Charles Stanley - Moving Toward Maturity
When a child is born, you expect that child to grow. And after a few weeks, maybe, or a few months and you think, something's wrong, this child's not growing. Because it's natural for them to grow. When you were born again as a child of God, you became just that: a child of God. And likewise, you and I are expected to grow. Now, being born again means that God has forgiven us of our sins and He's brought us into a personal relationship with Him, that's salvation, that's being born again. So being born again, we as believers, if we don't grow, there's something wrong with us, because God intends for us to grow and to grow and to grow till the day we die. We're to grow spiritually. And if you're not growing in your Christian life, there's something wrong.
You say, "Well, how will I know"? If you'll listen carefully to this message, you're going to find out how to judge yourself, test yourself, gauge yourself as to if you're growing as a Christian or if you're stagnating. Well, somebody says, "Well, maybe I'm just stagnating. I'm staying where I am". No, if you stagnate, you don't stay there, you drift further and further and further away from God if you are not growing. And I want to show you the warnings that he tells us here in Second Peter.
So, if you'll turn there for just a moment, and in the first chapter, he begins by reminding his readers that God has given us everything we need to be the persons He wants us to be. The second chapter, he reminds us of the false doctrine that's floating around, causing people not to grow and leading them astray. Then when he comes to this third chapter, he tells us about all the things that are happening and will happen. And he comes to this last verse, and I will just read just a few verses here. Let's go to the seventeenth verse, "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand," that is, that difficult times are coming, "beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness".
And then he makes this statement. Here's where I'm coming to. "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen". Now, look at that verse. He says but grow. That's an imperative. And it happens to be in a Greek tense that says this: grow and keep on growing and keep on growing and keep on growing, not just grow to a point but just keep on growing in your Christian life. And that's what he's saying to us here. So, when we think about that, we think about why we should grow and think about what does it mean to grow in His grace? Well, His grace, of course, is His love and His undeserved love and favor toward us. And we're to be growing in that continually.
So we want to answer the question, first of all, why should we endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Why should we do it? And so there are three reasons, primarily. The first one is that He has predestined, predetermined before you were saved, before you were saved, He predetermined that you would grow. That's the will of God. That's the will of God and plan for your life. So he says in Romans chapter eight, that twenty-ninth verse, that He predetermined or "He predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son". If I'm becoming more and more in the likeness of His Son, I am changing in my conversation, my conduct, my character. I'm growing.
So, ask yourself the question: Is that happening in your life, or is it not? A second reason He wants us to grow is in order to protect us, to protect us from false ideas, false prophets, as he said. So I want to give you a few verses of scripture that sound just like our society today. And he says one of the reasons you need to keep growing is to protect you in this kind of environment. So, their environment was sort of like ours. So, let's look, if you will, look in the second chapter, beginning in the first verse. He said, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master," that is Jesus, "bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not sleep".
He says He's predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son and He wants to protect us in the society in which you and I live. And the third reason, He says, our love for Jesus and our knowledge of Him. And so, God is very, very interested in our relationship to Him. And His will is that you and I are growing. Now, nobody knows whether you are growing but yourself. But probably other people who watch you, they can tell by your conversation, by your attitude, by what you do, by what you talk about, all these things, it indicates that somebody's either growing or they're not growing. And if you look at your life and you say, "Well, ten years ago, where was I"? And you say, "Well, I'm better where I was then," then you've been backsliding for ten years.
You say, "Well, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't commit adultery, I don't do all these things". We're not talking about what you don't do. We're talking about who you are as a person, growing in likeness to Jesus Christ. You say, "But He was absolutely sinless". Yes, He was. And that doesn't mean that you and I are going to reach a stage of being sinless, but he says He predestined us to become like His Son, conformed to Him. That is, as much likeness as we can possibly be. And in a few moments, when I give you a list of things, it doesn't mean that every single one of these things is going to be true of you and that you have to do every single one of these things to be growing, because we all come from different backgrounds, we were saved early and later in life, we all have different responsibilities, and we grew up with different attitudes.
But, in this list, you're going to be able to discover whether you personally are growing or not. And if you're not growing, more than likely, listen carefully, there's something you're holding on to that you shouldn't be holding on to. People do not become born again by the grace of God, changed, our name written in the Lamb's Book of Life, sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise who lives within them, and one who does not grow unless that person is holding on to something in their life that's keeping them from growing. So, I'd ask you a question. What just came to your mind as soon as I mentioned that? Because it did.
