Maturing in Christ

Advice to New - and Old - Believers

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Dt. 8:3 π Job 1:6-12 π Job 2:1-6 π Jer. 23:16 π Ezek. 18:4 π Mt. 5:43-48 π Mt. 6:5-7 π Mt. 6:5-13 π Mt. 6:14-15 π Mt. 7:9-11 π Mt. 11:28-30 π Mt. 12:34-35 π Mt. 13:3-9 π Mt. 13:20-21 π Mt. 16:18 π Mt. 18:3 π Mt. 18:21-35 π Mt. 20:25-26 π Mt. 25:41 π Mk. 7:20-23 π Lk. 9:23-24 π Lk. 11:2-13 π Lk. 18:9-14 π Lk. 23:34 π Jn. 3:3 π Jn. 3:5 π Jn. 6:37; 2nd π Jn. 6:53-63 π Jn. 8:44 π Jn. 10:10; 2nd π Jn. 13:3-15 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 3:10-12 π Rom. 3:23 π Rom. 5:5 π Rom. 5:10 π Rom. 6:6 π Rom. 6:23 π Rom. 7:18 π Rom. 8:7 π Rom. 10:9-10 π Rom. 12:3 π 1 Cor. 1:10 π 1 Cor. 2:14 π 1 Cor. 5:9-11 π 1 Cor. 8:1-2 π 1 Cor. 10:12 π 1 Cor. 10:13; 2nd π 1 Cor. 10:31 π 1 Cor. 12:4-11 π 1 Cor. 14:26 π Gal. 4:4-7 π Gal. 5:13 π Gal. 5:19-21 π Gal. 5:22-23 π Gal. 6:9-10 π Eph. 2:8-9 π Eph. 4:11; 2nd π Eph. 4:11-16 π Eph. 4:20-24 π Eph. 6:16 π Phlp. 1:6; 2nd π Phlp. 2:1-4 π Col. 2:6 π Col. 2:13-14 π Col. 3:5-11 π Col. 3:17 π 1 Ths. 5:17 π 2 Tim. 1:7 π 2 Tim. 3:12 π 2 Tim. 3:16-17 π Tit. 2:14 π Heb. 4:9-11 π Heb. 4:10 π Heb. 4:16 π Heb. 8:10 π Heb. 10:24-25; 2nd; 3rd π Heb. 12:5-11 π Jas. 1:2-4 π Jas. 1:13-16 π Jas. 1:17 π Jas. 1:22; 2nd π Jas. 4:4 π 1 Pet. 1:13 π 1 Pet. 2:19-23 π 1 Pet. 3:13-17 π 1 Pet. 4:12-19 π 1 Pet. 5:8 π 2 Pet. 1:5 π 2 Pet. 1:5-7 π 2 Pet. 1:8-9 π 1 Jn. 1:4 π 1 Jn. 1:9 π 1 Jn. 2:15-17 π 1 Jn. 5:4-5 π 1 Jn. 5:19

Author's Note: Please take the time to look up each reference and read God's Word for yourself. Never take my word for anything - make sure you get all your truth from God Himself!

Also, this writing is the product of years of experience. If you are a new believer, it may well overwhelm you. There is a depth here that cannot be absorbed in one reading. Rather, let the Lord do His work in you and return to this article occasionally to see what else might be gleaned and applied as your walk with Christ progresses. - n.g.

Contents

  1. You've Become a Believer
  2. Growing Up
  3. Pitfalls
  4. What to Do
  5. The Main Battleground
  6. Conclusion

1. You've Become a Believer

You may or may not understand what has just happened to you. You probably don't - and if you think you do, years from now you will find your understanding was quite incomplete. And that's perfectly okay. You have not been called into a life of understanding everything. You have been called into a lifestyle of first and foremost trusting God - whom you will come to know more intimately as time goes by if you will but regularly and diligently turn to Him.

Whether you have said a formalized "sinner's prayer," walked forward at an "altar call," or have just been "introduced to Jesus" by a friend, the result is that now, through the expression of your genuine and sincere faith in Christ Jesus (see Romans 10:9-10 ), you have been given new spiritual life by God. Jesus said to Nicodemus, the premier teacher of Moses' law during Jesus' time on earth, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." ( John 3:3 , 5; top ) If you have truly put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been born again.

