In concluding this series, we’ve answered the question that Salvation does not offer a license to sin, that the saving grace of Jesus requires a heartfelt repentance of sin, promotes a desire and awareness for the avoidance of sin, and a Christ-like living that produces fruits of the Spirit. For this final installment, let’s bring everything full circle in defining the process of a Christians walk and maturity.
While recently listening to a sermon of Dr. John MacArthur, an outline of personal Christian development was impressed upon me. Below are the steps as they were inspired to me. Perhaps you can identify with the step that you are on and through the working of the Holy Spirit in your life, you can move forward to the next step.
The first phase in everyone’s life, those who are now Christians or those who are non-believers, is sin. Everyone since Adam and Eve, with the exception of Jesus Christ, has been born into sin. Just as we learned yesterday, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us.” I John 1:8 In keeping with this, the Bible teaches us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 You, me, all of us have sinned. Because of this sin we are separated from God. We are unable to experience His Glory because of our disgusting sins. As Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we were to continue on our current path in this phase, eternal death and separation from God would be our outcome. Nothing else, no amount of good works, no attempt to live right, no other religion, spirituality, oneness, or going to church, can save you from this death, nothing except for the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Through His death on the cross and resurrection we have all been afforded a second chance, the helping hand of a Savior to lift us out of sinfulness. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Are you lost? Discouraged, mired in sin, drowning in a pit of despair? Sin will choke you out. There is not one person who is strong enough to fight this battle alone. We need a Savior. We need a Rock of Refuge.
Every sin needs repentance. Just as we discussed in yesterdays post, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” II Corinthians 7:10 If you remember, we used the example of Saul vs. David. Saul’s repentance was mere words, the “worldly sorrow” that the Apostle Paul was speaking of in the previous verse. But David had Godly sorrow as he declared his sin to God. This is the type of repentance that leads to Salvation, it must be heartfelt remorse. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 NKJV God wants us to recognize that we are a sinner and are incapable of anything without Him. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9 Because of God’s gracious love for us, He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 He granted us mercy when we needed none, gave us grace when we deserved death and it is by His grace that we are saved through faith in His Son Jesus. “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 NKJV
With repentance of your sins to God, and believing that His Son Jesus died on the cross for those sins, that He was buried and raised again on the third day, a conversion will take place in your life. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10 As the Apostle Paul states, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4 This new life, or transformation, means we are a new creation in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” II Corinthians 5:17 As such, we are charged to turn from our old life and begin a new life, “born again”, where Jesus is now Lord of our lives. Slaves no longer to sin, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” Romans 6:6, but now slaves to righteousness, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:18
The third step in this phase is justification through Christ Jesus. It occurs at the moment of repentance and transformation and is a direct result of Christ’s death on the cross. His bloodshed paid the price for us, that instead of death and separation from God, we might have life. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2 NKJV There is nothing we can do to earn justification. Nothing through works of our own, through beliefs in sacraments or infant baptism, nothing can grant us justification, or right standing with God, except our faith in Jesus. Just as we learned in Part I of this series, not only can we not earn justification, but nothing can take it away from us. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28 Nothing can separate us from the love of God once we are a child of His. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NKJV
My impression is that many of us, once we are saved stop here. I know I’m guilty of it, perhaps you are too. Or perhaps you’ve regressed from the next two phases and find yourself back here. Know this, just as the Apostle Paul stated nothing can separate you from the love of God. You can’t return back to your old self, it died with Christ. But we must be aware that any continuance to live in sin is in direct contradiction with the Word of God. As we pointed out earlier from Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” The fear of the Lord is more than enough incentive to flee from sin. “He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” I John 2:4 I think the reason we so easily fall back, or backslide as it were, is that each of us do not realize the implications of our sin once we are saved, “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:6 NKJV Just as the author states, why would we continue to sin, continue to repent, and continue to crucify Christ again? Jesus died once for all and as Christians we need to realize that we need to cut ourselves off from any sin that has brought us into a backslidden state, repent of it, turn from it, and do not return to it again.
As I can attest to, it can sometimes be difficult to move into the growth phase. It’s so easy to get caught up in ourselves, in our lives, and selfishness that we lose sight of Who is responsible for blessings we have in life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God wants nothing but the best for us, but in order to achieve the plans He has for us, we must continually seek to grow in Him. As Christians, it’s not enough to go to church once a week, there needs to be a continual hunger for the Word of God, a hunger for the Truths that it contains. As Jesus said, “…It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 Just like in physical growth, in order to grow spiritually we must be fed, but in this case by the Word of God.
We can think of ourselves with the analogy that the Bible uses. With an introduction to the Word of God, the seed is planted in our hearts. When we accept Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives, the seed is fertilized and begins to take root. As we grow spiritually so does the tree within us. The more it is fed nutrients through the Word of God, watered through daily prayer and interactions with other spiritually mature Christians, then the tree begins to bear fruit. It’s these fruits of the Spirit that we identified in Part 2 as by-products of a Christ-like life. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:7-8, “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” This is the consequence of not growing spiritually. I don’t know about you, but I choose to grow to avoid being “rejected…cursed…and burned.” Instead let us strive for the bearing of fruit. Jesus states in Matthew 7:17-20, “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” If we are recognized as children of God by our fruits, then this is really the only indicator non-believers have of knowing we are saved.
Have you reached a plateau in your growth? Maybe you can’t even begin to grow because you’ve fallen back into your old ways and are merely satisfied with justification much like the Church of Laodicea, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16 Your secret to escaping this pit is found by walking with the Spirit, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
Sanctification is a process by which God works through the Holy Spirit in our lives once we are justified. It’s a process through which we are to work to be Holy. Keep in mind that these works will not affect our justification, but they are critical to sanctification. Just as James 2:26 says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Our works, or fruits, are essential evidence of a Spirit filled life and it is through these that we work to achieve sanctification or holiness. “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” I Thessalonians 4:7 Again as we read in Colossians 1:10, “being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”
Every “born again” Christian possesses the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised He would send us the Spirit until He returned again. John 14:16 He chooses to fulfill the promises that He’s made to us through His Holy Spirit, but this only works when we are filled by the Spirit and led by Him. In fact, the Bible actually commands that we be filled with the Spirit, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18 As I mentioned, we are filled by the Spirit by saturating ourselves with the Word of God, through prayer, and through mature Christian fellowship. Our goal, the Lord’s goal for us, is holiness. In achieving this, the fruits of the Spirit will be evident, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
Holiness, holiness is what I long for.
Holiness is what I need.
Holiness, holiness is what You
want from me.
So, take my heart and form it.
Take my mind and transform it.
Take my will and conform it.
To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord.
Additional Study: Hebrews 6:1 I John 1:2-29