Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

The Surrendered Life and Sin

The Surrendered Life and Sin

Who do we choose?

Sin and surrender have more in common than their first letter.  Sin has at its core the stubborn resistance to surrender oneself to the authority and rule of God.  Remember Adam and Eve?

We all have used the excuse, “the devil made me do it” but someone had to open the door and invite him in!   As a child I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I bought the fire insurance but lordship?  That came much later in my adult life.  After much sinning and denying Jesus’ rule in my life, I surrendered to His lordship.  Thank God for His mercy and His glorious grace (Ep. 2:1-6).

Often time we fail to see the spiritual reality of two conflicting influences in this world—God and Satan. Each day we, unknowingly or knowingly, choose the one we will surrender to.  We give them rule, control, and influence in our life.  Paul makes clear this truth to the church at Rome (Rom. 6:16).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

The surrendered life in Christ, is by far the best choice.  But as Jesus cautioned, it is important that we consider the cost.

“Everyone need not apply!”

Jesus in His teaching on the cost of discipleship was brutally honest about His expectation of His followers.  There was no mincing of words or changing of position to make the offer more appealing to His listeners (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:33).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Deny or forsake?  It’s still good-bye!

Intimate relations with Jesus require that we “deny self and forsake all”.  Such was the case during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ ministry continues today with us as His disciples.  His expectations have not changed.  

Deny has two meanings: (1) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone and (2) to lose sight of oneself and own interests.  Matthew uses the second definition to explain Jesus’ rebuke to would-be disciples unaware of the cost to follow Him.    

Luke chose to express the same idea using the word forsake.  To forsake adds further to the ideal of departure from one’s old self and habits.  It means to renounce or bid farewell to.    

As we deny our own interest and forsake our past self, we must also reject our love for this world—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  All these create within us a divided heart which cannot love Jesus well nor surrender to His leading.

The surrendered life

The world, Satan, and our flesh are not big on “denying or forsaking.”   They encourage us to place our desires above the Lord’s.  They deceive by whispering, “You can have it your way right now.  Jesus can wait another day.”  Jesus replies, “I am The Way” (John 14:6) and offers instead His love (John 3:16), salvation (Heb. 2:10), forgiveness (Ep. 1:7), freedom (Ps. 146:7), and peace (Col. 3:15).

The surrendered life in Christ results in great joy and wisdom.  There is great confidence in knowing we have made the best choice in choosing “the Pearl of Great Price” (Matt. 13:46).

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a truth teller? 

We (believers) define truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.

Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?

Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.

However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.

Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?

We discussed this question earlier as to the world’s readiness for the truth.  Often the world’s responses make the truth appear to be a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world.    Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.

To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.

Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?

In Psalm 119:46, the writer speaks of their unfailing dedication to the truths offered by  God:  “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings.  And will not be ashamed.”  Testimonies speak of witnessing.  In Scripture, it relates specifically to divine testimonies or truth directly from God.

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

The gold standard for truth tellers

To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46).

When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.

Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)

Let us follow the examples given to us by God.  Dare to be a truth teller.

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth is an incredibly significant concept.  Our view of truth shapes not only our personal lives but also our society.  It especially impacts our relationship with God including our view of Scripture.

Our definition of truth is affected by what we watch, what we read, and even the opinions of our friends.  Add to that the sway of social media, your “truth” is being adjusted with every post and tweet you receive.  Imagine there are 500 million tweets sent every day[1].  Scary isn’t it.

Let’s face reality!  We live in an age where we are being bombarded by varying opinions as to what is or isn’t truth.  Because of these deceptive trends, it is important that we have a reliable and trustworthy compass by which to navigate in this world.  We need guidance from God.  We need God’s divine perspective.

God’s perspective of truth

In the Old Testament, truth is rendered as true or faithful.  In either case, the Hebrew concept communicates reliability and trustworthiness.   This trustworthiness is frequently used to describe God’s divine faithfulness (Ps. 31:5; Jer. 42:5).

In the New Testament, truth emphasizes reality as God has revealed it in creation (Rom. 1:18) and in the gospel (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 1 Tim. 2:4).   God’s perspective of truth is given to us through His Word and through the Spirit of Truth—the Holy Spirit.  Armed with these divine gifts we are provided a continual source of truth.

