Sunday, October 4, 2015

Developing Spiritual Maturity

October 4th is the day my life changed forever. I have grown so much since that day when I was struck by a car while in a crosswalk. I have spent many hours reading the Bible and many hours working on becoming a better person. No, I don’t think that I was a bad person, but I have certainly been on a journey to become more spiritually mature. Increased spiritual maturity helps us become better at living for the Lord. It is while on that spiritual journey that God has allowed me to mentor other women for the Him and His Kingdom.

Whether you are the Christian mentor or mentee, you are on a journey that will culminate when your life on this earth is over. In fact, all people are on an earthly journey. So, whether you are a Christian or not, you will someday arrive at your destination. I know where I will be when I leave this earth. When I arrive at my destination, I will be in Heaven with God. But, whatever service I am doing for the Lord while I am here on earth, when I get to Heaven I want to be able to say; that I have tried my best to know as much about God and His Son as I could, and that I worked hard at obtaining spiritual maturity along the way. Have you tried to know more about God and Christ the Son, and are you now journeying toward spiritual maturity?

Many Christians pridefully think that they have already reached spiritual maturity, while other Christians never even think about trying to obtain spiritual maturity. I don’t believe that we will gain full spiritual maturity until we live daily for Christ and then only when we reach Heaven. I believe that acquiring spiritual maturity is a daily journey of seeking to become closer to God. However, I do believe that in obedience to Christ, in studying God’s Word, in being “doers of the Word” and in attempting to live for Christ daily that we can gain much spiritual maturity along the way. That is certainly what has happened to me over the years. As I search God’s word and acquire godly wisdom, I grow ever more spiritually mature and you can too.

Our journey toward spiritual maturity is a lot like planning and then taking a journey here on earth to a particular destination. First, you have to know where you want to go on your journey. I want to go to Heaven to be with Christ forever. Here on earth, though, I may choose to take a trip or journey to Alaska or some other destination. After you have chosen your destination, you have to decide the route that you want to take to get there. You need a map or GPS to get to your destination. You also need to decide what sites you want to see along the way. But, before you get started, you have to pack your bags.

Our journey to spiritual maturity is similar. If I want to go to Heaven then I need to know how to get there. Just like you would need ticket to go on an Alaskan cruise, you need to purchase a ticket to Heaven through the repentance of your sins and your belief in Jesus Christ as your risen Lord and Savior who has already paid the price on the cross for you. Christ has paid for your ticket to Heaven, if you choose to accept Him as your Lord and Savior.

Now that you know your desired destination, you will want to develop a plan of how to live your life as you journey through this world. The map or GPS for your journey is your Bible. But you have to read it daily to make sure that you are staying on the right path. This means that you must also pack your Bible to take on your journey, and that your Bible is not left in the suitcase, but is taken out and read daily to make sure that you are staying on the right road.

On any journey you will see sites along the way. You will have to make choices about which sites you want to see and which you don’t. You will also meet people along the way. Some people you will spend more time with than others. But, sometimes you may be introduced to someone who you want to spend extra time getting to know. It is during these times that you may have the opportunity to share the Word of God.

Unfortunately, like on most long road trips, you will probably encounter detours along the way. It is at these detours that you will need to decide whether or not to continue on in the same direction by going ahead and taking the detour, i.e. without being grouchy and mad because it is going to take you longer to get there, or if you are going to turn around and reverse directions. Some people cannot handle detours in life, such as being laid off from a job or having to move and make new friends. They either shut down or decide that the Christian life is not working out for them. They may believe that God did not answer their prayers even though God may have allowed the detoured in their life to give them a better life or to introduce them to someone who needs to hear about the path to Salvation.

