Monday, September 25, 2017

Growing and Maturing Spiritually Leads to Christ-likeness and Servanthood

"Satan doesn't need for us to fall into gross sin in order to defeat us; a large does of laziness will do the trick just as well. Put Christ first in your life, and then commit every hour of the day to Him."
- Billy Graham in Quotes, c. 2011

Committing our days to Christ and living for Him is the only way to acquire spiritual growth and maturity. But this is a hard concept and an even more time consuming process that many Christians are not willing to try to understand, let alone engage in. However, every true born-again Christian should desire to grow and mature spiritually. Indeed, every Christian should at some point think upon the following question.

Do you want to acquire spiritual growth and maturity? Most Christians will answer “yes” to that question. For, what true Christian doesn’t want to grow closer to the Lord and learn from God’s Word. Moreover, as followers of Christ, Christians should want to know what God expects from His children. Unfortunately, our life-styles and our attitude toward spiritual growth and maturity often cause us to present a subtle difference in our attitude toward that question or to even give a negative answer to that question.

You may not be able to imagine any true authentic Christian saying, “no, I don’t want to grow spiritually or mature spiritually”. But wanting to grow and mature spiritually is totally different from actually pursuing that growth. Why is that the case? Well, for one thing, all humans and even Christians, are constantly fighting against our fleshly desires and the temptations of this world in which we live. Things like television, busywork and our responsibilities in life tend to keep even Christians from reading the Word of God and from finding out what God expects and wants for us. Moreover, trying to find the time to pray and communicate with God becomes harder and harder to do within our busy lives unless we set aside the time to communicate with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

In the Christian mentoring of others, it is especially important that the mentor pursues growing spiritually and endeavors to develop spiritual maturity. It is important, because without some growth and maturity a Christian cannot be prepared to answer a mentee’s questions. Nor, can the mentor set a good and godly example of Christ-like living and behavior for the mentee or a non-Christian, if the Christian or the Christian mentor has not grown and matured in knowledge of and obedience to the Lord. That is why every Christian, whether mentoring or not, should desire to endeavor to become more like Christ as she lives her earthly life in preparation for her heavenly life.

 Although we were all created to become more and more like Christ each and every day, and although with our Salvation we truly desire to become more and more like Christ, true born-again Christians still have to fight against their fallen nature in order to strive to become more like Christ. In other words, Christians have to constantly fight against the time traps of this life and the selfish desires and the temptations we face daily, which can lead to only wanting to do what we want to do. Certainly, we have to fight against all those selfish things in order to even begin the process of becoming more spiritually mature. But we are not alone in our fight against apathy and temptations. For, God is there with us to give us strength and determination if we will just turn to Him. Moreover, we are not alone in process of developing spiritual growth and maturity, for God is constantly with us, and He even sent His Only Son to show us the way. Furthermore, God has had good plans for each of us; plans He made for us even before we were born. (See Jeremiah 29:11).

God Created Us to Become Like Christ

God knew what He was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity, He restored. We see the original and the intended shape of our lives there in Him.” – (Romans 8: 29. The Message).

In fact, the record of our creation is found within the book of Genesis. It is there in Genesis that we read about God deciding to make man and then deciding on what man would look like. For we read,

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image and likeness.
– (Genesis 1: 26 NCV)

God decided to create caring and loving human beings with the potential to express His characteristics. In other words, we all have the potential to be wonderful caring human beings who can glorify and honor God. We were created in the image and likeness of God in that we were given the potential to develop the wonderful characteristics of goodness, kindness, empathy etc. Unfortunately, because of Adam and Eve’s mistake and sinfulness, we no longer are able to project these wonderful characteristics automatically. Now we have to struggle to become the type of human that God wants us to be. We have to learn how to glorify and honor God in many different ways as we struggle for holiness.

From the moment that God created Adam and Eve, God’s plan has been to make us like His Son. This doesn’t mean that God wants us to become gods. Rather, God wants us to become godly in all our actions and attitudes. He wants us to be kind, caring, loving humans who think about others before we think about ourselves. With our Salvation, God also wants us to take on the values, attitudes and characteristics of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is how we become godly. But first, we must learn what those values, attitudes and characteristics of Christ are and then learn how they were reflected in Christ’s life while He was here on earth, before we can emulate and reflect Christ-likeness within our life so others can see Christ in us.

