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Maturing Gracefully

As a forester, trees are fascinating to me. I get inspiration from trees sometimes. God gave trees to us for food, shelter, and many products that we use every day. However, trees do not grow furniture; we have to make it. Even Jesus, who created the tree, labored as a carpenter to make a chair from a tree. Later a tree was used to make the cross where Jesus died to deliver us from sin and its consequences. No, God gave the trees to us, but we make the chairs and crosses. So it is with the spiritual life. God has given to us everything we need to become like Jesus, but we have to use what He has given.

2 Pet 1:3-11 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I find it humbling, but at the same time inspiring and challenging to recognize that the greatest saints who ever lived did not have a better scroll or Bible than I have, they just knew the Author better and loved Him more than I do. They were more mature, which is God’s goal for us.

Heb 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

With all the divine power available to us in this life, why do we settle for minimum spirituality? God wants us to grow up, become mature and Christ-like. If we do not, it is not God’s fault. He has given us all the grace we need to mature. Therefore, we are as mature as we want to be.

Eph 4:11-15 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

These Scriptures shatter all our excuses for carnal Christianity and all our feeble excuses such as: "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven." Children are trained for maturity by discipline. When we repented of our sin that meant we were to stop doing it. Either we discipline ourselves or we can expect our Father to discipline us, for He disciplines those whom He loves. Sinning is not permitted to born-again believers. We are to grow up!

1John 3:9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

Not that it is impossible to sin; but it is, by the blood of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit, possible not to sin.

1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

God has given us grace to have victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil! He has given us everything we need to mature and become like Jesus, but we must make it happen by building up our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and keeping ourselves in God’s love. With His power and our submission, we can leave the spiritual nursery and go on to maturity while we wait for Jesus to return.

Jude 17-23 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Christian maturity is not a Sunday activity, and there is no finality to Christian maturity this side of Heaven. It is the result a life-long pursuit as we press on to toward the goal of knowing Christ.

Phil 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Through the atonement of Jesus Christ we have instant purity. However, we do not have instant maturity. Faith in the finished work of Christ is one thing. To add to our faith, as we read in 2 Peter 1:3-11, is something else. Spiritual wisdom does not come with years, neither does maturity. The key to both is obedience and a passion for Jesus. We would gain wisdom and mature quickly if we would just love Jesus and live up to what we have already attained.

The "Heroes of Faith" in Hebrews 11 amaze me. They had no Bibles, no CD’s as we have, no Bible seminars, no daily radio Bible teaching, and no T.V. preachers. Yet these believers subdued whole kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, and stopped the mouths of lions. What faith they had! But this is the normal Christian faith God expects from us, too!

He does not want this: Rev 3:15-16 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

With God, doing what He says is either yes or no, never something in between. The glory of the Gospel is tied directly to this kind of expected surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. When Jesus speaks to people, He talks to them as if He expects them to leave everything and follow Him. He never begs or pleads with them.

He walks up to people who are just minding their own business, and without so much as an introduction, He calls them out of it forever. His sermon is not even a “three-pointer” – just two words: “Follow Me.” And how does He carry out the delicate task of follow-up and care for the new convert? Take a guess. “Follow Me.”

He speaks as if what we do, with what He says, will be the most important thing we ever do in life. It is.

He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor, that he would have treasure in heaven, and to follow Him. The rich young ruler didn’t and he never experienced true riches.

He told the woman at the well that if she drank the water He offered her she would never thirst again. She did, went back to her village, and brought half of those who knew her back to Jesus.

He told a deeply religious man, Nicodemus, that unless he was born again he would never see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus braved the censure of his peers and received a new life and the Kingdom by putting his faith in Jesus.

Jesus told those who followed Him that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood they could have no part in Him. From that time, many went back and followed Him no more. Does what Jesus says have to make sense to you before you will follow Him?

He told Peter exactly how He was going to die, and then said, “Follow Me.” To all He says:

Luke 9:23-24 “Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

Jesus said there are only two roads, one that leads to heaven and the other that leads to hell, and that only a few would take the straight and narrow path toward life, while many would take the broad and easy road toward destruction. There is no in-between, no middle road, no other way.

He said that you could tell a tree by its fruit and that no normal tree puts out a mixture of good and bad fruit, no matter what theologians or psychiatrists may say.

He said a poor lady’s last coin was worth more than a whole wad a rich man dropped into the collection box, and that a weeping prostitute would be remembered for using her life’s savings to anoint Him with perfume.

Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended by raising the corpse from the dead! He raised a dead boy, a little girl, and then a man who had been dead three whole days! Then He did it all over again at His own funeral. He raised Himself up after three days, even though the Romans had posted a guard and the religious leaders had sealed the grave with a boulder!

Who is this Jesus? No one in history was born like Jesus, lived like Jesus, talked like Jesus, and loved like Jesus. Not even His enemies could find fault with Him. He defies comparison, because there is nobody else we can put in His class. He split history in half.

Who is this Jesus? He is Almighty God in human flesh, that is who He is, and He gives eternal life to anyone who really wants it. When you come to Jesus, He doesn’t give you options or alternatives, just a core decision to His one command: “Follow Me.” That, beloved, is a call to become a mature believer, a follower, a fanatic. Our response is the most important thing we will ever do.

We don’t like the word “fanatic”. It congers up images of a Jihadist. However, if they are fanatical over a false prophet, shouldn’t we be fanatical over the Son of God?

Do you know what a Christian fanatic is? Not a religious nut—I said Christian, a Christ-like fanatic. Each of us has a different definition and degree of what we consider is fanatical, so let me simplify it for you: A Christian fanatic is anyone who zealously loves Jesus more than you do.

Some people minimize our need for a zeal or passion for Jesus. They tell us that our feelings aren't really important as long as we walk in obedience. Don’t misunderstand; obedience is necessary, but we can do the right thing for reward or for fear of punishment, without loving Jesus very much at all. A husband can be a faithful and kind provider to his wife without having much love or passion for her. What wife wants a relationship like that?

So, why do we think God would be willing to settle for obedience that is not accompanied by an all-consuming passion for His Son? He is not willing, because He said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He also said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Obedience should be a by-product of love.

If we look at the heroes of our faith, we will find that they are men and women who were not only obedient, but were consumed by passion for God. The apostle Paul was so consumed by his love for the Lord Jesus Christ that living simply meant Christ to him - "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."(Philippians 1:21 NIV) This kind of complete devotion, zeal, and passion is the goal for us. It is essential for becoming mature in Christ.

How can we get this passionate love for Jesus? There are three simple but indispensable things we must do to mature gracefully. First, we can't love a person whom we don't know. Therefore, we must set aside time to get to know Jesus. We must never allow this time to become mechanical or ritualistic. We are meeting with a real Person! When Jesus went to be with the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. This Person speaks, guides, encourages, reveals, convicts, rebukes, loves, rejoices, gets angry, and can be grieved. These are the things that scripture teaches us about the God with whom we relate.

It is possible to read the Bible and never hear the voice of God. Therefore, we must not let other things disturb our time with God, and we must not let our prayer time degenerate into nothing more than taking a shopping list to God. This is an intimate, passionate, love relationship! Therefore, our time with God should be as special as when we are alone with our spouse.

I know you have heard this before. We are taught from the beginning of our conversion about the importance of spending time with God. The problem isn't that we don't know it; the problem is that we don't do it! That is why we haven’t matured gracefully any more that we have.

The second thing that is absolutely essential is the removal of any barriers between us and God. Our sins create a barrier between us and God so that we cannot come into His presence and grow in love and knowledge of Him. These barriers are removed when we confess our sins and God forgives us.

1John 1:9 "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

We all know this, but all too often we don't really believe it. Too many of us confess sins and never feel forgiven because we are really not repentant or we are really not trusting in the power of His blood to forgive us of those sins.

We will never be holy enough, disciplined enough, or mature enough to get into His presence apart from the blood of Jesus Christ. Our good works, reformed lives, and best intentions will never take away the guilt of sin. The only thing that the Father has given us to take away our sin and guilt is the blood of His Son. Therefore, confess, repent, and put your trust in His Blood.

The third thing that we must do to acquire a passion for Jesus is to consistently ask for it. This is where Luke 11:13 comes in. Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

I ask for the Holy Spirit in the morning when I get up; I pray for Him during the day when my mind slips into neutral; and I pray for Him when I wake up in the middle of the night. When I pray this way, I am confessing to God that I need Him, and if He does not grant the Holy Spirit in my life, I will never acquire a passion for the Son of God. I am confessing to Him that my godliness, my discipline, my knowledge of the Word, are insufficient to produce a passion for Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can change my heart. Divine love can only be divinely imparted. It is the task of the Holy Spirit to "pour out His love into our hearts.”

Romans 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Where is your heart, your passion, or your zeal this morning? Do you have a desire to become all God wants you to be—to be mature in Christ? If so, make Jesus your main passion and pursuit every day. Repent of all sin and ask the Father to fill you with the Holy Spirit everyday. Then follow Jesus.