Truth in action

Adherence to the truth was critical during the formation of the early Church. Pressured by the Judaizers to continue with the practice of circumcision, the church at Galatia was in danger of spiritual error.  They were rejecting the truth (salvation through Jesus Christ alone) to avoid persecution.  We at one time or another have been guilty of quietly accepting error versus being truth tellers.  That is to our shame.

In Galatians 5:7, Paul poses a question to this young church: “You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth?”

Paul continues by stating emphatically, “This persuasion does not come from the One who calls you.”  When we drift from the truth that God has revealed, we can be assured of its origin—the puppeteer of deception and lies, Satan.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase translated “in the presence of God”.  It has its origin is Christian theology which summarizes the idea of Christians living in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.  Truth is to be lived coram Deo.

Practicing God’s divine perspective

Truth is to be practiced not only within the church but also outside its four walls. Imagine the impact that error has on every aspect of our society—in our homes, in the workplace, and in our institutions.  Practicing God’s divine perspective acknowledges the importance of sharing truth in every sphere of our life.

Using God’s revelation, we have access to reliable knowledge—divine truth—about God, about ourselves, and how we are to live in relationship with our fellow man.  Unfortunately, we often separate our “faith walk” from our “lifestyle”.  God’s truth should permeate every area of our life.  Practicing God’s divine perspective requires that we walk in God’s truth continuously. 

Our dependence on God’s truth is not based on emotional sentimentalities but firmly grounded in the nature of God (Deut. 7:9).  We walk in accordance with His moral realities and act in harmony with His divine revelations (Ps. 26:3).   Practicing God’s divine perspective recognizes God’s trustworthiness.

Knowing the reliability of God and accepting the reality of God, we can begin to operate from God’s divine perspective.  God’s divine truth becomes the vehicle by which we can successfully navigate in this 21st century postmodern society.

[1] Brandwatch.com

Holiday Season 2020

Holiday season reflects God's purpose

Symbols of the holiday season are everywhere.  We are ready for that golden-brown turkey, giblet dressing and cranberry sauce.  Christmas decorations appear at the mall, at our favorite grocery store, and in our neighborhoods.

Most importantly, the holidays are about enjoying relationships.  Friends and family gather to share stories and to “love on each other.”  Everyone is invited to come and enjoy time together.  However, this year relationships will feel different.  Holiday season 2020, specifically, will be very different in the midst of the pandemic.

This season will be different

As the number of people infected with the virus increase, our nation struggles to find ways to “fatten the curve”.  How do you do that during the holidays?  We are warned to wear our masks, practice social isolation—”stay at home” and exercise social distancing—”stay apart”.

The holiday season is most often depicted by images of merriment and joy.  However, this year those images have been replaced with news broadcasts showing long lines to food pantries and food giveaways.  The financial impact of the pandemic has become the face of poverty.  Joblessness, hunger, and homelessness are new experiences for many who have previously lived comfortably.  To our shame, it is far too familiar for others.

My favorite representation of Thanksgiving is the plenteous cornucopia, bursting forth with ripened fruit from its wide and ample opening.  It is this image that has caused me to evaluate my own personal fruitfulness.  Especially during this “season of COVID-19”.   If I am “rooted and built up in Him” (Col. 2:7), am I bringing forth fruit pleasing to Him?  Am I fruitful?

A season for reflection

Fruit is the product of fruitfulness.  It is used metaphorically of work or deeds (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:8).  While works are evidence of Christian activity, it does not always tell the whole story.  Jesus’ teachings often encouraged listeners to look beyond what they could see with their physical eyes and to examine the motives and intentions behind the deeds (Matthew 7:16-20).

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.

Fruitfulness is not “busyness for the Lord” but “transformed living” resulting in the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).  Fruitfulness reflects the heart and mind of our beloved Lord and Savior, in whose image we are to be daily conformed (2 Cor. 3:18).

A season for fruitfulness

God has placed us in this historic moment to reflect the heart and mind of Christ.  We were created for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).   It is our responsibility to align ourselves with God’s purpose and perform that which He has given us to do.

    • Am I doing all I can to share the grace and love of Jesus with those in need?
    • How can I demonstrate Jesus’ compassion during this season of COVID?
    • How can I personally help others who are “weary and hopeless”?

