Monthly Archives: April 2012


What is the path to maturity? How do we grow up?

Little children grow up and mature, if they are fed and cared for by their parents or guardians. The process just seems to occur naturally, as long as the necessary conditions, such as food, rest, and loving care, are provided.

What about maturity in Christ? How does the individual who has trusted in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation grow up?

The Apostle Paul devoted his life to the work of helping Christians grow up to maturity. Here is his summary of that work, in Colossians 1:28:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (ESV)

Paul says that his goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”  We know, from what Christ said Himself, that maturity in Christ means becoming like Christ. Jesus says in Luke 6:40 that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A maturing Christian will look more and more like Christ, and the consummation of that process is that a fully mature Christian will be like Christ.

That process was the work of Paul, and it is the work now of all the fellow servants of God who desire what Christ and Paul desired to bring about in Christ’s disciples.

But how is it accomplished?

Paul says that first and foremost, maturity happens by the proclamation of Christ. The truth about Christ, the facts about who He is and what He has done, is the food that Christians need to grow from little children into mature disciples. Paul saw that as crucial, not minor. The gospel is the nourishment of the saints. Without it, there will be no growth. Without daily feeding upon it, we will never grow up. We may come to regard it as routine and unexciting, but without that daily bread, our growth will be stunted. When Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” (see John 6:48) He went on to say that feeding upon Him, continually, was necessary for life in Him. (see John 6:56).

Paul goes on to say that maturity comes from driving the truth of Christ deep into the mind. The word translated in the ESV (following the King James Version) as “warning” means literally to “put in mind.” In other words, Paul is reiterating that he sees putting the truth of Christ into the minds of everyone as the means of bringing about maturity. A one-time declaration of Christ is not sufficient for Paul. Rather, his goal is to get the truth of Christ deeply into the hidden recesses of everyone’s consciousness. Every thought must be brought into conformity with who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is doing. Christ must not just be at the surface of our thinking, but He must permeate our thoughts.

Paul then reiterates that maturity comes from teaching. Here, Paul is not simply repeating himself. He is stating that the true task of teaching is not merely laying facts out before a person, but requires that the things being taught are actually learned. Until that has occurred, the job of teaching is not finished. True teaching never assumes that learning has taken place until the learner has made the things being taught truly his own. The things that are taught must be fully understood, and this takes the patience of a tutor who is willing to stay at the task until it is complete. Paul says that he teaches everyone, indicating that everyone always has more to learn about Christ to grow into His likeness.

Paul then says that what He proclaims to others, puts in their minds, and teaches, is “all wisdom.” That is, he intends everyone to completely grasp the whole truth of Christ. A child who is only fed one kind of food will not develop and grow properly. So, too, we children of God will not grow into the fullness of Christ unless we hear, embrace, and fully understand all the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us.

As we look at Colossians 1:28, we must remember that Paul is not claiming that he, or any other instructor, is working on his own power, or is able to bring Christians to maturity by his own wisdom. In the very next verse, Paul acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is working in and through Paul. However, just as the Holy Spirit brings salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, He also brings maturity, Christ-likeness and holiness into the lives of we who trust in Christ through those who He uses to teach us.

The desire to hear, grasp, and understand the truths of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hearing, grasping, and understanding all there is to know of Christ are the means by which God’s Spirit brings us to maturity in Christ, through the efforts of those who love Christ and deliver His word to us.

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Do you wish you were perfect?

Human nature and experience  make us think that having our errors pointed out and practicing over and over will make us perfect. This procedure works when we are little children learning to recite the alphabet. It works when we are college students trying to remember dates in history class.

It is utterly ineffective in producing actual holiness, goodness and Chris-likeness. The reason is that holiness is not learned, it is given. It is not developed, it is imbued. It is not a process, it is a gift. Even people who know that fall into the trap of forgetting it. We all do. Our fleshly thinking keeps coming back, even though we know that we are saved from the penalty and guilt of sin and wrongdoing by Christ and kept by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. We fall into the error of thinking that we will be made more perfect and gain victory over sin by that same process that got us through high school without flunking out (if we didn’t). We focus on the law of God and memorize the laws of God and meditate on the law of God, thinking and hoping that all of these things, which are fleshly activities, will perfect us spiritually. We begin in the Spirit of God but fall back into trying to perfect ourselves in the flesh (see Galatians 3:3).

The fleshly process of attaining a spiritual attribute simply does not work. We see that in passages like Hebrews 10:14. Think about this…

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Christ, by His completed work, has already perfected us. We may not see it fully, but it has already been accomplished. There are plenty of other passages of the New Testament that tell us that. For example, see Romans 8:29-30, which says

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30, ESV

Only by grasping that truth, that Christ has already done the work for us and in us, can we hope to see the process that IS going on in us. He has (in the past tense) perfected us for all time, and because of that there is a change in us that we can expect to see and delight in seeing.

We are being sanctified, (that is, we are being made holy) by God. This is an ongoing process in which we are being acted upon. We are the recipients of the changing work of God, we are not the ones doing the working. God is sanctifying us, we are not sanctifying ourselves. That is also the concept we find in Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28, ESV

He is reshaping and reforming our lives to reflect the holiness that is already there. He is doing it by “all things” which are working together to accomplish that purpose of God in us.

After Hebrews 10:14, the author of Hebrews continues his description of the work of God. It is God’s work, not ours. It is a work in which we are being acted upon, not a work we are doing. Here’s how he describes it:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” -Hebrews 10:15-17

We tend to read this passage (quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34) as if we have to put the laws in our own hearts and write them on our own minds. We tend to think of this like being back in high school or college, and act like we are studying for a test. We overlook that this is a promise of God to those who are already in His Kingdom by the work of His Son and His Spirit, not an invitation to take an entrance exam to get into the Kingdom.

If we forget this, and act as if we can make ourselves holy by some process of self-correction, we are simply setting ourselves up for frustration. We will tend to miss that thing we are urged to do under the New Covenant. As Paul says in Romans 8:24-25

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Worse, we will be prone to glorify ourselves when holiness grows in us, thinking that we were instrumental in the process. Instead of giving God all the praise for our victory over sin, we will credit ourselves. That is the temptation of legalism –the idolatry of self-made holiness.

Christ already passed all the exams and earned the degree for us. Not only that, but He got perfect grades that WE get credited with. Now we are to walk as those who have attained what He has given us, but even that we can only do with His help.

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Filed under Christ's work, Legalism, Sin