Well it's our privilege, this morning, to continue our series on the anatomy of the church. This has been a wonderfully refreshing time for me to go back and sort of regrip some of the great truths that have become the foundation of our church because they're from the Scriptures. You remember we talked about having so many new people who really were new in the faith, new in coming to know Christ who needed to have the foundational truth firmly planted in their life. And that's why we went back to do this study of the anatomy of the church so people would understand why we do what we do, why we emphasize what we emphasize and teach what we teach. And these are just such marvelous days for our church.
And I really didn't know whether you would all respond to this series the way I hoped, but it's been overwhelming, both from pastors and elders right on down to many of you folks, so much encouragement and excitement about going back to some of these basic truths. And I confess that it allows me, of course, to say whatever I want because I'm not compelled or contained by any given passage. And in fact that's what I've been doing. In fact, last Sunday morning I was telling someone, I wrote down on a piece of paper John 13 and that was all I put down on the pulpit. And I thought I'd go from there to something else but I never got off of it because I'm just sort of sharing my heart as your pastor. And the same thing happened again this morning, I wrote down a text of Scripture this morning and that was as far as I went. And that allows me to draw on all these years.
Somebody asked me, "How long does it take to prepare a sermon?" And some times you can say ten minutes and thirty years. You spend a long time filling up the well and then you can just sort of tap it in a rather brief time and let it sort of all begin to flow. And the Lord has allowed me to do that. It's been very helpful for me to have the time to focus on working on the study Bible because it's so intense and it's so all consuming that if I were having to prepare new material every Sunday and stick with text, I would never have the time to accomplish this and so I'm going to stay with this series as long as I can and as long as you will endure it until I have passed the deadline. And I trust the Lord will continue to use it, there's so much to say. In fact, I hadn't intended to just take one theme or one passage and make it a whole sermon, but that's kind of the way it's just turned out because that's the way it's come to my mind and my heart.
And today we're going to come to one theme, and I'm not even going to be able to get through it this morning, so it's going to be this morning and this evening on one very important theme. And I really believe the Lord is going to continue to use this and to bless our hearts. There's no reason to have an identity crisis in the church. I...between services went up into my office and I opened a magazine and the title of a brand new emphasis is The New Church, and the whole article was about how we've got to throw away the way the church has always operated and we've got to become something brand new. And I've always felt that it's really not necessary to be new, it's just necessary to be right, just necessary to do what the Word of God has outlined for us to do, and that's what we're looking at. There should not be an identity crisis in the church if we just open the Word of God. We can change in forms and styles but the heart and soul of what the church is is outlined for us explicitly in Scripture.
And to get at that we basically have borrowed the metaphor of the church as a body. Paul describes the church as if it were a body, a living body and Christ its head. And His life and His will pulsing through the church in all of its diversity as it functions to carry out His will. And the metaphor of the body is a magnificent way to look at the church. And we've extended that metaphor from where Paul talked about it and developed it a little more beyond that. And so we talked, first of all, about the skeleton. If we are the body of Christ, the body has a skeleton. We talked about the formational, foundational, the rigid, the fixed elements that make up the skeleton of the body, those things that are sort of unbendable and immovable, bottom-line requirements, absolutes, necessities. And we went through those.
And secondly then we moved to the internal systems. A skeleton is not alive, it has to have organs hanging on it and all those fluids and all those functions and all those impulses moving to produce that life. And we're looking at those internal systems. And as I look at the internal systems in the spiritual body of Christ, what I'm looking at is attitudes, concepts, convictions, motivations, spiritual principles. And we started to outline what they were.