Of course, on any journey there is the possibility of trials and tribulations or accidents along the way. These, too, are a type of detour in your life. When those occur, you may have to stop and wait to heal from the accident or persevere in overcoming a particular trial. Or God may use that earthly accident or near accident as a way of getting your attention. Unfortunately, there are some spiritually immature Christians who get mad at God for the trial or accident. They forget that we live in a fallen world and bad things can happen here on earth, but that God will always be there to support us and care for us along the way, no matter what kind of detour we may encounter. For, we are never alone! Those who pull out their Bible and read of all the times that God was there for those who loved Him will be comforted, and those who pray and read the Word of God for strength and endurance will be on the road to even greater spiritual maturity. There are still other similarities between our journey here on earth and our journey to reach spiritual maturity and Heaven, but I will stop with those. Just remember that we have to continually strive for spiritual maturity in our life journey.

I hope that all Christian women, though, are reaching out to strive for spiritual maturity. In striving for spiritual maturity you can help another woman in some manner or another gain more maturity as well. Active Relational Christian Mentoring is a great way to encourage and to help other women to seek out or strive for spiritual maturity. Indeed, one of the most fulfilling things that can happen to a Christian woman is to find that she has mentored and helped another woman in gaining more spiritual maturity. It is great when you can say that you have made a difference in the life of another human. I often think of Sophia (named changed) who originally was just a stranger, but then became a friend. She eventually became a Christian friend who now has touched the lives of many other women as well. It took several years of Christian mentoring before Sophia accepted Christ as her Savior.  Although I gave her the Salvation information, I was not the one who was there when she was actually “Saved”. Sophia was “Saved” when she finally visited a church service. Later, though, we worked together on gaining even more understanding and knowledge of how we are to be obedient to God. We both wanted to work at becoming spiritually mature.

Becoming Spiritually Mature

The other day, I was studying the book of Hebrews. In chapter five, the author of Hebrews addressed the importance of striving toward spiritual maturity. Like some Christians today, the Hebrew Christians back then had stopped living for Christ. They were afraid of many things including persecution for their belief in Christ. It was just so much easier to reverse directions and stop the suffering. Although we are not persecuted for our faith here in America, we still can be ridiculed. Unfortunately, over the years and in living in a secular culture, some Christians also go ahead and give up some of the Christian things they once considered to be important in their lives. Many have already reversed course so they can fit into the current culture. Or they have gotten off on a road that is rocky and full of pitfalls for those who are no longer living for Christ. It may feel to them that it is so much easier to go along with secular beliefs than to stand up for Christ, but is it really?

All Christians, however, should continue to strive to live the way that Christ has asked us to live. That is why, in Hebrews 4: 14 the author says: “Let us hold fast to our confession.” In other words, that wonderful confession of faith in belief of Christ Jesus is important. It is powerful and illuminating. There is a wonderful peace and comfort that comes from knowing Christ as our Savior. So, there is no reason to hide that confession or to forget what should be the most important thing in your life – Salvation and striving toward spiritual maturity.  I don’t think that we can forget our Salvation, but I think that we can take it for granted, push it to the wayside and even reverse course when the going gets rough.

The author of Hebrews asked the Jewish Christians to “press on to maturity.” – (Hebrews 5: 9. NASV). But in order to press on to maturity, we need to know what spiritual immaturity is, and we also need to know how to strive for spiritual maturity. But first, a person needs to know whether or not they are spiritually immature. Obviously, no Christian really wants to admit that they are spiritually immature. So many Christians just ignore thinking about it. But if you want to do something about your spiritual maturity level, you first must know what spiritual immaturity is. Then you must want to do something about your spiritual immaturity. So, how do you recognize or realize that you are spiritually immature?

Like most things in life, if a person does not know that they are deficit in a particular area, they cannot change. In order to change, we need to know that we need to change. For example, a woman who has never heard of a well-balanced meal, which is composed of meat, vegetables, fruit, grains or breads, and milk or cheese, may never know she should change her eating habits to benefit her body. If she eats poorly, but without knowledge of something better, she will probably continue eating junk food.
Christians can’t move on or journey toward spiritual maturity until they recognize or realize that they are immature. So, in Hebrews 5: 11-12, the author tells the Jewish Christians that they are indeed immature. Then he tells them why they are spiritually immature. It is because they are do not hear and they do not comprehend. He says, “Concerning Him (Christ) we have so much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

These Jewish Christians were not intellectually interested in hearing what was being said about God and His Son. They had Salvation, so they felt that was all they needed. They also had no interest in growing closer to God or to Christ. In other words, they were not interested in hearing the complete Word of God and His Truth. They had the basics, which the author describes as “milk” and were happy to keep feeding on just milk.