In other words, if you're not growing and you're living in sin, and you say, "Well, I'm not living in sin. I've got a few sins but," mm-mm-mm. Listen, if I am continually being conformed to His likeness, you know what I'm doing? I'm continually being sanctified, cleaning up anything. Think about this. Somebody says, "Well, I think I'm doing pretty good". Okay, sir, if you had on an absolute white suit, beautifully white suit, or ma'am, you had on a beautiful white wedding dress, and we said, "Well, we're going down into this coal mine". You think you're going to come out white? No, because it's going to rub off on you. We are living in a society where sin, whether it's through the television, where people go, what they buy, what they look at, what they see, what they do, our lives are easily unclean if we're not careful.
And the Bible talks about sanctification. A sanctified life is a life that is continually growing in holiness, righteousness, and obedience to God. It doesn't mean that you'll not sin. But here's what it means. If you're growing in Him, you deal with it right then. And when people say, "Well, you know, nobody's perfect, everybody's got their sin". Not necessarily so. It may be to have some people have this weakness or that weakness, other, but that doesn't mean they have their sin. They may be battling with it. They may be struggling to give up with it and to lay it aside, which is what we ought to be doing if there's something in our life that's not right.
And so, God has intended that you grow. And you were saved to grow and to live in righteousness. And so, what I'd like to do is I'd like to give you a list of things that are evidences that you're growing in the Lord, or evidences that you're not. And I think you'll agree with every one of them. You may not like them, but you'll have to agree that if I'm growing, the following things are true. So, are you ready? Say amen.
All right, number one. If I'm growing in the Lord, I'm becoming increasingly aware of my sinfulness and my weaknesses. I'm increasingly aware. As I grow, I understand more. I become more and more sensitive to things in my life that are not right. As we come along in life, things we don't think about, but the more you grow into Christlikeness, watch this, He gives you the spiritual insight to see that that doesn't fit who you are. And so one of the reasons we know that we're growing is we become more and more sensitive to sin in our life, even little things, for example, that you used to put up with. Maybe words you used to say, things you used to look at, whatever it might be. You become more and more sensitive. And here's what happens, the sensitivity is: that doesn't fit me. That doesn't indicate that I'm being conformed to the likeness of Christ.
A second thing is this: our response to sin in our life is quick, involving genuine repentance. That is, repentance means: I am sorry for what happened, I turn away from that, I don't want that in my life. Listen, you don't think it'll grow from nine o'clock in the morning till eleven o'clock at night? Yes, it will. The time to deal with sin is immediately. Lord, I want to ask You to forgive me for that. I'm ashamed of myself, and so I want to handle it right now. If you're growing in your Christian life, you don't wait.
Number three, our spiritual battles are becoming more and more intense, and yet we're still rejoicing. Now, if you're growing in your Christian life, here's what happens. You begin to realize that spiritual battles, listen, are difficult and they're hard, but they're opportunities. In other words, you realize, for example, this is bothering me today. And three months or six months from now, the same thing happens, and you know what? You say, "Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, thank You, thank You, dear Lord, for sending that in my life, because You're showing me now I can love You and I can forgive them with no problem whatsoever".
So you can measure that. Then of course, we begin to see trials and temptations as opportunities for growth. In other words, God, I want to thank You for how You're going to deal with this in my life. I'm going to trust you. I don't know exactly what to do at this moment, but I'm going to trust You'll show me how and I'm going to deal with it and You'll bring me through it. Then of course, we begin to view service to Him as a high honor, not a burden. And I think how often people say, "Well, you know, I go to church and I just don't have time to serve in the church". You don't have time. Well, God could give you time by taking away your job and everything else.
But, in other words, here's the thing about it. You have to find out what does God want you to do? We're not saying that everybody ought to preach and teach and sing in the choir or lead the music or do anything else we do. But the truth is, you and I have time. You have time to visit somebody who's sick. You have time to witness to somebody who just opens the door wide open for you to share your faith. You and I have times to serve God in many, many, many ways, and we don't see it as a burden. For example, suppose I saw sermon preparation, which is a task, for sure, every week, not once in a while, but every week, 'cause every sermon I want to be the best I can do. Suppose I saw that as a burden. No! It's one more awesome opportunity, listen, for me to... you know who grows the most? I do. I discover things I'd never discovered before, see things in scripture I'd never paid any attention to.
