your moral belief that stands in contrast to Biblical instruction? Do others see you as honest, trustworthy, and faithful in your marriage or other relationships? What do you need to do in the new year to move toward moral excellency?
Grow In Knowledge
How well do you know the Bible? What is your reading plan? Your study plan? Or your memory plan? In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells the disciples to make more disciples by teaching them to observe or obey all that he taught them. How can we obey his commands if we don’t know what they are. Every believer should have a plan for Bible reading, study, and memory. How do you need to improve your knowledge of the Bible in this new year?
This is hard! But fortunately, the Holy Spirit of God lives in each believer to give us self-control, the ability to control oneself in all circumstances (see Galatians 5:22-23). This is especially difficult when we lose our tempers or become highly emotional. Through the Holy Spirit within us, we have the power and ability to say “no” to our base desires and lusts and to say “yes” to God’s desire within us. How do you see yourself surrendering self-control to the Holy Spirit in this new year?
Develop Patient Endurance
It is easier to be patient with others and endure them when everything seems to be going our way. But when someone mistreats us or makes fun of us because of our faith, we easily lose patience. We no longer feel compelled to endure such people. The Bible word behind “patience” is active and it is the same as “endurance.” The writer of Hebrews compares the Christian life as running an endurance race (Hebrews 12:1) with all the difficulties and troubles along the race course. The runner keeps his/her eye on the prize at the end of the race and not stop to deal with the snares. In life, we actively and deliberately press forward, enduring the difficulties that come along with God’s grace, strength, and power. How can you practice more patience in your life in the new year?
A few years ago, a popular question floating around Christian circles was, “What would Jesus do?” Godliness is not trying to guess what Jesus would do in life circumstances. Godliness is dying to self so that Jesus lives through us. This means that when others (especially outsiders) see us, they actually see Jesus. How well do you reflect Jesus in your family? Among your colleagues? Around your neighbors? When you are with strangers?
Extend Brotherly Affection
Jesus told his disciples that everyone will know that they are Christ-followers by their love for another (John 13:35). Look around during your next Life Group or Sunday School class meeting. Observe those worshiping with you on Sunday morning. How well do you love them? All of them? What would you sacrifice for their well-being? What do you do that extends brotherly love toward another believer? Again, this is not passive but active.
Demonstrate Love for Everyone
Jesus was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22:36-40). First and foremost was to love God, and the second is just like it: “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is not talking an emotional connection toward God and others, but a sacrificial act of the will. In other words, loving others means that we will do whatever is best for another person, even if we must make a sacrifice. It’s not so hard to go out of the way to do something nice for one who has been nice to us. Neither is it difficult to go out of the way to extend this kind of love toward another who is very similar to us. The kind of love Jesus is talking about is the willingness and the action of sacrificing material possession or personal comfort for the good of someone else.
What Will You Do?
Doing these things will not earn your salvation. But they do demonstrate your level of faith — or the possibility that you don’t have it after all. No one will enter God’s kingdom under false pretense (Matthew 7:21).
The reason we are driven to do these things is to demonstrate the power of God within us, and to expose the faith-weaknesses in us. What is your plan to grow spiritually? Where do you want to be one year from now? When you look back on today, will you be able to see where you have grown? Will you honestly identify places you need improvement?