Today, many Christians are also not interested in studying the Word of God. Many spiritually immature Christians attend worship service out of habit or peer pressure. However, they seldom attend Bible studies, and if they do, they usually leave everything they have studied right there on the table and never apply the truths to their lives. Moreover, when they leave either church or the Bible study, they probably leave thinking they have given time to the Lord, so they are good for another week. The spiritually immature Christian probably has no plans to think any further on the sermon or to study the Scriptures, because these Christians are dull of hearing.

Notice in verse twelve, the author says that some of the Hebrew Christians have been Christians for a long time. So, by now they should be teaching others about God’s Biblical Truths. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you… Does this statement touch you? 

Obviously, not all Christians have the gift of teaching, but we are all called to share what we know and what we have learned from the Word of God with each other. ARCM is just that; sharing what you know with another person in a loving and caring way. But if one has a “lazy mind” that person will not attempt to learn so that she can “teach” or share what she has learned with another. She may even need to be taught again about the elementary principles. So what are the elementary principles?

In verse twelve, the author of Hebrews refers to the elementary principles of the “oracles” of God. First the “oracles” of God means the “Words” of God. In fact, we should be sharing God’s Word, His “oracles”, with everyone we encounter. Obviously, the elementary or first principles of the oracles of God include the Ten Commandments, God’s creation of the world and many other Words of God within both the Older and Newer Testaments of the Bible; including God’s Words in the Older Testament about the coming of Christ before it actually occurred in the Newer Testament. Finally, those elementary principles found within the Newer Testament also include the Gospel message and all the instructions that Christians have been given on how to live their lives for the Lord.

Just like we need to learn our ABC’s before we can learn to read and write, we need to learn the ABC’s or elementary principles of God’s Word in order to live fully for the Lord and in order to teach others about Christ. Certainly, to teach others we have to first understand God’s Words and His directions for our lives. We have to become more spiritually mature. The Hebrew Christians, though, were just not putting God’s Word into their minds, so they could not pull out God’s Scriptures when they were needed to tell others about God and His Son. Both their ears and their minds were dull.

Many Christians today are a lot like those Hebrew Christians who refused to expand or grow their minds with the Word of God. They, too, are lazy or dull of hearing and thinking. They have lazy minds. Why? Well, it takes time to study the Word of God and to think and mediate on God’s Word. It takes time to memorize certain Scriptures that can be used to share Christ with others. 

As I mentioned last week, we all need to memorize The Roman Road, so we can share the plan of Salvation with non-believers who are searching for Christ. Then, whether you are a mentor or not, you also need to prepare for the “What if” questions that a searcher might have for you. For example, “What if” a woman asks you why you believe that Christ died and arose?  Can you take her to the Scriptures that explain how not only the disciples, but over 500 people saw Christ after He arose? (See I Corinthians 15: 6). Perhaps you can take her to the II Corinthians 5: 17 that says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold new things have come.” A true “born-again” person has been changed forever, and people can see the change in you. That Scripture explains the change in you. Then, be sure and choose a Scripture that has touched your heart and your life, and use it to help another woman understand that Christ is indeed alive and back in Heaven with the Father, and that He is also alive in your heart and life.

The plan of Salvation is one of the elementary principles that we need to know and utilize in obedience to God. But if we have dull or lazy ears and minds, we will not learn those Scriptures, or understand or obtain the wisdom needed to share Christ with others. Our lives will become stagnant as well. If we do not recognize that we are spiritually immature we will never seek spiritual maturity.

