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Jack Graham - The Basic Steps of Spiritual Maturity


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    Jack Graham - The Basic Steps of Spiritual Maturity
TOPICS: Going the Distance, Spiritual Growth

This is our series "GOING THE DISTANCE" from the book of Hebrews, "Developing a muscular faith". Spiritual health, of course, is so very vital because spiritual health produces spiritual growth in your life. This past week, about two weeks ago I did my annual physical, and for the past thirty years I've been going to the Cooper Clinic-Dr. Ken Cooper who founded that world renowned medical clinic. He is the father of aerobics and has made great strides in preventative medicine. It's so very important that you get things checked out before some bad things can happen. We can't always explain the health crisis that we have, it's always good. And one of the signatures really of having a long and healthier life, a longer and healthier life is that you get annual regular medical checkups. However you choose to do that, but for thirty years I've been going and getting a checkup.

Now a checkup at the Cooper Clinic is more than just a checkup. I mean they check you tip to toe and everything in between. And they're testing your blood, they're measuring your blood. Now, I found that always very interesting and very inspiring frankly, because the Bible says way back in the book of Leviticus at the very beginning that "Life is in the blood". Now before the understanding came along of the circulatory system, William Harvey in 1513, people didn't know that really. But in God's divine revelation He said life is in the blood. And that's true spiritually, life is in the blood. Hebrews 9:22, "Without the shedding of blood (the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ) there's no forgiveness of sin".

So the blood cleanses, the blood stays. But physically it's true; life is in the blood. So often doctors, of course, pick up with our cholesterol counts or our blood levels, our blood sugars and a lot of different things they measure in your system; they can do it through the blood, because healthy blood means healthy body. So they measure that. And there's all kinds of scans at the Cooper Clinic, from, you know, heart scans to bone scans. And they have a new thing and it's a fat scan! But you just lay down and it scans your body, and it spits out this grotesque photograph of your body with the white part being muscle and dark part being fat.

Now there's a lot easier way to do this really. I mean, I may have told you before, if you want to know how fat you are, just strip down all the way, get in front of a mirror, get a cell phone ready or timer on your cell phone, and jump up and down about ten times as hard as you can, and then start your clock and see how long everything, it takes to stop jiggling and jangling. I mean, I really don't need a scan to know I'm fat! But this scan shows it. It's actually inspiring because it gives you your ideal weight and what you need to weigh to take care of this. But you do this in order to prevent problems and you want a big picture, you want a check up on your body. How much muscle is there as compared to not muscle. Now I wonder if they scanned our souls, what that would look like in terms of our spiritual maturity and muscle, our spiritual growth.

You know, there's a verse in the Bible, 3 John 2, it says, "I would that you would be prosperous, or prosper and be in health (I think it says in ESV) I pray that all may go well with you (that means prosper with you) and that you may be in good health as it goes well with your soul". Hey, how healthy would you be physically if your body was the same health as your soul? Some of you might be in the hospital right now. "That you would prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers". So just as we need to be healthy physically and work to that end, and do everything that we can, because, you know, you know, if you're doing preventative work and you can correct some things, you can change your diet, your exercise program, you can be inspired and motivated to do better in your eating, and all the rest in order to get to tip top shape to be physically healthy.

Well, I want to talk about a check up of your soul, your spirit. And that's what Hebrews chapter 6 is talking about, chapters 5 and 6. We're going to start at verse 11, "About this we have much to say", so do I, so get ready, "and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing". Another thing you get checked when you get a checkup is your hearing. How's it going? How's it going? Verse 12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food (meat) is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernments trained by constant practice to distinguish between good from evil".

Underscore that word discernment, circle it and then also train. Discernment, we are trained to discernment and discipleship. And then just right on to chapter 6, verse 1, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ, that is, the basics that new believers understand, "and let us go on to maturity". That's what Hebrews is about; that's what the Bible is about. It is moving onward and upward in our Christian life into full stature in Christ. Every Christian is to be a growing, maturing Christian. We're not there yet, but we ought to be on the way. C. S. Lewis said this: "All who are called to salvation, are called to discipleship. No exceptions, no excuses". What is a disciple? A disciple is a growing Christian. A Christian growing in faith. And it's time for some of us to take our faith to the next level, to grow up!

When I was a boy, my dad one day took me out in the garage and we started measuring my height in the garage of our house, and it was fun every now and then when I felt like I was growing, and I was wanting to grow, grow tall. We would go out, he'd put a ruler on my head, we'd measure my height. And over the years, you know, I went, you know, four feet, five feet, got up to six feet, six, one. One thing I did find out this year at the Cooper Clinic is that I'm shrinking. I used to be six, one. Now I'm barely over six feet tall. I don't know what that is. They say something about your spinal column and, you know, things shrink. I know things sink; that's for sure! And so here I am all these years later, I'm shorter, but I'm fatter and wider, as well as shorter! And such is life!