We can be Jesus’ eyes that see the needs of others.  We can be Jesus’ hands that move beyond sympathy to action.  As Jesus’ disciples, let us no longer live for ourselves but live for Him who saved us (2 Cor. 5:15).   God has “seeded” us into history to be fruitful.  It is here we are to take root, grow, and be fruitful.

Discovering our fruitfulness

This holiday season will look and feel very different in the midst of the pandemic.  Let us do our part to make it the beginning of something better.  Something that lasts beyond the holiday season.  Let it be the beginning of REAL LOVE for God and for others, even our enemies.  Amid the pandemic, let us create a world that honors God, that celebrates Jesus, and that brings real “comfort and joy”.

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

Making the Right Choice

Maing the Right Choice

The warnings included in the letter of Hebrews were written to believers who were being tempted to return to the Jewish religion and traditions.  In their actions, they were not only choosing Judaism but in their choosing they were also rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such is the case in all decisions we make.  When we say “yes” to one thing we simultaneously are saying “no” to its alternatives. In addition, with each decision there are consequences.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Regardless, there are consequences.

Such is the case with this fourth warning.  The choice to return to Judaism contained dangerous consequences which the author attempts to convey in this fourth exhortation.    

Danger! Danger!

The writer of Hebrews has been diligent to warn of the dangerous behaviors being exhibited by the readers of this letter.  Behaviors that are leading to spiritual erosion. They include neglect, unbelief, and spiritual immaturity.

Hebrews 10:26-39 contains the fourth warning to the readers of this critical epistle.   This exhortation deals specifically with the “danger of drawing back”.

The writer continues this serious discussion which first began in Hebrews 6:4-8 with the danger of “falling away” (from Christianity).[1]   This verb is found only here in the New Testament.  The writer is picturing people who have been numbered among the followers of Christ but now leave that company.

Dangerous behaviors and consequences

The behaviors and consequences of “falling away” and “drawing back” are a real and present danger to believers.  We are to take these warnings seriously.   They highlight our need to remain steadfast and faithful (Heb. 10:38).

Behaviors and consequences (are)

Hebrews 6:4-8 

“Falling away” 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

“Drawing back”

Intentional

“with knowledge”

“Those who have were once enlightened, who tasted…who shared” (vv. 4 and 5)

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth” (v. 26)

“Recall the former days…after you were enlightened” (v. 32)

Irreversible

“unable to restore”

“It is impossible to renew to repentance” (v. 4)

“no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26)

Irreverent

“of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice”

“They are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up in contempt” (v. 6)

 

“a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation” (v. 27)

“Trampled the Son of God…the blood counted a common thing…insulted the Spirit of grace.” (v.29)

 Apostasy by any other name

The writer’s admonition begins with calling out the willful sin of the readers (Heb. 10:26).  Our sins are often the result of our deliberate choice to impose our desire over God’s leadership (James 1:13-15).

This warning deals with the sin of apostasy, an intentional falling away, or defection. Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand his gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of scripture.[2] 

The fourth warning is contained in the final verses of this chapter (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. 

“The just shall live by faith” is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:1-4.  Who are the “just”?  The just (RSV, my righteous one) in this passage is the person God accepts as righteous who will live by faith. In this verse, the writer is drawing attention to the fact that faith and drawing back are opposed to each other.

To “draw back” means to withdraw self or to shrink from declaring.  It is clear that God is not pleased with the one who draws back (Heb. 10:38). It is important for believers to go forward in the path of faith. To draw back offers the worst consequence–perdition which in some translations is interpreted to mean destruction.  The best choice is to persevere in our faith and be saved.

21st Century Danger

We continually make choices.  Some are simple.  Others may be more complex.  As we make our choices, we, as believers, must also be mindful of potential consequences.  This is especially true of those that affect our spirit man and our walk of faith.  Are we making decisions that cause us to “draw back”?  How are we to respond?

We are to remember when we first came to faith and the gratitude we exhibited in the gift of salvation (Heb. 10:32).  We boldly witnessed the goodness and greatness of God.  We eagerly served and engaged in God’s work (Heb. 10:33).

It is important to know “that we have a better and an enduring possession in heaven” (Heb. 10:34). We should include in our daily routine the reading of Scripture that reminds us of our eternal rewards and destination (Eph. 1:13-14).

Let us refuse to “cast away our confidence” (Heb. 10:35).  To “cast away” conveys the thought of a reckless rejection of what is valuable. Only Jesus Christ holds the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).