Causes of Spiritual Immaturity

Spiritual immaturity is caused by not eating the right food. Just as we can become malnourished from not eating the right food for our bodies, we can become malnourished in our spiritual life too. Malnourishment in our spiritual life leads to spiritual immaturity. When we start out as babies, we can grow on just milk. But when we get to a certain point in our growth process, we begin to need more nourishing foods such as meat, vegetables, fruit, etc. It requires a well-balanced diet to have good health. It is the same with our spiritual life. If we do not feed on the meat of the Scriptures, we will not grow past a certain point in our Christianity.

There are many different types of meat too. Christians need to feast on the meat of the Scriptures in order to learn, but we also need the meat of Christian actions in order to be obedient to Christ’s directions in our lives. The Hebrew Christians needed both the strong meat of Christian learning and actions to live a full Christian life. We, too, are to pursue learning more about Christ, and at the same time we are to pursue actively working for Him and the Kingdom of God. We can work for the Kingdom of God in many different ways, including through Active Relational Christian Mentoring. But, whatever work that we do for the Kingdom of God, we are to become fruit producers for the Lord. For when we become fruit producers we are not only growing for the Lord, but we are helping other people grow as well.

Unfortunately, when we no longer grow, we stop learning, and we stop sharing with other people. That’s why we are told in II Peter 3: 18to grow in grace and recognition and knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” For as a Christian, you are either growing closer to the Lord Jesus or you are moving farther away from Him, because of your inability or lack of desire to become spiritually more mature.

There is another cause for spiritual immaturity. It is the inability to apply the Biblical knowledge you have heard or read. Hebrews 5: 13 tells us that spiritually immature believers who are unskilled in the “word of righteousness” cannot apply the Word to their lives, even when they read the Bible. “For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.” -- (King James Version). The “word of righteousness” are the Scriptures that teach us the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. Unfortunately, spiritually immature Christians often do not pay attention, and they fail to apply the Scriptures that tell them how to live to their lives. They just continue to live their lives the way they want to live. But, in order to be fruit producers for the Lord, we have to clean up our lives for the Lord.

Colossians 3: 8 (Amplified) tells us to:
Put away and rid yourselves of all these things: anger, rage, bad feelings toward others, curses and slander, and foul-mouthed abuse and shameful utterances from your own lips.” Today, there are so many other things that we have to also rid ourselves of within our culture. We now have internet pornography and on-line internet gambling to just name two. However, even though those two may not be listed in the Scriptures, they are covered under immorality. There are still several other Biblical Scriptures that also enumerate other things as being evil or undesirable behavior for a Christian who is on a journey to become spiritually mature.

If you are a growing Christian, you should have already applied Colossians 3: 8 to your life. But, if you have an uncontrollable temper, or if you are guilty of malicious behavior, slander, or filthy, dirty language, you are just a baby and are not growing for God. There are other verses that I will include at the end of today’s blog that can help a Christian recognize behaviors and actions that are good or evil as you journey forward in your spiritual maturity, if you are interested.

If you are attempting to spiritually mature for the Lord, you should choose to read all the Biblical Scriptures and to personalize verses when you can, so that you can apply God’s Word to your life. In John 13: 17, Jesus told His disciples that they would be blessed for not merely knowing His will, but for doing His will. For Jesus said, “If you know these thing, you are blessed if you do them.” – (NASV).  Genuine faith always leads to godly actions and behaviors. The journey in acquiring spiritual maturity means that we are trying to obey God and His Word.

Curing Spiritual Immaturity

Finally, in verse 14 of chapter five, the author of Hebrews tells us that: “… solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  To work on becoming more spiritually mature we have to practice and train our senses to recognize good and evil.

First, though, when we study the Word of God we are to “chew” on the Scriptures; meaning that we are to think about them. Another word that describes chewing on something is “meditate”. Both words simply mean that we are to try to discern how that Scripture should affect or will affect our lives. Of course in order to “chew” on something, it has to have a more solid texture than milk. It can be the meat or the solid food of the Scriptures that we chew on or work around in our minds until we finally process it. When we finally process what we have chewed on, then we can apply it to our lives. Such is the Word of God. For, if you hear or read the Word of God but then do not think about it after hearing or reading it or then do not attempt to apply it to your life, it is just milk, and it will not provide the needed nourishment for growth. But if you process what you have read and apply what you have read in God’s Word, it will give you nourishment for growth and spiritual maturity. For example Psalm 119: 9 tells us how to keep our life pure. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to your Word.”  -- (NASV). God’s Word actually teaches us what we need to know to keep our lives pure. Just like a map or a GPS is needed for a trip, God’s Word is needed in order for us to journey toward spiritual maturity.

