Spiritual growth: not necessarily monotonic

A recent sermon made an important point about spiritual growth: we sometimes have setbacks. It’s not an always-forward kind of thing.

Here’s the story: Our pastor Nancy was traveling with her son down the coast highway. She had a moment of perfect contentment — enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and the gorgeous sunset, enjoying being with her son. This contentment was not based on feeling gorgeous (she’d been jogging and was wearing sweats — “I was a mess,” she said) or luxurious surroundings (she was at a gas station). A sign of spiritual maturity, right?

But a few minutes later, stuck behind a very slow and very annoying driver, her contentment and peace had vanished.

The point? Spiritual growth is not like a savings account, growing reliably a few percent a year; it’s more like the stock market: past results don’t guarantee future performance, and your principal may decline.

But is the overall trend in the right direction? If the promise of the Christian life is that we’re destined to be made perfect (and that we’re already forgiven), then our future is bright. A few Scripture passages that come to mind:

  • We’re blessed with every spiritual blessing, Ephesians 1:3
  • God will sanctify us through and through, and our spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless, 1 Thessalonians 5;23-24
  • We’ve received everything pertaining to life and godliness, so that we can participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world, 2 Peter 1:3-4
  • God will complete the good work he began in us, Philippians 1:6
  • He is at work in us to want to live according to his will, Philippians 2:12-13
  • God will soften our hearts and put his Spirit in us to walk in his ways, Ezekiel 36:26-27

But nowhere in there does it say that we will never stumble (“though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” — Proverbs 24:16; “If one falls, his friend can help him up” — Ecclesiastes 4:10; I believe Psalm 37:31, like 1 John 3:9, is talking about the overall pattern of a person’s life).

You can download her talk here. The whole sermon is worth a listen, but the part about the sunset is about 25½ minutes from the start.

Bottom line? If a few years ago you were reading the Bible daily, experiencing contentment and joy in your prayer and devotional life, etc., and now you’re agitated all the time, torturing children and small animals, slandering people and cursing them out daily, then you’re probably headed in the wrong direction (but then you’re probably not reading this, either).

But if you’re more contented, grateful, generous, joyful, if Jesus is dearer to you today, if you think more about what God would want (etc.) than 5-10 years ago, then you are quite possibly on the right track — even if you occasionally get grumpy or forget to remember God.

And isn’t that good news?

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One Comment on “Spiritual growth: not necessarily monotonic”


  1. Non-monotonic — I love it. That captures precisely part of what I was trying to say earlier in this earlier post.

    The people whom I admire the most spiritually aren’t less sinful, they’re just quicker to acknowledge and rebound (i.e., confess and repent) from sin. I think the undulatory quality of Christian life is also an important reason to maintain an attitude of humility and modesty in making more judgments. When we feel the most secure spiritually, it is then we are most likely in a spiritual “bubble.”


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