A Journey Thru Acts 20: Maturing & Growing 4 (6:1-7)

mature trees 2 (6-25-17)

As we know the LORD, we grow in the LORD.

As we grow in the LORD, we go with the LORD.

As we go with the LORD, we know the LORD.

Rinse & repeat—the beautiful cycle starts again and again!

Knowing (vertical), growing (fruitfulness), going (horizontal)—Christianity!

In April I addressed some of the main reasons why we are investing so many Sunday mornings to going thru the book of Acts verse by verse instead of preaching on topical situations like personal finances, relationships, career issues, family situations, etc. It’s not that those aren’t important—they are!—& its not that the Bible says nothing about those topics—it does! But to rid a lawn of weeds above the soil we need to go beneath the soil to get at the roots—we must not treat the symptoms of our brokenness but the causes of it…

  • When we go to the Bible in disconnected snippets,
    that can be us reading the Bible—us in control.
  • When we go to the Bible entire books at a time from beginning to end,
    that is the Bible reading us.

Hebrews 4:12-13: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

And so we continue to dig into the book of Acts. We all have specific questions in life, questions we want answers to. But like a chiropractor focuses on getting your spine aligned properly—that often cures or gets rid of pain/problems in other parts of the body…so let’s submit to God’s Word verse by verse & His Holy Spirit as He aligns our souls with Himself: knowing HIM, having peace with HIM, focusing on HIM first & not even on ourselves & the legitimate challenges we face…correct vertical alignment with God leads to horizontal health in other area of our lives…

  • Like Mr. Miyagi & the movie “The Karate Kid”—Daniel wanted…NEEDED…to learn martial arts to protect himself; Mr. Miyagi taught him first how to wax a car, sand a deck, paint a fence. It seemed like Daniel would NEVER learn martial arts, that Mr. Miyagi knew nothing about Daniel’s specific problem. But at the end all the training made sense & came together.

Same with going thru the Bible verse by verse…Hang in there—God’s results come from God’s power in God’s timing using God’s methods. He knows what He is doing!

So in this our 20th Sunday in Acts, we go back again to Acts 6:1-7. We spent three posts here in April (HERE, HERE, and HERE) focusing on the question:
“Are you—am I!—growing & maturing as Christians?”

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 

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. 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 and will give our attention to prayer & the ministry of the word.”

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. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

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”

Oh this passage should cause us to ask, “How did those men grow & mature to be full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, full of strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? How were those qualities the first things that came to mind when people thought about them? How can I mature like that? Why AREN’T I maturing in Christ like that?”

Over time, there will be—& MUST BE!—spiritual growth if we are truly spiritually reborn & made new & adopted into the family of God through repentance & faith in the blood, death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Please listen to (HERE) those three sermons in April, not because the sermons themselves are amazing but because the Bible passages we dug into are…

In that last post in April we looked at HOW we grow in Christ, & we saw the Lord Jesus’ command in John 15 that we “remain in the Vine”, in Him. This post, we will dig into the other HOW of spiritual growth: Galatians 5: Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:13-26: 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16So I say, walk by the Spirit, & you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the flesh desires what is contrary to theSpirit, & theSpirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict w/each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity & debauchery;20idolatry & witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21& envy; drunkenness, orgies, &the like. I warn u, as I did b4, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom ofGod.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

SO MUCH gold here! Let’s just touch on the practical—HOW do we walk in the Holy Spirit after we have received the Lord Jesus as our Savior & King thru repentance & faith?

I love how pastor John Piper answered this question, so here are his practical steps below (for full article, please click HERE):

(John Piper): “ ‘Walking by the Spirit’ is something the Holy Spirit enables us to do by producing in us strong desires that accord with God’s will. This is what God said he would do in Ezekiel 36:26, 27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

