A Google search of the phrase “how to grow as a person” (or even just “grow as a person”) reveals 520 million related links. For points of reference, let’s look at the results of some other popular Google searches:
“how to make money” – 426 million
“world peace” – 120 million
“the pope” – 176 million
“Donald Trump” – 334 million
“Star Wars” – 431 million
“How to grow as a person” is a topic much discussed (even more than Star Wars, and that is saying something!), with many diverse and often conflicting prescriptions. Cutting through the noise is a simple Biblical formula that allows us to access strength much greater than our own. Let’s take a look at that formula, beginning with John’s contrast of darkness and light.
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:6-7)
The words “walk” in both verses are present active subjunctive. These are not references to position or something accomplished in our past. They are addressing our practice—our ongoing thoughts, behavior, and speech. What then does it mean to walk in the darkness?
In addition to the single mention in 1 John 1:6-7, John uses the term darkness (skotia orskotos) six other times in his first letter:
“God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1:5). “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (2:8). “The one who says he is in the light yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now” (2:9). “But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (2:11).
First, the term is used to draw a contrast between what God is and what He is not (1:5). Believers can walk in what He is not (1:6-7). Walking in that is worthless, because it is terminally flawed and has already been overcome (2:8). Also, because God loves His children, one cannot hate His children and claim truthfully to be walking in Him (2:9). Finally, walking in that manner is like walking blind (2:11).
The contrast is clear. Walk in Him, or walk in darkness. In this context, personal growth could be described as developing a closer walk with the One who has redeemed us. This language is similar to Jesus’ words recorded by John in John 15:3: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” Jesus confirms this a practice statement and not apositional one by identifying the keeping of His commandments as a condition for the abiding in Him.
He further explains what commandments He has in mind. He commands His disciples to “abide in My love” (15:9), and that would lead to their loving one another. Notice the purpose clause in John 15:12, and the grammatical nugget that “love one another” is subjunctive, not imperative. The verse could be read as, “This is my command (to abide in My love) in order that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” There is a cause and effect here. Loving Him will result in loving one another.
Notice a similar cause and effect in Paul’s admonition to the Galatians: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). If one is walking in the Spirit, the Spirit of God produces fruit in that person, and the first description of that fruit is love (5:22). It seems pretty clear that abiding in Christ is the same thing as walking in the Spirit. They are both presented as imperatives with the same result, and are the condition(s) for personal growth and fruitfulness.
It is worth noting then that God’s formula is not behaviorist. It is not simply a matter of controlling behavior. It is more than that, and simpler at the same time. By aligning our walk with Him, we find ourselves in the right place doing the right things. When we align ourselves with Him as our position demands (Rom 12:1), He causes the growth, and He bears the fruit.
This formula then has the great advantage of being powered by Him, and not by us. We are asked to make ourselves completely available to Him (Rom 12:1), to be filled with His word (Col 3:16), and to be filled with His Spirit (Eph 5:18). Or, put another way, to be His and to allow Him to influence and control us through His word. When we do this, He causes and we experience growth, and the fruit of that growth is evident in our practice.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.