Christianity is not a spectator sport. We don’t watch it on a screen. We can’t get up and go get some snacks. We are here to participate. Years ago, I played football. Football practice always seemed to begin on a hot July day. The coaches had us do all kinds of exercises. We would line up on the goal line and run to the opposite goal line and then line up and do it again. I was sore in places that I did not know I had. At first I was surprised that in those early practices under the hot Florida summer sun that we did not play any football; we just did drills. What I did not realize was that all during those practices the coaches were evaluating me. I couldn’t do anything very well. They tested my ability to throw the football and found I was accurate up to about three yards. They tested my ability to run but there were about twenty other players who were faster than me. They tested my capacity to catch the football and they determined I caught one in four passes. I was finally told to play left guard because they found that I was very good at getting in people’s way. So my job was to get in the way of the opposing defensive linemen. I noticed all through the practices that there were few if any spectators.
Finally, we began playing real games that counted. I found that in playing the game meant that I often got hurt. During one game I sustained an arm injury when another player ran over me while I was on the ground. My arm was actually bleeding. I didn’t think I could play anymore, but the coaches said to “shake it off” and get back out there and play. I got the “wind” knocked out of me and once after a head to head collision, I sustained a concussion. After the games, I was often muddy and bleeding and I remember walking out with many of the spectators. None of them were muddy and none were hurt. None of them showed the effects of playing in the game. Christians who become engaged in faithfully living the Christian life and actively serving the Lord often find themselves bearing the heavy load of responsibility, while the spectators only watch from the sidelines. Yet those who faithfully serve the Lord also share in the blessing of the victory. In our passage today, the apostle John insists that every Christian get in the game and grow in their faith.
From reading the Bible, we find that God did not create Christianity to be a spectator sport. All of us–every Christian–must intentionally choose to participate in the ministry of the church and in spiritual growth. Our Savior undoubtedly desires that each of us grow in our faith. This is express positively and negatively in the Bible. Paul expressed his sadness over spiritual immaturity in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”
The writer of Hebrews also conveyed sorrow in spiritual immaturity in Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
Growing in our faith and in God’s grace is part of the ministry of each local church. This mandate is given to us in Ephesians 4:12-15 where God has made provisions “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…”
Having said all this and cited these three passages of Scripture, we have no choice but to ask ourselves, “Are we growing in our faith?” Will you ask that of yourself this morning? Do we have a growing knowledge of the Son of God? Are we mature in our faith? Do we have a measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Jesus Christ? Do we speak the truth in love? These questions are in fact daunting challenges to every Christian. We are called to take up the challenge of spiritual growth, also known as sanctification, and, as Peter put it, “grow in the grace and know-ledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In our passage, John has identified three levels of spiritual growth and they are consistent with the physical and mental growth nearly all people are going through or have already gone through. He includes the new believer, who he identifies as “little children.” He follows their growth toward spiritual maturity by identifying then as “young men.” He then completes his overview by looking at those who have developed a recognizable spiritual maturity by calling them “fathers.” At each level God in His matchless grace grants to all believers the blessings of His constant guidance and help with our growing. He is always there, right beside us, encouraging and blessing us as we grow up in our faith. Let us look together at these blessings.
GRACE BLESSINGS FOR NEW CHRISTIANS. (1 John 2:12a, 13c)
A Message To True Christians. John repeatedly penned the words, “I am writing to you” or “I have written to you” to show this message is for those who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. These are not words for an unbeliever. There is no dynamic spiritual growth for anyone who does not have the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. An unbeliever’s first step in spiritual growth is experiencing spiritual birth by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. Only then do they have the right to call themselves children of God.
Spiritual growth is comprehensive–it includes all Christians. From the very first moment a person receives Christ, God declares that they be involved in the process of spiritual growth. His choice of using these three levels was to make sure everyone understood that each was included in growing spiritually. No one is exempt. We will begin with those who are the youngest in the faith.
Your Sins Have Been Forgiven. This is a message that probably all new Christians love to hear. Jesus has forgiven all of your sins. As part of the Holy Spirit’s mission, He convicts people of their sinfulness and rebellion against God. The power and truthfulness of that conviction often weighs heavily on an unsaved person’s soul. But when a person turns to Jesus Christ, confesses their sins, Jesus cleanses them from all unrighteousness and completely and eternally forgives all of their sins. Before I became a Christian, I was lost and utterly steeped in sin, but when I asked Jesus to come into my life, I was freely and forever forgiven. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west.
We must not, however, forget that we are forgiven primarily for “His name’s sake.” We are not saved because we have turned over a new leaf or have done much better in the way we live our lives. We are not saved because we have chosen to do religious things. We are not saved because we deserve to be saved. No! We are completely dead in our sins, helpless and hopeless. It took the miracle of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to save us. He had to die to remove the guilt and punishment for our sins. Instead, He saved us for His glory. We are saved because He is God and He chose to save us.
You Know the Father. One of the great joys of my life was raising four children. It is always an amazing moment when you realize they know who you are! One morning I heard my daughter saying, “Da-da, Da-da.” At first, I thought she was just making noises, and then I realized she was calling me. When I rounded the corner to her room, she was standing in her crib with a big smile on her face looking at me. She seemed to be very proud of herself–she called me, and I came. She knew I was her father.