So, how did you get to that point? This is a very important question because how you come to Christ is exactly the same way you grow in Christ. ( Colossians 2:6 ) In a word, you have come to Christ by faith. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." ( Ephesians 2:8-9; top ) Since this faith is a gift from God, you have done nothing to earn it - in fact you have done everything possible to be completely disqualified from being given this gift of faith.

You are a member of a flawed and ruined species - the human race. ( Romans 3:10-12 , 23 ) You have committed acts of immorality which in the eyes of a morally perfect Judge make you deserving of the death penalty. ( Romans 6:23 a; Ezekiel 18:4 ) In fact your self-centered living can only be viewed as choosing to be God's enemy. ( Romans 8:7 ; James 4:4 ) Your selfishness has made you the helpless puppet of a spiritual being named Satan whose main purpose is to oppose God. ( 1 John 5:19 ) Your destiny is intricately linked with Satan by your sinful, selfish life. ( Matthew 25:41; top )

But now God has given you faith to believe in Jesus Christ. Even though you were once His enemy, now He has reconciled you back to Himself. ( Romans 5:10 ) And He has not only pardoned you for all trespasses ( Colossians 2:13-14 ), He has also adopted you to be His son or daughter. ( Galatians 4:4-7; top ) He has placed His Holy Spirit within you and will cause you to grow up in Him.

2. Growing Up

Right now you are a spiritual baby. This is a very fitting analogy to what is required of you now. Consider what requirements and expectations are made of newborn babies: they will eat, sleep, cry, require attention and make messes with both ends of their new bodies. This is inevitable and is a part of life.

In the spiritual life, your new life is exactly the same. To eat you will need to process God's Word through your life. This does not mean that you immediately begin to assimilate the facts of the Bible. In fact, the Bible clearly warns against a superficial head knowledge of the Bible. What you need to begin immediately to do - and never stop doing - are acts of goodness for others. ( 2 Peter 1:5; top ) Do this for your family, for your friends, for your neighbors, and for strangers you don't even know. It is important that you do these acts of goodness and kindness without ever leaving your normal sphere of influence. Do those little acts of goodness for others with no thought of getting a reward. And if someone tries to thank you, give the honor to God who has made you want to do such good things. Why is this doing good so fundamentally important? There are three basic reasons.

First, this is how you know God. God is the God of all goodness. ( James 1:17; top ) As you do these things which you would not have normally done, you grow more familiar with this God of goodness. Then as you begin to study the facts of His Word, if you will be careful to maintain these selfless acts of goodness, you will have a practical working knowledge of God that is worth much more than any theological seminary degree. And as you do these acts of goodness within your own environment, you will see that God is powerful - even in the confines of your own "world." There is nothing worse than religiously serving a lifeless, impotent "God" who does nothing to change the realities of your life - and nothing is further than what Jesus Christ has in mind for you. (see John 10:10 ; 1 John 1:4; top )

Second, in addition to being more intimately acquainted with God, you will be placed into situations which will cause you to have more faith in God. As you grow, God will ask you to love and serve those you don't like or who hate you. ( Matthew 5:43-48; top ) You will not have the resources in yourself to do this. You will have to draw on God's resources. As you do so, as you take that first step in the direction He is telling you to go, you will find His strength is there to uphold you and His love for these people will begin to flow through your heart. Though these situations are not easy, they are exactly what strengthen your faith. No pain - no gain. No resistance - no muscle. Faith is a muscle which requires exercising.

And third, this is how you know are on the right track. If you fail to maintain these selfless acts of goodness, you run great risk of becoming a dried-up, self-centered, religiously self-righteous hypocrite and you may find yourself back on the road to Hell. Jesus, the Master of Life, took on the role of the lowest servant and left that as our example. ( John 13:3-15 ) One of God's highest purposes in giving you this new life was to make you a member of a people destined to do good deeds. ( Titus 2:14 ) This is what makes real Christianity so attractive: you are meeting the needs of others and being filled with God's joy and a sense of His presence and satisfaction. There is nothing like knowing that you bear God's seal of approval. And there is nothing more dangerous than gaining a lot of knowledge without putting it into practice. ( James 1:22; top )

To continue with the analogy of the baby, you need to sleep. ( Hebrews 4:9-11 ) A baby does not concern himself with making his limbs grow longer or with developing his internal organs. The natural growth cycle sees to that. Similarly, we must rest in God's keeping power to make us grow. ( Philippians 1:6; top ) While we must be diligent to do those things which do lie within our responsibility, we must always remember that it is God upon whom we rely for strength and ability.

