God does not stop revealing to us the glory of Christ in his word. He starts at new birth, and he keeps on revealing the glory of Christ. Our new life started with a miracle — and it continues with a miracle.
The ongoing miracle that God works by his Spirit is that we become increasingly like the one we admire and enjoy — him. The apostle Paul writes,
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The words “beholding” and “being transformed” are present tense, which means ongoing action — not once for all, but continual. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed.” This is what God does daily as we look to him in his word. It is what he does weekly in the preaching of his word in gathered worship. And it is what, I pray, he is doing right now as you read.
Beware of Growth Schemes
Many Christians, especially newer Christians, long for a method of discipleship that will change them quickly by just following a few clear and doable steps. I would caution you from pressing too hard for such a foolproof method. Such approaches to growth and change often lead to disillusionment, and sometimes to a crisis of faith — why is this not working for me?
God’s way toward growth is more like the watering of a plant or feeding a baby than the building of a wall brick by brick with a manual in our hand. When you build a wall that way, you can see every brick put in place, and measure the progress. We hold the brick; we apply the mortar to hold it in place; we place the brick. Voila! Growth! Christian growth is not like that. It’s more organic, less in our control and usually slower.
Beware of schemes that put things in your control, and promise more than they can deliver.
Long for Spiritual Milk
Consider this picture from 1 Peter 2:2–3: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The picture is of a child growing. At the end of the day, can you see the growth? No. At the end of a week? Not really. But after a year? Yes! Did you control the growth by adding inches and pounds? No. You fed the child. You cleaned the child. You protected the child from harm. And God gave the growth.
Peter tells us to “long for the pure spiritual milk” in the way a baby desires food when he is hungry. In other words, really desire it! Cry out for it. Don’t be quiet till you have it. What is the milk? Two clues. First, Peter had just described the new birth of a baby Christian in 1 Peter 1:22–25. He said that “you have been born again … through the living and abiding word of God … And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The life-giving means that God used to create a new creature in Christ — the way he caused the new birth — is the word of God, especially the sweetness of the gospel.
So, when he says two verses later that this Christian should desire the spiritual milk for growth, it is natural to think he is still referring to the word that gave the life in the first place.
How to Read the Bible
The second clue that Peter is thinking about the word when he refers to the milk is in the next verse (1 Peter 2:3): “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The word “tasted” signals to us that Peter is still thinking about desiring drink. And here the taste of the drink is “that the Lord is good.” The milk that we are to desire for growth is the goodness and kindness of the Lord revealed in his word. Or to put it another way, reading the word with a specific intention to taste the goodness of the Lord as we read.
Peter says the effect of this regular feeding on the spiritual milk of God’s goodness in his word will be to “grow up into salvation.” Our growth will be toward the climax of our total transformation when Christ returns. And in the meantime, there will be real, but incremental, and sometimes slow, growth.
This growth is a miracle and not entirely manageable by us. To be sure, we are not to be passive. But the decisive spiritual work belongs to God.
God Gives the Growth
Jesus told a parable to emphasize this divine work in growth:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26–29)
This parable is about the kingdom of God in the world. But the principle applies to the kingdom of God bringing about growth in the believer. The point of the parable is that, even though we sow seed (as we drink the spiritual milk of God’s kindness in his word), nevertheless, the blade and ear and grain come into being “he knows not how.” It is not in our control. God gives the growth.
Or as Paul said about the growth of faith among the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7).
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.
A version of this article appeared on the desiringGod.org website.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.