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All of us are still growing. As adults we don’t pay as much attention to growth as we did as children. Back then our too-small shoes or too-short trousers were regular clues. But now as adults it takes a promotion at work or a graduation ceremony to remind us that we’ve moved on from an earlier place in life to some new levels of insight or ability.
So let me raise an important question: when do we quit growing? Is it when our physical growth ends? Or when our intellectual or our social skills reach maturity? Or do we continue to grow throughout eternity?
Let me ask a second question: what happens when in salvation we become partakers of Christ’s eternal life? Are we left in some sort of stasis called “final human maturity”; or do we have freedom to grow perpetually in our relationship with one whose triune relational being has no bounds? Will we, in other words, need the full measure of eternity to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19)?
The answer is certainly “yes!” As believers we will grow forever in Christ. Yet this carries a caveat that our finitude as creatures is still a basic reality. Nothing in the Bible suggests that we ever move beyond this standing.
Think, for instance, of our forefather Adam in his Genesis 2 estate—before he rejected God’s life and love. There he lived as a true human—a limited creature—yet within the open space and time given to him and his wife to explore and rule. It was a dynamic, growing fellowship by a mature man free to walk and talk with his God. And it was a model of God’s unspoiled purpose for humanity.
Was Adam mature? Yes. Was he still learning new things? Yes, of course. How else did he come to embrace sin? It was his effort, stirred by the serpent, to try something new: a life of self-love rather than a love for God.
So let’s presume that as repentant ones we are again able to find out new things about God as he continues to share his once-hidden mysteries to us. When will his creativity be exhausted? When will we know all there is to know about God? If we pause for more than a second to reflect on this question it only tells us that our God is too small!
But I know lots of people—even professing Christians—who don’t seem to be growing. For them life is a plateau of satisfied ambitions: boring but stable. Yet that stability is only an illusion: they are still growing. We find that each stage of life calls for adjustments that we “grow into” whether we like it or not. Friends and family move away or die; careers end; we age; new births come with our extended families; and much, much more. So what I really notice is that some people embrace growth while others only grow when it’s forced on them. The difference is dramatic.
What should we say, then, about growth in Christ? Just this: God’s triune life revealed to us in Christ has a spreading, creative impulse. Why else did he create us but to share himself with us? And why the imagery of the vine and branches in John 15 if it isn’t to tell us that we were made to be like him; made to share in his fruit-bearing communion? He means for us to grow “from glory to glory”.
Our early experiences of physical growth, cognitive growth, emotional and social growth are only inaugural stages of an unending spiritual growth as Christ’s Spirit does his stirring and stretching work in us. We prosper when we turn away from self-control and start to enjoy the transforming initiatives of his creative care.
So growing is good as we move forward in our eternal life: as we grow more and more in the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And here’s a final suggestion: tell Jesus you want more of what he offers. Then look for his gracious responses.