Through Jesus, we have received all spiritual blessings (Ep. 1:3) and great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4).  These enable us to endure struggles, reproaches, and tribulations (Heb. 10:32-33).  Because of this, believers can boldly proclaim, “We do not draw back to prediction but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul”.  (v. 39)

 

[1] Such cannot be brought back to repentance. Notice that he does not say cannot be forgiven or cannot be restored to salvation or the like. It is repentance that is in mind, and the writer says that it is impossible for these people to repent. This might mean that the repentance that involves leaving a whole way of life to embrace the Christian way is unique.  It cannot be repeated.  There is no putting the clock back.

[2] The MacArthur Study Bible

 

A Call to Maturity

Last week we introduced spiritual maturity as a process, a pathway, or a goal. Regardless of the means of achieving spiritual maturity, the result is to be a believer whose faith is founded on the Gospel and who is committed to ongoing growth (transformation).

Faith and growth work together to develop spiritual maturity in the believer which is critical in moving God’s kingdom forward.  Therein lies the urgency for a call to maturity by the writer of Hebrews.

Dull of hearing

It has been said that to make progress on a bike, you must keep moving forward.  There is no reversal nor standing still.  This is a good analogy in describing the dilemma the author of Hebrews faced.

Although these believers had been trained in the “elementary truths of God’s Word” (NIV, Heb. 5:12), they were not moving forward “on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).   They had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

Hearing is difficult, not only for this audience but also for any audience.  Interestingly, the verb “to hear” (akouo) provides the root for the verb that means “to obey” (hypakouo) (Heb. 5:9; 13:17).  There could be any number of reasons why this group had become “dull of hearing”.

Distractions, fear of persecution, or loss in confidence of their leaders.  The writer of this letter does not say.  However, we do know the outcome.

The readers had apparently pulled back from their bold witness to outsiders and from exhorting and encouraging one another.  Through lack of use, faculties grow dull and the members regress to a former condition of immaturity.[1]

The writer’s dilemma

In Hebrews 5:11-6:3, the writer contrasts immaturity with maturity.  They use familiar “educational language” of that day to describe the believers’ lack of progress.  The Apostle Paul uses similar language in 1 Cor. 3:1-3.  “Milk” and “solid food” were common terms for referring to levels of educational development.  Here “milk” is an image of the “elementary truths of the God’s Word” (v. 12), while “solid food” is the “word of righteousness” (v. 13) which is the believer’s capacity  to distinguish between good and evil (v.14).

The writer’s dilemma is this.  Although these believers have previously received adequate teaching for their ministry work and purpose (Heb. 6:1-2), their failure to grow spiritually hindered them from understanding more complex teachings about Jesus Christ.  Specifically, Jesus’ excellency as High Priest.  A more excellent priesthood than the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9; 6:20).

Immaturity leads to failure

The exhortations found in Hebrews are appropriate for us today.  Distractions and lack of spiritual discipline keep us stuck in the same position as when we first came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Statistics support the fact that believers today spend little to no time on spiritual formation.  It should not be surprising that these behaviors have resulted in believers who are “unskilled in the word” (v. 13) and churches who feel ill equipped to lead new generations to Christ.

Our failure to be spiritually mature results in our inability to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and for His Kingdom.  These include:

The ability to persevere.  Lack of maturity impairs our ability to remain faithful to God’s purpose for our life.  We are created specifically for God’s “good work” (Eph. 2:10).  This is true whether we work in ministry or in the secular world.  Our “stick-to-it-ness” is critical as we live in a world hostile to Jesus.

The ability to discern.  When we become “sluggish” and “dull of hearing”, we risk becoming disobedient.  In a postmodern world, it is difficult to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Is. 5:20-24; 2 Tim. 3:1, 3b, 5).  Unable to discern, we become targets for Satan’s deception. “To think between vice and virtue is a line clear and unmistakable is to embrace an illusion.”[2]

The ability to witness.  We have a clear mandate from Jesus to witness to a dying world (Matt. 28:19-20).  It would be impossible for believers to look around our world and not acknowledge that “the fields are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35).  An informed and bold witness is needed as much in the 21st century as it was in the 1st: “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  We are in a battle for the souls of men.

Go on to maturity

When we became Christians, we received everything we needed for life and godliness through the knowledge of God who called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).  It is our responsibility to build upon the basics of that faith and move forward to maturity.

