The Road to Maturity
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This paper is devoted to how Christians can grow up in the faith.

The apostle Paul wrote: "It was He [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Quite a sentence isn’t it? But the point of it is that we should become mature, fully like Christ. That’s God’s goal for us. A good prayer to speed us on our way would be: "Heavenly Father, I ask you to bring growth in my spiritual life, in Jesus’ name, Amen."

The best answer to how we should grow is found in the second letter of Peter 1:3-7.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Faith

What’s the first thing Jesus wants from us? Faith, right? He taught it, exemplified it, pointed it out in others, and was disappointed when the lesson wasn’t learned. He taught that God wanted us to pray for all things, large and small. In His parables, He spoke of children asking their fathers for bread or fish to eat. In His sample prayer, He said, "Give us this day our daily bread...." In one parable He spoke of a widow asking for justice, persisting until she got it. I have heard of pets healed through a prayer of faith.

As for praying for large things, I have seen MS and arthritis almost disappear during a prayer of faith. It is wonderful to feel an arthritic hand uncurl in my hands as I pray. I love watching a person carry their crutches out of the room, no longer needed. Doctors report that cancer has receded or disappeared after a prayer of faith. I have heard of "impossible" situations resolved through the prayer of faith.

Paul in the letter to the Hebrews writes, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for [when we pray], the conviction of things not seen [when we pray]." As you ask God for things, when the assurance -- the supernatural peace -- comes over you, you can start thanking, because you will get it. That's the faith.  If you stand on your faith, you will see it come to pass. If you start trying to answer your own prayer, don’t expect God to stop you from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

Two methods of increasing your faith are:  giving thanks to God for all things; and praising God for His love, justice, wisdom, power, etc.

Faith is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. A good prayer would be, "Jesus, teach me how to pray and give me your faith for your answers. As a step of faith, I receive your faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen."

When I pray, I don’t get this peace of faith very often. Why’s that?

Virtue & Goodness

Proverbs, chapter 15, verse 29 reads, "The Lord is far from the wicked but He hears the prayer of the righteous." We need to do good.

Jesus put it, "Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Is it okay to do good to others so that God will do good to you? Seems so.

First Peter 3:7 says, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, ... so that nothing will hinder your prayers." Be nice to your wife and God will be nice to you. Verse 9 of the same chapter says, "Do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." This holds true in the classroom, in the office, on the road and in the checkout line.

As you can see from the Bible passages above, there is a lot of information as to how to do good in the Bible. All the books in the Bible have things to teach us. Here’s a series of questions you can use, as you read the Bible. They were written by George Muller.

Is there any example for me to follow?
Is there any command for me to obey?
Is there any error for me to avoid?
Is there any sin for me to forsake?
Is there any promise for me to claim?
Is there any new thought about God Himself?

However, have you ever tried to do good to someone – and found you only made matters worse? How can we be sure that what we are doing is ‘the good’ that God will pay us back for?

Knowledge of God’s Will

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." Jesus said, "But when He, the Spirit of Truth [Holy Spirit], comes, He will guide you into all truth."

Back when you were praying by faith, you were practicing this kind of guidance. The Peace lets you know your prayer was answered. Now, the peace is used to guide your everyday decisions. The apostle Paul wrote, "...let the peace of God rule in your hearts..."

Another way the Holy Spirit can guide us is through a "small voice" that only your spirit can hear. This is the ‘voice’ that Moses followed and that Paul heard at the time of his conversion.

Another way the Holy Spirit can guide us is through visions that only your spirit can see. The Bible is full of examples of this. More recent descriptions of what this is like is "seeing a ticker tape" or "seeing a video clip." Or perhaps you are reading the Bible or a spiritual book when a sentence "jumps off the page" at you. I call that "God’s high lighter."

Other ways the Holy Spirit can guide us is through a spiritual analogue of touch or smell. In prayer, I sometimes feel the symptoms of the person I am praying for before I’m told what’s wrong with them. A scent can remind you of someone that you should contact. A foul smell can be a warning of evil spirits present.

How far should we go with this guidance thing?  Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, The Son can do nothing by Himself; He can only do what He sees the Father doing [guidance]; for whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19  He entirely submitted to the Father's advice in all areas of endeavor.  Contrast this with Satan's five "I will" statements in Isaiah 14:13,14.  

There are other sources of guidance that you should be aware of.  Satan and his minions. Your own soul. To clear the air, I often pray, "I renounce Satan and all his ways and advice, in the name of Jesus. I rededicate myself to the will and ways of Jesus, entirely. Jesus, manifest yourself to my spirit that I might know your will and sense your presence in clarity."

Knowing the will of God and doing the will of God are often two different things. As the apostle Paul wrote: "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:14-24) Who can free me from this body of death?