Besides, eating the solid food of the Scriptures there is one more thing that will cure spiritual immaturity. It is spiritual exercise. Notice that in verse fourteen of Chapter five that the author tells us that those who are maturing need more than just solid food. In the King James Version of the Bible, the words used to acquire more spiritual maturity are “trained” and “exercised”. In other words, Christians should exercise or train themselves to discern good from evil. So, the journey toward spiritual maturity requires more than just a good diet of chewing on the meat of God’s Word. It requires exercise and practice or daily applications of the Word to our lives. Along the way we are to train ourselves to recognize both good and evil and right and wrong so that we are never surprised. If we are on a trip or journey to Alaska, we will certainly be on the look-out for situations that could cause us harm or derail our journey. So, too, we can train ourselves to recognize right and wrong and good and evil based upon the application of the Word of God to our lives.

Today we are living in a culture that is constantly trying to change our view of what is good and evil or right and wrong. One of the things that spiritually maturing believers will do when there is a controversial issue is to find out what God’s Word says about it and apply the Word to the situation. Then we can go and do as Psalm 119: 169 tells us to do, which is to pray asking God to: “Give me understanding according to your Word.”

Spiritually maturing believers are not afraid to apply the Word of God to their lives.  They want to live in obedience to God’s Word, even if it might offend others. As we grow in Christ by applying the Word of God to our lives, we actually become more sensitive to good and evil and right and wrong. We recognize the difference and practice living for what is good and true.

It is important that all Christians, and especially those who serve in the Kingdom of God to journey toward spiritual maturity. The following are some Scriptures that you might want to look up to help you on that journey.

Galatians 5: 13-16 & 19-26
Ephesians 4: 1-3 & 31-32
Philippians 2: 3-5 & 14-15
Colossians 1: 9-12
Colossians 3: 8-17
Colossians 4: 2-6
I Thessalonians 5: 13-22
II Thessalonians 3: 5, 11-13
I Timothy 6: 2-12 & 18-21
Titus 2: 11-14
Titus 3: 8-11
James 1: 18-22
James 2: 14-22

Of course, there are many other Scriptures that tell us how to live or how not to live. Many describe both attitudes and actions. Remember, though, that if you are truly journeying toward spiritual maturity that you must have a proper diet of eating the meat of the Scriptures, then chewing and processing the Word of God. Finally, you must exercise and apply God’s Word to your life.

If, however, you have never thought about growing spiritually mature for the Lord, start by realizing that you are spiritually immature. Ask yourself if you have been “dull” of hearing, which means in the Greek that you are sluggish or lazy in hearing what needs to be heard. Second, recognize that you have allowed your mind to grow lazy as well. For, if you cannot share the path to Salvation with another, you have not taught your mind to memorize the verses or even the location of the verses in the Bible. The good news is that no matter how old we are, if our minds are still healthy we can still memorize verses. It just takes us a little longer and more effort or exercise to get the job accomplished. But, it can be done.

Once we realize that we are spiritually immature, we must change the way that we eat. Quit drinking just milk. We need solid food to “chew” on. We need the meat of the Word of God. Then we must process it and apply it to our life. This means that we need a proper diet of feasting on the meat of the Word of God. Finally, we need to practice and exercise our understanding and knowledge of what we have learned about right and wrong and good and evil. If we do those things we will have a wonderful journey of growing into greater and greater spiritual maturity. I pray that you, too, will go and grow in the Lord! You can do it! For, as you grow, you can then share what you have learned with your mentees. You can become a fruit producer for the Lord!

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