The Apostle Peter directs us to make every effort (with all diligence) to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8)

Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus is the essence of spiritual maturity.  God is our resource, and all growth comes by grace through Him, but we are responsible to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).

[1] Letter to the Hebrews, Fred B. Craddock

[2] Ibid.

The Danger of Spiritual Immaturity

At the beginning of this series, I asked if you were “helping or hindering your spiritual journey”.  I posed three questions, which now fit nicely with today’s warning on the danger of spiritual immaturity.

First, where are you in your current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate you to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in your life today?

It is now time to move these questions from their previous position as the backdrop for this series to the focal point for our exploration of spiritual immaturity.  We begin this journey by contrasting it with its opposite–spiritual maturity.

What is spiritual maturity? 

As I researched this topic of spiritual maturity, there were varying views and opinions as to its definition.  For some it is a process; for others it is a pathway to follow.  And still others see spiritual maturity as the goal of the believer’s life. That being the case I offer several views for your consideration.

Commitment to Transformation

Dallas A. Willard, an American philosopher known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation, describes spiritual maturity as taking place “when we are drawn close to a life with Jesus. We, by the grace of God, behave differently because we have been transformed.”

This transformation occurs as believers intentionally build and live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God.  This transformation occurs as believers commit to grow, commit to change, and commit to learn. 

Using Willard’s description, spiritual maturity is a process.  One that never ends until we reach heaven and are face-to-face with our Savior (1 Cor. 13:12). Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, do we behave differently?

Building on the Foundation of the Gospel 

Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul, exists to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.   In “Four Essentials of Spiritual Maturity”, author and contributing writer Kent Hughes outlines four key areas needed for spiritual maturity.

While these essentials are directed to pastors, they also outline key responsibilities for believers who desire to be spiritually mature.  They include:

    1. Christ-focused exposition of the Word—Christ is the source and sustainer of spiritual maturity
    2. Cautious “striving” to accurately present the Word—described as “struggling in preaching the gospel mystery”
    3. Commitment to the Christian community—”to comprehend with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18-19)
    4. Christian maturity demonstrated—the believer is a living testimony of what love and devotion for God should look like

Using Hughes’ description, spiritual maturity is a pathway.  One that is to be passionately pursued (2 Tim. 2:15).  That pathway includes leading people to Christ.  Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we intentional in building our lives on the foundation of God’s Word?

Passion to Persevere

Lastly, I present the viewpoint that spiritual maturity is a goal.  The specific goal is the believer’s capacity to persevere.  The believer is both able to weather the storms of life while also proclaiming the glory of the Lord.

Oswald in his book, Spiritual Maturity, describes it this way:

Spiritual maturity is not a level of growth Christians achieve but the passion to press on in Christ. As we embrace God’s Providence, the work of the Holy Spirit, the character  Christ desires, the terms of discipleship, hardship, and more, we can move from infancy toward the fruitful maturity we were created to enjoy.

Pastor Andy Stanley, senior pastor and founder of North Point Ministries shares a similar viewpoint: “Spiritual maturity is measured in terms of persevering faith not perfect behavior.”  

The Apostle Paul also describes spiritual maturity in terms of the early churches’ ability to persevere.  Faced with fierce and continuous persecution for their faith, they were told not to “faint” in their work for Christ (2 Cor. 4:1, 14-17; Gal. 6:9; Col. 3:15).  That is perhaps the reason the writer of Hebrews included spiritual maturity as important for this group.

Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we able to persevere? While we may not face religious persecution, how we respond to the current state of our world, i.e., health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, can be an indicator of our ability to “hold fast our faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Now is the Time 

God needs spiritually mature, 21st century disciples who will represent His Kingdom.  These disciples must be willing to proclaim, defend, and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Especially in a post-modern world that is hostile to Christianity.

Most importantly, 21st century disciples must show and share the love of Christ–even to those who may hate us (Luke 6:27-36).  We no longer can depend only on our pastor to provide outreach to the lost and to the disenfranchised.  Neither can we wait for the church’s mercy ministry to provide for the homeless and the impoverished.  The “them” is now “us”—our family, our neighbor, and our co-worker.

