This message is for those who are hurting. If you are at that place in your life where that you long to know Christ in a deeper, more intimate way, you may find what I am about to say helpful and encouraging. We are to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6. He was referring to HIS righteousness. We have no righteousness of our own apart from Him. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. As Isaiah said, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isaiah 64:6.
That word filthy is AYD, from an unused root meaning to set a period; the menstrual flux (as periodical); soiling -- filthy. That is the original meaning of the word Isaiah uses here. And it only occurs once. 1 occurrence of the word. But with enormous implications.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1.
I want to say at the outset, that every claim I make in this video will be supported by direct reference to Scripture. And there is a logical progression to such things as this. Isaiah 28:10 reads, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." When we take God's word at face value, even though it may go against what we formerly thought to be true, we can connect the dots between one principle and another, allowing us to see the most clear and accurate picture of what spiritual maturity is. This video is not about what maturity is not. But by our coming to see what it is, we naturally come to realize what it isn't.
In the 30 years I've been a student of Scripture, few things have been more difficult for me than creating an outline for a narrative like this. Where does one begin describing Christian maturity? Much less laying a pathway of stepping stones to travel from point A to point B? Because logic tells us that if just one stepping stone along this path is wrong, it affects every stepping stone that lies forward in our journey. And not one Christian has in his or her building materials every right stepping stone, or the blueprints for laying each stone in order. However, we have been given principles of spiritual growth that, like the pieces of a puzzle either connect, or they don't. It is my never ending belief that our first step along our journey is of the utmost importance; we have to get it right. Otherwise we have only embarked upon a journey that leads us away from that place where we desire to go.
THE FIRST STEPPING STONE
So the first stepping stone I want to lay down is not a rule or a law. But a Person. The person Jesus Christ. We must begin with Him, not some order or decree, or some injunction or commandment directed toward ourselves. I cannot emphasize this fact enough. If we begin with ourselves, or what we should do for Christ, we have plotted the wrong course right from the outset. We should not begin with ourselves, where that we only pick up Christ somewhere along the way when self performance fails. That is my point. It all begins and ends with Jesus Christ.
Whether we are young, or old, we need the truth that strengthens and settles. Whether you are a babe in Christ, whom Scripture calls a saint, or a 90 year old saint, you are only called a saint because you have been made a new creature in Christ. 2 Cor 5:17 says, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Paul also writes in Gal 6:15, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." I have just laid the first stepping stone. There is no better place to begin our journey toward spiritual maturity than in our understanding who we are in Christ. Understanding our identity. This is not only who we are, it is where we are to begin if we are to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Which leads me to what I see as our next stepping stone.
THE SECOND STEPPING STONE
Having understood our identity, it is imperative we understand the direction we are to take as we embark upon our spiritual journey. Peter hands us our next stepping stone. "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." Not to us be the glory. The action verb in this verse is the word grow. This entire video is about that one word... grow. And if you are one of those whose heart is hungry to know, and grow, it is vital you connect this word grow with the word grace. The two words are inseparable; married to one another. Peter does not say "But grow in law." Or grow through the striving of self effort. This is where many sincere Christians wander astray from the path toward maturity. Because they mistakenly assume spiritual maturity is something to be grasped via self effort. The Word makes it crystal clear that this is not the case. In fact, the very principle (or rule, or law) of growth being associated with grace is like a golden thread woven throughout the New Testament.
The confusion comes in when believers forget about that first stepping stone that describes who we are in Christ, failing to distinguish between the old and new covenants. Or Israel and the church. Having never considered the word of God through John where he wrote, " For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." John 1:17. We can see that the apostle Paul and John both stood together in agreement on this, when we read, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Galatians 3:10. In the OT, obedience brought blessings. In the New, we are obedient because we have been blessed. This is the distinction that must be realized at the outset. There is a reason why there was an old and new testament. It isn't called new for no reason.
We hear much from the Apostle Paul on this where he says....
Because the Law brings wrath. And where there is no law, there is no transgression. Romans 4:15. If a highway has no speed limit, I can never be charged with breaking it. He actually calls law for the NY believer in Christ a "ministry of death" in 2 Cor 3:7. "The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s Law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.…Romans 8:6-8. Paul is not speaking of non believers here. He is speaking to us when he says...."Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." Romans 7:4. Important to note is that Paul did not say we must become dead to law. But that we have died to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." Fruit is the end result. Ye have died, is what the Word tells us.
