Editors Note: This is a new series on spiritual growth designed to help our readers understand how to grow in Christ.

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“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

Self. This four letter word should be as noxious in the life of the believer as other four letter words of ill repute. Unfortunately, decrease of self in favor of the increase of God in our lives is far too often an aspect of spiritual growth for which many struggle. I humbly note I include myself as one who struggles with denying self. This of course begs the question of how do we become less so that He may become greater. Furthermore, what does this look like in a practical sense in everyday life? Before we answer those important questions, let’s first take a look at John 3:30 to define the terms of lesser and greater.

The context of John 3:30 reveal John the Baptist responding to his disciples’ question about the One to whom he bore witness in the wilderness. John the Baptist responded to their inquiry by declaring that he was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, further noting that with the coming of the Messiah, his role as the forerunner must necessarily decrease so that the Messiah’s role as Savior would increase. In the end, John the Baptist was perfectly fine with that arrangement as he took great pleasure in stepping aside for the bridegroom emergence.

In John 3:30, the Apostle John uses the Greek word auxanō which is typically translated as “greater or increase”. This verb connotes the idea of growth. Contained in that element of growth is the necessary dying of something so that something far better can take its place. Perhaps thinking of this idea in relation to the planting of a flower might prove to be useful. When one plants a flower in their yard or garden, a bit of digging and removal of existing material must first take place. Weeds must be pulled, rocks discarded, and the ground cultivated so that flower may take root and blossom. Self is often a “weed” that needs to be pulled from life’s garden as its root structure becomes entangled in all areas of our life, strangling and choking spiritual growth.

The concept of decreasing is found in the Greek elattoō used in John 3:30, a word which means “to be made less or inferior”. In fact, John 3:29 declares “this joy of mine is now complete”, which as we noted earlier, indicates the reality that John the Baptist expressed great pleasure in stepping aside so that the Bridegroom may be honored. Why is his joy complete? Because the Bridegroom is increasing and John the Baptist recognizes that the increase of the Bridegroom results in the decrease of self, a process that ultimately brings fullness of joy to the bride.

A. W. Pink noted the following concerning John 3:30:

“The more I “decrease” the more I delight in standing and hearing the voice of that blessed One who is Altogether Lovely. And so conversely. The more I stand and hear His voice, the more will He “increase” before me, and the more shall I “decrease.” I cannot be occupied with two objects at one and the same time. To “decrease” is, we take it, to be less and less occupied with ourselves. The more I am occupied with Christ, the less shall I be occupied with myself. Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product. The more I try to be humble, the less shall I attain unto humility. But if I am truly occupied with that One who was “meek and lowly in heart,” if I am constantly beholding His glory in the mirror of God’s Word, then shall I be “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).”[1]

Contained in this excellent analysis from Pink are important takeaways on how we as believers can understand and implement in our lives the decrease of self which will result in the increase of Christ flowing into every fiber of our lives. So let’s take some time to look at some practical ways on how to make this happen.

1) Delight in the Lord

J. C. Ryle rightly noted, “We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honor that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth.”[2]

A life lived in adoration of the Lord has little time to spend on glorifying in self. This perspective has been labeled by John Piper as “Christian Hedonism”, the idea of taking the utmost pleasure in glorifying God. When bringing glory to God is the constant focus of your life, the pursuit of selfish gain is uprooted and the increase of God in your life becomes the new norm. Loving God and loving others becomes the all-consuming focus rather than self. Selfish pursuit of pleasure devoid of God will only result in continued want. Conversely, as noted in Psalm 37:4, when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. Those desires in turn will be focused not on fleshly lusts, but rather on a heartfelt passion to love God and love others, a true sign of maturity in the faith.

2) Wash Yourself Daily in the Word of God

Ephesians 5:26-27 states “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” The Apostle Paul is quite clear in this passage that an essential part of our relationship with God and a necessary part of spiritual growth is being washed in the water of God’s Word.

In order to understand what this washing hearkens back to in the betrothal marriage process, let’s examine once again an important aspect of what the bride did to prepare herself following the Kiddusin (the first stage of betrothal) while she awaited the wedding day (the Nis’uin). Following the acceptance of the terms of the Ketubah by the bride, the bride and bridegroom would begin the period of separation, typically lasting one year. One essential element of what the bride did was a ritual washing by water. The bride, with assistance from her family and what we would label in today’s wedding parlance as the “maid of honor”, would ensure the bride was completely submerged in the water. To further ensure the water touched every part of her body, the bride would also spread her fingers and toes. This ritual bathing served as a symbol of the bride casting aside the former things as well as the beginning of a new married life with her betrothed.

If we put all this together, we have a number of key points to consider. God wants a bride that is tamiym, mature, without spot or wrinkle. How does one work towards becoming tamiym? As the bride of Christ, we are to be constantly visiting the well of living water, the Word of God. When Psalm 19:7 speaks of “converting the soul”, many have attributed that as the act of salvation. In reality, what this passage is speaking of is the impact that washing oneself in the water of the Word, which has been demonstrated to be tamiym (perfect), will have in the life of the believer. It will literally “convert” or change the soul, more appropriately translated as nephesh, the entirety of what constitutes an individual namely their mind, will, and emotions from being simple (Hebrew word pĕthiy – naïve, simple, foolish) to being tamiym. James 1:2 speaks of this process by stating “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The bride of Christ is called to be mature and complete. Part of how that is accomplished is by spending time in the word of God, the source of wisdom.

3) Prayer

Finally, a fundamental part of spiritual growth and growing in relationship with God is prayer. We are told in I Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing for “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Something defined as the will of God in Christ Jesus for you is most certainly an activity for which all believers must take note.

Dr. R. C. Sproul aptly notes, “Prayer, like any means of growth for the Christian, requires work. In a sense, prayer is unnatural to us. Though we were created for fellowship and communion with God, the effects of the fall have left most of us lazy and indifferent toward something as important as prayer. Rebirth quickens a new desire for communion with God, but sin resists the Spirit.”[3]

When we come before God in prayer, we are setting aside our will in favor of God’s will. This involves the setting aside of self and vainglory, the decrease of self in order for God’s divine purposes to be made known to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. When we pursue God’s will through prayer, His purposes become the prime mover. As Sproul averred, this involves work. The flesh desires to have its way instead of spending time in prayer seeking that all important aspect of fellowship and communion with our Creator. In order for self to decrease, we must crucify those selfish desires that far too often prevent us from spending quality time in prayer with God.

A. W. Pink once stated that “Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude—an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God.” It is a posture that reflects the recognition of the need for self to decrease so that He may increase.

Do you have a passion to grow closer to God and to mature in the faith? Do you desire for God to increase and for the flesh to decrease? I trust the answer is yes to both questions and if it is then I encourage you to delight in the things of the Lord, spend time washing yourself in the Word of God, and to spend time in prayer. These are essentials to spiritual growth and are a demonstration of a life devoted to glorifying God.

References:
[1] http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/John/john_10.htm
[2] http://www.gracegems.org/Ryle/j03.htm
[3] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/place-prayer-christian-life/