Spiritual Growth in 2023

Thomas Luckett   -  

When was the last time you killed a houseplant? Perhaps you completely forgot about it. Perhaps you didn’t really want it in the first place and expected it to water itself. Perhaps, even though you repotted it, gave it a precise regimen of water and fertilizer based on internet research, and played Beethoven for it throughout the day and night, it had its heart set on fading out of existence. Sometimes, even keeping plants alive can seem like a losing game, if we were being honest. 

This article is only slightly about gardening. I will reframe the question: When was the last time you experienced real spiritual growth? Perhaps you completely forgot about it. Perhaps you didn’t really want it in the first place and expected your life to drift in the direction of sanctification on its own. Perhaps, even though you changed everything about your life and implemented every tip you heard from your favorite pastors, podcasters, and influencers, your spiritual life seems destined to be flat and devoid of substance. Sometimes, flourishing spiritually can seem like a losing game, if we were being honest. 

When it comes to our meager attempts at gardening, green thumbs and horticulture experts can sometimes lay out the tips we need to achieve our goals, but thankfully, there is somebody who knows exactly how to bring about spiritual growth in a person’s life. While the world drowns us with self-help books, spiritual painkillers, and pop theology, God provides a pathway to spiritual growth that actually works. Submitting to God’s growth plan can be as simple as growing in our knowledge of Christ.

What Is Growth Really?

Spiritual growth is the process by which we become more like Christ and less like the world. It is, in essence, what the Apostle Peter describes in this passage from his second letter: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3-8). There are some important takeaways from his description.

We should understand in the first place that God desires our growth and also provides for it. “His divine power” is the thing that has granted us “life and godliness”. He does not owe us anything, but He gives freely – “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” that offer us a way to “become partakers of the divine nature” of God. He wants to see our growth because it is one of the chief ways He is glorified. He takes the old, battered, worn, and torn and makes them new, fresh, and full of life. He’s the only one who can! Through Christ, God has not only secured us salvation but also offered a way to grow closer to Him and more like Him.

From there, we should glean what the role of a believer is in spiritual growth. In other words, what is God’s plan for us to grow spiritually? Peter’s recurring use of the term “knowledge of him” or “knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” implies that, as we come to know Christ more deeply and richly, this growth becomes more sure. “Knowledge” here alludes to a deep, thorough, and full knowledge, not just passing trivia. It is to know in every possible sense of the word “know”. This is the sort of knowledge that includes emotion, experience, and connection, not just intellectual understanding or solitary belief. A closeness in relationship with Christ is the thing that will make us more and more like him.

This approach certainly beats those that we find in the world. We think we can find fulfillment at the end of the road of improvement, but the truth is that the only thing that the world or our flesh can offer is discipline without standard, promise without commitment, and reward without satisfaction. Growing in the “knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the most surefire guidepost to our spiritual growth because Christ alone is truly commendable in all ways.

Let’s Get Growing

With that in mind, let us return to the original illustration to understand God’s growth plan for the believer. Imagine that you have a garden. To make things grow in that garden, you need to do three main things.

First, you need to eliminate anything that can prevent healthy growth in your plants. Things like weeds and poor soil can suck the life out of a plant or prevent it from reaching its full maturity. I remember as a child being quite confused as I helped my parents pull weeds in our garden bed. Despite the fact that I would rather be inside watching cartoons, my parents’ insistence on pulling what looked like flowers out of the ground perplexed me. “It’s a flower,” I thought, “and it looks pretty, so why destroy it?” After they explained that dandelions were in fact weeds and not flowers – and after I had reached the sufficient mental maturity to understand why that should matter – it began to make a little more sense.

Second, in a garden, you must do things that foster healthy growth in the good plants. Watering, pruning, and occasional fertilizer go a long way in giving a plant what it needs to become lush and full. We can note that there is such a thing as too much and too little with this, as well. Too much water can drown a plant, but too little water can certainly make something like an onion too hot to eat. Consistency tends to be key, closely followed by intentionality.