First of all, we said it is necessary internally for the church to have faith, everything starts there, trusting God. And that comes from knowing Him well enough to trust Him. Then secondly was obedience. We talked about how essential it is that the church have the flow of obedience. That is what carries its life. Then we talked about humility and how that is the noblest of all Christian virtues. And then we talked about love last Sunday morning and said that the reason humility comes first is because only humble people can really love because love is self-sacrificing service. And last Sunday night we talked about unity. Where you have humility you have love, where you have real sacrificial love you will have unity because people will sacrifice their own wishes, their own will, their own agenda, their own preferences for the good of others...and that's what brings about, or that's what preserves really the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Now for today we come to another essential internal force...an essential internal inherent property in the life of the body of Christ and we'll just call it growth. Life by very definition is a growth process. It is a process of growth. That which is alive is growing. It is growing. And we as a church must be growing. And I'm not talking about the number of people that come here or the number of facilities we have or the number of programs we have. I'm talking about individual spiritual growth. Just as we look at a child that does not grow as somewhat of a sad situation because there is a certain amount of retardation there and they never develop the way they should develop, and they never are able to embrace life with all the fullness and the richness that others can...we look at that as a sad situation, so in the church we would look at spiritual retardation as a sad situation and, in fact, an unnecessary one because there are not compelling factors to retard spiritual growth when the resources are made available to all of God's people. Spiritual growth is an essential.
And you need to be looking at your life as a process of spiritual development. And we're going to talk about that this morning and tonight.
Second Peter 3:18, just some sort of basic ground work here to begin with...2 Peter 3:18 says, "But grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." There is a command to grow. Grow in the sphere of grace, grow in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, both a biblical knowledge and an experiential knowledge as He works His will in your life through all the vicissitudes and issues of life, grow is the idea.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we find another Scripture that indicates another element of this matter of spiritual growth. Second Peter 3:18 identifies it as a command, and that pulls us into it and makes us responsible for the process, to some degree. We are to obey the command to grow. Second Corinthians 3:18 looks at it from a different perspective, it says, "But we all with unveiled face..." now let me stop there for a moment and say all of us in the New Covenant, all of us on this side of the cross, all of us who are Christians, all of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus have the veil off our face. This is in the context here talking about Moses. Moses, you remember, veiled his face and the veil becomes a symbol of an inability to see clearly. The Old Testament believers didn't see everything as clearly as we do. They didn't understand the Messiah and His coming and His dying and His rising the way we do. In fact, even those who were the prophets who wrote it down, Peter says, searched what they wrote to try to understand what person and what time these things were speaking about. So we have the veil off, everything is crystal clear. We have the whole account. We have the whole of the Scripture, including the New Testament and they did not. The veil is off.
Now with the unveiled face, "We behold as if in a mirror the glory of the Lord." What is that referring to? The Scripture. The Scripture is that mirror. And the glory of the Lord reflects off the Scripture. God's glory manifests itself through the Scripture. As we open the Scripture, the glory of God comes to us through its pages. And so when that occurs, he says, verse 18, "We are being transformed into the same image from one level of glory to the next, and to the next, and to the next," is the implication of the language there.
So we're in a process of growth. The veil is off. The Scripture is in our hands. The glory of the Lord is shining to us through the Scriptures. And as we are in the Scripture seeing the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed. In other words, God is producing growth. And at the end of verse 18 it says, "It's coming from the Lord the Spirit," or the Holy Spirit.
So in 2 Peter 3:18 the emphasis is to us, you need to grow. Here the emphasis is on the fact that as we study the Word of God the Spirit produces that growth, moving us from one level of glory to the next, to the next, to the next with an ever-increasing glory, or an ever-increasing movement toward being like Christ.
Now where is that going to take us? Well let's look at 2 Corinthians chapter 13. Go to the end of the epistle, the last chapter, 2 Corinthians 13, and in verse 9 Paul in the end of the verse, the second half of the verse, says, "This we also pray for that you may be...literally...completed." We pray for your completion, or your maturity. Paul says I am praying that you would get all the way to the point of maturity...from glory to glory, to glory, to glory until you're complete. To grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ until you're complete. That's his prayer.
