“…for though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again, but the wicked stumble into calamity”
As a young believer, I struggled to align the reality of why a righteous man is not the perfect man.
Why is it that after being born again and became the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), I can’t just be perfect and live on without sin’s tendencies and susceptibilities? Why is it that after being possessed by the Holy Spirit and the old things had passed away, the new creation that I am can’t just express its reality in my body automatically, and lead me on as a perfect man before men and before God?
|The inward conflicts and intermittent stumbles you make are signs of spiritual growth and development|
Many and more of these questions troubled my mind in the past and held me bond to my works of righteousness and deprived me of growing in grace and walking in the liberty afforded me in Christ.
I craved for instant perfection, but I did not get my freedom and begin to walk in the liberty of the Spirit until I realized that though I am righteous and a saint, I am being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit of righteousness, as I unveil and reflect upon the glory of his grace and word without doubt or disbelief. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
A baby is not in any way an animal or a beast because he has not grown to become a man; neither will a mother gorilla be classified as a human because it looks like one. The fact is that the little child is a human being as much as a grown up man, and the truth is that the little child will eventually grow up to become a man. So when a census of human being is taken, both the baby and the men are reckoned.
A baby might not be able to walk, talk, run, do stuffs like the adult, and may fail and fall often while attempting to do them. But as he grows and develops, he perfects his skills by consistent attempts and faith in the fact that he can do all things.
The inward conflicts and intermittent stumbles you make are signs of spiritual growth and development. Just like a child falls and stumbles until his feet becomes firm and steady, so also your experience as you grow and strive to develop into Christ’s likeness as a righteous man.
Therefore, it is not a question of being perfect, but a matter of whether you are growing and maturing as a righteous man.
The standard or yardstick of our growth is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We are to grow “up to Him in all things”- Eph. 4: 15; that is, we are to become like Him in mind and in every way. This should be our longing and aspiration daily. With this in mind, our growth cannot end. We keep on growing to be like Him, until we see Him face to face.
I found this teaching about spiritual growth very precious and priceless when I was exposed to it several years ago at my local church – Grace Covenant Centre. Since then it has become a plumb line against which I measure my spiritual progress and development periodically.
I am very certain that you will likewise find it helpful as I share it with you.
|Our days outside Christ are not part of our Christian lives no matter how ‘religious’ we were|
Our physical lives begin with a birth. So do our spiritual lives. Spiritual maturity is a process that begins when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, and it is an ongoing process. This means that we start our lives only when we are born again and not before! Our days outside Christ are not part of our Christian lives no matter how ‘religious’ we were. No one then is really a Christian until he/she is born into the kingdom of God.
It is true that nobody is ever born an adult. No one is born already grown up. It is contrary to nature. This truth applies spiritually too. When we are born again, we start our lives out as spiritual babies, no matter our physical age or the status we have attained in the world before the new birth.
“Like newborn babies, thirst for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in your salvation.”
To grow means to increase in proportion or size; to develop or to evolve into a better state or form. Hence growth is a dynamic process and not a static one. Growth is a tangible thing. It can be seen, felt, and measured. No one who is growing remains on the point, or at the same level day in day out. If you are growing, you will notice it too. We notice it when we are growing physically.
You need to have your eyes open to the need for growth in your spiritual lives.
|You can enter into your full inheritance and enjoy your rights and privileges as sons|
One of the problems in the church is that of over-aged babies: Christians who have refused to grow up or mature, even after several years of conversion; ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth, perpetual babies(2Timothy.3:5-7, 1Corintians.3:1-3.)
Over-aged babyhood is sorrow.
Although babyhood is interesting, it is not the target of life. God wants us to grow up and mature spiritually.
Growth is a natural outcome of life. Living things grow and cessation of growth is an indication of death. Moreover, you need to grow up and mature spiritually so that:
- You can do all that God wants us to do and to fulfill His eternal purpose and counsels for our lives. There is a limit to how far we can go as babies!
- You can enter into your full inheritance and enjoy your rights and privileges as sons. “Now what I am saying is this: As long as an heir is a child, he is no better off than a slave, even though he owns everything. Instead, he is placed under the care of guardians and servant managers until the time set by the father.” 4:1-2.
