Robert Jeffress - Growing Up By Growing Strong - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Bible teaches that the moment we're saved, we begin a lifelong process of growing more and more like Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit replaces old selfish desires with a new passion to please God. But unfortunately, many Christians stay tethered to their old sinful way of living. Today, we're going to look at the fate of what Paul calls the carnal Christian. My message is titled "Growing Up By Growing Strong" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Christians have more struggles in this life than non-Christians. Is that true, or is that false? Interestingly, that statement is true. Christians do have more struggles in this life than non-Christians. You see, the Bible says a non-Christian only has one set of desires, his old nature. His only desire is to please himself. Even the good things, the charitable things he does is funneled through that lens of self-satisfaction. I do this in order to feel good about myself, in order to be fulfilled. But when we become a Christian, God puts in each of us a new set of desires, a desire to please God, and that desire to please God as well as that old desire to please ourself is constantly at war with one another, our new nature and our old nature.
When we follow after our new nature, the desire to please God, the result is peace and joy and contentment. But what happens when a Christian chooses to regularly and habitually follow his old set of desires? Well, that's what we're going to discover tonight, the fate of the carnal, the fleshly Christian. If you have your Bibles, turn to 1 Corinthians chapter three, as we discover how we grow up by growing strong. You remember that, last time, in chapter three, beginning with verse one, Paul talked about a certain kind of Christian, the carnal Christian. The carnal Christian is a person who obeys his old nature. He is a fleshly person. He is a babe in Christ. What is it that causes a person to remain spiritually stunted in his growth, to never grow, and therefore be a slave to his old nature? We said there were really two causes of carnal Christians.
First of all, he has the wrong diet, the wrong spiritual diet. Instead of taking in the meat of the word, he is a baby that can only take in the elementary, the milk of the word, the elementary teachings of doctrine. He's never gone from milk to the meat of God's word. Secondly, he couldn't do it anyway, because he doesn't have the right spiritual digestive system. He doesn't have it because of a lack of exercise. If you try to give a baby a piece of meat instead of milk, the baby's going to gag and choke on it. He doesn't have a well-developed digestive system. In the same way, many people remain baby Christians because they have never developed their digestive system. How do we do that? It is through exercise, and we saw two ways that we develop, strengthen our spiritual digestive system. First of all, by Christian service.
In chapter five, verse 12, the writer of Hebrew says, "By this time, you ought to be teachers of the word, but you're still in need of somebody to remind you of the elementary things". And then secondly, we bulk up spiritually. We train or exercise our digestive system through obedience to God's word. Whenever you continually receive in more truth than you're obeying, you're going to become spiritually stunted, and the Corinthians, remember, were like poor photographs. They were overexposed and underdeveloped. They heard the truth, but they never exercised it in their spiritual life, and that was the Corinthians. Now I want you to notice how their carnality manifested itself, and how are carnal Christian's carnality is manifested today. Look at verse three of 1 Corinthians 3. He said, "For you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, are you not walking like mere men"?
I want you to notice tonight on your outline, the three characteristics of a carnal, fleshly Christian. First of all, he is a slave to his old nature. He is a slave to his old nature. As I said, a non-Christian only has one set of desires, to please himself. But when you become a Christian, what does God do to that old nature of yours, that desire to please yourself? Interestingly enough, God doesn't try to rehabilitate or reform your old nature. Your old nature is too far gone to be healed, to be reversed. Instead, what God does is he puts a new set of desires within you. But let's talk about that old set of desires that remains in you even after you become a Christian.
What happens to a Christian's old nature? Notice two things have happened to your old nature once you trust in Christ as Savior. First of all, its power is broken. The power of your old nature is broken. Look at Colossians 2, verse 11. Now, we're going from milk to meat for the next few moments, but I want you to look at this in Colossians 2:11. What's happened to that old set of desires you had before you became a Christian? Colossians 2:11 says, "And in Christ, you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ". Now, you know what physical circumcision is. It is the removal of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ. In Jewish days, in the days of Israel, it had more than a physical significance. There was spiritual significance tied to circumcision. It is like baptism is today for a Christian.
If you were a Jew and part of the covenant, you were circumcised if you were a male, as a way of identifying with the covenant, the promises of God. Circumcision was a sign that you belonged to God. Remember Abraham in Romans chapter 4:11. It says that Abraham was circumcised 14 years after he exercised saving faith. He was saved by his belief in the promises of God in Genesis 15. Romans 4:11 says it was 14 years later that he was circumcised, proving that he was not saved by circumcision. Circumcision was the sign of what had happened to Abraham inwardly. It's the same way with Christians, with baptism. We're not saved by baptism, but baptism is a sign, a symbol of what has happened inwardly.