To put it another way, he said to the Galatians he was in pain until Christ was fully formed in them. Completion is likeness to Christ. It's what Ephesians says the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And so we are being changed into His image even here, from one level of glory to the next, becoming evermore like Christ until we reach the goal of being like Him. Paul says I want you to reach that goal. I want you to reach that goal.
Down in verse 11 of 2 Corinthians 13, "Finally, brethren, rejoice, be complete." Be made complete, be completed, keep growing all the way to Christ's likeness. In Philippians chapter 3 Paul who was thirty years a believer when he wrote Philippians said, "I have not already attained but I press toward the goal." And what was the goal? Christ's likeness...Christ's likeness. So on the one hand we are commanded to grow. On the other hand, we are told that we will grow by the agency of the Holy Spirit, ever increasingly like Jesus Christ as we gaze at His glory reflected through the Word of God.
Now those verses just get us in touch with the fact that we are called to spiritual growth...we are called to spiritual maturity. And I may put it as simply as I can by saying this, you're either growing or going the wrong direction. You're either growing or dying. That's how it is with life. It isn't static, it doesn't stay still, it either moves forward in its development or it begins to die. You can't stay neutral. Jeremiah said to his people, they were backsliding. You're either moving ahead in spiritual development or you're sliding back...that's not static. And sliding back means you have to regain ground already won and lost. Every believer should be pursuing this matter of growth. Paul said he chased after it, he pursued it. He said to Timothy, "Pursue righteousness...pursue righteousness, keep moving, keep moving, keep growing, keep growing." And the source of that growing, as we have learned, is to gaze at the glory of the Lord revealed through the Word of God, and we'll say more about that tonight.
Now, so that's the call to growth in very simple terms. The one passage I want to talk to you about this morning though is in 1 John chapter 2...1 John chapter 2, a very wonderful rich and often overlooked passage. First John chapter 2...starting in verse 12 let me just take you through three verses...12, 13 and 14. Let's start with verse 12, John says and he's writing to believers here, "I am writing to you, little children." Now let me stop there for a minute. The term here in the Greek is a generic term for someone who is born from someone else. It's just a generic term meaning a child. That's what it means. And it refers categorically to all believers because the next statement says, "Because your sins are forgiven you for His namesake." Everybody whose sins have been forgiven is in the category of a child here. John loves to call believers little children. He does it back in verse 1 of chapter 2, "My little children, I'm writing these things to you that you may not sin." He talks about little children again over in chapter 2 verse 28, "And now, little children, abide in Him." He talks about little children again in chapter 3 and verse 7, "Little children, let no one deceive you." John feels very comfortable with identifying all believers as God's children...His offspring, His born ones. And he so refers to them particularly in chapter 5 where he talks about the children of God and those who have been born of God.
So we who are Christians can be genuinely called "little children." We are God's children, at all ages, and at all points of spiritual growth, we're all His children. The qualifier that defines little children is "your sins are forgiven." Anybody whose sins are forgiven then, wherever they are on the spiritual growth spectrum, wherever they are they can be called little children. Now that just helps you to understand verse 12.
But when you come to verses 13 and 14, now you're going to divide those children into three categories. I can have children who are children children, who are young adult children, and I can have children who are adult children...they're still my children. They're still my born ones, they're still my offspring. And that's precisely what we have here in this text. All of God's children have their sins forgiven for His namesake. All of them have come to the cross, repentant of sin, put their trust in Jesus Christ, put their trust in Jesus Christ and all their sins have been washed away and forgiven eternally and they're on their way to heaven...Christ having borne the full judgment for their iniquities. They are free from the consequence of their sin, free to enjoy the blessing of God throughout eternity. So all children of God have their sins forgiven.
But among those whose sins are forgiven there are different levels of spiritual maturity. Let's look at them in 13 and 14. "I'm writing to you fathers because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I'm writing to you young men because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you children because you know the Father. I have written to you fathers because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you young men because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one."