So you have to be constantly resisting that. And growing in the right way; not just growing wider, but growing up in the Lord. So grow up! How many times did you hear your mama say that to you, "Grow up"! Or maybe how many times this week did you hear your wife say to you, "Grow up"! But we need to grow up spiritually, because what he's saying here is that some of you are still acting like children. You've been a Christian 5 years, 10 years, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, many more, some, and you're not wiser, better, stronger. You haven't been growing, you're not maturing.

Now in contrast, some of you are old Christians and you're tired, and you've kind of given up with the attitude, you know, "Been there, done that; heard all this before. I've heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons. I know the Bible; I know the stories; I know the routine; I know church". And you're just kind of stuck. You kinda quit growing. You know, you never stop growing in the Christian life, no matter how old you get. I'm still learning things every day from God's Word and God's Spirit teaching me. You never, never. Even the Apostle Paul, who was the greatest Christian in history, in my view, he said in the book of Philippians, he said "Not that I've attained this already, not that I've achieved this! I haven't arrived"!

We don't arrive until He arrives when He comes for us. But the fact is even Paul said, "I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there! I'm growing there! I press on to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ". And some of you, unfortunately are like that, you know, an older person. You know, you have to get older but you don't have to get colder! You have to get older, but you don't have to get old! You can be young in heart and young in spirit and filled with life! And if that's true physically and emotionally, how true it is spiritually! You never stop. One of the signs of maturity and humility is you know what you don't know. Right? Arrogance is you think you know everything! You've heard it all! But humility is to know what you don't know.

And there's so much more that I need to know that I don't know. If you're the smartest guy in the room or gal in the room, you're in the wrong room! And you need to stay hungry and stay humbled, growing in the Word of God. Just like an athlete, a team needs to stay hungry and humble, as growing Christians we need to stay hungry and humble; keep pressing on. To the degree that you not only are getting stronger yourself, you're knowing some things now, you're growing in some things now that you want to give it away to others!

That's why the writer says to us here, "You ought to be teaching others by now. You ought not to be that baby who's just taking, taking, taking, taking. But if you're growing up in your faith and into the full stature of knowing Christ, and that's the goal. The goal is Christ-likeness, the goal is character, the goal is godliness. And if you're growing in that direction then there comes a time when you're going to share that with others and when you become, when you are trained in discernment. Remember, I asked you to mark that in verse 14? "Trained by constant practice to distinguish between good and evil" That means that you ought to be able to teach others.

Now why do some Christians succeed in the Christian life and others fail? Why is it that some start out the Christian life and they run so well, but they collapse at some point, they fail, they fall. Some arrested development, they don't get out of the starting blocks, and yet others will run the race of life and finish with a flourish, finish well! Hands held high, breaking the tape, bursting onto the streets of glory. What's the difference? I thought about that a lot. What's the difference? You know what it is? Right here: choices. Choosing between good and evil, having discernment. Mature people, maturing believers have discernment about right and wrong, good and better, good and bad, and they make good choices in their lives. Because our choices make our character. Our choices make or break our character.

What is character? Someone said character is who are when no one is watching. Or character is who you are in the dark. But I like this on character. Character is the sum total of the choices you make in life. Character is the sum total of the choices you make in life. And you add it all up and whether it is good or evil, whether it is right or wrong, that's what enables you to grow inwardly, grow in your character. And that's what we're talking about. First, we make our choices, then our choices make us. There are choices that mean life or death, there are choices that mean usefulness or nonusefulness in the kingdom of God. Again, discernment is the mark of maturity. That's making wise choices. Discernment is making wise choices in life.

And the biggest choice you make is to follow Jesus Christ to begin with, and then to choose to grow in your faith. Moving beyond curious and convinced, to committed! And growing and maturing. Don't be careless, don't be casual or non committal. A growing Christian seeks "first the kingdom of God and His righteousness"! And you will either go forward as a Christian, or backwards! There's no in-between really. You will either be progressing or regressing! You will either be taking ground for the kingdom of God or losing it. And so much of this is on us, it's on you!

You say, "Well, what about God? Isn't He supposed to take care of me"? Well, He will. You have the Holy Spirit to enable you and help you. But the fact is your Christian growth is on you: what you choose to do or not to do. It's like riding a bicycle; riding a bicycle, really there's only one direction and that's forward. To stall is to fall. Can't go backwards, peddle backwards on a real bike. Go forward. I'm not talking about a stationary bike where you stand in the same place. Hate those things! But the Christian life is always moving forward. Are you learning? Are you getting better? Are you getting stronger? Are you getting wiser? Are you getting better? Are you moving forward? Is it onward and upward or downward and backwards in your life?