So examine yourself now. How long ago were you born again? Have you grown much since then? Is the word of God making any impact on your life? Are there noticeable improvements to praise God for, or are you stagnant?
And how about the RATE at which you are growing; is that Satisfactory and pleasing to the Lord?
Examine yourselves honestly before the Lord.
I considered it helpful to take you through different stages in our spiritual development so that you may know at what stage you are in the growth timeline.
Babyhood is the starting point for everyone who is born again, no matter how old or highly placed physically. The church often makes the mistake of immediately treating spiritual babies like adults – with grave consequences!
The way to grow out of babyhood is to desire (hunger for, seek after, and pursue) the sincere (Pure, Truthful, Unadulterated) word of God – 1Peter 2:2.
This is a responsibility for everyone who wants to grow.
Spiritual babies exhibit the following traits just like physical babies:
- Dependence: Babies can’t help themselves much. They are easily dependent on older people to take care of them. This is normal, and spiritual parents and older brethren in the Lord need to be responsible and understanding.
- Ignorance: Babies usually think anything is food and do not recognize danger. Hence they need to be watched over. Some spiritual babies take poison (wrong doctrines, teachings, examples) unknowingly. Some have ‘died’ as a result.
- Innocence: Babies have no past – 2Corintians. 5:17; Hebrew. 10:17. They are not stained with the prejudices and hidden intentions that sometimes trouble adults. This is a good characteristic that should not be lost even in adulthood – 1Corintians.14:20; Spiritual babies too usually think every Christian is genuine and is an angel. They believe what they see on the surface and will trust to a fault.
Sooner or later, spiritual babies must learn to add discernment and wisdom to their innocence. Until then however they need to be watched over carefully. Give practical illustrations.
|As much as babyhood is a necessary stage for everyone, it should not be overstayed|
- Easily Spoilt: Babies can easily get spoilt to certain things if care is not taken. It seems that the Corinthians became spoilt to certain ministers and this led to divisions in the church – 1Cor. 3:1, 3-9, 21-23.
- Milk Feeding: Babies feed principally on milk and cannot digest strong food – 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14. Some teachings of the word of God which require balanced judgment and mature understanding or deep sacrifice and consecration may prove tough for babies who may then stumble at them – Jn. 6:59-60, 66.
As much as babyhood is a necessary stage for everyone, it should not be overstayed.
When spiritual babies fail to grow, they become Carnal or Worldly, as was the case with the Corinthians
“That’s because you are still worldly. As long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, you are worldly and living by human standards, aren’t you? For when one person says, “I follow Paul,” and another person says, “I follow to Apollos,” you’re following your own human nature, aren’t you?” 1 Corinthians 3:3-4
In the light of the above, are you growing spiritually? Or are you over staying Babyhood? What worldly traits do you still manifest?
Be sincere and then pray accordingly.
‘… that we henceforth be no more children …” –
|When spiritual babies fail to grow, they become Carnal or Worldly, as was the case with the Corinthians|
The time comes when a growing Christian knows that he is no longer a baby in Christ, even though he is not really mature in many things. He knows that he has left behind several babyish characteristics and in fact can recognize them in others who are still babies; but he is aware too that a wide gap exists between him and several mature brethren he knows. He is out of babyhood even though he has not reached adulthood or manhood.
The Bible actually speaks of a childhood stage between babyhood and manhood. Perhaps the vast majority in the church today are in this position, making the message of growth even more important today.
Spiritual children exhibit the following traits, just like physical children:
- Unsteadiness: Physical children can’t concentrate on things for long. Their attention span is quite short and interests fluctuate rapidly. This brings inconsistency. Spiritual children can be inconsistent – very high today, very low tomorrow; working zealously today, ready to give up tomorrow; quick to promise God many things today, quick to forget and break the promises tomorrow. They can also easily be carried away by strange or new doctrines particularly if they are so alluring.
Unsteadiness affects different aspects of the lives of spiritual children e.g. their prayer lives, study of the word, responsibilities they are given in the church, etc.
- Curiosity: Children often want to know about everything that goes on around them, whether it concerns them or not. You see this in the questions they ask. Spiritual children too can be quite inquisitive, sometimes under the guise of collecting prayer points. They need to learn that not every knowledge is profitable; and they do not need to meddle in things that do not concern them. Spiritual children grow in their learning of spiritual things without falling into the pit of unhealthy curiosity?
