A Journey Thru Acts 15: Growing & Maturing 2 (6:1-7)
Loved ones, we celebrated the Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead/grave two Sundays ago, but we are to celebrate it every Sunday…really every day. How do we do that?
Romans 6:4: “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.”
Living holy lives (maturing & growing!)
is one of our practical daily responses to & celebrations of
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ…
In part one of this post (HERE), we continued digging into Acts to learn from the LORD what He wants us to do as individual Christians, as a local church, and as part of the worldwide body of Christ. What is our mission? Why is God blessing us with earthly life day in and day out and spiritual new life in Christ? We are going to Scripture & asking the Holy Spirit to scrape off the layers of what the American culture says the church is supposed to be and do. We want God’s Word alone to define what we are to be and what we are to do.
6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 & will give our attention to prayer & the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly,
and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
How did these seven men spiritually grow to such an extent that they were widely known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, full of faith in Christ? Two weeks ago we began discussing WHY it is important that we grow—to spread the glory & fame of God; our maturity spreads His fame, shows how amazing He is to turn us into us! This post, we’ll begin to discuss WHY many church-attenders don’t grow much:
Growing takes work, effort.
We must never underestimate our skill in, our talent for being lazy, indifferent, distracted, drowsy. The spirit is willing, body is weak—even the disciples fell asleep at the Lord’s hour of deep need.
Like children told to eat their vegetables—
I’m still amazed at how good children are at cleverly doing the minimum:
After each bite they ask hopefully if they are done yet, they show their plate full of vegetables, though with one or two less veggies, & act as if they’ve just climbed Mt.Everest!
Or they cleverly move the veggies around the plate and spread them out—more plate is showing than when the vegetables were in a pile, so it seems as if they ate a bunch. They don’t ask “Am I done,” they quickly show you the plate & say, “Done!” & run from the table unless you quickly call them to sit back down! Clever!
We do the same with God regarding growth/maturity: we re so clever at justifying & rationalizing our lack of spiritual growth, being stuck on milk for years and decades and being quite content with that.
Yet He lovingly but firmly calls us back to the table to finish our veggies.
Why else do often barely grow/mature?
We confuse grace in justification with grace in sanctification.
Justification: having our spiritual record wiped clean by the blood of Jesus.
- E.g. Driving record: You get a speeding ticket, and after certain steps your legal record is clean; insurance company doesn’t see past infractions. Practically of course you are NOT a perfect driver, but legally your record says you are. Same in Christ—this is why God refers to Christians in the NT as saints, not sinners. Our legal position is changed in Christ Jesus because of faith in His blood.
Sanctification: having our character match up more with our record—growth & maturity. Our everyday performance is transformed more and more to match up with our eternal position.
- E.g. Driving record: Now that our driving record is legally perfect in Christ, sanctification is learning to actually drive a car well, wisely, safely, obediently.
Both justifcation & sanctication flow from grace, God’s undeserved favor; but sanctification requires responses of obedience, it isnt only a gift to be received.
[Side note: my friends, please don’t allow your heart to be bored with terms like these–justification & sanctification; this is beautiful Truth!
Don’t have reverse pride & think it’s cool to NOT know & enjoy these terms, don’t smugly think you like to just “keep the Gospel simple.” These words are in the Bible–let’s know & enjoy them, let’s be amazed at every glittering facet of these Truth diamonds!
- Clemency: not a “prison-ese” term—it is beautiful & amazing for prisoners who have experienced it, who realized how much they don’t deserve the freedom from prison that they now have.
- Remission: not a fancy “cancer-ese” term—it is beautiful for people who are experiencing it, who are joyfully celebrating their cure from their former disease.
Justification, sanctification, atonement, regeneration, propitiation, glorification, inspiration, etc.—learn & enjoy & celebrate: these are amazing terms of Truth for those who are experiencing them by the grace of God, who realize they were formerly dead in their sins & are now alive in Christ by grace alone through faith alone!!!]
“The necessity of holy living does not nullify grace.
[Maturing] is based squarely on the pardon of grace.
And [maturing] demonstrates the power of grace.
In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am [identity, new nature—justification], and his grace toward me was not in vain but I worked harder than any of them [following Christ, sanctification]. Nevertheless it was not I but the grace of God which is with me.” (John Piper)
God STILL gets the credit when we grow, even though we are commanded to contribute work/effort toward our growth; the grace of God in Paul showed itself as Paul worked hard at following the Lord Jesus & living out Christ’s mission for Paul’s life.
“Grace is not only the pardon that passes over our badness;
it is also the power that produces our goodness.
If God says that it’s necessary for grace to do that,
it is not a nullifying of grace when we agree with him” (John Piper).
Loved ones, the New Testament, the age of God’s grace, has MANY commands in it–not suggestions, but commands! As a friend of mine once said, “A request from a King is not really a request.” The NT doesn’t just tell us what has happened regarding God’s grace & Truth in Jesus, it tells us what TO DO once we have received God’s grace & Truth in Jesus! Though being born again is simply a gift to be received (not a list of things to do), maturing is also a gift AND a tool to be used (many things to do!).
