Growing Up Spiritually

Growing Up Spiritually - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - The Milk: Rebound Techniques.

We are born of God ! (1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:5). God is our actual Father and we are born from His seed-the word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25). This is the rebirth of our spirit by the impartation of God's life. We possess eternal life as children of God. 

At first we are spiritual babies and God wants us to grow up into maturity. As bread is our food for physical growth so God's Word is our necessary food for spiritual growth: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In particular a baby needs to take in the MILK OF THE WORD in order to grow: “As new-born babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). 

Spiritual growth is the growth of the New-Creation Man (our spirit) in its transforming our soul (mind) and actions, so that God's nature (love) dominates our thoughts, words and actions (our character) Growth is a process that happens as we hear and do the Word. There are no shortcuts; it is not automatic.

We see this in 1Corinthians 3:1-3: “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (mature) men, but as to CARNAL (flesh-ruled), to BABES in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not meat: for you were not able to bear it, neither now are you able. For you are yet carnal: for as there is among you envying, strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as (unsaved) men?” 

Here are Christians who had not grown up as they should because they were not living from their new-creation spirit, walking by faith in the Word and what it says about them. Rather they were carnal- living by and from the flesh (in their own strength). The mark of being flesh-ruled is being self-centred resulting in pride, envy and strife. Thus they were still babes and were not ready for the meat of the word, for they hadn't yet absorbed the milk. They had not put into practice the first principles of the Word (the milk = the baby food).

This is confirmed by a similar passage in Hebrews, where Christians can not take in the meat: “You are dull of hearing. For by now you ought to be teachers, you need one to teach you again the FIRST PRINCIPLES of the oracles of God; and are those who need MILK, and not strong MEAT. For everyone that uses MILK is unskilful (unpractised) in the Word of righteousness (they have not put it into practice) for he is a BABE. But strong MEAT belongs to them of full age, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-13).

The MILK is the FIRST PRINCIPLES of the Word which when absorbed by hearing and doing it causes us to grow into maturity where we can eat MEAT. We will stay spiritual babies until we apply these basics of the Word. These are the foundations we must lay in our life before we can build higher. We can only build as high as our foundation in the basics is strong and deep.

He now describes the MILK - outlining 7 areas of teaching:

“leaving the elementary principles of the TEACHING of Christ, let us go on to maturity; not laying again the FOUNDATION of (1) REPENTANCE from DEAD WORKS and (2) of FAITH TOWARD GOD, (3) of doctrine (teaching), (4) of baptisms, (5) of laying on of hands, (6) of resurrection of the dead, and (7) of eternal judgement” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

REPENTANCE from dead works and FAITH IN GOD. 

Dead works are works of the flesh (done in our own strength) including our efforts to save ourselves. The Bible makes clear that flesh just produces more flesh which is of no value to God and leads to death. The first principle of the Christian life is to realise you can not save yourself or live this life in your own strength. We must change the whole source and basis for our life and transfer all our trust to God and His grace. Before we trusted in self (our own strength, ability, performance, righteousness) for everything. This made us self-centred and self-orientated. 

We lean on what we have done or will do. Our mind is fixed on self (resulting in pride or despair) and both are roads to death: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). We must turn from this way to trusting God as our Source of life, strength, love etc, looking to Him and depending on Him. This is how we start to walk by faith, living in, from and by the Spirit rather than in the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit we will grow spiritually. But if we trust in the flesh we will stay spiritual babes.

Growth in maturity is moving from being self-centred to God-centred. Jesus talked about this change: “Come to Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden (with dead works), and I will give you rest. Take My yoke (my Spirit, my anointing) upon you, and learn of Me (through the Word) for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

A young ox would be yoked to a large ox and they would plough the fields together. It would seem easy because he wasn't doing it alone but was joined to one with great power, working with him. As we allow the yoke of the Spirit to come and rest upon us we can do great works as we trust in His power to work with us. When we believe, we enter into rest for we are resting on the Lord and are held up by His power (see Hebrews 3 and 4). When living in the Spirit, doing God's will is easy in the sense that He empowers us to do it. If we receive the yoke of the Spirit upon us, we will live and do God's work in His power. To repent is to stop trusting self and live by faith in God. Then the New Creation Man will dominate (see Romans 8:2-6; Galatians 2:20; 5:16-25; 6:14-16; Philippians 3:2 on). God's grace (life) is freely available for us to live by, through faith-dependance on God (Galatians 2:20), but while we trust in ourselves and in our works, we set God’s grace aside and it can not operate in us and we do not grow in grace (Galatians 2:21).