Now notice there there are three categories of spiritual growth. At the end of verse 13 there are children. This is a different word than the word for children used in verse 12. He's now moving to a sub-category of all God's children, and that is the spiritual babies, the spiritual infants. And then you will notice in verses 13 and 14 both "young men" and you will also notice "fathers." There you have the three stages of spiritual development.
It's not unlike life. There are three stages basically in life. In fact, they get pointed out to me all the time. I meet people and they say to me this strange statement, "My you're looking well." People say that to me all the time. And I've come to realize that that's...that's the stage of life just before you die. There is childhood, youth and "my you're looking well." Like what did you expect to see, someone in pieces? You expect to see a decrepid person? It's like a surprise, you know, they haven't seen you in a long time but you're old but you're still coherent and you don't have any tubes coming out of anywhere.
Well in the spiritual realm there's those three categories...childhood, youth and "my you're looking well." Now I want you to know the difference between these categories because you need to know where you are in the process. And while the lines may be may not be big black bold lines between the categories, even as they are in the development of a child into a young person, and a young person into a father or a mature person, they're still very clear ways in which you can assess where you are.
Let's start with the first category at the end of verse 13. "I have written to you children..." John has some things to say to children, spiritual babies, new believers in some cases, and maybe in other cases not new in time, but still infantile in maturity. I have written to you children. There are in the Kingdom of God, in the family of God, spiritual babies.
Now babies have some unusual needs. They don't know very much and what is most disconcerting is they don't know what is good for them and what is not. They lack discernment. They lack discrimination. Now we had some of our grandchildren over last night and they said, "We want treats." They always say that. And so I said, "Well, what do you want?" And they said, "Snickers." And grandma said, "What about carrots?" There was comprehensive disdain for the suggestion and I went and loaded them up with Snickers. Look, I don't care about their health, I just want them to love me, you understand. This is grandfather's prerogative. They can get healthy when they go home.
You know, the bottom line is children don't know...they don't know what's good for them. I remember when I was a young pastor and I was describing one of our children and the lack of discrimination that children have. And I was talking about this little baby of ours, I think it was our firstborn Matt, and crawling around the floor and putting this in his mouth, and that in his mouth and everything he could find went in his mouth. And I don't say that anymore because someone questioned my wife's housekeeping as a result of it, so should anything ever appear on our floor at any time that shouldn't be there...it's likely that a child would stick it in its mouth, is that not true? Absolutely undiscerning, cannot know what is good and what is not good, is not trained well enough to know that, not exposed to the dangers of life well enough to know that. And so the compelling issue of spiritual childishness is a lack of discernment.
To put it in biblical terms, turn in your Bible back to Ephesians 4, a text that we looked at briefly last Lord's day. But in Ephesians 4 verse 13, we have one of those Scriptures that does call us to spiritual maturity and it applies directly to the issue we're talking about. It says in verse 13 that we are to come to a mature man. Now that is true categorically and collectively at the church, but it's only going to be true collectively if it's true individually. So every believer is called to the knowledge of the Son of God...notice maturity is always connected to knowledge...always connected to knowledge. And so, you grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and when you gain that knowledge you come to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. We're talking about spiritual maturity.
Then comes verse 14, "When that happens you are no longer children." You see that? You move out of that childish time. And what is it that defines children? Here it is, verse 14, "They are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." You see that in itself sums up in that one verse the problem with being a child...a lack of discernment, a lack of discrimination, a vulnerability. They can be drawn in by a stranger and kidnapped and their life can be taken away. They can eat that which is not good for them. They will misjudge the value of a certain friendship or relationship. They are highly vulnerable. And that is why it is so important to be a careful parent because you have to protect your child from those kinds of things that can destroy that child's life and well being and health and so forth.
And so you're there to guard them, that you guard what they eat, you guard what they do, where they go. You guard their sort of limits in terms of the physical places they can go. You keep them out of places where they might get in front of a car or a bus. You keep them out of places where they might fall into some danger...if you've got a shop in the garage or whatever it is. You protect those children because you know they have not enough discernment to protect themselves. And when you out for an evening together, you make sure you get somebody else to come in and you pay them a few bucks an hour to protect your children basically because you know the children need to be protected. And spiritual babies are no different. They need to be protected. And that is why the church comes around those people.
