Tullian Tchividjian|8:09 am CT

What Is Christian Growth?

My good friend Jono Linebaugh (Professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary) and I sat down recently to try an answer this question:


  1. Nice Video Tullian!

    Some additional thoughts to the video posted here!

  2. Tullian – thank you so much for posting this. I’m currently preparing for my DMin dissertation at Covenant TS on the theme of how Pastor-Teachers motivate others towards spiritual maturity through their preaching and teaching ministries and so have read a lot recently on the nature of spiritual growth and maturity. It’s something we mostly take for granted, but as ever, the reality is always more personally profound and God-glorifying than we often imagine.

  3. [...] Excerpted Recommended CHURCH GROWTH Article FROM [...]

  4. “Christian Growth is forgetting about yourself.” – Gerhard Forde

    So much of what goes on in churches cultivates just the opposite. It’s ALL about the self.

    Instead of trying to smother the flames of any pretension to goodness (with the law), they use the law to prod you further up the ladder. They might as well be throwing gasoline on the fire.

  5. How foolish I was. I misconstrued dependence on the Holy Spirit to mean that I was to make no effort,that I had no responsibility. I mistakenly thought if I turned it all over to the Lord.He would make my choices for me and would choose obedience over disobedience.All I needed was to look to Him for holiness.but He gives us the responsibility of using those provisions.
    Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones says:
    The Holy Spirit is in us;He is working in us,and empowering us,giving us the ability…This is the New Testament teaching—”work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We have to do so But note the accompaniment- “because it is God that worketh in you,both to will and to do His pleasure”!The Holy Spirit is working in us “both to will and to do.” It is because I am not left to myself,it is because I am not “absolutely hopeless,” since the Holy Spirit is in me,that I am exhorted to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.
    taken from “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges

  6. Good points are made in this talk. To me it seems, though, that not focusing on how well we are doing and instead focusing on Christ and what He has done describes a proper attitude towards growth more than it describes what Christian growth actually is intrinsically. I don’t think we can do justice to the the biblical revelation concerning what Christian growth is without speaking about Christ being in the believers (2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27; John 14:20)–His living inside them (Gal. 2:20), being formed in them (Gal. 4:19), and making His home in their hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17), transforming them from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

    Our growth is actually Christ growing in us. By this I do not mean that He is “getting better” (He’s already perfect) or that our flesh apart from Him is improving (it never gets better and always stays the same) but that He indwells us and is spreading, making His home and gaining more territory in our inward being so that when we do things in our everyday life it’s not just us that’s doing them but Christ in us and with us–a life in which we are branches grafted to the vine (John 15:4-5). This is neither mere human moral improvement outwardly, nor simply being justified and then living an independent life as if Christ were only far away in heaven and we far below on the earth. Rather, it is the apostle Paul’s “it is no longer I that lives, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) and “I am able to do all things in Him who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13)–an intimate union, two lives become one life and one living so that Christ is expressed in redeemed humanity on the earth.

    The law stirs up man’s flesh to try to do something to please God. It means always struggling and striving and failing because we’re running on our own strength. But New Testament imperatives (such as pursue Christ, pursue righteousness and holiness, walk in the Spirit, abide in Him), are intended to stir up the believers’ regenerated spirit to hunger to know and enjoy Christ as their life in this way. When we thoroughly enjoy Christ as our life it makes us dynamic inwardly (the literal Greek meaning for “empowers” in Phil. 4:13); we learn to live by His crucified and resurrected life and strength rather than our natural life and strength.

    The only thing that pleases God is Christ–Christ upon us for our justification, Christ living in us in our daily living.

  7. mark mcculley

    Good video. It caused me to look up and re-read your essay from last year on “making progress”

    You quoted Philippians 2:13–“For it is God who works in you, both
    to will and to work for his good pleasure” and then you explained: “God works his work in you—which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.”

    mark mcculley: In the interest of coming to greater understanding, I want to point out that Christ’s work outside of us (His death) is not the same as Christ’s work in us. Christ’s work in us (indwelling by His Holy Spirit) is a result of but not the same as Christ’s righteousness obtained. Christ’s death is Christ’s work, and though we are baptized “into” that death, the Bible does not talk about that death being “worked in us”. Christ’s righteousness is outside us. Christ’s righteousness belongs to us by legal imputation.

    Since sanctification by the Spirit does involve regeneration, we must NOT equate what God does in us with what Christ did outside us.

  8. We are declared righteous and holy, for Jesus’ sake. Period.

    Ladder climbers ought just head to Rome and cut out any pretenses to freedom.

    The Holy Spirit is still in charge of growth and is not so weak that He needs our help in anything to accomplish His purposes. He even uses our sin for His purposes. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle…that sounds pretty liberating. That’s why the Catholic Church hated it during the Reformation (they still do) and why so many “Protestants” hate it as well. It just gives God too much freedom (to justify the ungodly), and gives us a pass from our participation.

  9. mark mcculley

    Gaffin thinks that the “grace-works” antithesis is removed once you are “united” to Christ.
    p73, Gaffin, By Faith Not by Sight—”Here is what may be fairly called a synergy but it is not a 50/50 undertaking (not even 99.9% God and 0.1% ourselves). Involved here is the ‘mysterious math’ of the creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% plus 100% =100%. Sanctification is 100% the work of God, and for that reason, is to engage the full 100% activity of the believer.”

    1. “Union” is nevertheless conditioned on “faith”, and faith means not only Christ indwelling but already a “break with sin”, and Gaffin defines that “freedom from sin” NOT IN FORENSIC TERMS but in ontological terms.
    2. The Holy Spirit’s work in us is read into Romans 6. Christ’s “break with sin” by His death in Romans 6 is ignored.
    3. So supposedly we have this “double grace”, and sanctification is by grace also. But also sanctification is a synergy, where works by grace are different than works without grace, and thus sanctification by grace is by both grace and works.