  1. Acknowledge First, we must acknowledge from our hearts that we are helpless to do good apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” What did Jesus mean when he said in John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing”? Of course we can do something without Jesus: we can sin! But that’s all we can do. So, the first step of walking by the Spirit is: admit this fact & let it have its devastating effect on our pride. We cannot do anything pleasing to God without the constant enablement of the Spirit.
  2. Pray: Second, since it is promised in Ezekiel 36:27that God will put his Spirit within us and cause us to walk in his statutes, pray that he do it to you by his almighty power. Do you know the liberating experience of having an irresistible desire for sin overcome by a new & stronger desire for God & his way? To whom do you attribute that new desire? Where did it come from? It came from the merciful Holy Spirit.
    Pray like Paul in 1 Thessalonians 3:12: “Now may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men.”
    Hebrews 13:21: “And now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.”
    If it is God alone who works in us what is pleasing in His sight, then we must pray.
  3. Trust: The 3rd step involved in walking by the Spirit is faith. We must believethat since we have come under the gracious sway of God’s Spirit, “sin will no longer have dominion over us” (Romans 6:14). This confidence is what Paul meant by “reckoning ourselves dead to sin & alive to God” (Romans 6:11). We count on it that the Spirit who made us alive when we were dead in sin wills our holiness/maturity & has the power to achieve what He wills.
    The reason we can [have this confidence] is that we know that God will cause his children to be led by the Spirit. Romans 8:14: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” If you’re a child of God, you have a solid/unshakable promise that God will give you victory over those powerful desires of the flesh. Word of caution: don’t prejudge the timing of theHolySpirit’s work. Why He liberates 1 person overnight but brings another to freedom thru months of struggle is a mystery concealed for now from us.
  4. Act: The 4th step in walking by the Spirit after you have acknowledged your helplessness without him, prayed for his enablement, & trusted in his deliverance is to act the way you know is right. Notice: this is not step number one. If this were step number one, all our actions would be works of the flesh, not fruit of the Spirit. Only after we have appealed for the Spirit’s enablement & thrown ourselves confidently on his promise & power to work in us, do we now work with all our might. Only when we act with that spiritual preparation, will we be able to say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10,
    By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.
    Or in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” “Let him who serves serve in the strength which God supplies, that in everything God may get the glory” (1 Peter 4:11)!
  5. Thank: The final step in walking by the Spirit is to thank God for any virtue attained or any good deed performed. If without the Spirit we can do no right, then we must not only ask his enablement for it but also thank him whenever we do it. Just one example from 2 Corinthians 8:16. Paul says, “Thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.” Titus loved the Corinthians. Where did that come from? God put it in his heart. It was a fruit of the Spirit. So what does Paul do? He thanks God. And Titus should, too. Thanks be to God who puts love in our hearts!

“If we live by the Spirit, then let us also walk by the Spirit.” Let us acknowledge from our heart that we are unable to please God without the Spirit’s constant enablement. Let us pray for that enablement. Let us trust confidently in the Spirit’s power & promise to give that enablement. Then let us do what we know is right. & having done it, let us turn & say with all the saints, “Not I, but the Spirit of Christ within me.” Thanks be to God! To him be glory for ever and ever!” (End of John Piper quotation)

Loved ones, I make no apology for such a long quotation from another pastor–the LORD blessed him with those wise instructions and I must pass them on to you as wise instruction in what it means to walk by the Holy Spirit…

As we finish up this post, hopefully you are asking, “So what does Christian growth & maturity look like? Give me a three minute quick sketch/portrait of what maturity will look like over time.”

Read throughout the New Testament! It gives us beautiful portraits throughout of what maturity does and does not look like! But in particular, the main/central/foundational fruit is hungering & thirsting for God Himself—not mainly WHAT He can give you, but WHO—Himself. Knowing Him, His character, regardless of whether the details of life are going how you want them to go.

Do you desire GOD?

Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask, this one thing do I seek:
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD & seek Him in His holy temple”;

John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they would know You the One True God
& Jesus Christ Whom You’ve sent”

Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness,
they shall be filled”

Matthew 6:33: “Seek first His Kingdom & His righteousness
and all these other things
[food & clothing] will be added to you”;

Philippians 3:8-10: “I want to know Christ
& the power of His resurrection & participation in His sufferings”

Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God”;

Psalm 119: “I have sought your face with all my heart…At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws…I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, and I will obey your decrees. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”

The writer set his alarm clock not for work but for worship
not for fun but for fellowship with the LORD–
to wake up in the middle of the night to dig into God’s Word & praise Him!