It is by no means the last stepping stone in our journey. These will be seen as praise and worship which results from our bearing fruit. But it does teach us the means whereby we bear fruit in our lives. So we have begun with Christ as our focus, and we are continuing along on our journey in Christ, by grace, not the law in which we were formerly bound before we came to know Christ. We continue on the basis of which we began. Again, we heed the important words of Paul: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." Colossians 2:6. I ask you. How did you receive Christ? By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? By grace? Galatians 3:3. "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"
THE THIRD STEPPING STONE
Now this third stepping stone may seem a bit out of place but I assure you it is not. Paul again: "Now thanks be unto God, which always (mark that word always) causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. 2 Corinthians 2:14." This stone may seem to better lie toward the end of our journey, but it does not. It is an important truth to grasp hold of early in our journey toward spiritual maturity. He ALWAYS causes us to triumph. Be honest with yourself. Have you felt this was true of your life? Chances are, you have not. Allow me to give you a few examples taken from ordinary life that I believe will help illustrate this point.
It has to do with personal relationships between specific individuals that we are all familiar with. Husband and wife. Or wife and husband. The parent and the child. The teacher and the student. The employer and the employee. And even relationships between friends. And I'll even go as far as suggesting between two individuals that are at odds with one another for whatever reason. The question I put before you is a simple one. Which is more conducive to a stronger relationship. Law, or grace? Acceptance, or rejection? Positive reinforcement, or negative association? In other words...
Does a husband draw closer to his wife by being demanding? Does a teacher teach more effectively by being demanding and over bearing toward his or her students? Or through positive reinforcement? Through compliments and praise? Is not the same true within the workplace? If you have a boss who is demanding, and is viewed as little more than a slave master, do you not then feel as though you are a slave? Would you not agree that you would perform much better through positive encouragement and praise rather than criticism and insult? How are you as a boss to treat your employees (slaves)? Friendship works on the same principle. We are all offended in many ways. And we can't be friends with everyone, nor are we expected to be. But are not relationships built upon the principle of grace and acceptance, even in the so called natural realm? We would not expect a parent or a teacher or a spouse or an employer or a friend to be like this. In fact we would consider them "bad" examples instead. So why is it when our thinking switches from the natural realm of this, to the spiritual aspect of everything, all of a sudden a different principle applies? We perceive God as being an over demanding slave driver. Often never pleased with us because somehow we aren't living up to His expectations of us. Where that He becomes even more demanding of us. Where that the only way we can remain in His good graces is to avoid failure altogether. If this is how you view your heavenly Father, I feel sorry for you. If this is how you perceive the one who died in your place, I hurt for you. Because you are carrying a burden that God never equipped you to, nor intended for you to bear. And THAT is what breaks my heart. Because I know it does His. Let's move on to the next stepping stone. There are two stones set in place before us here. Not just one. One stone for each foot.
THE FOURTH AND FIFTH STEPPING STONES
These two stones represent the two natures of the believer in Christ. Before you were born again, you had only one nature, wholly inclined toward sin. All you could ever do is sin. Long before Paul ever addressed the issue, the Word clearly revealed this principle in Proverbs 21:4, where we learn that even "the plowing of the wicked is sin. " Now the world will never admit that walking behind a mule drawn plow is sin. But if you do not know Christ, Proverbs assures us that it is. Our first stepping stone reminds us why this is. 2 Cor 5:17 again...., "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." The wicked are not new creations in Christ. The old things have not passed away. They remain. They have not become new. Because they are not in Christ. They are in Adam. It is a grave error to assume that "good people" who do not know Christ somehow manage to perform a righteous deed. They cannot do that. It is impossible for them to produce a single seed of fruit borne righteousness, because they are single natured individuals, born in Adam. They are not new creations "in Christ."
But it is different for you and I. We now have two natures engaged in raging conflict against one another. Chances are, many of you have been subject to one natured teaching your entire lives. But this is not what Scripture teaches. Paul makes this fact absolutely clear. We are a caged lion. Two indisputable facts are given us on this conflict here.