Before we accepted Christ as our Savior, we all were sinners who were generally thoughtless and selfish, and in many cases, we did not desire to acquire the values by which to live honorably and godly. We were totally unrighteous no matter how good we thought that we were. But when a person believes on Christ as the living Son of God and then asks Christ to come into their heart, there is born a new person with a new desire created within them. The Apostle Paul explained this godly transformation into a new person when He told the Ephesians that with Salvation we are to “Take on an entirely new way of life – a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately produces His character in you.”  -- (Ephesians 4: 22. The Message). So, how does this new life happen?

Well, after Salvation, Christ then sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within each “Saved” person. For, it is the Holy Spirit Who will create Christ’s character within each one of His born-again children. The Holy Spirit works on our hearts and our conscience to create loving, caring, righteous oriented individuals who take on the characteristics, attitude, and values of Christ. For, “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect His glory even more.”  -- (II Corinthians 3: 18 NLT). In fact, the Holy Spirit nudges us to do the right things and to respond in the character of Christ through His “gentle whisper” to our heart. (see I Kings 19: 12 NIV).

Christ-likeness and godliness is not produced, though, by just imitating Christ’s actions. Our attitude and desire to become more like Christ must grow in our heart. It has to be real. Indeed, we must remember that God knows our heart, and He knows when we are play acting or putting on a performance for those around us, rather than truly living for Christ. In fact, if you have truly been Saved you will know that you know that you know that you are Saved, “For this is the secret: Christ lives in you– (Colossians 1:27. NLT). In other words, true Christ-likeness then comes from the inhabitation of Christ within your heart and soul. In fact, for the born-again Christian, “God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him.”  -- (Philippians 2: 13. NLT).

Spiritual Growth and Maturity

When you come to Christ in belief that He is the living Son of God, and when you ask Christ to cleanse you from all your sins and ask Him to come into your heart, your Salvation is not based upon any personal efforts or achievements that you have made. In other words, there is nothing that you can do to achieve your own Salvation. Christ is the One Who gives you His Salvation. Moreover, personal Salvation comes about as a result of understanding that you are a sinner, and you are unrighteous before a Holy God. It also comes about through the mercy and grace given to you by God, who sent His Only Son to die for you and me and then to conquer death for your and my sins by rising from the grave. This means that Salvation only comes about through your heart-felt belief in the risen Christ and from your desire to change your life by living for Christ rather than for yourself.

Spiritual growth and maturity, though, is not an instant thing when we are Saved. Although we might wish it to happen immediately, spiritual maturity doesn’t automatically occur when a person is Saved. Rather spiritual growth and maturity is the gradual and progressive development of your heart and soul into becoming more Christ-like, which has to be sought after and pursued. Moreover, this pursuit of spiritual maturity will take the rest of each person’s life, as it something that each Saved individual has to pursue all their lives. In fact, it is a constant life-long process of seeking godly knowledge, wisdom, and truth while living in obedience to God.

Becoming More Christ-like

To acquire spiritual growth and maturity one has to be dedicated to the long and even sometimes slow process of spiritual growth and maturity, which is the overall process of becoming more and more Christ-like. We know this because we can read in the Scriptures what the Apostle Paul says about acquiring Christ-likeness. He told the Ephesians that “[This process of becoming Christ-like] will continue until we are united by our faith, and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like Him.”  -- (Ephesians 4: 13. CEV). So, becoming Christ-like means that we not only need to study the Word of God, live the Word of God, and be obedient to the instructions and admonitions of Christ, but that we have to grow our faith in Christ; all the while striving to become more and more like Christ.

Ultimately, though, each person’s rate of spiritual growth and maturity has everything to do with their own desire to spiritually grow and mature for the Lord. In other words, while your effort has nothing to do with your personal Salvation, i.e. you cannot work your way into Salvation, however, your personal effort has a great deal to do with your personal growth and maturity in Christ. For, effort is required in order to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s direction and work in your life. In fact, in the New Testament we are told at least eight times to “make every effort” in our spiritual growth to develop our faith and become more like Jesus, i.e., to become more Christ-like.

Making Every Effort to ...

Here are just a few of the statements that Jesus’ Apostles made in regard to our making every effort to become more like Jesus Christ:

The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “Make every effort to give yourself to God as the kind of person He will accept. Be a worker who is not ashamed and who uses the true teaching in the right way.”  -- (II Timothy 2: 15 NCV). But how do we know what “true teaching in the right way” is? Well, we must read and study the Bible to learn about God’s true teaching. Then we must meditate on the Word of God diligently, so that we will know how we are to act and how we can be obedient to God’s truth.

