Monday, August 15

ARE YOU GROWING OR GROPING IN YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE?


 
Photo Courtesy: Keystone Church


 Nse laid on her bed weeping all night. She felt totally disappointed at herself. It was only a week ago that she had given her life to Christ. Now here she was being chewed off by guilt.
“Why did I do it God? Why didn’t I leave when you asked me to? Why did I listen to him?” She kept asking.
She picked up her bible in a bid to hear from the Lord but all she could hear was the loud voice of accusation slamming at her, “You never really changed. It’s all a lie. Who told you someone like you can ever make it to heaven? You are used to Sin and you would never stop” the voice kept declaring.
It was then her eyes found the verse “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
Immediately, She got on her knees and said, “Lord I confess that I have sinned by Kissing Ade. Please forgive me and cleanse me from this unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
“Believe that I have forgiven you”, whispered the small still voice….


THE TRUE CONCEPT OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND MATURITY

Growth is often used interchangeably with maturity. However when we talk about them in relation to the physical world, our listener is able to decipher which of the words we meant to use.

See these descriptions below,
Frederick was 4 feet, 2 inches tall when he was 11 years old. Now He is 15years old and is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. This increase in height is a perfect description of growth.

When Frederick was 11 years old, He didn’t know how to express himself whenever He was confronted by a bully. Now that He’s turned 15, he has learnt to engage a bully in an intelligent conversation that turns them into friends.

The first description talks about increase in size which is referred to as growth while the second talks about development in the use of an ability/ skill (communication skill). This development is referred to as maturity.
Can you think of other examples which show the difference between growth and maturity?

In Psychology, Growth is the physical process of development, particularly the process of becoming physically larger. It is quantifiable, meaning that it can be measured, and it is mostly influenced by genetics. On the other hand, maturity is the physical, intellectual, or emotional process of development. Maturity is often not quantifiable, and it too is mostly influenced by genetics.
While growth is physical, maturity is physical, intellectual, or emotional. Often, maturation involves two or even all three1.
Spiritual growth can be confused for maturity. Therefore in Spirichology (found only in my dictionary though), Growth is increase in the grace, wisdom and understanding of the Love of God while Maturity is the degree of similitude in the development of the personality and character of Jesus Christ (How alike are you to the person and nature of Christ)?

For example, Oluchi has been saved for the past 10 years and has risen to be a youth pastor in her local assembly (Church). Meanwhile, Oluchi is yet to imbibe fundamental behavioural patterns that model a Christ-like individual (Christian).

Oluchi steals from the church offering, lies at every given opportunity; would you say she is a mature believer? I bet you said no but she is definitely “grown” by man’s standard because she pastors the youths.

#RollingMyEyes

As men, we often assume that an increase in church ranking or spiritual activities is a proof of growth. Even though these things could be signs of growth, they are not always a sure proof that an individual has grown in the Lord or is mature.

2 peter 3:17-18 says, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Why would Apostle Peter say grow in Grace and Knowledge? It is because a genuine growth in these areas will definitely produce a commensurate level of maturity.

Now why do you think Oluchi who has become a youth pastor continues to lie and steal?

It is either she was never born again (remember that playing church isn’t the same as accepting Jesus as LORD and SAVIOUR) or she hasn’t grown to understand what the grace of God is for nor does she know much about how seriously God frowns at such an act. 

Read: 7 Things To Do When  You Feel Spiritually weak

WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT MEAN TO GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD?
Most people think this verse was referring to a growth in manifestation of spiritual gifts which they wrongly term “anointing”. Others assume it means to gain more “grace “from God.

The greek word for Grace is Xaris (transliterated as Charis), pronounced Khar-ece. It refers to God’s inclination (natural character) to reach out to a person because He is disposed to help/bless them2.
From the above, we can see that Grace is whom God is. Grace isn’t just something He does. It is His person.

God’s grace never increases; it is infinite, it cannot be more, and according to the nature of God, it could never be less3.
He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should be saved (John 3:16). How much more grace could there possibly be than that?

To grow in grace is to grow in our understanding of what Jesus did on the cross, in the grave and at resurrection for us and to grow in our appreciation of the grace (unto salvation) we have been given.
The more we learn about what it costed Jesus to willingly become the atonement for our sins by risking his position as a member of the God-Head (a term for God the father, Son and HolySpirit collectively) to become Sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) the more we will appreciate all He has done, His love, sacrifice for us and truly appreciate the never-ending grace (disposition of God to favour us).