1 Corinthians 3:1-11: Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spiritbut as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Look at all the verbs: Labor, build, plant, water, assigned a task by God, co-workers, service, lay a foundation, etc. All of this is still grace, and God still gets the credit, but we have work to do, a part to play in our growth/maturity–following Christ is not passive sitting around living how we used to live as He uploads maturity into us. Growth & maturity involves active verbs, carrying a cross & dying to our sinful desires & living for Christ! This is all a continuation of the grace of God that initially enabled us to be reborn in the first place…
1 Peter 1:1-2: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to make you BE good, not necessarily FEEL good.
Praise the LORD for the feelings He gives us at times, the physical goose bumps.
But that work of the Holy Spirit is often given priority over His more important work:
sanctifying us, making us holy, growing & maturing us.
We think He only gives us an experience, but really He matures us to obedience.
2 Corinthians 4:1-12: Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a]made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
As we obey & suffer & grow, obey & suffer & grow (rinse & repeat!), the Gospel spreads—Jesus is lifted up & more people receive Him as Savior & follow Him as King–they see His life revealed in us as we grow & mature!
1 Peter 1:1-11: Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God & Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: 2 Grace & peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God & of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 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. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Oh loved ones, we often don’t settle for mediocrity & ineffectiveness in other areas of life: fantasy football league, physical exercising, etc. And we certainly don’t like it when our favorite sports teams or our coworkers or our children or those who prepare our foods or cut our hair or manage our retirement accounts settle for ineffectiveness & mediocrity. Then why would we be content with our own lack of spiritual growth, which Peter says leads to us being “ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
Make every effort…not to be saved, but to live as if you are saved because you are! His divine power has given us everything we need to live a godly life (grace, undeserved, just receive by faith)…so LIVE a godly life (still grace, still undeserved, but now required work on our part—DO by faith!).
Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
God is the One Who works in us to change both our desires & our actions—our growth & maturity is on His shoulders! But as He does this our growth & maturity will show itself by us desiring heavenly things & making obedient choices—obedience is shown IN & THRU our shoulders. We have a part to play.
And so I must remind us again over & over—we don’t strive to grow & mature in order to save ourselves, in order to BECOME a Christian…we strive to stay in the Vine (Jesus) and stay in step with the Holy Spirit because we already ARE Christians by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. This maturing & growing only truly happens AFTER we’re saved, after we surrender to the Lord Jesus in repentance & faith, after we’re made new.
- A bird doesn’t EARN wings—the bird is given wings as a gift by the Creator! But once the bird HAS wings, it learns to use them, to flap them in the gentlest breezes and the fiercest winds—it learns to fly and to soar!
- The butterfly started as a lowly slimy crawling caterpillar—that’s us without Jesus! But then as a free gift the butterfly is transformed into a completely different animal—the butterfly—and is able to soar instead of crawl! (that’s new life in Christ!)
The LORD equips us with everything we need to do what He’s decreed:
Exodus 31:6: Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”
Ephesians 1:3: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Birds have wings, fish have gills, we have Him!
Many non-Christians will hear a sermon like this and simply decide to get busy using Bible verses to improve a portion of their lives. This is not salvation, my friends. There may even be temporary results if we do this—that is the biggest danger! And so a non-Christian may spend years focusing on using the Bible to improve their behavior on the outside when they’ve never received the Lord Jesus as their Savior on the inside.
- Though fingers make right & precise movements on a keyboard,
if the fingers start in wrong place all that’ s typed is gibberish.
We must be saved by Jesus FIRST before we grow in Him.
THIS is what is needed first, loved ones: don’t install a treadmill in the womb to start running. Focus on being re-born first, and then run the race that the Lord Jesus has marked out for you. Jesus said we MUST be reborn in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven (John 3)…
Romans 5:1-6: have you been justified by faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior & King? Is your spiritual record wiped clean by the blood of Jesus? Have you cried out to Jesus in repentance and faith so you can have peace with God the Father, moving from being under His just wrath to under His gentle wings? That is needed first. Cry out to Jesus to make you holy in position and then He will begin to make you holy in practice.
Is it well with your SOUL this morning, loved ones? Regardless of all else that you are facing—finances, relationship, career, schooling, physical health—is your SOUL at peace with God because of the Lord Jesus’ death on the cross and empty tomb?
My friends, when the LORD teaches us the importance of holiness AFTER we receive the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, we must remember that growing & maturing as a Christian doesn’t grow & increase our VALUE to God. We don’t become worth MORE to Him the more mature we are. We can’t increase our value—He already paid the highest price possible for us: the death of His only Son. “WHILE we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He paid a Ferrari price for us when we were rusty broken down beaters in the junkyard…
But please think of it like this: imagine you utterly wrecked your physical heart by your lifestyle: eating, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, etc. making it diseased and sick and needing to be replaced.
Then a perfectly healthy young person dies to give you their heart. It’s a gift you don’t deserve, and a gift you can’t repay.
But what is the best response, what is the best thank you for that priceless gift?
Treating your new heart better than your old one. Treating your new heart with care, with a new lifestyle of health and sacrificially wise choices. What a crime it would be to use the new heart in the same way you abused the old one.
This is how we must think of holiness. God tells us in Ezekiel that we need Him to rip out our hearts of stone and to give us His heart of flesh…that we might obey Him…
Your holiness doesn’t increase your value to God, but it shows Him what you consider His value to you…”Be holy, as He is holy.” Settle for nothing less–this is your spiritual act of worship…
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