Question: How do I know if I am growing spiritually?
Answer: I stop asking myself this question.
I know this might sound a bit crazy, but I want you to think with me about this for a moment. First, I want you to recognize that WE, in our world where we are told it is okay to be self-absorbed, might have a problem with understanding true spirituality. Isn’t it bigger than just self-reflection? Isn’t it more than just thinking about our own personal piety?
Second, do you remember when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was? In Matthew 22:37-40 you find his answer:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
According to Jesus, everything hinges on loving God and loving others. You can’t get any more concise or basic than this.
Third, I want you to think about the gospel. What is it and what does it do? Does it not save us and change us? And what do you suppose it transforms us to be and do? Do you think Matthew 22:37-40 gives us an indication?
Could it be that the gospel pushes us to LOOK AWAY from ourselves and to LOOK UP to Christ in order to LOOK OUT to our neighbors? Is it possible that real spirituality doesn’t take us deeper into ourselves, but away from ourselves?
The gospel causes us to look up to Christ and what he did, out to our neighbor and what they need, not in to ourselves and how we’re doing. There’s nothing about the gospel that fixes my eyes on me. Any version of Christianity, therefore, that encourages you to think mostly about you is detrimental to your faith–whether it’s your failures or your successes; your good works or your bad works; your strengths or your weaknesses; your obedience or your disobedience.
I think that true spiritual growth is to become so inwardly conformed by the gospel (see the irony there) that we become upwardly focused on Christ and outwardly focused on our neighbor.
True spiritual growth, therefore, cannot be gauged by self-inspection. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that it won’t be evaluated that way. Why? Because the deeper one goes into the gospel, the more one looks out and away. Out towards Christ and his crediting to us righteousness by his death on the cross, and away to our neighbor because we know what love is, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).
As I continue to wrestle with these ideas, I’d love to hear, or rather see, any thoughts you might have.