Doug Batchelor - The Keys to Christian Growth - Part 1
I heard about some tourists that were visiting a number of sites around Europe and they were traveling together in a van and they'd stop at the different locations, and they didn't have a tour guide with them but they'd inquire about what was happening from place to place. They're looking at some of the places where great people like Luther and Calvin and some of the different kings and monarchs and people of history were born and where they lived. And they came to this beautiful, picturesque village on the border of France and Switzerland, and they were taking pictures and looking around and they saw a man sitting there by the town square and they said, "Were any great men born in this village?" And he answered with his French accent and said, "No, only babies," no great men, only babies born here.
So it doesn't matter how old you are, if you are 9 or 90, if you have accepted Christ, you are a baby at first. You're a baby Christian and that's normal, that's wonderful, you're born again, but you don't want to stay a baby. It is a tragedy when you meet people who have been Christians for years and they've not grown, not grown in the right direction anyway. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 1, "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual people but as carnal, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you're not able to receive it, and even now you're still not able; for you are carnal. For wherever there is envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?"
Now, a baby, they're very cute, they're lovely, they're pure in many ways and they're very selfish, they are what you would call carnal creatures. What's on a baby's mind? "I want to be comfortable, I want to be entertained, I want to be fed, and if I needed cleaning, clean me." Babies are not thinking, "How are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you?" They're very selfish. And you know, when you first come to Christ, you may come to Christ and you say, "I don't want to go to the lake of fire and I do want to go to heaven," so you're thinking about yourself. And that might be a suitable starting point, but as you mature as a Christian, you're supposed to overcome the total selfish carnal way of thinking and begin to eat more substantial Christian food.
Now, we're going to be talking about the "Keys to Christian Growth." There's things you can do to encourage growth and there's things you can do to miss out on growth, and we'll be talking about both. First of all, Jesus said, Mark 4:26, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day," meaning day and night goes by, "And the seed should sprout and grow, and he himself does not know how." The seed does what? It sprouts and it doesn't stay the same, it grows. You know, they have seeds that they found in King Tut's tomb, they had some beans, they put them in the sunlight with some moisture and warmth and they sprouted, 3,000 years old. How does God somehow store the essence of life in a seed like that and, thousands of years later in just the right conditions, it'll grow?
And so the secret that Jesus is telling us here about growth is, if you give the right conditions, it is natural for you to grow; if they're neglected, you won't grow. So we know that there's a problem, what is the answer? There's seven keys, I'm not going to get through all of them today, seven keys to spiritual growth. And it's basically, when a baby's born, it's the same seven things a baby needs: food, air, exercise, family, regular cleaning, rest and love. I don't have seven fingers in his hands, you'll have to use your imagination for those last two. So these are the seven keys; if a person does these things on a regular basis they will grow, if you want spiritual growth these are the things. So what's the first thing? Food. What do you think the food is? It's the Bible, you've got to eat right, you gotta eat right and you gotta eat regular. 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 2, "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."
You will become like what you listen to and what you look at, you are the sum total of what you're taking into your mind. If you want there to be a change in who you are, there needs to be a change in what you eat; talking about what you're eating, what do you feed yourself? What are you reading? What are you watching? You're kidding yourself if you're watching bad things and you're thinking that it's having no impact on who you are as a person and how it shapes your character. Everybody is going to be the sum total of what they eat. They say, "You are what you eat." It's true physically, it's true spiritually. And most of you know what I'm sharing now, I say it all the time but the single most important thing you can do is read the Word, spend time regularly in the Bible, make it a priority.
Faith comes by hearing. You want more faith? You want a mature faith? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Job says, "I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food." Now, when you're a baby, you must be spoon-fed. As you get a little older, you know, you eventually put a spoon in the baby's hand and they're sitting sometimes in a highchair and you try to help them. You put the spoon their hand, you take the spoon and you put it in their mouth. And sometimes they'll throw the spoon across the room and they just take their hands and put it in their mouth, sometimes they take their hands and put in their ear and their nose. And they're learning to feed themselves and it's cute, you know? as long as you got a shower curtain on the floor or something to clean up, it is. But when they get a little older, if you see an adult doing like that you go move to another room. Right?
You want to learn how to feed yourself. There's so many baby Christians out there, friends, I hope you won't take offense, I'm just telling you. Honestly, all they get all week long is what they get in church once a week, they're not feeding themselves. If you're a mature Christian, you have your own personal Bible study plan and you really have no excuse for not having one except that you don't care or it's not a priority, but that's going to be, the result will be your relationship with the Lord. There's so many opportunities for you to download a Bible reading program, a thousand different things. You can say, "I want to do a program where I go through the Gospels, I want to do a program where I go through the history, I want to read through the Bible chronologically, I want to study faith, grace, hope," and this is a million different ways you can study the Word and be in the Word. So to act like, "I don't know how." Well, you could if you wanted to. If you are hungry, you figure it out. And in the last days, when we go through a great time of trouble and we're going to be challenged about what we believe we need to know how to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that is in us with meekness and fear.
