(This sermons was preached at Mangatangi.)
Read 2 Peter 1:3-11
If you were rate your spiritual maturity as a percentage where 0% means a brand new baby Christian who hasn’t grown at all and 100% represents Christ-likeness, how would you rate yourself?
God says an awful lot about maturity. Can you think of any passages about our spiritual growth, or about maturity? For example…
Eph 4:11-13 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.
As people use their gifts and through the serving of God’s people, the church becomes united and mature. Maturity there is described as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. The goal of our growth is to be just like Jesus. 100% on our scales.
There are lots of positive passages about maturity but there are also two very negative passages.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says that he could not address the Corinthians as spiritual because they were worldly – just infants in Christ who could not eat meat but had to be given milk. Their fighting amongst themselves was proof of their worldliness.
In Hebrews 5, the writers says that they should by now be teachers but they need to be taught the basics all over again. They should now be eating solid food but they have to be given milk. They are babies.
Both passages reflect real frustration at Christians who have not grown up. Christian discipleship is not simply about being born (born again). It is about growing to maturity.
So, 2 Peter 1. I need to briefly highlight some key aspects but I want to focus on the benefits of maturity.
God has given us everything we need for a godly life. Isn’t that extraordinary! There is no reason why we should not live godly, Christ-like lives. Out of His divine power, God has given us everything we need. We receive these gifts through our knowledge of Him. We need to know Him. Godly living starts with conversion and continues in that relationship with Jesus. That is where we receive God’s resources.
Then Peter talks about God’s very great and precious promises. God promises us a future which involves participating in the divine nature and escaping the corruption in the world. I am really looking forward to escaping from this world of pain and death and crime and illness. Oh God, may Your Kingdom come.
I am not quite sure what it is going to be like to participate in the divine nature but it sounds fantastic.
God’s Kingdom; God’s nature. God’s promises are very great and precious. But note that v.5 is linked to v.4 by the phrase “for this very reason”. God has provided everything we need. God has made promises about our future. For this very reason, make every effort… We have the resources; we have the promises, therefore we are to make every effort. Receiving the resources isn’t a reason for sitting back and waiting for God to do more. God has acted. If we want to receive the fulfilment of those promises then we are to take up the resources He has given and use them.
“Make every effort” means leave nothing undone. When you think of your spiritual growth, can you say that you have done everything that could possibly be done? I don’t imagine any of us can. I certainly can’t. Is that because we haven’t prioritised our own godly living and spiritual maturity?
Peter has a plan – an 8-step process. As baby Christians we started with what? We just put our faith in Jesus. But Peter says, “Don’t stay there. Faith is great but it is not enough. Add goodness (or virtue.) Don’t continue in sin. Live a good life.”
But that is not enough either. To your goodness, add knowledge. If we are going to be mature, we need to know stuff. We need to know God’s word. We need to know how to live to please Him. To our knowledge we are to add self-control. Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit so, again we see that God has provided everything we need. How do we add self-control? We let the Spirit do His transforming work so that we are no longer controlled just by our passions or our selfish desires. We choose to live for God, not ourselves. Even that is not enough. To self-control we are to add perseverance – the willingness to keep going, and keep being faithful to God, despite hardship and suffering. Baby Christians don’t have that. It requires some maturity.
To our perseverance we are to add godliness – God-likeness in our thinking and motivations and actions. Even that is not the end. We are to add mutual affection – caring for one another. And then go one step beyond that to love – agape – sacrificing, selfless love.
We could spend time talking about each of those but I want to get onto the benefits. Nevertheless, you might choose to reflect on that series of steps and use it as a template for your own growth or for the growth of someone you are mentoring.
2 Peter 1:8a For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure…
It is not just about possessing them but continuing to grow in each one of them. If we possess them in increasing measure… Here is the first benefit…
2 Peter 1:8b … they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the things I value most highly is productivity. I want to know that I have achieved something. That can be a weakness as well as a strength but God also values productivity. Remember how Jesus talked about us being branches on the vine and bearing much fruit. Remember the parable of the talents – the praise given to those who had multiplied the master’s business and the condemnation of the third man, who had buried the talent – preserved it but not increased it. When I stand before God, I want to know that my life made a difference; that it counted for the Kingdom; that there was fruit.