Now, stay with me on this. In Colossians 2:11, Paul is saying, when you become a Christian, God performs surgery on you. He says you are circumcised, not physical circumcision, not the removal of flesh. Instead, God performs spiritual circumcision on you. He removes the hardness of your heart. The removal, verse 11 says, of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Now, that word removal is an unfortunate translation, because every one of us knows our old nature has not been removed. It's still inside of us. It still operates. It still pulls us away from God. That word removal could be better translated inoperative. Rendered inoperative. Our old nature has the power source cut to it. It has no more power over our life than we choose to allow it to have. The power of the old nature has been broken. But secondly, its influence remains.
Hold your place here and turn to Galatians chapter five, verses 16 to 17. I want you to see here, the war that goes on inside every believer between his old nature and his new nature. Paul says in verse 16 of Galatians 5, "But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh," remember that's your old nature, "Sets its desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please". There is a tug of war going on in the heart of every genuine Christian, between that old nature, that old set of desires set on pleasing self, and that brand new set of desires set on pleasing God.
Now imagine inside of your heart right now, there are two horses, a white horse representing your new nature, a black horse representing your old nature, and those horses are pulling against one another. How are you going to make sure that the white horse, your new nature wins? Well, there are two things you have to do. If two horses are pulling against each other, one thing you want to do is starve the horse that is pulling them the wrong direction to diminish its power, but then you want to strengthen the horse that is pulling in the right direction. It's the same way with that war that's going on in your heart right now. If you want your new nature, the white horse to win, you've got to do not one, but two things.
First of all, you've got to starve your old nature. You've got to refuse to feed it. You've got to quit watching those things, reading those articles, being around those people that pull you away from the things of God. Many of us are regularly feeding that old nature, that old set of desires, and wonder why we give into temptation over and over again. We have to starve the old nature, but that's not enough. We have to strengthen the new nature, strengthen that set of desires that God places in us that want to please him, and we'll talk about how to do that in just a moment. Again, the carnal Corinthian, the carnal Christian is one who had an old nature that was overdeveloped, and a new nature that was underdeveloped, and as a result, he is a fleshly Christian. What are the characteristics of a carnal Christian? First of all, he is a slave to his old nature.
Secondly, he is self-centered. Remember Paul says the carnal Christian is a babe in Christ. It's not only reflective, the word babe or phrase babe in Christ, of his immaturity. It's reflective of his worldview. You see, the carnal Christian is like a baby who can only think of one thing, himself. There's no one or nothing more self-centered than a baby. All the baby cares about is getting its needs met, and it's the same way with the carnal Christian. Look at, again, verse three. "For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, are you not walking like mere men"? You see, the Corinthian church was about to split. Do you know why? These carnal Christians all wanted their own way, and whenever you have immature people in a marriage, in a friendship, or in a church, each of whom is absolutely intent on getting his way, you're going to have conflict.
James 4:11, or 4:1 says, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is it not your own pleasures that wage war in your members"? That is, your body? Whenever you hear people in the church, members of the church talking about how hurt they've been by somebody, how offended they have been by somebody, how much they don't like this, or how much they don't like that going on in the church, whenever you hear somebody doing that, just picture them with a bonnet around them and a rattle in their hand going, "Wah"! They may be 80 years old, but they are, "Wah! I don't like this, I don't like this, I don't like this". You are talking to a baby Christian. A baby Christian is somebody who thinks the world ought to revolve around him or her. They think the church is here to meet their needs, to do things the way they want it done. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not burger king, okay? You don't get to have it your way all the time.
You know, there is nothing, and I don't know why people think they ought to have to like every message that is preached or why they think they ought to have to like and approve of every song that's sung, or why they think they ought to like every program and ministry in the church. You don't like this song? You don't like this message? You don't like this program? Grow up. This isn't about you. And it's time some of our members grow up, okay? It's time to grow up. It is not about you. It's not about me. It's about the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why we exist as a church. Now, we don't have much of that. We don't have much of that going on. My goodness, after everything we're blowing up and changing around here, you all have done great. But every now and then, you know, "I don't like this. I don't like this". Well, that was what was going on in Corinth. These were baby, baby Christians.
Notice number three, a characteristic of the baby Christian. He is focused on other people instead of God. The baby Christian is intently focused on others instead of on God. Look at verses four through nine. "For when one says, 'i am of Paul,' and another, 'i am of Apollos,' are you not mere men"? Now, remember Paul was the founding pastor at the church at Corinth. Apollos was the pastor who was there now. And Paul says, "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Simply servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave you opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth". Paul said, don't get hung up on your pastors. Don't pick favorites among your pastors. The fact is, we are all simply servants of God. We don't cause anything. We are here to serve our purpose. God is the one who produces a spiritual harvest.
