Today we continue our study by looking at 1 John 2:12-14
I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
I think everyone of us have had this experience. You are starting a new hobby, activity, or job...and there is this struggle for the first few weeks. You’ve got that newbie smell. It is frustrating because things don’t seem to happen naturally, and everyone else seems to be doing it so easily. You have been doing it for only an hour and you feel like you should quite because you are never going to get the hang of things!
I had this feeling a couple of months ago when Phil Eddy gave me a fly fishing lesson. I looked all cool and calm on the outside...but I was struggling. The movements that Phil made look easy and natural, were tough. You have to hold up your wrist just right, move at the elbow, count one...one thousand, two...one thousand, three...one thousand, and then move your arm forward. My arm didn’t want to work that way.
I felt like I was fumbling the whole thing. I cast that thing a couple hundred times, and only got 1 or 2 good casts out...the problem was that I couldn’t figure out what I did that made it work because it felt the same as all the times before! It was horrible...At least I didn’t tangle the line. I was to fly-fishing what Michael Jordan was to baseball.
In reality, though, I was expecting way too much. This was the first time I had ever picked up a fly-rod, and no matter what I wanted it to be...it wasn’t going to be masterful. I wanted to pick up the rod and within a few minutes be casting like Brad Pitt in the movie A River Runs Through It.
But it was never going to be like that because I was completely new, the movements were new, the whole process was new, and when something is new it takes time...lots of time to get right.
In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites research that says it take 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. In every area he studied, what determined a person’s expertise was not their initial talent, skill, or anything like that...it was their commitment to getting to 10,000 hours as quickly as possible. Musicians, speakers, computer programmers, whatever...10,000 hours. That is doing something for 24 hours a day for 416 days straight or 40 hours a week for 5 years.
Having a revolutionary love is a lot like this for us. It doesn’t come naturally, and it certainly isn’t easy. We have this set of ideals and standards and definitions for love and what it looks like...and none of them naturally line up with the Bible.
We are bombarded with media and music and movies and cultural influences that tells us love looks like this! Love is self-centered and self-satisfying. It is all about me and my needs being met. It is romantic and always “happily ever after.” He always has the perfect Taylor Lautner abs, puts rose petals all over, and is deeply romantic, and She is always willing...to bring you a sandwich. We all know this isn’t love...but it still works on us and affects our understanding of love.
Then we see the Biblical view of love is radically different...it talks about loving enemies, and sacrificing for others...commitment and covenant...and, as we talked about last week, the fact that if we don’t do good to others then we are actually demonstrating hatred toward them...that’s is a radically different definition of love.
So I’m caught. I think you might be caught too. I really like the Biblical definition of love. There is something about it that rings true...that inspires me to want to live that way...it seems to be the authentic version of what love should and could be...but I also know that I don’t love that way.
And it is here that today’s passage really begins to speak. If we are ever going to live out a Revolutionary love in our world, we have to have a commitment to maturing in our faith. We have to grow in our understanding of what love means biblically and how to live out of that love in our everyday life...and that takes time; lots of time.
Three Stages of Maturity
In this passage John describes three stages of Faith development. Little children, fathers, and young men. These are not meant to be gender exclusive. He simply uses the language he was given which was male dominated. So when we read this we should read: Little children, Fathers and Mothers, and Adulthood.
They are not age specific. John is not talking about groups within certain age ranges. He is talking about stages of growth or maturity in our relationship with Christ. You can have a person who is 20 years old, and because of their commitment to Christ...they are a spiritual adult. You might have someone who is 60 years old, and they would be spiritually, a little child. This is about maturity in the faith...not about years.
They are not time determined. Someone’s maturity level is not determined by how many years they have been in the church; or “saved.” The author of Hebrews writes to a church filled with people who have been in the faith a long time, but have not matured spiritually. They have all the right words, they have put in their time, but they have not matured in their faith.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”They ought to be teachers, the writer says, but really they need a teacher because they have not grown. Instead of meat and solid food...they need milk like an infant.
One Christian author and pastor says, “The curse of the church has always been immature Christians, Christians who never grow up, Christians who cease their progress soon after beginning the Christian life.”
The problem here isn’t spiritual babies acting like spiritual infants in the faith. The problem is someone who has been calling themselves a Christian, they have been “saved,” they have been in church and should be mature...but they aren’t. That is when there is a problem.
Why is this so? Because healthy things grow. Acting like an infant when you are an infant is ok...but acting like an infant when you are 25 or 35 or 45 indicates a developmental issue. It indicates that something is wrong. And just as this indicates a developmental issue in the physical world, when people don’t grow up spiritual it too indicates a developmental issue.
So let’s look at these three stages of development that John outlines for us.
Have you noticed that babies are lazy? They don’t do anything for themselves. And they are rather selfish and cry all the time. They don’t really contribute anything to the family. They are just a noise at one end and a smell at the other end. But that is ok because they are babies. They are just starting out and everything is new to them. They are helpless. And really babies are very cute.
