The best lies always use a bit of the truth. That’s certainly true of spiritual growth. After we understand the importance of responding to God’s grace, we are tempted to believe the lie that God has done everything he’s going to do. “The rest is up to me,” we think. “I must meditate, pray, serve, study, contemplate, isolate, and even celebrate on my own. Jesus showed me how it’s done, died on the cross, paid the price, and now it’s on me.”
And of course, we should do these things, but that’s where the lie takes hold. These activities are important not because of our effort, but because the Father is willing to do still more on our behalf. Many small group leaders have fallen into this (well-meaning) trap. Leaders sometimes urge their group to “do more” and become hard core disciples of Jesus.
And it’s completely true. A small group can be a place for spiritual growth and responsibility, yet even though self-discipline has great power, it comes at the risk of locating the source of that power in us instead of the grace of God. If willpower alone brings spiritual growth, we have no need for God’s daily presence. The distinguishing mark between grace-empowerment and the pride of self-discipline is that self-discipline says to others, “If I can do it, why can’t you?” If small group leaders are not careful, the “I can do it” message can drown out the message of grace.
Spiritual Growth Is the Result of Grace
James 4:6 reminds us: “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ ” More grace. Greater grace. When we humble ourselves, we position ourselves for greater grace, and so it is with all the spiritual disciplines. Pride is deadly. God’s zealous love is the engine of his grace. He always wants to give more, because he loves so deeply. God’s grace is the disciple’s fuel for spiritual growth. Grace is the yellow sun; but pride is kryptonite.
As mentors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have pointed out time and again, the spiritual disciplines are not hurdles to be cleared by the “serious” student of Jesus. The disciplines are practices that put us into position to receive more of his grace. The startling truth is that those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus need more of God’s grace than others who have no interest in spiritual growth. Richard Foster sets us straight: “Grace is not a ticket to heaven, but the earth under our feet on the road with Christ . . . Grace saves us from life without God—even more, it empowers us for life with God.”
Small group leaders must always keep in mind that spiritual growth is God’s work. It is accomplished as we present ourselves to “greater grace” again and again. We can use our small groups to open ourselves up to his infinite grace. Then our destiny is the infinite God.