Here's the thing about it. Watch this, God is going to stir you up enough and plow up your ground enough that when something new comes along, you think, mmmmm, how did I miss that, Lord? The Christian life is a wonderful, exciting journey, because you're growing into Christlikeness. You know you're doing? You're putting yourself in a position for God to really bless you. Look, He says, "My will is to conform you to the likeness of My Son". And so, when you think about whether you're growing or not, see if that's the truth. Now, the next one is one of the most important lessons I've ever learned. We're able to view everything as coming from Him. That is probably one of the... not probably, that is one of the top lessons I've ever learned in the Christian life.
You say, "Wait a minute, everything doesn't come from Him". I didn't say that. I said we learn to see everything as coming from Him. In one of the toughest battles of my life, when I had lots and lots of enemies who wanted to get rid of me and did everything possible, and in the prayer room one day, it's like the Lord said to me, "You want to win this battle? Do exactly what I tell you. You see everything as coming from Me, not them. No matter what they say, what they do, how they treat you, you see that as coming from Me, because I could stop it, but I'm allowing it. And I'm allowing it for a reason. So, if you will see that as coming from Me, you won't get angry. You won't get bitter. You won't get resentful. You won't get hostile. They won't even figure out what in the world's going on. That they can do all of those things and you're just happy about the whole situation".
It is a powerful lesson because it is the truth. Nobody can do anything to a child of God unless He allows it. If we're going to grow in our Christian life, we have to lift our vision. Lord, no matter what they say, I'm going to say that's coming from... You must have known that I needed that, Lord. You're testing my patience. You're testing my morals. You're testing this, testing that, so I must need that. Praise God! Send them on. And what happens is, you're able to see a difference in your life. Then of course, we'll sense when our faith's growing stronger. You'll be able to tell when you're growing stronger because things that used to bother you won't bother you; places you used to go, you won't go anymore; things you used to want, you don't want anymore; things you used to see, you don't see anymore. And you thank Him, seeing it as from Him, and you'll find your faith growing stronger.
Then of course, if we are growing in the Lord, we're going to spend more time in worshipping Him and praising Him. This is why people... I don't understand people who don't go to church regularly. Now, you may be in one of those areas of this country, there's not a church within fifty miles. I do realize there are some places a long ways away or maybe somebody in your home, they can't be left alone. I'm sure there are exceptions. But forget about the exceptions. Why don't you go to church? You say, "I can live a Christian life without it". Well, tell me what you're doing for Jesus. Tell me about how much time you're spending in prayer and worship. I'm not saying that people can't. I'm just saying simply this. He says, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as some do".
You know why God puts us together? He puts us together, for example, to worship Him, to praise Him. Now, I can worship the Lord and praise God singularly in my house, by myself. I can shout or sing. I can praise the Lord or whatever it might be. But it's a whole lot more powerful when I hear you sing and we all praise the Lord and we are all reading the scripture and we're just having a good time praising God. He wants us to praise Him. And you know what'll happen? When you're growing in the Lord, you want to be a part of a fellowship, you want to grow in the Lord. You'll want to be in His Word. You want to hear somebody explain the Word of God. You want to grow. You want to see every single time an opportunity. Then, our desire to obey Him is becoming more and more intense, and sin is less and less attractive. The more you and I live like Jesus, the less and less we're going to put up with sin in our life. And God wants us to live a sanctified life.
Now, listen to this. A sanctified life is a life that has been set apart by God through the Holy Spirit to live a godly life. It doesn't mean that we're sinless, but sanctified means I've been set apart by Him, you have. If you're saved, you're set apart by Him to live a godly life. And so when that's true, you have less and less interest. Here's what'll happen, you'll spend less and less time on foolish things, less and less money on foolish things, less and less time listening to foolish stuff, less and less time wasting your time when you could be filling your mind with godly thoughts and filling your mind with truth that builds you up, strengthens you, and empowers you to defend your faith. And we need that in this day and time.
Then of course, we'll be more and more eager to share what Christ is doing in our life. As you grow in your Christian life, you want to tell it. You can't keep it to yourself. And as I said before, you know, when I got to a restaurant or something, first thing I'm doing is looking for an opportunity to say something to whoever's waiting on me that'll open the door for me to... not tell them who I am. They may not want to know who I am. I just want them to know who Jesus is. Then, we, listen, we are experiencing an ever-increasing awareness of His presence. I think, personally for me, that word "presence" is number one.