In the spiritual realm we are born all over again. We start out as spiritual infants, and it takes time for us to get things together. We can be pretty selfish. There are a lot of bad behaviors and things from our previous way of life that God has not yet worked out of us...but what a wonderful time. Just as it is an exciting time when a baby is born...so it is exciting when a person is spiritually reborn.
We have low expectations of someone who is a new Christian...they are just getting started and learning what it means to follow Christ. John says, “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” and then later “I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father.”
And those are really the two most important things for a new believer...their sins have been forgiven because of Jesus and they know the Father. If they can get these two things down...they are where they ought to be spiritually...there is a lot more to learn, but they are starting off on the right foot.
And while this stage can be fun...it is easy. We like to be forgiven and know God and revel in this time...but we can not stay here. We have to keep growing or developing.
So the next stage is...
John doesn’t write these in order...and there really is no explanation why. But we are going to take them in order of maturity.
The next stage of development is spiritual adulthood. This is the time when you really begin to leave the childish ways behind you. You begin to pick up the responsibilities and demands of adulthood. And granted...this stage can be tough. You are no longer soaking up the resources of the people around you...you are not longer allowed to see things as being all about you...you are asked to begin contributing...those “immature moments” are not looked on as “cute” anymore...when we grow up it is expected that the childish ways are behind us. There comes a point where it is time to grow up.
So it is interesting that John says that one of the signs of this stage of development is that, “you have overcome the evil one.” It is time to stop giving in to sin. There comes a point in our spiritual development when we stop making the same dumb sinful mistakes. We learn to say “NO!” to sin and “Yes!” to righteousness. We grow up.
But we don’t do this all by ourselves. Vs. 14 says that the reason we are strong is because “the word of God lives in you.” Spiritual strength and maturity come from spending time in God’s Word, and when we spend time in God’s Word we are then able to overcome the evil one as John points out.
Right after Jesus’ baptism He is lead into the wilderness to be tempted. And Matthew 4 tells how Satan comes to him and challenges him in three very distinct ways. He challenges Jesus to use His powers to fulfill His own needs by turning rocks into bread to satisfy His hunger. Next Satan challenges Him to test God’s love and concern for Him by throwing himself from the highest corner of the temple and seeing if God would actually rescue him. Finally, Satan test Jesus with a shortcut to having all the world bow at His feet...don’t go through all the pain and agony of the cross when I can just let you have it the easy way.
Most of us are familiar with that story...but do you notice how Jesus fights off Satan’s temptations? He doesn’t run. He doesn’t sit there and cringe and use willpower to ward him off...no He uses Scripture. Every time Satan attacks, Jesus would respond with, “It is written...” Jesus had spent time in the Bible and learned it and made it part of him. And when Satan began using Scripture to continue the temptation...Jesus fought back with a right understanding of Scripture. Satan knows that the best weapon he has for Christians is their own Bible...by getting them to misunderstand what they have read. That’s why John is so concerned with these false teachers that are infiltrating the church.
But do you see that Jesus never resorts to a defense that we are not able to use ourselves? This stage of spiritual development is absolutely vital to our maturity in the faith. This is where we learn to rely on the power of God and find strength in His Word. If we fail at this point...we never mature. This is where we learn to connect to God. John uses the phrase “to abide in” or “to remain in” and that is what we are learning to do.
We are not just talking about knowledge of the Bible though. There are many who have a vast knowledge of the Bible and yet have never matured into spiritual adulthood. They know chapter and verse and can blow other people away with their encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible and their arguments...they have spent years in Bible study and learned so much...but they have missed something very important. John doesn’t say, “you have learned the word of God.” No, John says, “the word of God lives in you.”
Bible knowledge can never replace having the Word of God living and actively at work in our lives. There are many people who the last thing they need is another Bible Study...what they need is to actually do some of the parts they already know. To allow it to live within them.
Moving into Spiritual Adulthood is a vital part of our spiritual walk. If we fail at this crucial time we never mature, and we actually regress. This is why people spend year after year in the church and never grow...it is because they are content with spiritual infancy and never allow the Word of God to become part of them; to live in them.
Even after Spiritual Adulthood, John says there is one more step...
Spiritual Fathers and Mothers
The strength of this level of maturity is that they “know him who is from the beginning.”
Have you ever met someone who has spent years growing closer to God? It is truly like being in the presence of someone who is in the presence of God. There is a peace and strength about them. They are confident of what God can do. They have understand things far beyond their own wisdom or schooling or experience. They “know” God.
That word “know” there is a deep word. It means more than just having a knowledge of something. It represents a knowledge born out of intimacy and connection. It is the same word used throughout the Bible as a euphemism for sexual relations between a man and woman...it reminds people of Genesis 2:24 where the two become one flesh.
There comes a time in our walk with God, if we continue growing, when our knowledge of Him is born out of many, many hours of intimacy and relationship. We have the Bible embedded into us...it lives within us...and we add to that many many hours of experiencing the presence of God. This stage should be the ultimate goal of our spiritual walks because our goal is maturity.