- Talkativeness: sign of Spiritual Maturity is the ability to bridle our tongues – 3:2. Children One don’t know when to apply the brakes and have not learnt the value of silence. Spiritual children often sin with loose tongues – Proverbs. 10:19.The following sins are easily committed in talking loosely:
- Evil Speaking– Ephesians. 4:31: Gossip about the faults and failures of others “Just to pray about them:” Spiritual children are quick at criticizing others for every fault they notice. They often wonder if those with faults are Christians at all. They may carry tales around in the church and pass judgments, forgetting they do not have all the facts. This is all because they have grown a little themselves.
- Vain Speaking –2Corintians. 10:12, 17-18: Boasting about oneself, Spiritual children will boast about their church, gift, talent, achievements, how they are better than others, etc., and give the glory to self.
- Foolish Talking – Ephesians 5:4 Jesting and joking which are not edifying or convenient, because they cause us to lose precious anointing. Many Christians leak through the mouth! – 4:29.
- Lies/Exaggeration – Proverbs. 10:19: These often come in when the tongue is not restrained. It is also the reason why spiritual children cannot keep secrets and breach confidence.
- Full of activity: Children are often full of energy and can be very restless, jumping from one activity to another. Spiritual children are similar and can run all over the place with Christian activities. With maturity comes balance and a clear understanding of what is really beneficial and what God wants them to do at any point in time.
Spiritual children can be helped to direct their energy or zeal aright.
What a dire need exists in the church today for adults to help model the children!
- Playfulness: Children are often playful and are more bothered about the little, little, unimportant things, events or details. In meetings, a spiritual child may be concerned only about the dress of the minister, the hairstyles and other such details.
- Misuse of liberty: Children are apt to misuse the liberties they are given. A balanced use of Christian liberties requires maturity – 5:1; 1Corintians. 8:9-13. Spiritual children may have problems with how much television – Videos, Games, Internet browsing and other liberties they use.
When spiritual children fail to grow, it becomes difficult for the Lord to use them as He would want to. This means children who refuse to grow may never fulfill their destiny.
This also is Sorrow.
This is the mature stage of our Christian lives. It is the stage that the Lord eagerly expects individuals and the church as a whole to reach
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians. 4: 13.
|When spiritual children fail to grow, it becomes difficult for the Lord to use them as He would want to|
The mature Christian has left behind the babyish traits of over-dependence, ignorance and milk-feeding; he has also put behind him the childhood tendencies of unsteadiness, unhealthy curiosity, talkativeness, etc – 1 Corinthians. 13: 11.
The mature Christian is characterized by the following traits:
- He is truly spiritual; esteeming earthly things lightly and is more minded about heavenly things – 11:24-26; Romans. 8:6-8; Colossians. 3: 1-3.
- He is dead to human praise and censorship and so is not hindered from doing God’s will as a result of what men will say – 1 Corinthians. 4:3-4; James. 4:4; Galatians. 1:10.
- He is able to make sound and balanced spiritual judgments and take decisions according to God’s will – 1 Corinthians. 2: 15.
- He is able to endure the strong meat of the word of God, because his spiritual senses are trained to discern between good and evil– Hebrews. 5: 14.
- He is able to walk on steadily in the will of God; not falling today, rising tomorrow; high and faithful today, low and unfaithful tomorrow. Thus he can fulfill his course in God’s plans and purposes. He is consistent and faithful in his Christian life and service; and is not easily carried away by strange doctrines.
- He knows in real life what it means to be dead to self – 2:20, 5:24.
- He is able to walk in love towards others irrespective of what they do. This is an acid test of maturity – 3: 14.
- He is strong in faith, trusting God as an outcome of his personal walk with Him.
- He is able to handle delicate spiritual matters without causing damage or ruin.
- All fruit of the Spirit is mature in him and are not bitter or sour.