Finally, in a garden, you must have a certain amount of faith. So many aspects of gardening will be out of your control. What if a plant was already sick when you bought it? What if a major hailstorm or random snowstorm wipes everything out? How can you be sure that the seeds you bought will even turn into the plants you expect? Ultimately, too, there is nothing a human gardener does to a plant that actually makes it grow; the plant does the growing because that’s what God made the plant to do, not because the gardener is there turning a crank or building the branches and shoots cell by cell.

If we know that it is a full, intimate, transformative knowledge of the Lord that brings about our spiritual growth, we know that we must foster our knowledge of Christ in three similar ways. We must do everything we can to separate ourselves from the schemes that pull us away from the knowledge of Him, we must consistently and intentionally grow deeper in the knowledge of Him, and we must trust that the Spirit will give us eyes to see Him in deeper and fuller ways as our walk continues. God provided us with a number of practical ways to practice these three things in our daily walks. 


Prayer provides vitality to the Christian life. God hears us when we pray (Hebrews 4:14-16). He meets us when we seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He hears our prayers and answers them, even if it’s not the answer we want or expect (Matthew 7:7-11, James 1:5-8). Jesus even taught us how to pray, having prayed much himself (Matthew 6:9-13). In prayer, the Spirit works to convict us and draw us closer to Him (Romans 8:26-27). He who made these promises is faithful to keep them, so we ought to be praying! What better way to grow in the knowledge of God than to spend time directly communing with Him?

Bible Reading

Picking up the self-help book will never beat picking up the Good Book. The Bible has been God’s way of communicating and preserving His truth for thousands of years, so it is essential to absorb its truth and let it become the water and fertilizer for our souls. Every bit of Scripture is valuable for our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17), whether it is encouraging us, helping us to understand the character and promises of God, or convicting us of sin. Reading the Bible in a group is also a great way of drawing out its truth, if you aren’t already in a regular Bible study. If you don’t know how to read your Bible, ask a friend, mentor, pastor, or small group leader to show you some ways.


Somebody once told me, “Saints are like grapes; they grow in bunches.” A community unified in its commitment to Christ provides immense value to the believer. Community involves mutual encouragement and the bearing of one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Engrained in the community is the need to serve one another and therefore to learn how to love like God has loved us (1 John 4:19). Community offers us the ability to disciple and be discipled, to build one another up in Christ and to gain help with our own blind spots. 


As we are publishing this article in the New Year season, it seems appropriate to add a small word on goal-setting in our spiritual lives. Goals can be incredibly useful if they are done soberly, and one of the best frameworks to use in that respect is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Specific goals help define what the goal actually is. Measurable goals help provide a clear finish line. Achievable goals prevent us from biting off more than we can chew. Relevant goals help us ensure that there is value to be added by completing a goal. Time-bound goals help us stay motivated to complete them. There are plenty of good resources about SMART goals, so if a person wants to get serious about making them, I would encourage them to throw out a quick internet search. If it helps, here are some example SMART goals related to spiritual growth:

  • Complete twelve Bible reading plans this year (one per month)
  • Pray about a fruit of the Spirit every day this week
  • Sign up to serve in a ministry by the end of spring break
  • Become a member of a community group by summer
  • Memorize four Bible verses (maybe even list the specific verses!) this month

Do Not Pass “Grow”

God’s plan for our spiritual growth is effective and reliable. As we come to know Christ more fully, God draws us closer to Him and further from the world. While it may not happen immediately or in the ways we intend or expect, we can rest assured that God will continue His work in us (Philippians 1:6). As Peter said, growing things like faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love in our lives is perfectly attainable thanks to the grace of God (2 Peter 1:5-7). I pray that someday we might all experience this, in addition to finding a hardy house plant that doesn’t die if we breathe in the wrong general direction.