The Hand of Growing in Godliness

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Working in ministry—and particularly youth ministry—the one question that I get asked often is “how do I grow in my walk with Christ? What practically can I do to grow in my faith?” Every time I am asked this, I give the same response. “Look at your hand.” What does this mean? Let me show you.

I could just give you a list, but a list might not be helpful, because lists are in and of themselves usually forgettable. So, to make this more memorable (at least for me), I use my fingers to help me remember how spiritual, godly growth happens.

NOTE #1: in the past, some have called these the “means of grace,” but I prefer to call it growth in godliness.

NOTE #2: there is no hierarchy or rank with these five. They are all necessary for godly growth. Without one, your maturing in faith and your walk with Christ will be massively hindered, just like being hindered without one of your fingers.

THE THUMB: Bible

The thumb is a really wonderful part of our bodies. It gives people to ability to grasp things and it has its own pulse. Without it, normal activities of life are nearly impossible, like writing, picking things up, and buttoning a shirt.

Well, since the thumb is made to be a gripper, it is only logical that it reminds us in godly growth to grip our Bibles. Without our Bible it is not “nearly impossible” to grow up in faith, but IS impossible! Paul says it perfectly, “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” In other words, the purpose of the Bible is that you may grow up into maturity into Christ. Without the regular reading, studying, and instruction of the Bible, your spiritual growth will not happen. King David believed the same thing in Psalm 19:7-14, as well as the author of Psalm 119.

INDEX: Prayer

The index finger is possibly considered the most important digit on your hand. Although it is like the thumb in that it has more mobility and muscle attachments than the final three fingers, it carries a universal symbol of pointing. I have traveled to about a dozen countries around the world, and everyone uses their index finger to point. Fascinating that God made it that way!

Well, since the index finger is a pointer, it is only logical that it points to the most important relationship we have; our relationship with God. The index finger (pointing up) reminds us that in order to grow in godliness, we must actively and regularly be in prayer. This means having set aside times of prayer (cf. Dan 6:10; Mark 1:35), and being in an attitude of prayer throughout your day (cf. 1 Thess 5:17; Neh 2:4). If you think you can neglect this area of your growth in godliness, you are sadly mistaken because prayer was a necessary and earnest and consistent part of the like of every true believer in both the Old and New Testaments, including Jesus. I can guarantee that no one is more holy or righteous or godly than Jesus. If He prioritized prayer and taught how to pray (Luke 11:1-13), then we ought to as well.

MIDDLE: Obedience

The middle finger is the biggest and strongest of the fingers. Apparently, 35% of your hand’s overall grip strength is exerted by the middle finger. In other words, if you’re using your fingers to push things or to grip, you will want to use your middle finger.

Well, since the middle finger is the strength of your hand, it is only logical that the strength of your growth in godliness is your obedience to God’s Word. The apostle John is clear on this: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

Where did John get this? From Jesus, of course: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you” and “if you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 15:14; 14:15).

Let me be clear: obedience has nothing to do with gaining righteousness before God. You cannot act in obedience and gain favor with God that leads to salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, without works. Yet, the Christian life is not without good works (Eph 2:10; James 2:14ff), nor is godly growth.

To claim to be a Christian and growing and not have a life of growing obedience to God’s Word, is to lie and possibly calls into question your faith as a whole.

John Stott sums up: “The claim to be a Christian may be variously stated … but invariable, if it is an authentic claim, it will show itself in a new life of obeying God. … Without such moral authentication, the claim is seen to be bogus.”[1]

RING: Church/fellowship

The ring finger is known as the weakest finger on our hand. It has no independence of movement, as it is attached to the same tendon as the middle finger. Apparently, many musicians have tried to improve the strength of their ring finger, only to quickly find that it is a useless pursuit.

The ring finger is also called the “ring” because it is where we culturally put on jewelry rings. For those married, it is placed on the ring finger because it is a reminder that we are weak without our spouse.

 Well, since the ring finger is the weakest of your hand, as well as the reminder of your need for your marriage partner, it is only logical that to strengthen the that weakness in your growth in godliness is to be actively, intentionally, and regularly involved in the life of a local, faithful, Bible-teaching church.

Let me put it bluntly: without active involvement in the life of the people of your local church, you will stay immature and weak in your faith. You were not saved to be a lone ranger Christian. Yes, your faith in Christ is a personal faith, but it is not an alone faith. You were saved to be part of a community of people who have also been saved by Christ.

Need proof? I’ll give you 4.

  • You will never find a Christian in the early church who was not totally committed to their local church (cf. Acts 2:42-46).
  • According to Heb 10:19-25, you are living in sin if not actively involved in your local church. And living in sin means you are not growing.
  • According to Paul, every Christian has been given a spiritual gift for the good of building up the local church (1 Cor 12-13). If you are not regularly, and actively involved in the life your local church, then you are being unbeneficial to the church, and are missing out on other’s who have gifts to mature you.
  • According to Jesus, the only institution He is focused on building is the church (Matt 16:18; John 21:15-17). Why should you be less interested in what Jesus is fully invested in?

PINKIE: Suffering/Persecution

The pinkie finger is the smallest finger. It functions much the same as the other fingers, except that its position as the final finger allows it a bit more range of motion to the side; that is, it is more flexible and useful for any movements where the hand is rotating to the outside. It is also, uniquely, unprotected. All the rest of your fingers can hide to a certain extent, but there is not hiding the pinkie. It is there to be broken, bruised, and battered. Interestingly, because the bones are much smaller, when it is broken, many people don’t realize it and it eventually becomes a cumbersome finger.

Well, since the pinkie finger is the “unprotected” of your hand, and therefore damaged fairly easily, it logically leads to seeing the pinkie as the suffering finger. And suffering, or persecution, is vital in the life of a Christian to grow up to maturity in Christ.

What is persecution? It simply means to be hostilely treated because of our religious belief. Put another way: it is the world rejecting us because we follow Christ. For some, this means intense physical suffering (like Richard Wurmbrand). For most, it just means we lose friends, family, privileges, opportunities, rights, and our stuff. But, this is all a good thing. A another blog post probably needs to be written about this whole subject, but for now, listen to what the Bible says and see why I say it is necessary for your spiritual growth in godliness.

John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

1 John 2:15-17, “15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

The point is the world rejects those who are not part of it, which is a really good thing because that means you are living set apart—holy—from the world. You are living like Jesus and unto Jesus (Jn 15:20; Matt 5:11-12).

Oh, and by the way, we are encouraged to be weak in our sufferings because when we embrace our weakness, then we see the strength of Christ in our lives (cf. 2 Cor 12).

So, suffering/persecution/rejection from the world is a necessary part of your growth in godliness because it is the indicator that you are pursuing Christ over the things of this world.

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[1] John R. W. Stott, The Lessters of John, TNTC, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 94.

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