That's what this is about! And the secret... Now there are many secrets, open secrets really as to the basics of spiritual maturity and how you get there. I could talk a lot about prayer and the priority of prayer. I could talk about spiritual disciplines in your life of various kinds, fasting, giving, worship, and maybe that's the series that ought to follow. But the main thing is loving and listening, learning, living God's Word. Understanding God's Word. That's where discernment comes, that's where maturity grows in your life, it's God's Word. Joshua 1:8, listen to it: "The book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success". There it is!

Now let me see your Bible; hold up your Bible. Hold it up high. Come one. Get them out, hold them up. I see somebody with an iPad down there, a phone. That's nearly a Bible. No, I get the whole electronic thing. I look at that, keep them up just a little while. It's a little exercise. It will do you good. So hold it up. Doesn't it feel good just to hold up God's Word? I wouldn't come up here without a Bible. I mean, I love God's Word; I love to hold it up. There's something just so powerful, symbolically powerful about the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit! We learned earlier in Hebrews 4:12 that the Word of God, this Book is active, alive, sharper than a two-edged sword! (Okay, go ahead and put them down now.) There is power in God's Word in your life! The Bible is alive!

Martin Luther said, "It has hands that take hold of me, feet that chase me down, eyes that search after me"! It's the Word of God. But here's the key-when you're hearing God's Word like you are right now or whether you're reading for yourself and reflecting-is that you not only hear it, but that you receive it. What I'm doing is throwing the Word out. Now the question is: Are you going to catch it? Now you know I love baseball. So, I brought a couple of baseballs here today, and we're going to play a little catch. So what's the most important position on a baseball field? Somebody says the pitcher. Well, seventy percent of winning baseball probably is pitching. (God help us to get pitching with the Texas Rangers!) It's about 70 percent.

Well, but, there's an unsung, unheralded player on field that's really the quarterback of the defense, and that's the catcher. Catcher typically has to be a smart guy. They talk about the catcher wearing the tools of ignorance, but a catcher has to be smart, call the signals, run the plays from home plate, a lot of different things; has to have chemistry between the pitcher. But the main thing he has to do, of course, is catch the ball. You can have the greatest pitcher on the planet pitching, but if the catcher doesn't catch it, that's a recipe for losing baseball. You can lose, no matter how good the pitch is.

Now we do our best to pitch well, as well as can. We get prepared and, you know, I typically want to throw fast balls right down the middle. Not too many curve balls, no change ups, no squirrelly screwballs, things like that because, you know, I had one guy say to me, "Graham, I like your preaching; you throw fast balls". And so I've always tried to, you know, because my goal is not for you to miss it, but to hit it, to get it or if you're a catcher, to catch it! So it's critical if I throw you the ball that you catch it. Oh, he almost caught it. Alright, now throw it back. Now that's what happens a lot of times when I throw it to you. Oh, good job. Let me have it. I mean I have the responsibility to throw it out there, but you have the responsibility to catch it! Are you receiving? What kind of receiver are you?

Same thing is true, I mean, name any sport, football. I mean, quarterback's got a big job but he better have good receivers. So receive the Word of God when it comes your way! Couple more Scriptures and then we're done. Look at Proverbs 8:34. I'm going to put it on the screen. It's in the New Living "Joyful are those who listen to Me! Watching for me daily at My gates, waiting for Me outside My home"! What a beautiful word picture that is! Happy are those who are outside the gates of God and waiting just for a word from Him. That very first psalm 1:1-2 says, "Blessed is the man who doesn't take counsel in the world, the things of this world or stands in the way of sinners, seated scoffers". But look at this, verse 2: "But his delight is in the Law of God, the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night".

Meditate upon God's Word. Memorize God's Word. The most important spiritual development and discipline of my life has been memorizing scripture. Meditating on scripture. I was in a situation this week, I needed just to be able to remember and rehearse some scriptures that I had memorized long ago. God will bring that up; it'll just bubble up in your soul. But you got to get in the Word and get the Word in you. The habitual habit of memorizing scripture will help you to grow. It will force you to grow. Now just listening to me or someone else preach every week, that's kind of processed food.

I mean, I hope it's not light-weight but you know, it is processed. I'm breaking it down. I'm cutting your meat for you, where you cut the little kid's meat. Not you but I mean I'm just saying sometimes you have to cut the meat up for a child in bite sized portions. But when you're a growing, developing disciple then you start eating solid food and you want more. You want meat, and not just milk. We were having lunch yesterday with one of my grandsons, couple of my grandsons and we were having Chick-fil-A, the great Chick-fil-A. And the little guy had some potatoes, he had chicken nuggets. And he was eating the potatoes. And his dad says to him, "Eat the meat; the meat makes the muscles". Feed yourself. Eat the meat and grow the muscles for your faith, and grow up your character into Christ-likeness so that one day you'll burst the tape, celebrating your victory in Jesus. Amen?
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