The Essence Is the Mechanism

It’s common knowledge that Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species was a game changer. Interestingly enough, Darwin’s theory was heavily laden with speculation based on real observation, but lacking any type of significant scientific experimentation. Still, Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the opportunity secular scientists longed for, providing an intellectually plausible mechanism by which naturalistic evolution could possibly take place.

Caricature from The Hornet magazine, March 22, 1871

A scientific focus on key mechanisms often leads to a clearer understanding of how this world might actually function. A vital mechanism we all learned about in our early science classes was  photosynthesis–the process by which a plant can process water, nutrients in dirt, carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow; even to the point of producing fruit. Without the essential mechanism of photosynthesis none of us would be alive because we’d have nothing to eat.

Personally, I don’t buy into Darwin’s theory and I don’t generally spend a lot of time thinking about photosynthesis, but those are not the primary issues at hand. Rather, I’m trying to illustrate that in order for growth to take place, there must be a mechanism of transformation—some type of repeatable process that produces real and specific change. (I know some of this may sound terribly technical, but you won’t be disappointed if you bear with me.)

I’ve spent much of my Christian life seeking to understand the mechanism for spiritual growth in the life of a believer. How do we help someone who becomes a child of God to actually grow into a spiritually mature disciple of Christ? (For anyone involved in Christian leadership, this is probably the primary issue of our day). Our initial response might be that we need to get people reading the Word and praying and involved with Christian fellowship. But I would say those are the nutrients of the Christian faith and not the mechanism by which transformation takes place.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that The Essence Is the Mechanism. If you remember my previous post, The Essence of Christianity is “faith working through love.” Allow me to explain how I think this all works. Although I’ve used some scientific jargon to this point, the mechanism for spiritual growth is really quite simple.

Diagram by At09kg – CC BY-SA 3.0

Biblical faith is the primary means through which we abide in God’s grace. A person abiding and abounding in grace is like a well-tended garden with life breaking out everywhere.

Think about a fruit tree. That tree has so much life that it produces sweet and succulent fruit as a byproduct. There’s no straining or struggling—the tree simply draws in nutrients and the mechanism of photosynthesis does the rest.

Reading and studying the Bible, praying and genuinely connecting with other believers all serve as nutrients that help to nurture our faith, enabling us to continually abide in the Holy Spirit’s life giving grace. The result is the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives, especially the fruit of love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB)

The mechanism for Christian growth is really that simple! Living by faith amounts to abiding in grace. Giving practical expression to our growing love for God (and others) releases yet more grace and perpetuates a cycle of consistent growth with spiritual maturity (and reproduction) as the end product.

Now some readers may be thinking that personal spiritual growth really is not that simple and I might agree to a point. But what’s actually complicated for us is learning how to continually abide in God’s grace—not the mechanism for transformation itself. If we can get this figured out, it will be a game changer for sure!