YES! THAT is what Christian maturity & growth looks like over time…

Please think of Storm chasers: they could be living comfortably, could be relaxing at a BBQ & bonfire with family & neighbors. But they CHASE the storms, those dangerous & untamable forces that are more powerful than they are, they drop everything to drive superfast speeds to get to them, to know them, to study them, to get as close to them as possible—that is the only way to truly learn about tornadoes! Everything in them is focused on the chase…

Maturing Christians are to be GOD-chasers…not that He is hiding from us, but in the sense that we pursue Him, drop everything to know Him, get close to Him, feel the

  • power & tenderness,
  • the fierceness & gentleness,
  • the mysterious beauty & awesome holiness
    of the One Whom even the winds & waves obey:

God spoke to Job, Moses & Elijah out of a storm: He is more untamable, more mysterious, more awesome, more powerful, more dangerous, & more GOOD & COMPASSIONATE than the fiercest storm of weather. CHASE HIM, loved ones—drop out of the Western material RAT RACE & fix your eyes on the Lord Jesus, running HIS race, the race that He has marked out for you…

Closing Challenge

Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, Oh God” (David’s response to his sin; not blaming, not justifying, but REPENTING of his terrible sin): a desire for deep nearness with the LORD, & a desire for more & more inward holiness & purity to honor Him with.

So as we draw near to the LORD, a maturing Christian in whom the Holy Spirit is growing fruit won’t just try to put his/her “best foot forward” each day but will show God BOTH feet so He can make them BOTH healthy! Our desire—& the LORD’s purpose—isn’t just for us to ACT good but to truly BE good, to honor the Savior by an ever-transforming character that looks more & more like His, like twisting a camera lens & moving it from blurry to focused & sharp & crisp. Oh the twisting He puts us thru, but oh it’s worth it!

Please don’t look at maturing & growing as one more Christian thing we have to do, another chore on the camel’s back, another brick in an already heavy backpack! IT’s a privilege—it leads to JOY, the same joy that the Lord Jesus Christ has Himself!

Sandwiched in between the Lord Jesus telling us of the utter importance of remaining in Him (John 15)—His Words remaining in us & us bearing spiritual fruit for the fame of God the Father—and before Him telling us of the utter importance of having the Holy Spirit live in & thru us, in between both of those commands the Lord Jesus says this:
John 15:11:

“I [Jesus] have told you this [importance of growing/maturing]
so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Maturing leads to JOY,
and once you have drank from the rock of the joy of the Lord,
the sandcastle happiness of this world is less and less desirable.

What is the joy? A pleasure in Christ, an enjoyment, a peace, that passes all understanding and that painful & horrible circumstances cannot touch:

  • Generosity when your pockets are empty…
  • Hope in Christ Jesus in seemingly hopeless situations…
  • Faith in Christ Jesus in the midst of doubt…
  • Surprising strength from Christ in the midst of terrible weakness…
  • Commitment & dedication to Christ when there is a desolate lack of feelings…
  • Praising the LORD though you are brought to your knees & the end of yourself…
  • Following Christ into the worst danger…bravery in the midst of terrible fear…

As you mature in Christ these are some of the characteristics you’ll begin to have…

And you won’t even realize you are like this! You won’t be ACTING like this, you will BE like this more and more! As you mature you will notice less and less that you are maturing—your focus will be more and more on the Lord Jesus & His mercy & grace extended to you freely through His death & blood & resurrection–so you will notice & think about yourself less and less.

Oh the FREEDOM to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus and remove them from the superglue of the mirror! This spiritual fruit will become more of a natural reflex that happens without always trying…I’m not there yet but by God’s grace I will be, and if I don’t have the meal of maturity on earth may God grant me to at least smell & enjoy & savor what He is preparing on the grill!

Maturity leads to joy in the LORD and worship for the LORD as we cry out, “There is none like YOU Who can turn me from that into THIS, Who can forgive me of all THAT and transform me from a cess pool of a sin to a channel of holiness! Praise Your name! Undeserved grace that made me alive when I was dead in my sins, undeserved grace that made me reborn, undeserved grace that matures me into an oak tree of righteousness to display Your splendor! YES!!”

oak tree (6-25-17)