That is why, beloved, it is essential for new Christians to be integrated into the life of a strong community of believers because they need that care and that insulation and that protection. This...just this two days ago when I was up in Calgary I met a marvelous young couple who had been up to their neck, literally, in the New Age Movement. I mean, they were into the occult and they were into the whole business in the New Age Movement. And they came to know Christ in the midst of that. They came...came out of that experience of having come to know Christ, a real understanding of the gospel and a faith in Jesus Christ and immediately were sucked into the worst extreme of the Word Faith Movement...the name it and claim it prosperity gospel, demon-chasing kind of environment. And they got pulled into that and it became terribly, terribly destructive. They told me that six months went by and they never, either of them, slept a full night in six months. They were supposed to be chasing demons and what happened was demons were chasing them. They were confused on every front about everything. Their life was in shambles. There was disaster on every front. And by God's mercy and grace somebody gave them a copy of Charismatic Chaos, they read the book and immediately there was a ring of truth. They came out of that. They started ordering tapes upon tapes upon tapes. The maturing process took place and just transformed their life. They could see the error of all of that. They stepped out of it because they were genuinely converted people. They were nourished.
And I said to them, "Where are you going to church?"
They said, "Nowhere."
I said, "Why?"
They said, "We're afraid...we're afraid because we're not sure we're discerning enough yet to know that we're not getting sucked in to some error."
It's a sad thing when that happens and that is the fertile playground for the errorists and the deceivers. They want to play on the spiritual immature. Need I say the church is full of such people who are not able to handle the Word of God, who are tossed about by every wind of doctrine, who have disregard for sound teaching, who don't know it, who are ignorant. They need care. They need help. They need somebody to come along and protect them and insulate them. And that, of course, is the duty, first of all, of their shepherds and pastors, as well as those who are around them among the flock.
Now what is...go back to 1 John...what is the characteristic that most dominates a spiritual child? On the negative side is a lack of discernment. On the positive side it is defined for us in verse 13, "I have written to you children because you know the Father." Here is what is true about a spiritual child, they know the Lord. There is a basic knowledge of the Lord. It's sort of parental recognition.
Your little child comes along and you hope...and it's usually a fulfilled hope...that the first thing you ever hear out of their little mouth, the first time they ever form anything that's remotely connected to a word is "Mama and Dada." You would like to think and you would probably be right in thinking that that's the first thing that will come from their lips. And it probably will be because no matter what else they don't know, there's one thing they do know, they know who is mama, and probably who is dada because they have been the source of food and life and warmth and love. And that's what happens in the life of a new Christian. They know the Lord. They can say, "Yes, I know the Lord, the Lord loves me and He gave Himself for me, and He saved me and He made me a new creature, and that much I know." There is parental recognition.
And that's wonderful. And that's exhilarating, and that's joyful. But unless that child who knows the Lord is protected from the things that can be so destructive which he cannot recognize, the joy of the knowing the Lord soon disappears. A child to maintain that joy and that happiness in a home has to be cared for and protected from all the things that would destroy that child's joy. And the same thing is true spiritually.
So, if you're...if you're a person who knows the Lord and that's about all you know, you just know that Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, and you rejoice in that, that's good, that's a starting place. We wouldn't want you to stay there though because you're just to vulnerable. And there are too many grievous wolves out there that would like to tear you up and there are too many perverse people that would like to rise up and offer you deceptive scheming, crafty unsound doctrine and lure you away. You need to grow. You need to grow beyond that.
That's one of the things that thrills me about this church is that this church has such mature people, such growing people, such a commitment to growth and development that new Christians come in and move fairly fast, don't they? You hear people in the baptistery on Sunday nights and they articulate their testimony. You know, they've come to Christ, they're being baptized and the testimonies just show they grasp the truths and how they're growing. That's how it should be. That's why we provide you all the scriptural resources that we can possibly provide you so we can move you as rapidly as possible. We want to give you the healthy food of the Word so you grow.