A baby cries because it needs. The baby may be hungry, cold, hot, sick, lonely, frightened, dirty or even just bored, but the communication of that need will always be an inarticulate wail. Similarly, you will only know that you need - you may not even know what you need. There may be a vague, ill-defined hunger or longing for something more. This will make you vulnerable in some ways to crafty and deceived men who are more concerned about their own welfare than yours. Be careful to turn to your heavenly Father for all things - never trust what any man tells you that is not confirmed to you by God primarily through His Word. God is a perfect Father and He will see that you get exactly what you need if you will but ask Him. ( Matthew 7:9-11; top )

A baby needs loved, cuddled and held. So too do you. You may have been extremely beaten up by the world and life before you came to Jesus and you need a time of healing. Or, even if you had an easy, peaceful life before, you are still a newborn with much need for tender loving care. Make time to just sit quietly before God and experience His love for you. His love is available for you and He will in no way turn you away when you come to Him to be loved. ( John 6:37; top )

Now we get to the ugly part: babies make messes. Whether they dirty their diaper, spit up their food, or get their hands on something they shouldn't, the result is a mess. In our spiritual life, it is the same. When we have leftover attitudes and ideas from our old life, they are going to come out of us as sins - acts of wrongdoing. And just as the baby must rely on his parents to change his diaper, so too must we go to God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." ( 1 John 1:9; top ) This will not always be easy and there will be "voices" telling you that God won't clean you up. Always remember that God cannot lie. He has promised to clean you up and He will.

As we seek to digest and incorporate His Word into our life, sometimes we will misunderstand what we have learned. And as we regurgitate what we have wrongfully learned, we will make a mess around us. But just as a parent will grab a towel and a new bib, wipe up the mess and continue to feed the baby, so too will God clean us up and continue to teach us His truth.

As we grow in the Lord and come to realize the total freedom He gives us, there is much risk that we will become fascinated with bright, shiny, sharp objects or those bottles of poison kept under the sink. God is a perfect Father and will not let anything harm us or overwhelm us as we explore this new spiritual life He has given us. ( 1 Corinthians 10:13; top ) We only need to be attentive to His commands and be content with the toys He gives us to be safe and secure in this exceedingly dangerous and even hostile environment.

It is as you grow in knowledge of God and His Word that you will begin to learn exactly what pleases and displeases Him. With this knowledge will come a desire to please Him and the need for self-control. As you begin to attempt to control your self, you will need to persevere - that is, you need to keep trying because you will find that your old selfish nature is your worst enemy to living obediently to Christ. But after some time your life will begin to exhibit similarities to the life of Christ. (see 2 Peter 1:5-7; top ) This is a process which will take time - be patient with God's timetable for your life.

Another analogy given in the Bible is that the characteristics of God - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - are the fruit which as a regular consequence grow out of a spiritually cultivated life. ( Galatians 5:22-23 ) In contrast, the misdeeds of our body, our sins - adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, etc. - are called works of our old sin nature. ( Galatians 5:19-21; top ) We work at sinning but we rest in God's growing us up and we simply let it happen as we cultivate our relationship with Him.

The questions arise: "How then should I live? What type of a person should I be? What do I do and not do?" The bottom line answer is that you may do exactly as you wish to do. This is your freedom and your responsibility before God simultaneously laid bare. You are free to fail as often as is required for you to learn to surrender your will to God. In a word, you are free to sin as much as you like. But know this: if your heart is set on fulfilling its own lusts, you must question the validity of your salvation. But if you find yourself longing to know God and to please Him - even though there seems to be nothing but total failure in your every attempt to do so - know that you are at least facing in the right direction. Continue to move in that direction, trusting that God will enable you to know Him and please Him and that He will not leave His work in you unfinished. ( Philippians 1:6; top ) And if the Spirit of God truly lives in you and you are growing in your obedience to Him, you will find that even the desires to commit sin are brought under control over time. In practical terms, it is your struggle to surrender your will to God's will that is probably the best evidence that you have truly entered into God's new spiritual life.