How can I be effective and productive? By making every effort to add these qualities to my life; making every effort to grow.
Then Peter lists two consequences of not having these qualities. We will be nearsighted and blind. Does that mean we simply won’t understand; we won’t get it? We won’t understand God; we won’t see what He is doing; we won’t hear His voice; He won’t reveal things to us – open our eyes. If we remain babies, we have only a baby’s understanding. If we don’t grow up, our thinking is worldly. We are blind.
Again, I am sure you want more than that. You want to be able to walk with God and hear His voice and, when you read His word, see what He is revealing; hear what He is saying. But that knowledge of God and His ways comes as we grow. The second benefit of maturity is revelation and understanding and closeness with God.
The Hebrews passage that reflects God’s frustration with the immature says, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:13-14) Understanding and discernment and wisdom come with maturity.
The second negative is: without these qualities we forget that we have been cleansed from our past sins. Imagine losing the assurance that we have been forgiven. In other words, we doubt our salvation. If we are not experiencing more of God we begin to doubt our past experience. The third benefit of maturity is confidence; confidence in what God has done and confidence in what God will do.
So far, we have identified effectiveness and productivity, understanding and revelation, and confidence and forgiveness. All of those are huge. It is really important that we make every effort to add these 8 qualities to our lives.
But there are more benefits. In v.10 Peter again says “make every effort”. He is emphatic that we put effort into our spiritual growth. Here he says, “make every effort to confirm your calling and election”.
Do you believe that you have been saved? Do you believe that God has forgiven you and welcomed you into His family as one of His children? Well, confirm that by showing that you are His. Make every effort to show that you are a child of God – a child who longs for the things of God and is adding these godly qualities into your life. There are lots of people not growing like this. In a way they are demonstrating that they do not belong to God. Anyone who belongs to God is hungry for maturity; wants to please God, wants to be productive; wants to be like God. Make every effort to confirm your calling and election.
Then the fourth benefit is that you will never stumble. What a fantastic promise. Life is tough. There are all sorts of temptations and obstacles but God promises that you will keep on going. You will cross the finishing line. You will receive the prize, if you are adding these qualities to your life.
The new Thessalonians converts were being persecuted and Paul was worried that they would fall away.
1 Thess 3:2-3a We sent Timothy… to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.
If the danger was that they might stumble, what was the solution? To strengthen their faith; to grow them to greater maturity; to further disciple them. In Ephesians 4:14, Paul also talks about no longer being infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Babies are vulnerable. It is as we grow up and we add goodness and knowledge and self-control etc that we can stand firm and not stumble.
The fifth benefit: you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
A lot of Christians would say, “I don’t have to do anything. I prayed the sinner’s prayer once. I am OK.” Really? This passage says there is a condition: if you do these things.
Christians have been born again by the grace of God. It is a free gift. And God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. That is grace. And God has made wonderful promises. That is grace. But that is exactly why He then calls on us to use all of those resources. Because He has been so gracious, and provided so much, make every effort to grow to maturity adding these godly qualities to your life. If you do you will be productive, you will have understanding, you will know that you are forgiven, you will not stumble and you will be received into Jesus’ Kingdom.
If we don’t? If we do very little what happens? I believe the Bible teaches that it is not about merely starting the race but finishing it. God wants us to finish the race. He has given us everything we need to do that, but we have to use those resources; run that race, making every effort. The promises are for those who finish the race – and we all can because God has given us everything we need.
So, where are you on that scale? You know, it doesn’t matter where you are. The important question is where you will be in 6 months time. Maybe you are not even on the scale yet. Maybe you are not even a baby Christian yet. That’s OK but do you want to be? Do you want to receive all that God has for you? It starts with simple faith: God, I believe you love me and you gave Jesus to die in my place so that I might be forgiven and become your child.