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Growing Up

 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2

This verse is the foundational principle for our summer series of messages – Transformational Discipleship. As followers of Christ, God wants to totally transform our lives – changing us into the people that He created us to be. But he doesn’t do that instantly in the moment that become a Christian. But rather, it is a slow, life-long process where we learn to know God’s will for us – which is good and pleasing and perfect!

So throughout the summer, we want to look at that process and hopefully discover where we are in that journey personally! And more specifically, we want to know how we can align ourselves with what God is already doing in us so that we can take the next steps in that process of becoming more like Him.

We started last week by looking at a few of the distinguishing marks of being both spiritually dead – as well as being a spiritual infant. And I’ll give you just a quick summary before we move on.

Being born as sinners with a natural desire to rebel against God and to do things our own way, our initial state of existence for every person on the planet is being relationally separated from God. And because we are separated from Him – the Giver and Sustainer of Life – we may be physically alive, but we are absolutely spiritually dead. We have no relationship with Him – and because of that, have no life and no hope for the future.

However, because of God’s great love for us even while we were sinners, He provided a way for us to restore that relationship. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again from the grave – paying our penalty so that we could receive forgiveness and life. The only requirement for us is that we simply believe and accept that he did that for us!

When we make that choice to believe who Jesus is and what He has done for us, we become spiritually alive – born again – as we sometimes phrase it. At that point, we become a spiritual infant. 

Now as infants, we really don’t know much of anything! Everything is brand new and there is very much a steep learning curve! In this stage of your spiritual journey, it’s really important to have some mature Christian people in your life who can help you along as you begin to grow and learn what it’s all about. This is what your church family is for. These people will be like your spiritual parents – or at least older brothers and sisters. They can help guide and direct you as you begin to figure things out.

But perhaps the greatest gift that you’ll discover in this stage of your journey is the Bible. God has given us a whole book on who He is and what He has done in the world over the centuries – so that we can learn what it means to live in right relationship with Him. Getting to know what the Bible says and being part of a Bible-believing church in this stage of life is so important. 

And of course, just as physical infants need to learn to feed themselves and begin eating solid food, so too as spiritual infants, if we want to grow and mature, it is so important that we begin to read and understand the Bible for ourselves. If our only spiritual nourishment comes from the Sunday morning sermon, we’re probably going to be a bit mal-nourished! We don’t want to be like a grown person still being spoon-fed pablum all their life. That would be ridiculous and unhealthy – both physically and spiritually. At some point, you have to learn to feed yourself! You have to take responsibility for your own spiritual growth and health. This is one of the key ways that we begin moving into the next phase of maturity – growing from being an infant into being a child – which we’re going to talk about today.

So let’s jump right into it! Now when you are a child physically speaking – your world is pretty small and it revolves primarily around you! Kids are mostly focused on the here and now of their lives. They want to make sure they are fed, entertained, comfortable, and over all, just well taken care of! They aren’t generally concerned about how mom and dad are doing – or if the bills will get paid this month – or what’s happing in the world of politics…  No, they just want to make sure their little world is running smoothly.

And that’s a good thing! Kids shouldn’t be burdened with all of the cares and concerns of adults! They should be able to just be kids – learning and growing – and slowly beginning to take responsibility for themselves and eventually others.

Spiritual children are very similar. At this stage of their spiritual journey, their world is pretty small and revolves primarily around them. Christianity for them is really about the benefits Jesus brings into their lives. And that’s not a bad thing at this stage in their journey! They need to discover the goodness of God and experience how He makes some real positive changes in their life!

And so for these folks, much of their Christian experience is them beginning to practice some spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and being part of a church family. Another big part of this stage is learning to be obedient to the Word of God. These are great steps forward and are foundational practices that will really help them mature over time. But in this stage of spiritual childhood, there’s still some immaturity there. I think Merryl actually said it quite well in her testimony – when she first accepted the Lord, she said it was “more like I added Jesus to my life then, rather than making him the centre.” And that’s often what we see in this stage. Jesus is added into someone’s life – but He is not yet the centre.

So practically speaking, these folks probably have some kind of regular devotional time where they read the Bible and pray – which is great – although sometimes that becomes just another box to check on their todo list. In fact, there are probably some seasons where they end up being too busy to do their devotions at all! But still, they strive to make it a habit!

They likely attend church on a semi-regular basis – so long as there isn’t anymore more important to do. They try to fit Jesus into their schedule – but sometimes, He just doesn’t fit! 

They probably choose which church they’ll attend based on whether or not they like the songs, the preacher, or the programs that particular church offers. It’s important for them to find a church that meet their needs!

As they learn more about what the Bible says – they are often quick to identify wrong behaviour – particularly in other people. But they do strive to change their behaviour to line up with what the Bible says and what they see in the other Christians around them. However, they probably tend to be more concerned about outward actions and appearances than about the root issues at the heart level.

And that’s maybe the clearest distinguishing mark of a spiritual child – they focus on outward appearances and behaviours – but without realizing that there are some deeper heart issues that need to be dealt with as well. They want to look right and do right – but they’re still primarily driven by their old, selfish sinful nature. 

Paul identifies the church in Corinth as being like this. He writes in 1 Corinthians 3:1…

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. 2 I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, 3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

That’s a good summary of spiritual children – even though they are saved, they are still controlled by their sinful nature – still living like people of the world!

If you’re looking for a specific example of a spiritual child in the Bible, you might look at someone like Samson or King Saul or perhaps even the Pharisees. These guys were all pretty focused on outward appearances – but tended to neglect the real heart issues.

And I know these guys are generally thought of in a pretty negative way, so I do want to make it clear that being a spiritual child is not a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing if you never grow up! (which I think was maybe the case for Samson, King Saul, and the Pharisees.)