Now then you come to the second category when you've moved out of childhood, you come to being a young man. You come into the vigor of youth, the time when you're still developing, you're still growing, you're still going forward. And notice this, the middle of verse 13, "I am writing to you young men," here's how he qualifies young men, "because you have overcome the evil one." Boy, is that not a great statement? You mean to say you can reach a point in your spiritual development where you literally have in the past tense with continuing implications, that's the meaning of the perfect tense in Greek, you already have with continuing implications overcome the wicked one? That's exactly what it says here. Who is the wicked one? Satan. You mean you can overcome, past tense" Satan? Yes.
You say, "Well what about sin?" Sin is not something that Satan accomplishes in your life. Satan may prod you and may provide temptation for you to fall into sin by the system that he concocts around you. But it's not Satan who is there making everybody sin all the time. Satan is not even omnipresent. Moreover, he's not so much involved in trying to get people to do wicked deeds, he is much more involved in the development of deceptive, ungodly, anti-biblical ideologies. He disguises himself, according to 2 Corinthians 11, as an angel of...what?...of light. In other words, he is a deceiver. He is a liar and the father of lies and he is developing all kinds of lies, all kinds of ideologies and philosophies and religions and schemes and so forth to assault unregenerate man and to assault spiritual babies and neutralize their impact. He can't take away their salvation, but he can certainly capture them, keep them in infancy and neutralize any positive impact they would have for the Kingdom and make them a part of the confusion of his own schemes.
But when you become a young man, you have overcome the wicked one in this sense, that he operates 99 percent of his time in ungodly, unbiblical schemes. He is, in 2 Corinthians 10, described really when it talks about those fortresses raised up against the knowledge of God. He is developing ungodly, unbiblical ideologies, religions and systems that capture the unregenerate and hold them and that confuse Christian babies. You have overcome him as a young man, it says.
What do you mean by that? Go to verse 14, here it is, the middle of the verse, "I have written to you young men because you're strong." The only way you're ever going to overcome the evil one is to be strong. How did you get strong? Here it comes, verse 14, "The Word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one."
There's only one way to overcome Satan in this sense and that is to be strong in the knowledge of the Word of God. I have not overcome sin, I have not conquered temptation in my life, but I'll tell you one thing, I have overcome the wicked one. Why? Because I know sound doctrine and so do many of you. And you know sound doctrine well enough that when you see error it doesn't entice you, it makes you angry. When you see error you want to fight against it. When you see error you want to go to battle on that. I love to see a...someone just blossoming into a spiritual young man, their theology is starting to take form. They are getting some discernment and some discrimination. They're asking the right questions. They're understanding the Word of God. They're interpreting the Bible right. And it's all coming together and it's all beginning to make sense and in the vigor of that wonderful discovery and in the exhilaration of having put their theology together, they get very aggressive with it and they want to talk about theology and talk about Scripture and they want to go assault the cults and attack the error. That's part of the vigor of being a spiritual young man. That's part of the aggressiveness that comes and the tremendous sense of well being and spiritual fulfillment when you begin to put your theology together.
I remember in my own life when I began to really be able to understand and make sense out of the Word of God and to see truth for what it was and immediately I could recognize error. Satan...Satan can't lead me astray into false doctrine. He can't present to me a deceptive system that is going to draw me off and confuse me and lead me astray and blow me all over the place. Why? Because I have studied the Word of God. The Word of God abides in me and it gives me strength against his deceptions. That's the vigor of spiritual youth. And that's where you want to get.
Now how do you get there? By knowing the Word of God...by knowing the Word of God. That's again back to 2 Peter where we started, grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It's a matter of knowing the truth. That's how you get those spiritual muscles. As you study the Scripture and yo build your understanding, it's like going to the gym and working out and you get stronger and stronger and you become a spiritual young man with all the strength and all the vigor.
