This morning we are continuing to look at the process of Transformational Discipleship. The premise of this series is that God desires to totally transform our lives – making us into new Creations.
Now of course, some of that happens instantaneously – the moment we become a believer! As 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
2 Corinthians 5:17
This is where we get the idea of being born-again! When we accept God’s gift of salvation and forgiveness, it’s like we become brand new people! So certainly, there is an element of instantaneous change in our lives!
But just like how every person must physically grow up – from an infant to a child to a teenager to an adult – every Christian must go through a similar process of learning and growing and changing! Our theme verse of this series is Romans 12:1 which says:
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.
This verse makes it clear that even though we are new Creations the moment we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour, there is still a process through which God transforms us as we learn (over a lifetime) to know God’s will for our lives!
And so, it’s this process of growing up spiritually that we’ve been looking at for the last few weeks.
We started by looking at how we begin life spiritually dead – apart from Christ. Without a right relationship with our Creator – we have no life, no hope, and no future!
But because of what Christ did for us on the cross, we can be born again! By placing our faith in Christ, we can receive new life and become spiritual infants. Now as spiritual infants, everything is brand new and we know next to nothing about following Jesus. But this is where our older brothers and sisters in Christ can come along side and help guide us along. But perhaps even more importantly, this is also where we begin to learn God’s will for us by getting to know and understand His Word!
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:15…
15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:15-17
As this passage tells us, God’s Word is the key to understanding how to live this new life! And that’s why it is so important for all Christians (beginning in this infant stage) to develop a habit of reading and understanding God’s Word for themselves on a regular basis. It’s really not sufficient for us to just depend on others to feed us spiritually all our lives – a sermon here or a devotional there – no, we need to learn to feed ourselves by personally reading and studying the Bible for ourselves.
And as we do that, we mature into spiritual children. Now at this stage, spiritual children are very much like physical children – in that, we believe that life pretty much revolves around us. We haven’t really learned to put others before ourselves yet and so Christianity at this stage is all about what Jesus can do for me – and honestly, there can be a lot of selfish, childish behaviour that comes out of our lives at this stage!
And that’s somewhat to be expected since we are just learning to turn away from our old sinful nature – and slowly beginning to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives. And so some levels of immaturity should be expected – but hopefully, that stage doesn’t last too long! Unfortunately, that’s often what we see. Many people seem to get stuck in that spiritual childhood stage and they never really grow up. They become people like Samson or King Saul or the Pharisees – where life is all about looking good on the outside, but the desperately needed changes on the inside never happen.
But for those who do change, one of the clearest marks of maturity is that they begin to think about others more than themselves! They begin to follow the example of Christ in humbly serving and loving the people around them – rather than demanding that everything be about them.
And so that brings us now to the next stage of spiritual development. And you can think of this stage as being spiritual teenagers or perhaps more accurately, spiritual young adults. In the physical realm, this stage is when a person is fully developed and can function as an adult. They take personal responsibility for themselves – and at the same time, they also begin to take responsibility for others as well.
Likewise, a spiritual young adult is a fully functioning Christian. They take responsibility for their own relationship with God and invest regularly in that. They also recognize that they are part of God’s family and thus, have responsibilities to that family.
These are the folks who are actively involved in their church – volunteering in different ministries and using their gifts for the glory of God. These people take financial responsibility for the local church as well as for missionaries or other ministries. At this stage they may also begin taking on leadership roles – based on their own giftings and calling.
Over all, serving God and building His kingdom is the primary focus for spiritual young adults. And at first glance, you might think that such a person is a fully mature believer in Christ! After all, if they are enthusiastically serving God and building His kingdom, isn’t that kinda the end goal of Christianity? Well, no. Not exactly.
God’s greatest concern isn’t about what you can do for Him – but rather, His greater concern is that you are growing into the person that He created you to be.
The outward actions are good and right – but God’s really more concerned about our inner transformation where our heart and our inner desires align with His – where we truly take on the character of Jesus!
And that’s the part that a spiritual young adult is still working through.
Probably the biggest challenge for a spiritual young adult is figuring out their true identity in Christ and seeing their true value in just being God’s child.
It’s kinda like how teenagers struggle with figuring out who they are – likewise, spiritual young adults struggle with really grasping who they are in the sight of God. They know that God created them and loves them like crazy – but they also recognize that they are still very sinful people. And so that creates a real inner conflict for them.
It’s like they have the head-knowledge that God loves them – but deep inside, they fear losing God’s love if they don’t measure up. They may feel that God is disappointed in them or even angry at them because they are still so sinful. Often because of their past experiences, they feel they have to earn God’s love – or at least be good enough to counter all their sinfulness.