1. The old nature is not removed - 1 John 1:8-10; Romans 7:18; Galatians 5:17.
2. God’s provides for victory - Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 2:20; Romans 13:14.
In us we have an old nature that is as bad as a tiger. It cannot do anything good, and God will have nothing to do with it. When we were born again we received a new nature that is all good - and can do nothing wrong, for it is the very life of God which He plants in us. It would be very nice if, when we received the new nature, God should take away the old nature, but He does not. He has a good reason for leaving it in us. It drives us to Christ who is our life. Some people have deluded themselves by thinking that the old nature was gone, and have said that they do not sin any more. This is a lie, for God's Word says that we have an old nature and that it can only sin (1 John 1:8-10). Even Paul had an old nature, (Romans 7:18). In Galatians 5:17, we read about the struggle of the old nature with the new nature. The old nature (the flesh) desires one thing, and the new nature (the Spirit) desires the opposite. It's like a wagon with horses pulling in opposite directions. The flesh pulls toward the Devil and the Spirit pulls toward God.
Perhaps you thought when you were born again all your struggles would be over, and were disappointed when you found out that you still sinned, and that the Devil still tempted you. The struggle only began when you were born again, for until that time you had only the old nature. Now, you have the new nature in conflict with the old. So you seek to be victorious in that struggle by eradicating the old man. It can't be done. Not one saint has ever done it. Nor will oone ever succeed in doing so. The very strength of sin is the law! 1 Cor 15:56.
But God assures us we have the victory over sin. Because the new nature has the victory.
When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, God saw all who would ever believe in Him dying there too. So, He says that we are dead with Christ (Romans 6:8). Even though the old nature is still there, God does not look at it as alive, but as on the cross, crucified with the Lord Jesus. What we are commanded to do is reckon ourselves to be dead (not dying but dead) to sin, Romans 6:11. It is the first imperative given us in the Book of Romans. The very first. It is the first imperative mood of command given in Romans. God commands us to count it as true daily we have died to sin, but are alive unto God in Christ. Because we were identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Ask yourself this: How often do you hear Christ died for us? A lot? How often do you hear we died with Him? Chances are, not a lot. That should tell you something.
This is what it means to walk in the Spirit, where that we shall not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 2:20; Romans 13:14). So when you come to these two stepping stones, stand solid with both feet planted firmly on the truth of God's word regarding these two stones. Because from here on out for the rest of your life, there will always be these two stones. There is no path around them. But as we move forward along in our journey toward the end, we are able to place most of our weight on the stone of the new nature. By that I mean our focus is to be on the new man, rather than the old man. That our focus is to be on Christ, not self. Grace, not law. The spirit, as oposed to the flesh. The heavenly, as opposed to the earthly. Because we have been made new creations in Christ Jesus our Lord.
THE SIXTH STEPPING STONE
As we move forward along in our journey it becomes more and more clear to us in our experience that "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:1. Unless this stone is found along our pathway to maturity, we will wander astray onto another path altogether. God has nothing against us. Because we have been made the righteousness of God in Christ. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Cor 5:21.
THE SEVENTH STEPPING STONE
This leads to absolute assurance, and propels us toward spiritual maturity as fast as God can take us. Perhaps for the first time we have come fully assured of just how secure we are in our salvation. This soooo pleases God. Because it is His utmost desire that we trust in Him and not ourselves.
1 John 5:13
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:5
who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
"This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
THE EIGHTH STEPPING STONE
I see the the 8th stepping stone as akin to the second stepping stone in our journey. Growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Which is coming to realize more and more in our experience what is already said to be true of us in Christ Jesus. This is a deeply profound truth that I believe furthers our understanding of things, though it does not by any means complete our journey. But one that could well represent every remaining stone along that path. And it pertains to Jesus words on the cross, where He said "It is finished." John 19:30.
When we speak of the finished work of Christ on our behalf, it implies with the most sincere reverence that there is nothing you and I can ever add to it to make it more complete than what it already is. The apostle Paul reminds us of this fact in one dynamic verse of Scripture that helps sustain us on our journey.
"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." Colossians 2:10. This is how I can say with absolute confidence and conviction that true spiritual growth is coming to realize more and more in our experience what is already said to be true of us in Christ Jesus. When I walk inside a church building, I can tell right away if the pastor's message from that pulpit is in agreement with this principle or not. It will either be a message that is centered on, focused on, and directed toward self, and what we must do to become more acceptable to God. What we must do for God. Giving man the glory (while denying it is doing so)....Or.......it will be heard as a message concerning what Christ has done for us. That is a message I will sit through if the sermon lasts all day. But if I am being fed a message that only empowers self, I will run away. Because the failure of such a message as that is what drove me to Jesus Christ in the first place.