Self-control, Crucifying the Flesh

You’ve got unrighteousness in your character. That’s where unrighteous actions and words come from. Your character needs cleaning up. Jesus said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." -- Matthew 12:35

Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3:1 reads: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...." Jesus said, "You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." In Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5, he writes of mature Christians, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

How the blazes do you do that? Well, you remember the first step -- the prayer of faith? Now you use it on yourself.

But there’s more to it than that. God won’t violate your free will (which He gave you), no matter how hard you pray.  You are in bondage due to the lies you believe, due to bad advice or trauma.   You need to ask Jesus Christ to set you free with His truth, incident by incident.

What binds us?  Well, let's ask Jesus, using the divine guidance we were talking about. 

When you are in a situation where you feel an ungodly feeling (one that is not in the fruits of the Spirit), ask the true Lord Jesus to take you back to when you first had that same feeling.  When you get there, ask the true Lord Jesus to show you what lie you learned from that experience.  When it comes up, ask the true Lord Jesus to speak truth to that experience.

Sounds too simple?  That's true.  But it is hard to get in the thinking pattern to do it.  Especially if you have built up defenses to protect yourself from hurt, help or hope.  Then those defenses are the first things that need to be addressed.  You probably need to start with someone else leading you through the process a couple of times, to "get" it.  (from Dr. Rev. Ed Smith's "Theophostic")

Perseverance, Endurance

Peter writes in his letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." That word, "endure" in the Greek actually means "to obey, even when it leads to loss". Why bother? "For the [hope of the] joy" that was to be His later. He was investing in heavenly rewards.

Heavenly rewards? Yes, there are different levels of payoff in heaven.

Jesus taught, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven." –Matthew 5:19 Evidently, we are not all equals in the kingdom of heaven! There are numerous passages that refer to different crowns given out in heaven.

God is absolute justice, just as He is absolute love. Only He could pull that off. What justice is not meted out on earth will be finished in heaven. The good that you do here that is not recompensed here will be recompensed in heaven. Jesus promised, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, ...." – Matthew 5:12

A prayer you might try is: "Father, please give me confirmation that heaven and its rewards are there, In Jesus’ name, Amen."

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [of the brethren who have gone before us], let us throw off every sin and encumbrance [of the old nature] that clings so tightly and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." – Hebrews 12:1

Cleaning out the dead wood isn’t leaving much behind. What do I put in?

Godliness, the New Nature

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forbearing one another and forgiving each other." – Colossians 3:12 Again, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." – Philippians 4:8  Mother Teresa had a list of good qualities to "put on": charity, friendship, forgiveness, love, gratitude, kindness, warmth and trust. "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." – Galatians 5:22,23.

Once again, the way to do this is prayer, but it’s much easier than the "putting off" process. The Lord told me to keep my eye out for these qualities in the people I run into, and ask the Lord for a copy of that good quality that’s in them. Consider it a treasure hunt.

You may find there are areas where the new nature doesn’t "stick."  There’s something you missed in the "putting off" step. Return there and figure it out.

You may find that what looks like a good quality in someone is really a symptom of one of their own character defects. Listen for guidance on this one. The Lord will warn you if it’s not healthy for you.

Where can I find a good source of good qualities?

Koinonia, Fellowship

"And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another – and all the more as the day [of the Lord] draws near." – Hebrews 10:24,25  Jesus, in a parable about the kingdom of God, said:  "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or see you thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?’  And the king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’" – Matthew 25:37-40  Jesus also said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." – Mark 9:41

Truly, we are surrounded by royalty in the church. The God of the Universe has adopted these humans as sons & daughters – and heirs. The biggest way to get a blessing from God is to bless adopted children.

As you befriend them and do good for them, you do begin to love them. The love becomes mutual and powerful. A good prayer for this is: "Jesus, please make our fellowship one, just as You and the Father are one. Jesus, please place the love you have for each of us in our hearts, as well. Amen."

As we become "one," there is a need to have a higher purpose for the group to strive towards. Otherwise, the fellowship starts to get stale and self-centered. What then?  The group as a body needs to be Christian and go through the preceding steps as a body.

Agape, Love for All

The heart of love that you develop with the brethren overflows the bounds of the fellowship, to God and then to those God also loves -- your neighbors.

"One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" – Matthew 22:35-39 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever [in the world] would believe on Him would not perish but have everlasting life." – John 3:16

Only now can your heart truly love God and your neighbor. Up to now, you could do good for them and God; you could even have God’s perspective of heaven and the world, but that isn’t the same as "love." (1 Cor. 13:2)  Loving your neighbor like God loves them takes all the preceding steps.

This list also reflects the three qualities of faith, hope (through perseverance) and love. As the apostle Paul wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians 13, "And now these three remain [or abide in]: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

( all quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.)