Additionally, the author of the book of Hebrews tells us that we are to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  -- (Hebrews 12:14. NIV). But what exactly is holiness? Well, again, to understand what God considers to be holiness, we have to read His Word, the Holy Bible, and meditate on the Holy Word. Then we have to apply God’s Word directly to our daily lives. This means that spiritual growth and maturity is a process, just like the process of going to school and then graduating years later with a degree. But if we don’t seek out and meditate on God’s Word, we are no better than those students who just do the bare minimum to get by in school. They have little to show for their time spent in school and cannot even tell someone who the first president of the United States was, let alone name any president before Obama.  So, just like those people who just get by in school, Christians who do not study the Word of God and learn to listen to the directions of the Holy Spirit or learn how to emulate Christ-likeness are just existing. They certainly will not be prepared to mentor other Christians or non-Christians, because they will not have acquired the characteristics, attitude, and values of Christ.

The Apostle Peter also explains to us just how important it is to acquire the characteristics, attitudes, values and knowledge of Christ. For Peter, too, said that Christians are to, “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. – (II Peter 1: 5-7. NIV). So, besides growing our faith, true authentic Christians are to work at acquiring goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. This may take years for a person to be able to say that they have acquired those seven characteristics of Christ.

But, besides choosing to let go of our old ways of acting and besides changing the way that we think, in order to develop spiritual growth and maturity, we must also acquire the nine characteristics and attributes of Christ’s by developing some godly habits. What are these attributes and habits that all Christians should want to develop? Well, they are of Christ, and they are essentially called the fruit of the Spirit. As I have mentioned before, Christ’s Holy Spirit lives within each born-again Christian. Indeed, Christ loves us so much that He gave us His Holy Spirit who indwells each new born-again Christian. Christ did this because He wants us to mature in our Christ-likeness. So, He gave us the Holy Spirit who endeavors daily to help us to achieve Christ’s characteristics and attitudes.

What are these characteristics and attitudes? Well, they are given to us by the Holy Spirit. For, the Word of God tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another– (Galatians 5: 22-26. NASB). Notice that there is some overlapping of the first seven characteristics or attributes that the Apostle Peter lists as part of Christ-likeness and the nine characteristics and attributes of Christ’s that the Apostle Paul enumerates as given to us by the fruit of the Spirit.

There are nine characteristics or attributes of Christ-likeness are given to us through the fruit of the Spirit. But, there are also seven characteristics or attributes of Christ-likeness that the Apostle Peter enumerates; some of which are different from the other nine of the Spirit. However, there are only three of these characteristics or attributes that are part of both lists. Those three characteristics found on both lists are Love, Goodness, and Self-control. I would say, then, that striving for those three and acquiring them is very important to the acquisition of the rest.

Striving for Christ-likeness through the pursuit of growth and maturity

Once we are Saved, the Holy Spirit’s goal is to produce Christ-likeness within us. For, it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to be dependent totally upon God. But it is only by listening to the Holy Spirit and with our complete commitment to dependence upon God that we can acquire Christ’s wonderful love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. However, without these nine characteristics of Christ’s we cannot become spiritually mature. But in order to acquire those nine characteristics of Christ’s, we must also acquire biblical and godly knowledge through reading and meditating on the Word of God. We also must develop perseverance or determination in the pursuit of growth and maturity and in our faith in Christ. Finally, we can only acquire godliness if we learn how to show brotherly kindness and love to others. For Christ said that we are to love others as we love ourselves.

True spiritual growth and maturity leads into serving others. For, it is with our Salvation, along with our spiritual growth and maturity, and the acquisition of the characteristics of Christ, that we can then become Christians who will build up and encourage others through Spirit-led ministries such as Active Relational Christian Mentoring.  But first, we have to fulfill Christ’s admonition to us which is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – (Galatians 5: 14. NASB). For, it is only in loving our neighbor as our self that we can step up to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  -- (Galatians 6: 2. NASB).

Steps to Spiritual Growth and Maturity

There are so many things that we can learn from the Bible, i.e. God’s Word, about obedience, growth, maturity, truth, knowledge, and wisdom. But, there is one other thing that I will mention that helps us develop greater spiritual growth and maturity and that is our complete faith and reliance upon God and His Son as we go through the trials and tribulations that this earth has for us. As I have mentioned many times before, we live in a fallen world. The consequences of living in a fallen world, though, are many from such things as sickness, tragedies, evil intentions, temptations, wars, and diseases, and including the manipulations of our fellow man. The result is that we may be faced with trials that we did not expect or that we would rather not go through. However, it is in the handling of each of this trials that we can personally grow and mature in not only our faith in God, but in our Christ-likeness as well.