You know, a few weeks ago, my predecessor in Wichita Falls, Dr. Morris Chapman, had his retirement party from the southern Baptist convention. He left Wichita Falls to go be the CEO of the southern Baptist convention. Morris was there for 13 years as pastor and did a wonderful job. Ron Harris was there as the media minister, and God did a great work in the church there through Dr. Chapman's ministry, but then God had something else for him to do, and he went to Nashville to lead our southern Baptist convention, and I came as pastor of the church. We were there for 15 years and God blessed the work there, and we got to build that new worship center, saw several thousand people baptized during the time we were there.
But then Walter and Carolyn and I and our families, we left, and God has brought a new pastor there, Dr. Bob McCartney, and he has taken the church to a whole different level there, and the church is thriving and growing under Dr. McCartney's ministry. You know, it was interesting, a couple of weeks ago, Carolyn went back for a wedding there, and she said, "You know, pastor, the people were talking about how much they appreciated Walter and you and the rest of us who were there, and then they were talking about how excited they are about the church now, and what God is doing in the church". Now, that's the way it ought to be. The fact is we were there for the time we were supposed to be there.
Dr. Chapman was there for the time he was supposed to be there, and now they've got a wonderful pastor who is there for the time he's supposed to be there. We're all nothing but servants of the Lord. Don't focus on the pastor. Don't focus on the servant of Christ. Focus on God, because I'm going to tell you one thing. If you focus on the pastor, especially this pastor, you're going to be disillusioned and disappointed at some point. I am simply a servant of God. Our focus ought to be not on people, but on God. And that's why the writer of Hebrew said, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus," Hebrews 12:2, "The author and the finisher of our faith".
Well, pastor, when you talk about being a slave to the old nature, when you talk about being self-centered, when you talk about focusing in on people and not God, you're describing me. I'll admit, I'm a carnal Christian. I haven't grown, but so what? Nobody's perfect. I know I'm going to heaven one day. Why should I be concerned about being a carnal Christian? Let me share with you the three consequences in scripture of remaining as a carnal Christian. Turn over to Hebrews chapter six. Hebrews chapter six. The discussion actually begins in chapter five, verse 12, where the writer of Hebrews says, "By this time you ought to be teachers, but you have need of somebody to teach you the elementary things. You cannot handle meat. You are only fit for the milk of the word".
And so he gives us rousing challenge in verses two and three of chapter six. He says, "congregation, let's move on toward maturity, and this we will do if God permits". Well, what happens if we don't take that challenge and move to maturity? He discusses, beginning in verse four, the consequences of remaining as a fleshly Christian. Look at it, beginning in verse four. "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made par takers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame".
The first danger of a carnal Christian is the carnal Christian is in danger of being led astray. He is in danger of falling away. Now, whenever you read the book of Hebrews, you have to understand the term falling away is always used to refer to those believers, not who lose their salvation, but lose the benefits of their salvation. Back in chapter three of Hebrews, he likens them to the children of Israel, who, because of unbelief did not enter the Promised Land. Did they lose their salvation? No, but they died in the wilderness without ever experiencing the rest of God. And he says be careful that you, too, don't make the same mistake and fall away from the living God.
A carnal Christian who doesn't grow, who remains stunted in his spiritual growth will be led astray and will fall away from the faith. Specifically, he's in danger of, number one, falling into false doctrine. If you don't grow into your faith, you are going to fall at some point for false doctrine. Why is it that the number one source of converts for Mormonism, the number one source is southern Baptist? Do you know that? Why is it? Because so many southern Baptists never grow in their faith. They hear the message about how to be saved, but they stop there. They're stunted in their spiritual growth. They never go on to the deeper things of the word.
Secondly, a carnal Christian is in danger of falling into sin. They never grow, and then what happens? There's some disruption in their life, some crisis, or some disruption in the church they're attending. They become disillusioned, disenchanted, quit reading their Bible, quit attending church, and then they fall into sin. The first consequence of being a carnal Christian is the danger of being led astray, either by false doctrine or by sin. Secondly, the carnal Christian is in danger of losing his rewards in heaven.
Look at verses seven at eight of Hebrews 6. "For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God. But if the land yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned". Land is supposed to produce vegetation. Christians are supposed to produce fruit. What happens to land that doesn't produce vegetation? It gets close to being cursed. What happens to a Christian who fails to produce fruit in his life? He is close to being cursed.