When I was involved in athletics they used to tell us that...I was a sprinter...and they used to tell us that you would reach your peak somewhere between the ages of 27 and 29 and your body would reach its maximum potential of athletic capability at that particular point, and from then on it was all down hill. Boy, when I think about the energy that young man and the energy we had and the strength through those years physically, that's the parallel to this. When you become a spiritual young man there's energy, there's vigor, there's drive, there's passion because your theology is becoming clear, you're ready to go to war, you want somebody to strap on the weapons and you want to go do battle with the enemy cause you understand the truth. You become able to deal with the issues of life all around you. You become able to sort of see the way the society is unfolding. You can discern the times and the seasons against the background of the Word of God. That's a spiritual young man.
So you can ask yourself...where are you? Do you know doctrine? Can false doctrine woo you away? Could you become a victim to Satan's deceiving schemes that would assault the gospel? If you have a strong firm grasp of sound doctrine, you're a spiritual young man. And if you understand what you believe and know what the Bible teaches...not every verse in every place, but you understand the great redemptive truth that dominates the Word of God, you stand on firm ground, you're strong. And in that sense you've overcome the wicked one. Now your temptations are a function of your flesh interacting with the schemes of Satan that are built into the worldly system. And you will not overcome that until you get to glory, but his concoction of false religions and ideologies you will overcome, you will overcome his lies because you know the truth.
But that's not where it ends. There's a third category of spiritual development. Beginning in verse 13, "I'm writing to you fathers..." Verse 14, "I have written to you fathers..." Apparently he had spoken to them before on this. And here's the third category, a spiritual father. This is the "my you're doing well" state, you've reached maturity. You've arrived. And you can see the difference between this and a spiritual young man. A spiritual young man just putting together his theology, framing up his doctrine whether it's a man or a woman, getting everything in place is vigorous about that doctrine, thrilled to have that strength, wants to apply that to all the issues. Very concerned about everything being right and honoring the Word of God, and that's all good. But a spiritual father is another level. There's a certain sense of tranquility, a certain sense of rest, a certain sense of peace, a certain depth of character. There's all of that summed up in one statement and it's repeated in verse 13 and 14. "Fathers, you are fathers because you know Him who has been from the beginning."
What's he saying? You've started to plumb the knowledge of the depths of the eternal God. That's spiritual maturity. You've gone past the revelation to the God who wrote it. I don't mean you're in to some mystical thing, I simply mean that your knowledge of Scripture, listen to this, is deeper and deeper and deeper so that it's not just the facts that Scripture teaches, it's not just the categories and the principles and the doctrines, but all of a sudden you are getting to know God who is the writer and who is revealing Himself in the Word of God. And you've had enough prayers answered to see that God does answer prayer and you've experienced those answers. You've seen enough power expressed in your weakness to know that God will enable you. You've seen enough wisdom in your ignorance to know He's there to lead you and guide you. You've gone through enough suffering and pain and sorrow and difficulty in life to know that God was there to hold you and lift you and comfort you. And in the mix of your understanding of the Word of God, of the unfolding of your experience as you walk with God, you know God. That's a spiritual father.
There's a depth that belongs to people like that. There's a wisdom. There's a confidence. There's a settled character to people who know their God. And the Bible says the people who know their God do great things. That's ultimately where you want to get. You want not just to know what the Bible says but you want to know the God who said it. You want to plumb the depths of His character and His nature and His person.
Paul, thirty years after his conversion, said, "That I may know Him." A little song puts it this way, "Oh I want to know You more." And it's really it. You want to go pass the Scripture to know the God who wrote it.