We need to be able to defend what we believe. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness He didn't say, "Hang on. Do you have a Bible somewhere? I'll find a promise." He had stored the Word in His mind, He right away said, "It is written, it is written, it is written." Jesus did not memorize and recite Scripture using any supernatural power that is above and beyond what is available to you. The same way He quoted the Bible to the devil is the same way you and I can do it. He read it at His mother's knee, she taught Him the Word, probably learned Scripture songs, He studied it as an adult. "As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, He stood up to read the Scriptures." Certainly every Sabbath, but then on a daily basis He was a storing the Word of God, so when the trials came He had a Word.
We, if we're going to be mature, if we're going to be able to fight the good fight of faith in the last days, we need to be focusing on the Word of God and knowing why we believe what we believe. And when the devil comes to tempt us, God has, "Given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might become partakers of the divine nature." Memorize the promises of God. "I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food," Job says. Jeremiah said, "Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart."
Why is the Word so important to someone who falls in love with Jesus? Christ is the Living Word. When you say you love the Bible, we're not talking about a bunch of words in a book. When you say you love the Bible, you're talking about, "I love Christ." "The word became flesh and dwelt among us." It's really saying, "I love Jesus, I want him in my life." If you are hungry for Jesus, what is the most practical thing you can do to get Christ in your mind? Read His Word. Now, we are all feeding our souls, but what are we feeding them? Isaiah said, chapter 55, verse 2, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread," and we're spending our money but not for the right bread, "And your wages for that that does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance." Isaiah is not talking about food here, he's talking about satisfying your soul. He said eating the things that will satisfy your soul, says you're eating but you're not eating the right thing.
You know it's interesting in that we're living at a time in the world where the World Health Organization says that there is a an increasing global hunger, that there are 11% of the world's population, seven-plus billion people are hungry, and it's growing. You would think that with all the food in the world right now that wouldn't be. And it's especially a paradox, it's ironic right now because we're also living at a time, not only where there are millions of hungry children, but in prosperous parts of the world children are not dying from hunger, they're dying from diseases related with over-eating the wrong thing. They're eating but they're not eating the good thing. That's just like soda pop and sugar and empty calories and not a regular schedule. And there's an epidemic of type-two diabetes right now.
Says, "Eat that which is good." Well, a lot of Christians are not eating the right thing, they're eating junk food, spiritual junk food; where they are watching things and if you ask them above the latest TV series they know the answers to all those things because they are filling their time and their mind with that. This is probably one of the most important things we can do to make a difference in our spiritual growth.
I'm going to give you several points about what you do with the Bible in growing through the Word. Hear it, read it, and I want them to support that real quick. Revelation chapter 1, verse 3, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein." So you've got to read the Word. If you can't read, you can hear, I'm hoping you're doing both. When you come to church, you not only read but you're hearing the Word. When I drive in the car I listen to Bible tapes, I listen to Christian Radio, we've got the Bible on CD and a thousand other ways. You can click on an internet site and it'll just read the Bible to you now, if you're online. But listen to the Word. And to some people, they read the Word and I really like the way they read it, they do a really good job, they're easy to listen to. And if you want to learn how to pronounce difficult verses in the Bible or words or names or places, listen to some of the other experts who are reading it. You go, "Oh, that's how you say that." But it will do something for you.
Hear it, read it, write it. Heard someone say, "The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory." If you take notes when you hear something biblically you're going to remember a lot more. You know, if I just preach, right now if I asked you what I preached about last month, I bet you there's not 1 in 100 here who can tell me. And if you said, "I knew the subject," and said, "All right, tell me some of the sermon," you'd probably be hard pressed, right? You only remember about 5% or 8% of what you hear within two weeks the preacher preached. If you write it down it jumps up to like 20%, you'll remember a lot more because it stores it in a different part of your brain. So if you have a good spiritual thought, write it down.
I've also found it's not only write it and hear it, but say it, share what you've learned with someone else. People say, "Pastor Doug, how do you remember so much Scripture?" First of all, I don't know very much. J. N. Andrews is one of the founders of our church. Someone asked him one time, "Do you have the whole Bible memorized?" He said, "No," he said, "But if the New Testament was destroyed, I could reproduce it." Can you imagine that, memorize the whole New Testament? They say, "Doug, how do you remember so much Scripture?" It's because, involved in evangelism, I'm sharing it with others and it's stored just at a different place in my brain and I remember it because I've said it. So you're not only writing it, you're not only reading it but then you're saying it.
And then finally, he says, "Keep it." If you want the Word to come alive after you read something then put it into practice. Proverbs 4, verse 20, "My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, And health to their flesh." Alright, so number one, we grow by eating, number two, we grow by breathing. You must breathe to live.
One of the first things that happens with a new birth is a doctor wants to make sure of what? baby's breathing. And I was there when our kids were born and you always kind of wait and you're anxious for that first breath, and even if there's a little crying at the beginning, does that make you sad? No, they're alive. Right? If you don't learn to breathe, prayer, and how often do you need to breathe? Now you can eat, you know, once or twice a day, you'll be okay, but you can't breathe once or twice a day. Bible says, "Pray without ceasing," it's like breathing, it's absolutely essential.