On the other hand, the word Knowledge is transliterated epignosis, pronounced as spelt. It refers to a recognition, perception or discernment of a person or thing through first hand relationship4.

So when Apostle Peter says, “grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ”, He is asking us to commit to knowing Christ from a firsthand experience
.
In plain English, 2 Peter 3:17-18 can be written as
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure
position. But grow in the grace (your awareness of the nature of God to reach out to you to help/bless you) and knowledge (firsthand experience of who JESUS is) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Does it make any sense yet?

Apostle Peter told us this because, Commitment to Spiritual Maturity is dependent on our awareness of Gods willingness to help us and how much of His nature, ability and personality we have been exposed to/ encountered.
This awareness and encounter would prepare, inspire and equip us to submit to God so much that we die daily to the flesh.

A good example of how this works can be seen in the life of Jacob. He was a deceiver and often got what he wanted by cheating others but when He encountered (got a firsthand experience of Gods all sufficient ability to make a man) God at Bethel, he seized to be a deceiver (Genesis 32:22-32)

When we know How willing and able God is to help us walk in righteousness, we would commit to the process (all the things God uses to spur us to growth and maturity) of spiritual maturation.
“It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose”. Philippians 2:13 

Read: Betrayed

SO WHAT IS THE GOAL OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND MATURITY?
The goal of Spiritual growth and maturity isn’t for us to parade titles or brag about the manifestation of our spiritual gifts. It is also not for us to make heaven because heaven is definitely where the saved would go. It is for us to become like Jesus Christ!

These Scriptures confirms it,
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" 2 Corinthians 3:18
“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” Ephesians 4:15

When you become born again the nature of God is born in you.
Now even though the nature of God is born in us at salvation, we still need to learn to act in consistency with our genes/identity.

Therefore, if the reason you want to “grow” in your Christian walk is so that you can become daddy G.O or mummy G.O of a ministry? You’ve missed it before you begun.
True Spiritual growth and maturity is impossible without becoming aware of the Grace and Person of Christ.

The revelation of the grace and knowledge of Christ humbles a person. It makes you forever indebted to an amazing God and leaves you willing to go through anything for His sake. It doesn’t inflate you into becoming an ambitious, self conceited individual.

Read: Is Jesus Really The Only Way To God?

THE STAGES OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY
When a child is born, it takes a while for him/her to get to the fullness of his/her capabilities. For some, they grow faster than their pairs while others mature faster than their pairs. These differences can be seen in their heights, sexual secondary characteristics and in their behaviours.

What are the Stages of Spiritual Maturity?
Let’s zoom in on 1 John 2:12-14(AMP)
I am writing to you/I have written to you who are God’s children
·        Because yours sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
·        Because you know the father

I am writing to you/I have written to you who are mature in the faith
·        Because you know Christ who existed from the beginning
·        Because you know Christ who existed from the beginning

I am writing to you/I have written to you who are young in faith
·        Because you have won your battle with the evil one.
·        Because you are strong
·        Because God’s word lives in your heart

I arranged them that way so we can easily pick out the points. The first time, Apostle John said I am writing and next he said I have written. So our version is kinda merged for the purpose of clarity.
From the above scripture, we can safely assume that there are 3 stages of Spiritual growth and maturity- Childhood, Youth and Fatherhood. If you read the King James Version of this verse, you will see the words, “I write to you fathers in place of “mature in faith” as seen in Amplified version above.

The Childhood Stage:
This is the first stage. We enter this stage by accepting and confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour (Refer to Module 1). The major identity of those in this stage is
1. They are forgiven
2. They know the father

Why did Apostle John describe this group as such?
Firstly, it is because forgiveness of Sin by the blood of Christ is what qualifies us to be called children of God. So everyone who has Jesus is a Child of God irrespective of your maturity level.
Secondly, when we become born again, the first awareness we grab is the reality of God as our father. He provides, leads, counsels, protects and leads us by His Holy Spirit.

In the physical realm, a child’s first awareness is his/her mother. She is the one who provides, protects and spends time with the baby. As this happens, the child gets attached to the mother. In the Spiritual realm, God the father does for us all a mother would do for a child and with time, we become attached to Him.

Remember the excitement you felt from spending time with God in prayer, reading the bible and doing things that could bring you closer to God? The joy you felt each time your prayers were answered and did you notice that they were answered speedily?
Just as a mom hurries to her crying baby, that’s how God (Our Father) quickly attends to spiritual babies. Their prayers get answered quickly because God is nursing their faith unto growth!