Another aspect of our freedom is that we can now do things that we have always longed to be able to do. We can now grow into the personal, emotional, social and spiritual maturity that is beneficial to everyone around us. Whereas before we were kept from doing good to and for someone else because of our fears, inhibitions, selfishness or ignorance, now we have the power, enablement, higher motivation and instructions to do those good things which in turn make us feel good for having done them.

3. Pitfalls

The traps to avoid are numerous and I will doubtless fail to mention several. But in general, simply paying attention to God will keep you out of most of the traps. Following are descriptions of the more common ones and what you can do to avoid them.

But first you need to realize that you have three enemies who exert power against you to prevent you from being in close communication with God. If any one of these three elements succeeds in disrupting your two-way communications with God, the mastermind behind the opposition has successfully rendered you isolated and inoperative and is moving in for the kill. And while there is no room or need for immobilizing fear, we must be careful to stay near to God so that we don't allow our new life to be killed or the benefits of that new life to be stolen from us.

Our first enemy, the mastermind of the opposition, is Satan. As terrifying a creature as he and all his demon hordes are to us, they are no more than mere dogs on a leash to God - and very small dogs at that. Satan can do no more than God permits him to do. ( Job 1:6-12 ; 2:1-6 , 1 Corinthians 10:13 ) Though Satan would love to fasten his teeth into us and devour us ( 1 Peter 5:8; top ), God's leash will always draws him up short - until our hard-hearted rejections of God prompt even Him to give us over to whatever sin we want most. Satan's most often used weapons are his lies which tempt us to doubt God or to be afraid that God will not come through for us. Doubt and fear are the opposites of faith and it is faith which will silence all doubts and fears. ( Ephesians 6:16 ; 2 Timothy 1:7 ) The best way to deal with any Satanic or demonic attacks is to ask God to deal with him. While you can talk to Satan directly, why would you want to? He is only a thief, liar and murderer. ( John 8:44 ; 10:10 a; top) Most of us would not speak to a human thug, so why should we waste any time speaking to the father of all thugs, con artists and crooks? Our time is much better spent in loving communication with our heavenly Father.

Our second enemy is the world - that is the system of enticements and lures which attempt to distract our attention away from God and back into a self-centered lifestyle. ( James 1:13-16 ) The world's enticements ( 1 John 2:15-17 ) are designed to appeal to our base instincts for sin and wickedness. The world must be overcome by our faith in Christ Jesus. ( 1 John 5:4-5; top ) With our eyes fixed on Him and our hearts and lives devoted to Him, we are much less likely to be drawn into the world's glittering and lusty enticements.

Our third enemy is our old self-nature: all the old habits and attitudes that pampered and served ME. This is indeed our most dangerous enemy and it must be realized that, by a miracle of God's power, our flesh was put to death in Christ some 2,000 years ago. ( Romans 6:6 ) Now, we are to be disciples and followers of Christ, we must put off the old man and walk in the new life God has given us in Christ. ( Ephesians 4:20-24 ; Colossians 3:5-11 ; Luke 9:23-24 ) Our flesh, imitating life through the power of the sin nature, is a resilient and subtle enemy which will attempt to distract you from your efforts to know and serve God. And if you cannot be distracted, it will try to corrupt your relationship with God. If you find yourself doing the things of Christianity only because it makes you feel good in some way, you have been diverted from the true God of the Bible to worship the self-god. Be careful not to use your Christian freedom as a way of pampering your old nature. ( Galatians 5:13; top )

One of the easiest pitfalls to fall into is pride. This sin of the old nature can be extremely subtle. It can come from excessive knowledge ( 1 Corinthians 8:1-2 ) or from an inflated view of self. ( 1 Corinthians 10:12 ) Instead we must view ourselves humbly and objectively, remaining mindful of our condition before God. ( Romans 12:3 ; 2 Peter 1:8-9 ) One of the surest ways to fall into pride is to believe words of praise directed at you for the good things you do for others. Always remember it is God in you that motivates and enables you to do these things - redirect everyone's praise back to God. Ask God to make the reality of your own wickedness and weakness an inescapable truth in your own mind. ( Romans 7:18; top )

Another easy pitfall to fall into is idolatry which leads to apostasy. Idolatry is the worship of or fixation on something other than the one true God. Where your time, energies and resources are spent is the best indicator of what god you actually obey. If your resources are devoted to pleasure, comfort, convenience, ambition or greed, you worship the self-god. If your resources are devoted to furthering God's spiritual kingdom as He directs you to do so, you are worshiping the true God.