Jesus told us, "Ask," and that word ask, He said, "Ask, it will be given you." That word ask, in Greek, it's a continuation of asking, live a life of asking. Look at Paul in Ephesians 6:18, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." Notice, all-all-all-all, always, "Praying always," an attitude of walking with God, this will help you grow. You know, they say that, If kids that live in places where they just don't have good air, it can actually stunt their growth. And fresh air; some of the tallest people in the world live in the mountains where they got clean air, both in Scandinavia and in Africa, good air, grow; pygmies live in the valley of the Congo. So you want to be where you get good air.
Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer," we're praying about everything, we're praying always in supplication; "With thanksgiving," thanksgiving should be part of all prayer; "Let your request be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ," and you will grow. Without prayer in the spiritual life, almost quicker than anything else, you begin to dry up and die, so we need to breathe. You need to eat, you need to breathe, you need to exercise. You grow through exercise. If a baby is eating and if a baby is exercising and they're breathing, they don't worry about growing, it's going to happen, it will be natural.
You need to exercise your faith. Now how do you do that? What does that mean? Ephesians 4:15, "But, speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all things into Him." One of the ways that you exercise as a Christian is you share your faith. You realize you can't keep your faith if you don't give it away? Christianity is a miracle of life that you get to keep by sharing it, you keep it by giving it away. That doesn't mean everybody is a preacher, teacher, pastor, evangelist, but every believer is called upon to do something to share.
Have you ever seen somebody, you've been talking to them, they had a tragic experience 30 years ago? I've seen World War II veterans, and they haven't thought about it in years and someone will ask them, "Can you please tell me what happened at Pearl Harbor or D-Day?" And they start to tell the story and they break down and begin to cry because they relive the experience. When you tell others what Jesus has done for you, you relive the experience and it reaffirms it in your own life and you will grow in your maturity. 2 Thessalonians 1:3, "We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly," Paul was thanking God because they were growing in their faith, "And the love of every one of you abounds towards each other." Those Thessalonian believers were sharing their faith and they were growing as they shared it in their community. In Revelation 12:11, "They overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony."
See, we're overcoming by testifying. If you will believe in your heart and share with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, we're to proclaim it, we're to share it with others, it does something to seal it in our own lives. You know, if you want to be a Christian, you got to get right in the middle of it. So often people, they stay near the edge. It's like they're born again and then they stop, they say, "Praise the Lord, I've got eternal life now," but they don't grow and they become stunted.
Years ago, this ship was sailing across the Caribbean, and the water was a little rough, the boat was rocking and pretty soon one of the series called, "Man overboard." Well, back then that was pretty serious because these big old ships, it was hard to turn them around, and as it was moving along, you know, if there were sharks, if the water was too cold. And so they hear the cry, "Man overboard." You know, someone runs the back of the boat and they could see the sailor's off there bobbing in the water, and the captain tells them, "Turn the ship around." And they turn the ship around, it lumbers around, they lower the sails, they let down the lifeboat, they send off a rescue party, and they found this wet sailor off there, it was warm water, he was okay. They hauled him in, they brought him ashore, everybody cheered because, you know I used to read these stories, a man went overboard there was like a 50% chance they'd never get them back if it was a cold ocean.
And so they have there as soon as they said, "Man overboard," someone was ready on the stern to throw a rope to them right away with a ring on it. Well, they get this guy back up in the boat and he's standing there leaning against the deck and everybody's rejoicing, they're slapping them on the back, and they saved him. And they hoist up the sails and they begin on their journey again, and pretty soon they hear, "Man overboard." Same sailor fell off. So he turned the boat around again and, they lower the sails and they come up to him and they launched life boat, a lot of work involved in all this, and they paddle up to him and he's still out there alive. They pick them up, they brought him back and the captain said, "Brother, what seems to be the problem?" He says, "Well, sir, I guess I stayed too close to where I got in."
Some people keep falling out because they stayed too close to where they got in. Once you accept Christ, don't stay in the crib, don't stay and just milk-milk-milk-milk-milk. I get tired of it after a while, I don't know about you. But we need to continue to grow in the Lord, look for a deeper experience, look for more work, bigger challenges in Christ, a better view of Him that we might grow in our knowledge.
You know, they say the fastest growing plant in the world, fastest growing thing is the bamboo. It it can grow up to 35 inches in a day, and how tall would you be today if that's how fast you grew? 35 inches in a day, that is pretty amazing. They actually measure bamboo growth in miles per hour, its 0.00002 miles per hour on a good day. According to "RHS Dictionary of Gardening," there are approximately 1,000 species of bamboo. The tallest recorded in the tropics is 130 feet, and the amazing thing is bamboo is grass, it's in the grass family. But you know why it grows so fast? It's in the ideal environment, bamboo doesn't grow that fast in the Arctic, it grows near the equator where it's got a lot of sun, on islands where they get a lot of rain, they've got volcanic soil and the very best of conditions, and it grows like crazy. Matter of fact, they build everything out of bamboo and you go on those parts of the world. If you followed the rules, if you take up the keys for Christian growth, you're going to grow.