01 September 2010

What's the Key to Healthy Christian Growth in Godliness?

That’s the question I asked a handful of thoughtful men of God last week. Responses below.

Please understand: I explicitly asked our brothers to keep it to a single, short sentence. Of course, whole volumes could be (and have been!) written addressing this question (here’s my favorite). So we gladly receive these wise statements remembering that sanctification is not a math problem. There is no formula. Every answer below needs a hundred footnotes. Point taken.

The purpose of this exercise is not to provide an opportunity to nit-pick but to re-center, refresh, encourage, spur on, help one another.

Thabiti Anyabwile:
‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.’ (Col. 3:1)
Mike Bullmore:
I believe the key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is a deep life in the Word of God (Psalm 1:1-3) in which we are encountered by Christ, the Living Word (John 5:39-40, Col. 3:16), in whom we find all the fullness of God himself (Col. 1:19, 2 Cor. 1:20, and a hundred other verses).
Justin Buzzard:
Trusting and enjoying God as your Father, living as his son/daughter, on account of Christ's work.
Graham Cole:
The key is to treasure Jesus Christ, for that will be where your heart is.
Jonathan Dodson:
Growth in godliness is not character-centered but Christ-centered, a constant expression of repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus.
Lyle Dorsett:
Radical, unreserved love for Jesus Christ manifested in obedient intimacy.
Zack Eswine:
Jesus. Mercy. Tears. A friend. Time.
Sean Lucas:
The key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is to live out of the reality of your union with Christ.
Doug Moo:
The constant, disciplined practice of reminding ourselves who we are in Christ.
Steve Nichols:
Self-determination is a myth.
Eric Ortlund:
The key to healthy (un-Pharisaical, un-ugly) Christian growth is the thing you believed when you first became a Christian, which delivers you into that deep rest and rightness and OK-ness before God, and which exposes sin as counterfeits which can’t match Christ’s righteousness.
Gavin Ortlund:
The key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is experiencing the grace and glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Ray Ortlund:
Applying the interruptive ‘But now’ of Romans 3:21 to my heart moment by moment.
Darrin Patrick:
We must have an increasing sense of our unworthiness before God by ourselves and an increasing sense of our own acceptance from God in Christ.
George Robertson:
The key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is faithful attention to gospel preaching.
Tim Savage:
Having the strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ in us (cf. Eph. 3:18).
Tom Schreiner:
The key to growth is trust in God, and faith comes from hearing God’s word.
Steve Smallman:
I’ve become convinced from Scripture and experience that personal spiritual growth is rooted in participation in a healthy church; personal growth comes from community growth.
Colin Smith:
A lively sense of all that Christ is for us and all that is ours in Him.
Sam Storms:
Healthy Christian growth in godliness doesn’t primarily come from trying harder but from enjoying more; or again, pleasure in God is the power for purity in life.
Justin Taylor:
The key to healthy growth in godliness is to seek and to enjoy fellowship with the Father, in union with Christ, through the power of the Spirit, in accordance with the Word, with the body of Christ.
Joe Thorn:
I believe the key to healthy growth in godliness is the cultivation and exercise of Scripture-saturated prayer by which we express and experience our dependence on, joy in, and work through Jesus Christ.
Carl Trueman:
The key to healthy growth in godliness is to be an active, serving member of a local church where the gospel is preached and the eldership care about nurturing the congregation as outward-looking, humble servants of Christ.
Bruce Ware:
Growing knowledge of and love for God, particularly as revealed in Christ and through the Scriptures, that re-structures one’s mind and enflames one’s heart, resulting in increasing transformation into Christ-like character.
Jared Wilson:
As pat as the answer may sound, the key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is submissive study of the Scriptures.
Bob Yarbrough:
Hard work in response to Christ’s cross.

Good answers, brothers! Thought-provoking and helpful. Thank you for serving us in this way.

(My own response would be something like:
Resolutely enjoying our full and free justification from God in Christ, in the shadow of which all the beckoning functional justifications of the world lose their vice-like grip on our hearts.)

God grant us grace to move forward with the glad abandon of faith in September 2010 as never before.


Unknown said...

I most track with Dodson's comment. From what I can tell in the Scriptures, it's repentence...which encompasses (or requires believing) many of the statements above.

Yancey Arrington reminds us of this fact in his book "Tap"--which in my opinion--is one of the clearest modern writings on spiritual growth. He drills it home on page 73.

Keller makes the case as well, saying al our progress is through Repentance.

Jared said...

It was a difficult question, to be sure, and I imagine most of those who answered it, myself among them, had to trace key to key until we landed on what we thought was the God-sourced "big bang."

I landed at Bible study, which I qualified as "submissive study of the Bible" -- meaning, not merely reading the words but reading the words as if under their authority -- b/c I think all that typifies growth in godliness (repentance, Christ-transfixion, and the like, all necessary as well) begins with the revelation of God, and our source of God's revelation of Christ and the need for repentance (and the like) is found in the Scriptures.

I'm grateful for the comment section where we can explain in more sentences what we know begged for explanation in just one. ;-)

Anonymous said...

As short as the answers are, still the personalities come through. Amazing how God works through many different species of man.

Christ is all and in all (the context is the church).

Brad said...

Reading through the responses was a lot of fun. I found myself resonating most with the less "theological" statements:

Zack Eswine: Jesus. Mercy. Tears. A friend. Time.

Bob Yarbrough: Hard work in response to Christ’s cross.