Apostasy is the result of idolatry. It is the condition of a person who believes something other than the truth about God - even though he may use all the right "Christianese" phrases and words. Examples of these are the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons, but many supposed mainstream "churches" fall into this category as well. Two extremes are usually found in apostate groups: either there is an overemphasis on good works so as to earn or gain salvation or there is a blatant atmosphere of worldliness and self-righteous hypocrisy. Apostates are not saved individuals and are to be avoided. ( 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ; Jeremiah 23:16; top ) Apostasy, that is false "Christianity," generally speaking, comes in three basic varieties, being a counterfeit which caters to each of the three basic categories of people: doers, feelers and thinkers. Whenever a theology or system of thinking or a traditional practice deviates from the patterns and precepts of the New Testament, it is on its way towards disaster of one form or another. Run - do not walk - to the nearest exit.

Where many so-called mainstream "churches" are going wrong is that they virtually ignore the fundamental truth that the church (Greek ekklesia) is an invisible, spiritual entity built only by Jesus Christ Himself. ( Matthew 16:18 ; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ) A second very common error is placing emphasis on only a portion of the five types of spiritual giftedness that God uses to make His people strong. ( Ephesians 4:11-16 - This is an extremely important concept to grasp and will be discussed further momentarily; top) A third very common error is to blindly follow "church tradition" by meeting in a "church" building and allowing the assembly to become too large for the people to be genuinely discipled in Christ. This last error demonstrates a leader who is too blindly traditional or too lazy to be a good shepherd for the flock.

The most important elements of the church are spiritual - personal devotion to God's truth and will, self-sacrificial love, and openness, intimacy and accountability with one another. These must all be present. As a small fellowship grows in size, each of these elements becomes proportionally diminished. "One another-ing," that is, obeying all the New Testament commands to love, serve and strengthen one another, not sermonizing and tithing, is the key element of a spiritually strong fellowship.

Many modern "churches" and denominations originally began as home fellowships but then unwisely moved into the artificial environment of a "church" building. When a group reaches "critical mass" (that is, too many people to fit inside the meeting place), the small home group fellowship should be lovingly split into a second home (which then attracts more people into both fellowships) seeking to move every participant closer to their own home and neighborhood rather than allowing the enlargement and diluting of the spiritual strength that comes of taking the people into the artificial "church" environment. The home will always remain the best place for growing in the grace and knowledge of God.

The appropriate assembling together is an extreme necessity in your life. ( Hebrews 10:24-25 - in context) Ask God to lead you to the right people with whom to fellowship. Look for true love - the selfless reaching out to meet each others' needs. Any fellowship which sacrifices deeply to take care of one another is following Jesus - any doctrinal or theological inadequacies that might exist will be worked out by Him over time. Look for a group that expects you to participate in accordance with your spiritual giftings. Never be satisfied with a lecturer who insists, whether by teaching or practice, that only he has the answers or that only he will speak for the Holy Spirit when you are assembled. (see 1 Corinthians 14:26 ; Hebrews 10:24-25; top ) That mere lecturer, no matter how well-intentioned, is a thief and a robber - and you will be his victim.

Ephesians 4:11 (top) lists five types of gifted leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The area of church government is a controversial area to be sure - especially when the topic is taught and skewed by those in positions of wealth and power who need to defend their unScriptural status quo. But I believe the controversy ends when we realize that there are two realms of activity involved (spiritual and physical) and that this topic uses words that we desperately need to redefine in our minds.

The terms of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers refer to those "offices" (though they are not "officers" in our modern business sense of the word) which cater to the spiritual needs of the assembly while the terms of bishop, elder, overseer, and deacon apply to those "offices" which cater to the physical and organizational needs of the assembly. When viewed from this perspective, the picture becomes much more clear though there is much overlap as one could simultaneously hold "offices" in both categories. These are not truly offices or titles conferred by men ? - in fact viewing them in our modern sense of offices almost entirely negates their functions - but they are spiritually mature roles brought about by the Lord who is the head of the ekklesia. When the people who make up the ekklesia are in tune with God, the ekklesia will recognize the leaders God has placed around them.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me draw a diagram of what I am saying. And just as Hebrew must be read from right to left, this diagram must be read from the bottom to the top.