How do we mature in our faith?
The important thing to remember is that we cannot produce growth. You cannot make yourself grow. In the physical world we cannot make ourselves grow. All we can do is put ourselves in a position where growth can happen. We eat the right things, exercise, and work on being healthy. Growing isn’t the point...health is the point. When we are healthy...we grow.
John 15:4-5 reminds us of this by saying,
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”You never walk by an apple tree and hear it straining to produce apples. As long as the limb remains connected to the trunk of the tree...it will produce apples. Our goal is to remain connected to the Vine...connected to Jesus so that His fruit will be produced in our lives.
So we are looking to put ourselves in a position of spiritual health!
Have you guys heard of that workout craze called P90x? It is insane what they have people do. There are these videos that people use to work out with, and a diet that they follow. Here is the thing...they haven’t done anything new. There is nothing really new in that entire program and yet people are flocking to it and spending millions buying the DVDs. They have just managed to repackage the oldest and most reliable weight loss advice ever...eat less...move more.
Putting ourselves in a place where spiritual growth can happen is not rocket science. It is easy to understand what it takes to be spiritually healthy...the difficulty part is in doing what it takes. Just as people people know what it takes to lose weight but resist...opting for the fad diets because the cheeseburger tastes better and is easier...so we will ignore the tried and true methods of spiritual development and attempt to mature through this or that spiritual revival or church or ministry or program or Bible study.
Here is what I want you to do this morning. I am going to give you 7 Ways that through the centuries have been practices or disciplines that people have used to remain or abide in Christ...they have used them to become spiritually healthy. And as I go through them...I want you to be asking God this question, “What one practice do I need to begin that will help me take my next step toward spiritual health and maturity?”
1. Read the Bible
We have already talked about this...this is the primary way to stay connected to Christ. If you are not spending time in God’s Word then this should be your primary focus. None of the other spiritual practices will help you much if you don’t do this one thing.
Ray Stedman writes, “Abiding in the Word. That is the secret of growth. That is what will move him from one stage to another until at last he becomes a father, able to reproduce himself in others. Here, then, is the divinely designed instrument of growth, the Word of God. It is absolutely impossible to grow up as a Christian or as a real man or woman, unless the Word of God abides in you. This is why the devil fights the whole matter of Bible study, the building of your life around the centrality and the authority of the Scriptures. Though the devil cannot stop us from being Christians, he can certainly keep us from becoming strong Christians.”
I believe so strongly in the power of God that that is why I spend the time I do preparing our weekend messages. That is why I require all our leaders to read through the Bible on a regular basis. The primary way we stay connected to the Vine is through God’s Word.
Spend time talking with God. Sitting in His presence...developing a conversational relationship with God.
3. Give of yourself...both tithing, time, and talents.
Throughout the Bible God constantly challenges people to give of themselves. He challenges them to tithe and to minister to others and to use their gifts to bring glory to His name. When we give we are saying that we are dependent upon God to take what we have given and use it to bring glory to His name.
4. Join a small group
It is important to be in fellowship with others. There is a myth that many of us have bought into..it says “God will never give us more than we can handle.” And it is a myth because God regularly allows us to have more than we can handle. And does this for two reasons...so we will depend more and more on him...and so we will depend more and more on others. In the modern Christian church...small groups are the place where we develop relationships and learn to depend on others and learn to love others.
5. Share your faith with others.
There is something about sharing our faith with people around us. I’m not talking about cramming the 4 spiritual laws down their throats or anything like that. Just simply talk about what God is doing in your life. It is really that simple.
6. Spend time worshipping.
We need worship. Everyone of us worships something. The question is whether or not what we worship is really something of ultimate value and worthy of worship. As we focus our eyes on God...the one who is truly worthy...there is something in that act that lifts us and moves us forward.
7. Practice the spiritual disciplines.
Throughout the centuries there have been practices...called Spiritual Disciplines...that people have used to help them connect with Christ. Fasting, silence, solitude, confession and repentance...the list could go on and on. These Disciplines are meant to help us in our journey of faith and require way more time than we have this morning. But I would definitely recommend a book. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is the best book I have ever read on this subject. It is worth the 10 or 12 dollars to purchase it.
Ultimately the question isn’t “Can I mature in our faith?” The real question is “Do I really want to mature?” Refusing to do the things that lead to spiritual health will cause us stall out and stop growing. There will be times of rapid spiritual growth and time when that slows...but we come back to ask “Am I where God wants me to be at this time?” That is the sign of maturity. Not how do we compare to this or that person? But Am I where God wants me to be at this moment?
I want to challenge you this week in two main areas:
First, ask yourself, “Do I really want to mature in my faith with Jesus?” Don’t move across this quickly. Spend time praying about this...because God challenges us to step up and move forward when we mature.
Second, carve out a block of time...start with 5 minutes a day if that is all you have, and begin to put into practice time with God.
For more information about Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights check us out online at www.daytoncrossroads.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daytoncrossroads