I'm not trying to be critical because I think all of the definitions are great, but I noticed that the ones I was most drawn to were the less abstract and had fewer technical terms. I suppose I enjoyed those because I am an amateur theologian and not a pastor or deep-thinker.

I think it is important for me to learn to enjoy theology and philosophy more, but I also think it would be cool if theologians/pastors were more artful and experiential - even in their one sentence definitions!

Beat Attitude said...

This is very helpful, thanks for compiling it!

What about "the Key to Healthy Christian Growth in Godliness is...
obedience to God for the right reasons"

First of all: what is meant by "the Key"?

could the phrase "the key to" be replaced with:

"The single greatest thing a Christian can do which facilitates..."

In a sense, the key is God himself, because our godliness is decreed by Him, and thus the only thing which makes us godly is His decision to make us so. So it's not really what *we* do in that sense. Leaving this idea implicit can lead us into works-based dead religion.

So my attempt is this:

First, we must have a desire for godliness.

Second, recognise our unworthiness of this goal, and therefore our utter dependence on God to that end.

Third, embrace the gospel as the only means to this end, submit to Christ's lordship, seeking instruction from God's word and following the Spirit's guidance.

That's my attempt! All of those things require a conscious decision of faith, and can apply both in a "once for all" sense and in a daily, hourly sense.

Anonymous said...

(Col 2:6) "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,"

Poster said...

To live with one foot in Romans 7, and the other in Romans 8.

Colin said...

To live with one foot in Romans 7, and the other in Romans 8.

Unknown said...

"28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

Steve said...

I’m not sure what the “key” would be (as if it’s a one size fits all proposition.) But I think that whatever it may be for each individual believer, the end result should necessarily include an ever increasing awareness of God’s holiness and a growing awareness of my own sinfulness & wretchedness. Accompanying this awareness is the realization that the only possible thing that can bridge the gap between God’s holiness and the sinfulness of my nature is Jesus Christ and his cross.

Dane Ortlund said...

Colin and JBuck: great comments.

Ronnie said...

How about a one word answer: Abide!

pdug said...

Sam Storms and Bob Yarbrough might want to get together and figure out if the growth is "hard" or not. If its supposed to be a 'natural flow' or if there is actually human effort involved.

Suprised none of the Presbies went for "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation."


"purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience."

Dane Ortlund said...

Ronnie: love it.

Pduggie: thanks for the comment. Actually I suspect Storms and Yarbrough are very much on the same page here. Sam is making the point that simply buckling down and trying harder isn't the engine of growth; rather enjoying God and his grace is. Bob is making an overlapping point: in response to Christ's cross, his grace toward us by which are freed from trying to work hard in order to win God's favor, we discover authentic gospel hard work. They're certainly looking at the question from different vantage points, but I think it's the same (single) reality they're describing. Bless you!

David said...

Great thoughts. They all resonate deeply with me as key. For the horror-movie moments of life when I'm fumbling through my pockets to find "the key" to escape from what monstrosity stalks me, I boil it down to simply focus on Christ. I recognize the original frame of the question was over progressive application, but I think we all face those moments of crisis that decide growth or regression, and for me, again and again, when I can't understand it, when I don't have the discipline to have appropriated it, etc., I come back to Christ. When the accuser comes against me during study, my answer is simply, "I'm here because of Christ." When my prayers drop like lead and I feel I have no audience with the Father, "I'm here because of Christ." All of me is rooted in that; so, for me, my simply-expressed identity in Christ is key, and from that precipitate wonderful things.

Anonymous said...

Training in love of God.

"Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." -St. Augustine

Anonymous said...

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments."-Jesus

Dane Ortlund said...

Wonderful statement, David.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these helpful insights. And while I know that everyone knows that these are incomplete, I still find it interesting that only one person (JT)so much as mentions the Holy Spirit.

All blessings,
Tom McCall

Anonymous said...

I´m surprised no one mentioned any of the "godliness" passages of 1 Timothy.

David T. Priestley said...

Just found you today so maybe this question has been answered already. But doesn't a question about Christian growth in godliness presuppose an answer to: What is godliness?


Anonymous said...

I liked the comment that only one mentioned the Holy Spirit. I couldn't relate to the one that said that preaching was central. I'm sure he didn't mean that Christianity is a spectator kind of thing, but that can so easily happen when one doesn't mention things like consistent personal devotions and cell groups.

Matti said...

I agree with Thabiti Anaybwile. It's like seeing your own weakness and then embracing the message of the cross. Jesus is our sanctification (1. Cor. 1:26-31).

Shane said...

Bruce Ware nailed it!

Unknown said...

All great answers! I most enjoyed Lyle Dorsett's. "Obedient intimacy" is a beautiful way to describe our relationship with Christ.

Anonymous said...

Great faith-work Dane,

How 'bout gladdening the <3 a bit!

You must be born again
and grow up in Christ until Heaven
by repenting and killing sin,
imbibin His Wine&Bread Unleavened.

Anonymous said...

Amen! Nice,. i also made a Devotional Site For Christian Growth

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PLOOF said...

This was great in stirring thoughts for my academic pursuits... Likewise, I thought I would share what this fellowship with your posts brought to my spirit...

With God’s promises to mankind fulfilled in Jesus, (God’s son and the Lamb of atonement for an unrighteous mankind before a righteous God), partakers of this divine free gift, are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be increasingly transformed thereby becoming the sons and daughters of the most high God serving as partial ambassadors of God's present (spiritual) kingdom on the earth and will be rewarded with the full understanding of all things in an age yet to arrive.

Thank you so much for sharing this post! It has been very beneficial both academically and spiritually.