Apostles - - - ASSEMBLY - - - Evangelists

Prophets - - - Teachers

Shepherds

Deacons

Elders/Bishops/Overseers

The picture formed is that of a cup in which the more "vulnerable" parts of the assembly, those people who are not yet mature in the Lord or who do not possess leadership giftings, are held securely. When any of the leadership elements are missing, then the "least" in the assembly will slip through the cracks. ? Any "church" willing to let the "hundredth sheep" simply disappear from their midst knows nothing of the heart of God.

All this is important to know because, at some point in the future, if you continue to pursue hard after God but try to remain in a traditional "church," you will experience a lack of fulfillment which may be hard to identify. You will only know that you need something different. Because many traditional "churches" are locked into their man-made traditions, they may not be able to point you toward the spiritual answer you need and you may reach out blindly and grab onto the wrong solution if you are not forewarned of this eventuality.

The dissatisfaction you will feel will most likely be an indication it is time to find someone with a different type of giftedness to be near to. No one is expected to be closely surrounded by all five leadership types at any one time. Rather, when you need a teacher, God will provide a teacher. When you need a prophet, He will send a prophet or send you to a prophet. What you should do is find a way to become close enough to these people whom God sends to you so that some of their character and giftedness "rubs off" on you. You will not pick up godly characteristics by listening to sermons and lectures no matter how much good information you pick up. You need to see and experience a living example of Christlikeness to be able to emulate Him just as you must immediately practice acts of goodness to gain an experiential knowledge of God. This alone is Christian discipleship.

The key aspect of the "titles" (that is, different "categories" but not to be used in terms of exaltation over others) of elder and deacon is that of visible spiritual maturity. Elders - those older, wiser, mature, "saintly" and godly servants of the Lord Jesus Christ - are to be imitated as they imitate Christ. Similarly, a deacon will be one who exhibits a leadership gifting (see Ephesians 4:11; top ) and who exercises that gifting (and any other gifts from the Holy Spirit) in self-sacrificial service to the body of Christ. Imitate these leaders as they imitate Christ. Trust the Lord to tell you when not to imitate them as they too are human as well. But you must make it a point to see and know these people in real life and get as near to them as possible so that their saintliness and godliness rubs off on you.

You need to make yourself "accountable" to the true elders and deacons God places in your life. What that means is that you share with them your successes and failures in attempting to obey Christ. It does not mean they have any domineering authority over you to tell you how to live, what to do, what not to do, etc. - in fact, if they exercise authority over you, they are sinning against you and should be confronted or abandoned. (see Matthew 20:25-26; top ) You are still responsible to get all your "marching orders" from the Holy Spirit for yourself. What your leaders are to do is to serve your true needs: First, by godly example and, second, by wise instruction and counsel. Your deepest need is always for you to have an obedient, interactively personal relationship with God through His Holy Spirit. Any time a leader causes you to be reliant on him in any way, whether intentionally or not, begin to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit. You may need to confront this leader in his blindness and/or arrogance or you may need to look for another leader. But never let anything dilute your obedient relationship with God through His Holy Spirit and His Word.

Another common pitfall to spiritual growth is to allow suffering or persecution to chase you away from Jesus. ( Matthew 13:3-9 , 20-21 ) You will suffer as a Christian. ( 2 Timothy 3:12 ; 1 Peter 2:19-23 ; 3:13-17 ; 4:12-19 ) Arm yourself with that attitude ( 1 Peter 1:13 ) and be prepared to endure the trials that come. ( James 1:2-4 ) Trials strengthen your faith and prove your increasingly Christlike character. No matter how tough the storm, always turn to God for your comfort and encouragement. Don't be stumbled when others - even supposed "pillars" in the assembly - are the biggest source of your worst sufferings and persecutions. Remember Christ's attitude on the cross ( Luke 23:34 ) and be ready to forgive everyone lest you become bound up in even uglier things than what has been done to you. ( Matthew 6:14-15 ; 18:21-35; top )

4. What to Do

As Christianity is much more centered on what you are, there is much less New Testament emphasis placed on what you do. The things you do focus on cultivating true Christlikeness in your life. As you do these very few things, being careful to have the right motives and attitudes, Christlikeness will begin to happen in you.