Characteristics of Spiritual Children
1. Zeal without knowledge: Here one is filled with so much passion and zeal for the work. Many make mistakes even though they had good intentions. For example, a spiritual babe who just got saved might want to go witness to her unbelieving boyfriend. Only for her to get there He presses all her old buttons and they have sex. At this point, she might blame the devil but it was a matter of zeal without knowledge. How can you go witness to an old boyfriend alone, in the privacy of a room where you once defiled each other? Don’t you know that our souls and bodies respond to the familiar?
Another case could be when a new convert goes to a shrine in his community to uproot their moulded images. He hasn’t learnt the principles of spiritual warfare such as legal grounds, legal holds, confrontation and the effective use of the blood of Christ. Therefore, doing a thing like that is inviting trouble. A mature believer who has been trained in spiritual warfare would need to help him out.

2. Fear: Even though the baby Christian has the spirit of God in Him, He might still demonstrate fear towards the powers of darkness, the future, the past catching up with him/her, fear of not lasting in the faith and so on. The truth is all of these fears are rooted in one major weakness called ignorance.

3. Ignorance: The long time enemy of man. The baby Christian is yet to learn about his spiritual authority in Christ, how to apply the word to situations, how to have faith in God, how to make declarations that gets honoured, how to decipher when a Spirit is of God or not of God. Ignorance is responsible for a lot of our problems in this Christian race.

4. Easily Deceived/Simple Minded: A stranger can deceive a child into believing his parents sent him to pick up the child. He offers the child Ice-cream and whisks him off. Soon the child realizes he had been kidnapped. The same thing happens to spiritual babies, one human being comes from the blues claiming to have been sent by God. He offers prophecies and other incentives. Soon the spiritual child forgets that God is His source and begins to rely on the “Prophet”. The spiritual child wrongly assumes that everyone tells the truth and so believes anyone or anything that claims to be from God.

5. Demanding: Babies are always in need. Their mother breast feeds them and they doze off. As soon as she attempts to lay them in bed they scream because they prefer her arms. They don’t think about their mother’s need neither notice that she hasn’t slept in days because of them. Spiritual babies are always placing demands on God. They say things like, “God if you don’t do this, I will go back to the world” or “God If you do it for me, I will serve you forever”. These manipulative prayers are mere childishness. They don’t know that God can’t be neither manipulated nor cajoled. He responds to his word and his principles not our conditions. Spiritual babies are attached to the gifts not the giver. They love the blessings not the Lord actually. They don’t know the Lord enough to love Him for who He is so they love Him for what they get.


The Youth Stage:
After a while, the spiritual child grows into a youth! Now let me make something clear. Growth in the spirit realm has nothing to do with age. So you can be 9 years old and a spiritual youth or be 58 years old and a spiritual baby. However, growth takes time. For some its speedy for others it’s at a reasonable rate and for another, it could be extremely slow such that God hurts.
The major identity of those in the youth stage is
·        They have won their battle with the evil one.
·        They are strong
·        God’s word lives in their heart

1. They’ve won their battles: What battle is Apostle John referring to? He is talking about the battle to stand in holiness. Unlike the spiritual child who falls in and out of sin, the spiritual youth has gained stability in areas where he used to fall. He understands the word and knows how to apply it to situations.

2. They are strong: A spiritual youth can embark on lengthy fast, pray for long nights, study the word endlessly, evangelize aggressively and make sacrifices at all levels for God. Their faith is on a high range and they do amazing exploits in the name of the Lord

3. God’s word lives in their heart: These ones are full of the word. They know what scripture fits any situation. Even if they can’t remember the exact chapter, they know what the word says. Please note that Scripture memorization has nothing to do with God or special spiritual gifts. It is a function of training your mind to remember chapters and verses the same way you memorize your school work.

Although this group appears to have everything going for them on an A-scale, they still lack maturity; they will need to learn lessons of perseverance, longsuffering and a whole lot.

They could begin to feel that because they hear from God and do exploits in His name, they do not need to submit themselves to authority, or even correction. This can be extremely dangerous, as Hebrews 13:17 advices, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you"

The Fatherhood Stage:
In addressing these ones, Apostle John says,
I am writing to you/I have written to you who are mature in the faith
·        Because you know Christ who existed from the beginning
·        Because you know Christ who existed from the beginning

Did you notice the repetition? Trust me, It wasn’t because He didn’t know how else to describe a mature Christian. It was because the Knowledge of Christ is the true test and proof of spiritual maturity.
Just before you misunderstand me, Remember that earlier we established the truth that the purpose or goal of spiritual growth is to become like Christ. We also saw that one way to become like Him was to get to know Him intimately (First-hand experience).
Did you recall that?
Good!

