maturity in Christ
Living against the grain…that is what it is like to take a stand for Christ in a culture that does not see eye to eye with biblical faith. On Sunday at Providence, we took time to explain why the Bible is a trustworthy foundation upon which to build our lives. We can trust what He says, of course, but in order to live in the fullness of our new life in Christ, we must learn how to do what He says.
Healthy, new-born babies have a natural hunger that compels them to demand food. Their piercing cries in the night will long be remembered by their parents as a clear indication that the little one desired food. Their hunger and cry for food reminded their parents that a new life needs nourishment.
In the same way, when someone has been born of the Spirit of God, the natural, normal response to new life is to hunger for spiritual food. God’s Word is that food. A healthy, growing church is made up of people who have been born of the Spirit–or born again–and who have a real hunger for the Word of God. Just as physical food helps us grow to maturity physically, so spiritual food helps us grow to maturity spiritually.
Since God has revealed His will to His people through His Word, the Bible, it is essential for us to place ourselves totally under the authority of that Word. In order to grow toward maturity, therefore, we must come together as a church to ask ourselves week by week, day by day, and moment by moment two weighty questions: 1) Are you willing to do what the Bible says? 2) What does the Bible say?
The Bible calls His disciples the righteous ones of Christ. But they will be righteous only as they answer those questions correctly. Paul writes in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” The second part of the verse should give us the answer to the first question. We must be willing to do what the Bible says if we expect to please God and so inherit His blessing in our lives. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)
On this point, we must be very clear. Our willingness to obey puts us under the umbrella of the authority of God’s Word as a rule of life. Therefore, all that is written in God’s Word is applicable to all of our lives. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for compromise. If we are God’s people, we must be willing to do all that His Word requires of us.
What, then, does the Word of God say? That is the primary focus of our attention each time the body of Christ gathers. As a matter of fact, the role of the pastor-teacher according to Ephesians 4:12-13 is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” I am called to teach and preach the Word of God to the end that the saints of God are maturing in Him through a knowledge of what the Bible says. What that knowledge requires is obedience.
So there it is. Will we do what the Bible says? Then, come, let us find together what it says, and then we will put it into practice so that the God of peace will be with us in all of His fullness!
When a follower of Christ decides to check his progress, what criteria must he use to do so? For the small business or the large corporation there is an easy way to measure success by checking out the “bottom line”. They can determine whether or not they are making progress by seeing what their labor is producing relative to their goal, profitability. For the small child, anxious to see evidence of growth, pencil marks on a door frame serve that purpose well.
But how do we measure our progress as believers? We have a difficult time determining what the “bottom line” is since we are dealing with intangible issues. Hearts and lives cannot always be measured by objective standards. Yet we cannot ignore the need to evaluate and determine whether we are indeed growing just because the task is subjective.
Since our goal as believers is to grow to maturity in Jesus Christ and to introduce others to Him, it only makes sense that we should ask ourselves some probing questions about the presence our absence of some markers that point toward spiritual maturity. Here are eight categories we can use to assess whether we are living up to our commitment to be fully devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Satisfaction with Our Portion. Have you learned to be content with the knowledge that the Lord Himself has promised to be your portion? It is extremely difficult to resist the constant barrage of influences around us telling us to be more ambitious, to settle for nothing less than the best. With our children, our homes, our jobs and in every imaginable way, we are flooded with thoughts that suggest that what we have and who we are is not enough. When we have been given life in Jesus Christ, we can learn to be satisfied and rest in Him.
Sensitivity to Sin. Am I more aware of aspects of my character that are unworthy of Christ now than I was before? One of the most obvious evidences that we are growing to maturity in Christ is the extent to which we are aware of the presence of sin in our lives. The closer we get to Christ, the more His light exposes the areas darkened by sin. Therefore, we should be recognizing more areas of our lives which need to be changed to be more like Christ and become more sensitive to our sin.
Servant’s Heart. Do I have a heart to serve others and to love them as Christ does? Whenever we walk with Christ, a strong impression He makes upon us is the presence of a servant’s heart. We cannot escape the fact that He came to serve and that to follow Him we must also develop the spirit and attitude of a servant. Maturity in a believer will always be characterized by a servant’s heart.
Scriptural Soundness. Is what I believe based upon the teaching of the Word of God? The marriage of belief and practice is such an alien concept in our society that an editorial in the local paper some years ago expressed dismay that evangelical Christians were dangerous because they allowed their “religious beliefs” to influence their social and political thinking. Do we dare plead guilty? We better! Our beliefs must be biblically based and practically expressed.
Submissive Spirit. Am I willing to yield what I want for the sake of others? Until we find an attitude in our lives which willingly submits to others, we will not be able to function in the unity of the Spirit nor enjoy the bond of peace which maturity in Christ promises.
Strategy for Reaching Non-believers. Are we concerned enough about those who do not know Christ to invest ourselves in developing a strategy to introduce them to Him? We should always be looking for ways to share the good news of salvation in Christ with an ever-increasing circle of non-believers. The tendency most of us have is to divest ourselves of most of our relationships with those who do not know Christ. We need to build up more regular contact with those who need to meet Him.
Stewardship. Am I growing in my understanding of the biblical truth that I am just a manager of the resources that God has entrusted to my care? Am I giving faithfully to the work of the body of Christ so that I can share in the blessing of knowing the joy of obedience? When a church is mature, its people are generous and faithful, often sacrificial, and seldom need to be reminded of their responsibility in the area of personal stewardship.
Stable Prayer Life. Is my personal prayer life growing and the content of my conversations with the Lord giving evidence of a deeper walk with Him? The depth and breadth of the prayer life of the body of Christ serves us well in determining something of the spiritual vitality and health of the congregation. Prayer must be an integral part of our personal spiritual lives which adds to the richness and depth of our corporate experience of prayer.
What’s your criteria to measure your own growth? If we want to be the kind of follower of Christ who “measures up”, who is growing to maturity, we need to ask ourselves questions like these. By the grace of Jesus Christ, we are not what we once were, but we are not yet what we are going to be! Through Christ, we are to continue to grow up, to mature, and then by acknowledging the truth about our progress, we can continue on in the right direction!
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ! (Ephesians 4:15)