Before we look at the things to do, we must consider the heart attitudes we must have in order to approach God. God is much more interested in what is going on in our hearts than He is in what we do because the heart is the source of all our actions. ( Matthew 12:34-35 ; Mark 7:20-23; top ) What we do with our hands, feet and mouths are only indicators of what is really hidden within our hearts.

Jesus said that we must come as a child if we want to enter His kingdom. ( Matthew 18:3 ) The child with his parent remains the perfect picture of uncompromising faith as well as artless and unfeigned desire for companionship. So long as we approach God with faith in Him (and not in our own abilities or activities) and we come with a sincere desire to be near Him and to be more like Him, we come as a child and we will be received. ( John 6:37 ; Hebrews 4:16; top ) If we have any other motives, we are only deceiving ourselves. Keeping our relationship with God on this simple level is vital at all costs.

The things we are to do fall into four categories. First we are to pray - often, alone by ourselves and together with others, wherever and whenever. In fact, we are to live our lives in a constant attitude of prayer. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17; top ) Prayer is talking with God - a two-way communication which requires spiritual listening as well as spiritual talking.

Jesus gave a pattern for our prayer ( Matthew 6:5-13 ; Luke 11:2-13 ) but what is most important is that we learn to express the depths of our heart to God. An honest but artless prayer is much preferred over a fake but perfectly modeled prayer. ( Luke 18:9-14 ; Matthew 6:5-7; top ) Whatever order is used, approaching God with expressions of praise, worship and adoration helps us to remember Who we are talking with. Confession of our sins and failures is necessary to keep communications open and improving. Being grateful and thankful to God helps remind us how much we truly need His provision and protection. Asking for what we need and what others need is important but is best for our faith when left for last as much as is possible. With these elements of prayer and a healthy avoidance of ruts and routines, your prayer life will take on some exciting dimensions. Prayer is a discipline, however, and will not always seem fun and adventuresome. During those "dry" times it is best to persevere until you are answered directly from heaven rather than give up on your prayers but it certainly is not wrong to give up on dead rituals so as to seek living, loving communion with the Father. Remember that disrupting communications between you and God is exactly what your enemy Satan is trying to do.

Second, you must continue to look for opportunities to do good things for others around you - friend and stranger alike. Don't go beyond your resources without specific instructions from God and always keep your priorities in order - God, mate, children, friends, neighbors - but never let your good deeds go undone. ( Galatians 6:9-10 ) In fact, if you find that you have been learning a great deal of the Bible but you have not been doing good to others, set your studies aside, go do something good for someone else, and then come back to your studies. If you are learning more than you are doing, you are in very dangerous territory. ( James 1:22; top )

Doing good for others takes two basic forms: serving and witnessing. Serving means to meet the real needs of others, whatever those real needs may be. Witnessing means to tell others the truth about Jesus to whatever extent you know Him. Both are done with reliance upon God for direction and enablement. Doing these things in your own strength and by your own will will not produce good results ( John 15:5 ) and will only prove frustrating and exhausting to you. ( Matthew 11:28-30 ; Hebrews 4:10; top )

Third, you must regularly read and study God's Word for yourself. This is the "bread from heaven" which, like manna (see Deuteronomy 8:3 ), is to be gathered daily and is to be consumed spiritually and not just intellectually. ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ; John 6:53-63; top ) Take time to contemplate the meanings of words - look them up in a Bible or Greek or Hebrew dictionary if possible. Use a computer or concordance to see every time a particular word is used. Ask God to reveal to your heart what the things you are studying really mean and quietly and patiently wait for Him to give you understanding. Memorize the key concepts and even key passages as you deem necessary. But never completely neglect reading God's Word. And, as with prayer, keep away from ruts and routines while maintaining discipline. One way to do this is to alternate the study methods you are using. Another is to simply read until you know God has spoken to your heart. Allow God to lead you into fresh and invigorating ways to consume and digest His Word.