Now when the bible talks about knowing God, it is different from knowing all the scriptures off hand, studying all the theology, typology, eschatology and ethics of ministry.

Knowing God refers to an encounter with the person, nature and character of God such that you become like Him. This is actually what I mean by a first-hand experience.
Im not saying that studying theology and the others arent necessary. No way!

I have my bachelors in Theology and Christian Education and a Diploma in Ministerial Counseling after all.
So yes please, you should study. However, I’m saying if you have all that “knowledge” and the character of God is still far from been formed in you, you really don’t know Christ yet.
I didn’t say that, Apostle John did!

Why would Apostle John directly associate spiritual maturity with Knowledge?

It is because you can only yield to God and His process to the extent that you know Him. Knowledge (Epignosis) is what helps us bear when He doesn’t do what we are expecting.
The knowledge of His love would help you trust Him through the changing seasons of life.
The knowledge of His power would help you fear no evil.
The knowledge of His wisdom will help you trust and obey every instruction.
The knowledge of His sovereignty will help you go on when you’re disappointed.
The knowledge of His nature will help you walk consistently in holiness.

Fathers have been through severe tests and experiences; they are wiser and can tell a false Spirit from the Spirit of God.
They are not easily swayed by doctrines.
They are rooted and deeply grounded in the love of and knowledge of Christ.

See this,

Ade is married to Gloria. He moves to London after a year in search of greener pasture, leaving Ada behind.
Gloria has the habit of keeping to herself when she is deeply worried about anything.
Three years later, Ade returns and notices that his wife is acting withdrawn. He gets frustrated and yells at her because He expects her to be all around him since he hasn’t been around in years.
Gloria feels really hurt that Ade is yelling. She was expecting him to gently ask and pamper her until she is able to open up. Instead he is yelling and acting frustrated with her.
Ade goes out to be with his friends and brings up his wife’s attitude for discussion.
His friend Jude explains that his wife does that when she is strongly bothered and doesn’t know how to share it with him. Jude advices that he cuddles her and assures that he loves her and would help her with anything that might be on her mind.
Ade goes home, puts Jude’s advice to play and His wife opens up about how Ade’s mum called to threaten her about having a child.
It’s only been 3 weeks since Ade returned and his mother is already on Gloria’s neck.

If Ade truly knew his wife, would he have yelled at her when he noticed she was withdrawn?
If Gloria had been assured that her husband would help her with anything including standing up to his mother, would she have withdrawn?
In marriage, understanding a spouse comes from “knowing” the person. The same goes in our relationship with God.
You can’t understand a God you don’t know and you can’t know Him from a distance like the one between Ade and Gloria.
Fathers have spent time with God. Their experiences and dealings with Him have built them up in the faith such that they model patience, meekness, integrity and other fruits of righteousness

Read: Realms Of Glory


Why then do we have fathers who aren’t good examples of the character of Christ?
The work of the Holyspirit in the life of a believer is a continuous one. Even though God reveals Himself to us as we draw near, it is our responsibility to yield to the HolySpirit for Him to perfect us. We shall be made perfect when we finally go to be with the Lord.
1 John 3:2, “… but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”.
The fact that you have become a spiritual father doesnt mean you are automatically resistant to sin and the wiles of the enemy. Therefore since we hope to see Christ the reason we began the Christian growth experience, we have to purify ourselves from flesh and the world often by the blood of Jesus.
1 John 1:3, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure”.


Further Reading:
1. Natalie Boyd (2003) Psychology 107:Life Span Development http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-development-growth-maturation-learning.html (accessed October 26th 2015)
2. Strong's Concordance http://biblehub.com/greek/5485.htm (accessed October 26th 2015)
3. Got Questions (2002) http://www.gotquestions.org/grow-in-grace.html (accessed October 26th 2015)
4. Strong's Concordance http://biblehub.com/greek/1922.htm (accessed October 26th 2015) 


©2015 Excerpted from THE G.O.A.D Sessions at THE BIRTHPLACE MENTORING SCHOOL (BPMS) by Anne Atulaegwu

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