It's a privilege for me to spend a lot of time studying the Bible. Sometimes it's not unusual for me to spend eight to ten hours of uninterrupted time, sort of submerged. And as you do that time after time and year after year through your life, that becomes...I don't know how I can say this, but that becomes a little bit of information and a whole lot of communion. All of a sudden you get to a point where you sort of transcend the details and you begin to sense the reality of who it is you're in communion with. You begin to feel the heart of God. You begin to feel His dishonor and you begin to feel His honor. And pouring over Ezekiel this last many, many, many hours and God is so dishonored, so dishonored, so dishonored over and over, repeatedly, repeatedly to such degradation, such depths, such horrors that you begin to feel the agony and the pain of the heart of God. And all of a sudden it really isn't so much...Well, this word means this and this verse means that, and this means that...it's that you just begin to feel, you just begin to understand the heart of God, understand why He judges, why He blesses, who He is.
And as I've said through the years, I never study a passage to make a sermon, that's easy. To get a sermon is easy. Sometimes you contrive it if you're not careful. But I study a passage to know God and out of the depth of my understanding God in the passage, I can usually think of a few things to say. I want to know my God because I want to become ever more like Him, I want to see His glory revealed in the Scripture and the Spirit to conform me more and more into His image. That is the process, folks. And the ultimate end is to bring you to completion and completion is equal to being made like Christ. That's why Paul said, "I have not yet attained," right? I'm not there yet. "But I press toward that goal."
Well now you understand what spiritual growth is. And I reiterate what I said earlier, you're either growing or you're doing what Jeremiah said, you're sliding back, you can't stay in the middle. You're either growing or you're dying...you're losing ground.
Now let me define that for you. When I talk about spiritual maturity or spiritual growth, I am talking about something that is relative, not absolute. Let me show you what I mean. If I were discussing spirituality as opposed to say to carnality, carnality simply means you do what the flesh tells you to do, spirituality means you do what the Spirit tells you to do. Spirituality would be doing what God wants you to do from the heart, being obedient. Carnality would be being disobedient and sinning. That's an absolute. At any point in time you're either doing what God wants you to do or doing what the flesh tells you to do. You're either doing righteously or you're sinning. That's an absolute. That is true of anybody. That doesn't say anything about whether you're a babe, a young man, or a spiritual father. Spiritual fathers can be spiritual, spiritual fathers can have times when they're fleshly. Spiritual babies can be spiritual, and fleshly. Spiritual young men can be spiritual and fleshly. That's an absolute. That is to say it is either true or not true at any point in time. It is absolutely true or not true. You either are in the Spirit obeying the Lord, or you're not...to the best of our ability to do that in our fallen condition, we are either walking in the Spirit or walking in the flesh, to use Paul's terms. That's an absolute. That's true of anybody anywhere along the scale.
But here's the point. Maturity is not an absolute, it is a relative thing. But the only time you are maturing is when you're spiritual. When you're carnal you're backsliding. Disobedience, you lose ground. Obedience, you gain ground. And have you noticed that's why the Christian life looks like three steps forward, two steps back? Because you don't stay static, you walk in the Spirit and you're moving toward maturity. You see, your maturity level is the sum...it's the sum of all your spiritual time minus all your carnal time. So you can hope it's three steps forward and two back, not two steps forward and three back. Spiritual maturity then is the process which occurs when a believer walks in the Spirit. That's the only time really contributing.
You say, "Well what about the trials and the suffering and the pain and all of that?" The only time that works to your advantage is when you have a righteous response to it. So, spiritual growth then is a relative thing moving you from being a spiritual baby to a spiritual young man to a spiritual father during those experiences in your life when you walk in the Spirit. And when you feed the flesh, you go back. You slip away from being conformed to Christ.
Now that basically defines for us this concept of spiritual growth. Tonight I'm going to tell you how to get in the process and what will make the greatest contribution to that process as we continue to finish up with this word tonight. Pray with me.
Father, we thank You for Your Word, Your truth, for this great emphasis in Scripture, and we pray, Lord, that You'll keep us on track. Lord, we want to grow as You've commanded us. We want to see the Spirit conform us to Christ's likeness. To that end we pray for every life here for Your glory, in our Savior's name. Amen.
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