Walking in His presence, you sleep in His presence, you wrestle with difficulties in His presence, and the more godly you become and the more Christ-like you become and the more obedient you become, listen, there are some things you absolutely would not say if Jesus were sitting here, or would not do. Well, He is here. And see, the stronger you become as a believer, what happens is the more aware of His presence you are, and some things you don't tolerate in your life because you're a follower of Jesus Christ. Then of course, you'll know how well you're growing when you just love to spend time alone with God. You'll know when you're growing when you covet the time you spend alone with Him. God, I just want to be alone with You. It has nothing to do how long. It depends on what's going on.
But when you think of who God is and that He loves you and He's willing to spend as much time with you as you're willing to spend with Him. He, listen, you'll be growing in your Christian life when you're saying, "Thank You, Jesus; thank You, Jesus; thank You. I'm going to have this time just alone with You". And somebody said that to me this week. She said, "You know, I'm so excited about what's going on in my life because now I'm going to be able to spend more time alone with the Lord and less time I have to work".
You have to make time. I guarantee you, the devil's got a list this long for every one of us. You need to do this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this. And when you finish doing all that, you don't have anything to show for it. It's a choice we make, and I don't know how to tell you any clearer. It's a choice we make, how much time we spend with Him. Then of course, one of the things that's so important in your growing, the more you grow in the Lord, the more you're going to want to give. And that's just what happens, why? Because you're becoming more like Him. He says He's conformed us to the likeness of His Son. And so God's always giving to us, we're going to want to give more to others and to the Lord's work, whatever it might be. And then, there's going to be a continuous growing hunger in your heart for God, can't get enough.
Now, watch this. If you're really hungry and you go to a restaurant and you've got plenty of money, you can buy anything you want, what do you do? You look on there and think, "Ohh, this is what I think I want". You spend your money on it. It may satisfy you or it may not. I can tell you this. You're always satisfied when you spend time with Him. He'll see to that, because you're growing into Christlikeness, you're honoring Him and He's going to honor you.
And one last thing I'd say. If you're growing, you're going to feel God's love. If you're really growing, you're going to feel He loves you. Listen, I can give you a testimony, and i'll make it short. There was a time in my life, and I'd been a pastor for a number of years, if you asked me if God loved me, I'd tell you yes. If you asked me, "Do you feel it"? I didn't feel it. I didn't feel like I was worthy of it. And I was preaching to other people about the love of God. But when I went back to look at my sermons, I only had one, and it was not worth listening to. You can't preach something you don't practice.
And so, when I think about growing in the Christian life, when you are able to experience and sense and feel the love of God in your life, now watch this. Satan'll say, "What about this, what about this, what about this, what about this"? You just ignore that. We're talking about God's love for you doesn't change whether you sin or not. His love doesn't change. You suffer the consequences of disobedience, but He loves you just the same.
Now, you probably had thought about all those things already. Imagine being on your deathbed, and for the last thirty years of your life, you've just had it your way. If you've never trusted Jesus as your Savior, number one, you ask Him to forgive you of your sins based on what He did at the cross. Surrender your life to Him and ask Him to help you grow as a believer, as a follower of Jesus, and be true to Him. And watch what an awesome thing He does in your life. So I would simply ask you the question this morning, nobody's business but yours.
Would you say on the basis of what you've heard that you are growing in your Christian life and you're excited about Jesus? Or would you have to say, "Whew! I thought I was". Then if you just thought you were, what are you willing to do about it? Are you willing to ask God to forgive you, that you're not growing like you ought to be growing? Do you want to repent of your sin and you want to ask Him, "God, what am I holding on to in my life that I should not be holding on to, that's keeping me from growing the way You want me to grow? God, I let it go". Amen?
And Father, we thank You for Your forgiveness and Your cleansing. Thank You that You're right here twenty-four hours a day, sixty minutes in every hour, and sixty seconds in every minute in Your presence, willing to aid us, help us to grow into Christlikeness. We pray this morning that You'll speak to somebody, Father, who's unsaved, and to realize what a tragic life they're living. They may have all the money, all the popularity, all the prestige, all the glory, all the position, all of that; without You is zero. Open their eyes, dear God, to help them see. They need to be forgiven of their sins. They need to repent of their sins. They need to surrender themselves to You and really begin living for the first time in their life. In Jesus's name, amen.