And no matter what you learn, when you are confident that you know the full balance of the Bible's teaching, obey whatever you know God has commanded you to do. Most situations in life are only made worse by rash and impetuous actions and patience is a key characteristic of God - but if you come to know that you are being disobedient to God in an area, begin to move towards obedience. No matter how hard that is or how much it might cost you now, it is always worthwhile to obey God rather than to obey anything or anyone else. Just be careful that you do have the full counsel of God's Word before acting. If you are not confident that you know what the right thing to do is, then do nothing but wait until you are sure. Seek out wise counsel from those who demonstrate genuine Christlikeness. If you must make a decision about something, make the best decision possible and leave the rest to God. Try to do all things in such a way that God's reputation is enhanced. ( 1 Corinthians 10:31 ; Colossians 3:17; top ) and you will not go far wrong in anything. And even should you fail miserably, His love for you is unchanged. In fact, if you call on Him when you have committed such a failure, you will experience such tenderness and compassion from Him that is impossible to describe or understand.

Fourth and lastly, you must find other true believers to fellowship with. ( Hebrews 10:24-25 ) This is more than just hanging out together or going to a "Bible study" or "church service" together, though those can be a part of fellowship. To have fellowship, we must have common unity in Christ - unity in spiritual mindset, unity in purpose and unity in practice. ( 1 Corinthians 1:10 ; Philippians 2:1-4; top ) Without these elements, fellowship degenerates quickly into mere social gamesmanship and that is to be avoided. What is required is openness, vulnerability, intimacy and accountability with one another. That is Biblical fellowship - and it is rarely practiced in many American/Western "churches." Accept no substitutes.

5. The Main Battleground

The central point of God's promises to us is that He would put His Spirit and His truth in our hearts. ( Romans 5:5 , Hebrews 8:10; top ) The "trick" of real Christianity is to "walk in the Spirit." That is, to be in constant communication with God and do what He tells you to do. Studying the Scriptures is an element of that communication but it is not the end-all, be-all focus some try to make it into because studying can be done completely without engaging the spiritual nature.

Man is made with three parts or aspects to his existence: body, soul and spirit. The body is that physical shell by which we touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and see the material world around us. The soul is the mind, the will and the emotions - those centers of thoughts, choices and feelings within. The spirit is that essence which is the most like God - that is, it is the "substance" that is most compatible and able to interact with God.

It is in this spiritual aspect alone that we can truly have unity and communion with God. Once we have received the life of God's Spirit, it is our spirit, which has abilities to know and understand things which our mind alone cannot know or understand ( 1 Corinthians 2:14; top ), which is to be the dominant factor in our lives.

Our difficulty lies in the fact that our lives up to this point have been geared toward obeying the natural inclinations of our soul - our own thoughts, our own preferences, our own feelings. Now that we belong to Christ, we must "die" to those thoughts, preferences and feelings by choosing to embrace Christ's thoughts, preferences and feelings. And when the leadings of Christ conflict with our own natural inclinations, we must endure the hardship of following the path of His choosing as discipline or training from the Lord. ( Hebrews 12:5-11; top ) It is in this manner that our body and soul is restrained so that our spirit rules and the Holy Spirit can be exhibited in our lives.

The main thing is to keep in constant communication with God. The battleground lies in our moment-to-moment choices: Which will we serve? God or our own natural inclinations. Never let yourself get distracted from this battlefield for it is the crucial test of the reality of our walk with God.

6. Conclusion

Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the living God, not a "religion" as most of us think of that term. In true Christianity, you must always pursue Him and never an "it." If, when you take inventory of your life, you find that you are chasing after some thing - even good things like peace, joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, love, companionship, etc. - your focus is off and needs to be re-adjusted. Refocus on the Person of Jesus Christ and begin again to walk with Him.

God has given you two feet to walk with Him. The first one is called obedience. As you do what you know to do, your unity with God is intact. But because God knows you won't always be obedient, He gives you another foot called honesty. This is confession: recognizing your sins as God sees them (as much as is humanly possible) and telling Him what you have done. With these two feet, obedience and honesty, you will go far with God.

There are multitudes of things to learn about the infinite God of love, grace, mercy, truth, judgment, justice and beauty - things which will require the rest of your life to absorb even just a tiny fraction of all that He is. There is no bottom of the sea to touch and to drown in His depths is not a bad thing to do. He is not remote or frigid or fragile or phony in any way. He only waits for you to recognize your desperate need for Him and for you to come to Him just as you are.


I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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