And so because of this – “doing things for God” is one of the key characteristics of a spiritual young adult.
In fact, that’s actually one of the big motivators for why many people choose to be active in the church and in ministry in general – they feel they have to earn God’s love and approval by what they do. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone involved in ministry and the church, but I think it’s true for a lot of people. I know I was one of those people – and I still struggle with that to some extend.
In our culture today, so much of our identity is wrapped up in what we do. That’s often the first question we ask when we strike up a conversation with someone – “So what do you do?” And immediately we try to figure out the hierarchy of who’s more important or more successful or whatever. That’s how our culture has taught us to think.
When Heather & I were first married, I worked out at the Meadowbrook Greenhouse – just west of town years here, and honestly, it was hard to see myself as being valuable and important in life while I was doing that job. My task was to moving trays of plants around all day – any monkey could do the job that I was doing. So because of what I was doing for a job, I didn’t feel all that important or significant – even in other realms of life. But then, when I started working full-time at Camp Little Red later that same year, I felt much more valuable and important. I had a much better title – I was the follow-up director – and I was ministering to kids and helping them follow Christ!
I certainly felt more important, but in the sight of God, did my value or worth or importance change at all when I changed jobs? No, of course not. God’s love for me and my value to Him has not changed since the time he first thought of creating me. I love what Ephesians 1:4 says…
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5
That’s pretty incredible. Even before God created the world, God decided to love you and to adopt you into his family. In fact, he was thrilled to do that. And there is nothing in that verse – in fact, nothing in the Bible – that would indicate that God’s love for us is dependant on what we do. We are infinitely valuable and important to God – deeply loved by him – simply because He decided to love us.
So don’t be misled to think that your value comes from what you do – what you accomplish, or how sinless you are. Or on the flip side of that, don’t think your value is diminished when you do sin, or when you don’t seem to be accomplishing anything for God. You are infinitely valuable simply just because God created you in His own image and loves you as His treasured child.
Think about it this way: Babies don’t accomplish anything of value, do they? But yet, we certainly love them, right? In fact, babies are actually a lot of hassle! They keep us up at night and constantly create messes that we have to clean up – they cost us a lot of sleep and energy and all kinds of money – but that doesn’t change how much we love them, does it? So if we can recognize the infinite value and worth of our children simply because of who they are, why are we so convinced that our value comes from what we do or how well we behave?
In the sight of God, it doesn’t matter if your a ditch-digger or a business executive. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent or unemployed or retired. It doesn’t matter if you’ve grown up as a Sunday school kid or if you’ve lived in open rebellion against God all your life – you are infinitely valuable.
You are not the sum of what you have done – be that good or bad. It’s not your choices or behaviours that determine your worth! Your value is tied directly to the fact that you were created by God Himself – In fact, He made you in His image – and He loves you like crazy.
I don’t think God has favourites – but if He did, you would be his favourite! He loves you that much!
One of my favourite Bible verses is Romans 8:28 – because it talks about how God works all things together for good! But more than that, as the passage continues on, it explains why God work all things together for good – and that reason is because He loves us like crazy! Let me read that passage for you…
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. Romans 8:28-30
This is talking about you by the way… You have been chosen to become like God’s own Son, you have been called to come to God, you have been given right standing before God (despite your sins, faults, and failures), and finally, you have been given God’s glory – invited to share His glory with Him for all eternity! And then Paul continues by saying…
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Isn’t that incredible?! And when we can start to really understand that at a heart-level – and not just a head level – when we can truly accept that, that’s when things will really begin to change in our life! That’s when we finally begin to move into the final stage of spiritual maturity – which we will talk more about next week.
But it really all comes down to us truly accepting God’s incredible, unconditional and unlimited love for us.
And to be honest, this is something that I still struggle with. Oh, I have the head-knowledge alright! I get it up here – it makes sense. But I still struggle to truly accept it at a heart level.
I still have those tendencies to see myself through the lens of my actions and behaviours. I often judge myself based on my successes or my failures as a pastor or as a dad or as a husband. I ascribe value to myself based on what I’ve done or what I’ve not done.
But none of those things have any bearing at all on how God sees me! God sees me as His beloved child – He delights in me simply because He made me – not because of anything I do or don’t do. And what’s more, He chose me (despite knowing all about my sins, faults, and failures) – He chose me before I was even born to be with Him for eternity. I don’t think that will ever cease to amaze me!
And like I said, I’m still working to really embrace and accept that at a heart-level – but I think I’m making progress. And I hope you are too!
I want to close today with a prayer from Ephesians chapter 3 – this is Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus – and this is my prayer for all of you this morning. Ephesians 3:14…
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.