- You know a mature Christian by the way he talks. His word is filled with grace and wisdom.
|Maturity is only the beginning of a deep, personal, faithful, enriching and fruitful walk with the Lord|
Maturity does not necessarily come as a result of having spent “donkey” years in the Lord – Hebrews. 5: 12. Maturity comes as a result of faithful obedience and following the Lord even in the little, little matters of daily life. Hence a baby in the Lord today can reach maturity within a short time.
Therefore, exercise at spiritual gyms and mere outward appearance are not sufficient as signs of maturity. The Corinthian church had as much carnality as spiritual gifts – ( 1Corinthians. 1:4-7 with 1Corithians. 3:1-4).
However, the fact that one has matured does not mean one has arrived at a level where “there is no more to add”. Maturity in the Lord is not the end of the road in our spiritual lives, and mature Christians have not ‘arrived’!
Maturity is only the beginning of a deep, personal, faithful, enriching and fruitful walk with the Lord. Hence there is a need for mature Christians to “press on”. This is the rule for growth in maturity – Philippians. 3: 12-16.
Nevertheless, when mature Christians fail to press on, they become blind and insensitive to what new things God is doing. As a result they become incompetent to guide babes in Christ in God’s new move. God may then set them aside. They may stagnate, glorying only in their past and become an institution in themselves! They may retain their gifts, talents, large congregation, etc., but they miss the highest and best that God has for them.
Let us go on to maturity and keep pressing on!
- Poor Nutrition: Inadequate feeding on the word of God. Neglect of the word. Imbalance feeding – 1 Pet 2:2-3
- Choking Of the Word: Word killers, Fire extinguishers, “Legitimate” things which make the environment of one’s life not conducive for spiritual growth – Matt. 13: 22. E.g. Movies, Entertainment, Unnecessary gossips, bad company etc.
- Disobedience, unbelief, failure to walk in the light that we have received – Heb. 4:1-3.
- The Fear of Men
|When mature Christians fail to press on, they become blind and insensitive to what new things God is doing|
- Anxiety and Cares
- Spiritual apathy or complacence, lack of desire for spiritual growth – Matt. 5:6.
- Indiscipline, Failure to pay the price for spiritual growth. Illustrate practically.
- Reluctance to leave behind childish things – 1 Cor. 13:11
How can we tell that we are growing spiritually? We can know for sure that a plant is growing when we see its leaves blossom and its stem getting bigger and taller. But what factors should be measured in a Christian’s life to determine his/her growth? In other words, in what areas should our spiritual growth be made evident?
- The Bible makes it clear our spiritual growth will be evident in observable increase (multiplication) in the following areas of our lives:
- In Grace – 3:18: God‘s grace is His enabling power.
|Our Christian lives are but a totality of the spiritual judgments and decision we make on a daily basis|
As we grow in grace, we increase and develop in our ability to do God’s will (no matter how difficult). We increase in our ability to carry out His will for our lives, fulfill His purposes and please Him in all things. As His grace multiplies in us, we are able to be and to do all He wants us to be and do.
Are you growing in grace?
- In the knowledge of God – 3:18: to grow in knowledge of God is to have a more thorough experiential Knowledge of His person, His ways, His plans, and so readily fit in. Our growing knowledge of Him transforms us and makes us to conform to His image -2Cor.3:18.
- In Faith– 1:3: we should continually increase in our ability to believe God and trust Him in all circumstances
- Love–Thess.1:3: we should increase in our ability to give, love, serve, care for and forgive one another in the body of Christ. A fellowship/church that grows in love will also grow in number.
- In the Fruit of the spirit – Gal.5:22-23: The fruit of the spirit is the expression of God’s nature and character in us. As we grow in the fruit of the spirit, we become increasingly dead to self and more yielded to the Holy Spirit. In short we become more and more like Him.
- In understanding– 1Cor.14:20: Growth in understanding will enable us to make mature and balanced judgments on Issues and take decisions accordingly. Our Christian lives are but a totality of the spiritual judgments and decision we make on a daily basis-1Cor.2:15.Without understanding therefore, our judgments will be carnal, reflecting only our flesh traits and prejudices. Often without understanding, we will simply jump to conclusions about issues and so make decision, and take actions which contradict God’s will and thought. We need to grow in understanding.
- In service to God -1Cor.15:58: There is no retirement age in service the Lord – Ps.92:13-14. In fact we should seek to bear more fruit in service to Him.