One of the great blessings of becoming a Christian is that we are instantly placed into a family relationship with the God who created us. From the moment of our salvation, He is our Father. Like my daughter, new Christians have much to learn, many dangers to face, have weaknesses to strengthen and are vulnerable to deception.
Now, at that moment of her life, my daughter had only a very basic knowledge of her mother and me. But, over time, that changed. In the same way, our relationship with our Heavenly Father begins with only basic comprehension, but throughout eternity we grow to know so much more about Him.
GRACE BLESSINGS FOR GROWING CHRISTIANS. (1 John 2:13b, 14c)
Overcome The Evil One. Growing in grace ultimately leads the believer from an understanding of the elementary relationship with Jesus Christ to a developing emphasis on biblical revelation and doctrinal truth. They find out what they believe and why they believe it. That is what God desires from us.
This knowledge is transformed into wisdom when they are able to use what they have learned to defend themselves from Satan’s tricks, impurities and doctrinal error. They grow in their ability to be victorious over darkness and Satan’s lies. In deepening spiritual wisdom, Christians become aware of Satan’s deceptive schemes and become able to stand firm against them. They no longer fall for Satan’s schemes.
Spiritual Strength. Spiritual strength was illustrated for us in Matthew 4 when Satan attempted three times to tempt Jesus to sin. The three satanic temptations were countered with three properly applied Scriptures from the Old Testament, with the key being, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Spiritual growth leads us to advancement in biblical and doctrinal clarity marked by a growing understanding of the Bible. The believer spends an increasing amount of time learning about the Bible and that is matched by a growing desire to know more. Do you desire to know more about the Bible and God?
The Abiding Power of the Word of God. It is the Word of God that gives strength through the difficulties of life. Knowing the truth enables believers to correctly identify the biblical solutions to moral and ethical dilemmas and provides strength to stand in this evil world.
The growing knowledge of God’s Word leads to a biblical worldview and the believer beginning to see life from God’s point of view. The Bible becomes clearer. The patterns and purposes of revelation become sharper. John emphasized spiritual victory (overcoming). We have the capacity to be more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. God wants us to be much more than mere words. He wants us to live a victorious life. Only spiritual growth can get us there.
GRACE BLESSINGS FOR MATURE CHRISTIANS. (1 John 2:13a, 14a)
Mature Knowledge of God. Those who reach this level of spiritual maturity go beyond doctrine to knowing God with a deeper relationship. They have meditated and thought deeply on the depths of God’s character and nature and are most concerned to know Him. They find it easier to worship the Lord and value Him above all else in life.
Years of reading through the Bible, going before God’s throne in prayer and worship and serving Him faithfully yields a deep and ongoing spiritual relationship with Him. God becomes more than the transcendent, far away, all-powerful Keeper of the universe. He becomes real and close and a friend who sticks closer than a brother. The spiritually mature knows God is always present no matter the conditions and circumstances of life. They reflect on His promises and chose to walk with Him. They know Jesus Christ and the transforming power of His resurrection. They no longer wonder who Jesus is–they know He is the eternal Son of God, the Master and Lord.
What a blessing to know that we have been given the means of spiritual growth–the Word of God, the enabler of spiritual growth–the Holy Spirit, and the One who empowers spiritual growth–the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer, praise, witnessing and serving all grow as God’s truth grows within us.
Misunderstandings of Spiritual Growth.
1.Spiritual growth does not determine a Christian’s standing in grace before God. 2.Spiritual growth does not affect God’s love for Christians. 3.Spiritual growth is not measured by the clock or the calendar. 4.Spiritual growth is not necessarily related to the amount of theological details we know. 5.Spiritual growth is not connected to external ministry activities. 6.Spiritual growth is not a mystical or merely emotional experience.
Grow in Grace and the Knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Spiritual growth results from the process of taking in biblical truth, believing it,
and applying it to all domains of life.
2.All of us who are Christians are meant to grow in our faith, understanding, holiness,
and commitment to Jesus Christ. We can only participate in spiritual growth because
of God’s grace. We have been justified by grace. We are being sanctified by grace.
We will be glorified by grace. We thank the God of grace for coming alongside of
us and granting us the ability to grow in grace.
Imagine for a moment that this biblical framework was applied to each of us here this morning. Where do you think you and I would fit? Would the Lord classify us as children? As developing spiritual adults? Or, as mature, seasoned believers in Christ? We know spiritual growth demands sacrificial self-denial, a deeper interest in the Bible, a growing prayer life, a focus on Jesus and intentional purity and holiness. What will you do this week to enhance your spiritual growth in grace?
Growing in grace is for every Christian–not just pastors, missionaries, Sunday School teachers and church leaders–every Christian! How have you grown spiritually? Let me urge you to join God’s blessings by challenging you to grow in your faith. Am I growing in my walk with Jesus Christ?
If you are not a Christian, this is where you must begin. John 1:12-13 tells us, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Master. Join us in God’s family. Right now, call upon the name of the Lord. Repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. He will save you and grant you the gift of eternal life.
Updated 1/22/2018 by Pastor Vernon Welkner