But as fairly new believers, this is an important stage of your spiritual journey! You’re just learning what it’s like to have a relationship with your Creator – and how that relationship impacts the rest of your life. It doesn’t just change your outward behaviours – (although it probably starts with that) but over time it changes your heart – it changes the way you think!

But again, it’s a process that you have to work through. You wouldn’t expect an infant to magically mature into an adult without first going through childhood! You can’t really skip that part!

So the question is, how do we work through that process? What does it take for a spiritual child to grow up – so to speak? How do we move into the next stage of maturity?

To answer this questions, let’s take a look at the book of 1 Corinthians. Now in this letter, Paul is writing to these Christians in Corinth who are working through the childhood stage of their Christianity. There are several “childish” issues that have come to Paul’s attention and so the bulk of this book is written to help the believers in Corinth mature from childish thinking to mature thinking.

We can see this in chapter 14, verse 20. Paul writes:

20 Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.

1 Corinthians 14:20

So what exactly are the “matters of this kind” that Paul is talking about and how does Paul want them to move from being ‘childish’ to ‘mature’?

Well, let me give you a few examples.

In chapter 11, Paul talks about communion (or the Lord’s Supper) – and how in Corinth, it’s become a bit of a gluttonous feast for some, while others get totally left out! He writes:

20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!

1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Paul is pretty blunt here. When it comes to sharing the Lord’s Supper – their thinking was completely childish! They were thinking only about about themselves – they were not thinking about honouring God or caring about about each other! Yes, they were partaking of the Lord’s supper – but it had become all about them! It was selfishness, plain and simple. We see the same kind childish thinking in chapter 8 where Paul talks about food that was offered to idols. In this case, some believers were convinced that all food was acceptable to God – but others believed it was wrong to eat food offered to idols! And so Paul writes to them:

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 

9 …you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 

1 Corinthians 8:1, 9-11

It’s the same childish thinking here. They were only concerned about themselves – and whether they were right or wrong to eat this food… They had no thought about how their actions impacted others. 

And that’s just a couple of examples from this short letter to the Corinthians. If we had more time, we could look to see how Paul addresses their divisions in the church – over who follows Paul and who follow Peter or who follow Apollos?

    • Or how he addresses the fact that some believers were taking up lawsuits against other believers!
    • Or how how he deals with the issue of everyone wanting to be the centre of attention during their church meetings!

The answer to all of these issues came down to the same bottom line. Throughout the letter, Paul urges them to stop only thinking about themselves – and starting thinking about others.

Regarding eating food, He says in verse 13:

“So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live…” 1 Corinthians 8:13

In chapter 10 he makes it even more clear!

24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

33b I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10:24, 33b

In other words, the key to maturing as a spiritual child, is to learn to put others before yourself. Start thinking through how your actions (as “right” or “justified” as they may be) – how they might impact others in a negative way. It all comes down to learning to care about and really love others.

It’s not a coincidence that it’s in this letter to the childish Corinthians, that we find the ‘love chapter’ – 1 Corinthians chapter 13 – where Paul describes what love is. And I just want to read a couple key verses from that chapter. Paul begins this section by saying:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

In other words, you can do all the right things – you can go to church, read your Bible every day, fill the offering plate with money – you can do all the right, Christian things…. But if you haven’t learned to really love others – you’re still a spiritual child.

That’s why Paul writes just a few verses down from this – in the middle of the love chapter:

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

In this verse, Paul is urging the Corinthians – and urging us as well – to put away our selfish, childish behaviours and ways of thinking – and grow up! To mature in our walk with God!

The goal and aim of this transformational discipleship process is to become like our Saviour – and so what kind of an example do we see in Him? Childish? Selfish? Not hardly! Paul writes to the Philippians….

4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:4-8

Jesus Christ loved us so much that he gave up his own comfort, his own preferences, his own rights, and even his own life – for us! And when we start following his example, that’s when we really start growing up! That’s what it means to put away childish things – it means we start loving, serving, caring for, and investing in the lives of others like Christ did for us!

This morning we want to share communion together.  We want to both solemnly remember and gratefully celebrate the self-sacrificing love that Jesus demonstrated for all of us when He willing took our place on the cross. And John is going to lead us in that in just a moment, but before he comes, I’d just want you encourage you to consider where you are in your journey with God.

First of all, have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Have you accepted God’s gift of life – or are you still spiritually dead – separated from Him because of your sin? And perhaps John will talk more about that when He comes up, but specifically this morning I’d ask you to consider: Where are you on this chart in regards to how well you love others?

As you consider how you interact with your spouse, or your kids, maybe your mom & dad – brothers and sisters, the guys at work, your neighbour, perhaps even the wonderful folks sitting around you today – how well do you love them? Do you demonstrate to them the self-sacrificing love that God demonstrates for you? Or are you still pretty much wrapped up in your own little world?

I know we all still struggle to some extent with our old selfish, sinful nature. We’ll always have some of those childish tendencies… But I guess the real question is: Are you growing up? Are you learning to love those folks more today then you were last year? Do you have greater consideration for their needs and their feelings than maybe you use to? Are you acting less and less childish as time goes on?

And if so – that’s awesome! That’s the transforming work of Christ in you – changing you from the inside out – producing in you – more and more – the fruit of the Spirit and the character of Jesus Christ. It’s so good!

But on the flip side, if that’s not happening, then why not? What’s keeping you from growing up? Why are you holding on to some of those childish tendencies? Maybe that’s something you want to reflect on – or talk to someone about. What might you need to do to allow the love of God to begin flowing through you?

Because we know that’s God’s desire! He wants to transform all of us into the likeness of His Son and to have us grow and mature into the person that He created us to be. He loves us too much to just leave us the way we are!

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