    Beware of “mysterious math”.

  10. What seems to be missing in this ongoing conversation is a well-rounded theology of Resurrection Life via the Holy Spirit.

    To narrowly define the Gospel as ONLY a forensic legal declaration of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account is an incomplete telling of the “good news”.

    This most certainly fails to do justice to the immense Gospel hope of the Prophets. They foresaw that the Suffering Servant would come to deliver his people from Sin through a new Exodus salvation ( This salvation would include a new indwelling righteousness, a new covenant, a new creation, a new temple, and the promise of the poured out Spirit.

    The apostles capture all of this imagery in describing the Church. The Church is the redeemed new covenant community which has, not merely an external imputed foresic-righteousness, but a living and indwelling righteousness. The Spirit of Christ is now that living and indwelling righteousness of God (Rom 8:4, Rom 8:10, Rom 14:17) who dwells in the midst of His eschatological Temple, the Body of Christ, effecting real and powerful transformation. As such, He leads his redeemed people in the triumphal procession of Christ’s resurrection life! We now begin to display the radiant glories of Christ, bearing the abundant fruit of the Spirit, as we abide in Him and He lives in/through us.

    Therefore, the Gospel is not merely a legal forensic formula. Rather, it is the promised deliverance of God for His people and in the midst of His people, rooted in the death AND resurrection-life of Christ our Lord.

  11. an excerpt from “Regeneration and Conversion” by W.E.Best

    regeneration is the “cause” of an individual turning to the Lord; conversion is the regenerate person “actually” turning. God does not repent and believe for man but he enables man to do what he could not do by nature.
    regeneration is a once-for-all cleansing; conversion is the continuation of the renewal which began in regeneration. John 13:10,1Cor 6:11,Titus 3:5

  12. John Dunn: Amen, very well said.

    Steve M., it doesn’t seem that anyone here is talking about meriting or achieving justification or assurance through works. I think that portraying those who disagree with you as Roman Catholic is unwarranted and unfair.

    I agree that God can use our sins for His purposes. But in your view does this mean that every sin or failure is a result of the Spirit unilaterally deciding not to sanctify us in our daily living? Is there no such thing as any sense of Christian will, awareness, diligence or responsibility in such matters? For example, is the reason why a marriage between two baptized Christians could end in divorce that the Spirit decided not to sufficiently work in their hearts? How about with racism? Or misusing the Bible to justify anti-semitism or unjust institutions, without repentance? Or pastors using worldly methods to preach the gospel, or preaching the law more than grace? Are such things unavoidable simply because the Spirit decided not to adequately work in the human heart?

    In such matters, I think it’s better to stick to the biblical facts, the way that Christ and the apostles actually spoke about these things. On the one hand, the apostle Paul prayed for the Spirit to work in the believers (Eph. 3:14-21). On the other hand, he told believers to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). On the one hand, he said that “it is God who operates in you both the willing and the working for His good pleasure,” and on the other he said “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12-13). Saying “walk by the Spirit” or “work out your own salvation” does not ruin real freedom but it does deliver us from bondage to sin and lawlessness, if such speaking is based in the gracious realization that God is always taking the initiative to operate in us.

    I agree with John Dunn when he says that the Lord Jesus, the gospel and the Christian life is not only a matter of legal, forensic, external righteousness imputed to us, but a matter of the resurrected Christ being our life via the Holy Spirit. The more we enjoy our resurrected Lord as our life who indwells us the more we are transformed unto His image both individually and corporately (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:12).

    Is the Lord Jesus love, even love itself? Yes. Does the Lord Jesus indwell us who have believed upon Him? Yes. Therefore, when we have a need to love others in specific circumstances–such as our spouse, our children, our neighbor, our enemies, our brothers and sisters in the Lord–we don’t need to try to do it with our own strength or even ask for God to send us some thing called “love,” because God who is love is already in us in the person of the Son through the Spirit. All we need is to enjoy Him who is love. This isn’t religious ladder climbing. It’s not even religion or religious. It’s knowing our crucified and resurrected Lord as our indwelling life.

    To know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death….

    Not that I have already obtained or am already perfected, but I pursue, if even I may lay hold of that for which I also have been laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

    I pursue toward the goal for the prize to which God in Christ Jesus has called me upward.

    Let us therefore, as many as are full-grown, have this mind; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, this also God will reveal to you.
    -Phil. 3:10, 12-15

  13. Great post! Edifying discussion. Missing the 80s album cover, though. :)

  14. Pastor Tullian,
    Would you ever consider (in the midst of your busy schedule!) a series of blog posts explaining the error and dangers of antinomianism? I know that some Reformed book reviews on Jesus + Nothing = Everything, have hinted that you have some antinomian sympathies, e.g. Mark Jones’s review at the Meet the Puritans blog. The reason I ask is because I have a hard time figuring out how answers, like the ones you give in this video, don’t lean in that direction, and actually think you would be doing the church a huge favor by clarifying in detail, your own position on the third use of the law and the nature of sanctification as well as guarding your own reputation which the Proverbs commend.
    Every Blessing,

  15. Tullian Tchividjian


    Thanks for your note. Regarding my position on the third use of the law, it is well documented in many blog posts and throughout my book. The simplest way to say it is that God’s good law guides us but it does not give us the power to do what it says. That’s the job description of the gospel. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like but it does not possess the power to sanctify. We need both the law and the gospel but both do very different things. The law directs but only the gospel drives. That’s just plain ‘ole historical, orthodox reformational theology. Any fuss over that by those who claim to be reformational in their theology is mind-boggling

    Read this:

    Every Blessing to you too, my friend!

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