The Psalmist explains why we have to go through some of the trials that we encounter in our life journey, when he writes, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs, You have caused men to ride over our heads, we went through the fire and through water, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.”  -- (Psalm 66: 10-12. NKJV.). Every time we keep our faith and our trust in the Lord, we will be purified as silver is purified. It is through these trials that we are developing more and more of the characteristics of Christ when we completely trust in God and lean upon the development of Christ-likeness.

The Apostle Paul told his mentee, Timothy, to “Run away from infantile indulgences. Run after mature righteousness -faith, love, peace – joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before the Lord.”  -- (II Timothy 2: 22. MSG).  As we live this life we are to grow and become even more righteous in spite of the things that we have to face in this life. In fact, we can face all trials through honest and serious prayer, because Christ brings our prayers before God, and He hears our every need. It is through faith and prayer that we can overcome whatever negative situation that we are in, because we know that God is there for us. God may not take away our trial, but He will always be there for us, if we will just turn to Him in prayer and communication.

It is also through our own personal trials and tribulations that we can be there for others when they go through something similar. In fact, those that never seem to have any problems cannot develop the compassion and love that is needed when it comes to helping others endure their trials. If we never had a trial, we would never know the all-encompassing love that God has for His children. For it is through trials and our faith in God that we begin to understand the love that God has for us. It is also through our trials that we can show our love and understanding to another who faces a similar situation.

So, what does this all mean for you?

Well, it means that as true born-again Christians it is our responsibility to pursue the process of growing and maturing spiritually every day of our lives. Yes, we must work at growing spiritually just as we work at our job or work at taking care of our family. To grow spiritually we also have to make the time to read God’s Word and to meditate upon His Word so that we will know how we are to live for God.  Moreover, we have to learn to communicate with God daily through prayer in Christ’s name.

Growing and Maturing Through Servanthood

Part of growing and maturing spiritually is found in our willingness to be servants for the kingdom of God. We grow ever more mature when we become servants and we do for others in the name of God and when we do for the Lord by sharing the Gospel message. For,

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented with authority – quoting from the very Word of God – He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart.”  -- Billy Graham.

Just doing nothing but living our own sheltered lives, however, will not develop spiritual growth and maturity. In other words, we cannot become hermits who are just waiting for Christ to return and take us to heaven. Rather, we must tell others about God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and commit to servanthood that will help others become all they can be for the Lord, themselves, their family, their friends, and acquaintances. It is a daily process that is required in order to become more spiritually mature.

Active Relational Christian Mentoring (ARCM) is a wonderful way to be of service to those around us who may just need a mentoring friend. But, to engage in servanthood and to be a Christian mentor, you need daily develop your spiritual maturity by making a commitment to read God’s Word and to pray to God for the strength and knowledge that you will need to help another. For, no matter how knowledgeable you are in your particular field, whether it be math, science, motherhood, your hobbies, or your career, you will need God’s knowledge given through the Holy Spirit and your understanding of the Bible in order to share with others.

I have a little book entitled Promises and Prayers for Friends which is a compilation of Bible verses and quotations from different people on various topics such as Spiritual Growth, Strength, Talents, Testimony, etc. It was copyrighted by Family Christian Press in 2005. I found the following quotation in it that I am including here, because it is succinct and to the point on acquiring spiritual maturity.

The path to spiritual maturity unfolds day by day. Each day offers the opportunity to worship God, to ignore God, or to rebel against God. When we worship Him with our prayers, our words, our thoughts, and our actions, we are blessed by the richness of our relationship with the Father. But if we ignore God all together or intentionally rebel against His commandments, we rob ourselves of His blessings.
Today offers yet another opportunity for spiritual growth. If you choose, you can seize that opportunity by obeying God’s Word, by seeking His will, and by walking with His Son.”  -- anonymous.

I will now end with a statement from Corrie ten Boom who survived the Holocaust. She wrote: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit; join a church where the members believe the Bible and know the Lord; seek the fellowship of other Christians; learn and be nourished by God’s Word and His many promises. Conversion is not the end of your journey – it is only the beginning.”  -- Corrie ten Boom

May you enjoy your life journey as you grow in spiritual maturity and the desire to be of service to others. May God bless all your mentoring endeavors!

May I also suggest reading the God inspired book, The Three-Strand Cord of Active Relational Christian Mentoring to find out even more about the benefits and blessings of pursuing spiritual maturity and of sharing your knowledge, wisdom, gifts, and talents with your mentees.

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