The physical church is temporarily “ON HOLD” for many of us.  Other churches may be operating at a reduced capacity.  But God is calling us today to be what He designed us to be—The Church (1 Pet. 2:4-6).  As the Master Builder, God places His living stones just where He wants us to be (1 Cor.12:18). Spiritual maturity is not an option—it is a necessity for the world we live in today!

Next week we will explore the “Failure of Spiritual Immaturity”.

The Danger of Unbelief

 

John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. He wrote this about unbelief:

Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored. Its sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the Word of the one true God and thus attributes falsehood to Him. 

The second warning listed in the Hebrews letter reflects similar passion regarding the danger of unbelief (Heb. 3:7-4:13). Does it begin with drifting (neglect) and ends with doubting (unbelief)?

The writer of Hebrews frequently used Old Testament quotations and images to support their argument for remaining steadfast in the Christian faith.  The author cited historical accounts from the Old Testament to remind the readers of the danger of giving in to outside pressure rather than “holding fast to their faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Unbelief for the Hebrews

In this second warning the author outlines the danger of doubting and disbelieving the Word.  He uses the background of the exodus of Israel from Egypt and their experiences in the wilderness to explain their unbelief.

It was not God’s will that Israel remain either in Egypt or in the wilderness. His desire was that the people enter their glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. But when Israel got to the border of their inheritance they delayed because they doubted the promise of God.  Therefore, the people went backward in unbelief instead of forward by faith.  They missed their inheritance and died in the wilderness.[1]

The “wilderness” for believers today is this current “season of uncertainty”.  Instead of the Promised Land, we are facing nonstop change and upheaval in our daily lives. This is a result of many factors affecting our nation including the current health pandemic, social inequalities, and civil unrest. The fallout from this season of uncertainty is fear, disruptions, loss, and fatigue.

Let’s be honest! Our personal faith is also being challenged.  We question, “What is God going to do with all these problems?”  We object, “When will God intercede on our behalf?”  Emotionally and spiritually, we are tired and need to see a “light at the end” of this long tunnel.  Can you imagine what it felt like living in the wilderness for 40 years?

21st Century unbelief

What does unbelief among Christians look like today?  Unfortunately, it looks like the Israelites’ unbelief in the wilderness.  It resembles the behaviors that resulted in the hardening of their hearts.

    • Distrust in God’s power.  We murmur and complain.  Although we desire our lives to be trouble free, it just isn’t reality. The reality is this–we live in a fallen world (1John 2:17).  There will be trials and tribulations. However, Jesus encouraged us by telling us He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  We can trust God’s power to handle whatever happens in our lives.
    • Dependence on self and others.  Scripture warns us “not to be wise in our own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).  However, since we distrust God’s power, we tend to seek answers from the world.  We foolishly place our trust in human leaders and political agendas. “Instant” access to information through technology makes us believe all our answers can be found on the Internet.
    • Departure from the “living God”.  God was grieved with Israel during the entire forty years because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:12).  God is saddened today as He sees the same thing happening with His followers.  Their hearts have become hardened.  In addition, the deceitfulness of sin has caused believers to rebel against God.  They desire to return to their “Egypt”.

Unbelief left unchecked

The danger of unbelief is “loss”.  Not the loss of our salvation. The believer in Christ is completely secure (John 10:29; Rom. 8:31-39; Ep. 2:4-10).

However, when we practice unbelief, we miss out on our inheritance today and must suffer the chastening of God (Heb. 3:12-19).

Unbelief is a thief that robs us of the blessings God has promised–promises that are our today (2 Pet. 1: 4).  We lose the peace and joy that can only be found in trusting God (Ps. 16:8-9).

Still the best choice

In our humanity, we might be inclined to depend on our own strength.  Amid our trials, we might be tempted to try some “nouveau” spiritual approach The question we must ask ourselves is, “what can be better than Jesus?”

The writer of Hebrews presented the best case for “choosing Jesus” over returning to Judaism.  As we look around at the issues we face, our best option is still Jesus.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, possesses all power on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18).  Jesus is omniscient–knowing all things (1 John 3:20).  He is omnipotent–unlimited in power and authority (Daniel 4:35). Jesus is omnipresent–in all places at all times (Jer. 23:23-24).

Most importantly, Jesus loves us and has proven His love by dying for us so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16).  He is the Righteous and Just One (Deut. 32:3-4).  Jesus is all this and so much more.  Jesus the Best and Only Choice for all generations

[1]  Hebrews, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9