A big step out of babyhood is learning how to WALK. Each time a baby falls he gets up and tries again. Each time he learns more technique for getting up and for staying on his feet. As he perseveres he gets stronger. Likewise a Christian is learning to WALK in faith, in the Spirit. At first he finds it hard to stay on his feet, for a baby is easily knocked down (by his own sins, by things that happen to him in life, by what others say and do).

The Bible gives specific faith-techniques for getting back on our feet and keeping on walking in faith under different pressures. These are an important part of the milk that new believers must be taught. Mastering them is basic to sustained growth in God. Christians who have not put these into practice, get knocked down easily and are then down and out for too long. Thus there is no sustained walk or growth. While grounded there is no growth. But every moment we are standing on the promises, living in God's grace we are growing.

Many things happen to cause us to fall and stop walking by faith. What really matters is not what happens to us, but how we respond to it. We let them knock us out or we get back up stronger. We need to know GOD'S REBOUND techniques, so we can immediately get back on our feet, into faith and moving on with God.

(1) REBOUNDING FROM SIN

Sin breaks our fellowship with God but not our relationship. It grounds us and stops our growth. Satan then adds his condemnation to paralyse us on the floor. If we respond in the flesh by covering it up, justifying it or trying to earn forgiveness by extra efforts, struggling against it in our own strength then we will stay grounded. Stop looking to yourself but rather claim: 

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

King David learnt this when he sinned.

In Psalm 32:1-5 he tells how he went into decline when he covered it up, but when he brought it to the light and confessed it fully he came back into God's blessing.

Psalm 51 is his prayer of confession which finishes with asking to be refilled with the Holy-Spirit to do God's will. When you sin run to God not away from Him. He knows all about it anyway and is ready to forgive. REBOUND from sin at once, get straight back into the grace of God. Every moment on the floor is wasted. REBOUND by CONFESSING your sin to God, and asking Him in faith to FILL you with His Spirit.

(2) REBOUNDING from SUCCESS - Success, pleasures and good things can also cause us to fall asleep spiritually and get our eyes off God, living in our own strength, trusting in ourselves. They deceive us into thinking we do not need God. REBOUND by giving God THANKS for every blessing, acknowledging Him as our Source and GIVING Him the FIRSTFRUITS of what He has blessed us with: “In everything (in every circumstance) give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thessalonians 5:18).

(3) REBOUNDING FROM SETBACKS and TRIALS.

A new Christian needs to know that it is not all roses. Afflictions and bad things will happen for we live in a fallen world. They must be told how to respond. Peter walked by faith on the water, while he looked to Jesus trusting His word. But the wind and waves (tests and trials) came and grabbed his attention. When he focused on them he began to sink. If we let problems dominate our thinking we sink, for we have let them take our eyes off the Lord. Trials come from evil, to push us down, pressurise and discourage us and try to make us give up walking by faith. 

So, we must respond actively in order to keep our eyes and faith on God. They either overcome us or we overcome them by faith. 

REBOUND by actively REJOICING IN GOD, CLAIMING 

Romans 8:28: “God works all things work together for good to them who love God, the called according to His purpose.” 

This promise is: (1) for ‘the called according to His purpose.’ This speaks of believers, and His purpose for us is to make us like His Son Jesus Christ and glorify us (Romans 8;29,30). 

The promise is (2) for 'them who love God.' This speaks of those who love God. Literally this reads: “to them who are loving God.” The extent to which this promise works for us in any situation depends on how much we are loving God in it (by looking to Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, rejoicing in Him). So as we love and praise God in the trial, He is working it for good both in our character, our circumstances and in our eternal glory, which is all the more reason to rejoice!

We PRAISE God and THANK Him out loud that His power is working in the situation and that He is turning it for our good. In this way we stay on our feet or if we are down, that is how we get back into faith. God works the trial for our good, if we respond in faith. REJOICING in God causes us to look to God and move in faith when under pressure.

One result is that we grow faster if we love and trust God in a trial. The more we grow in grace and in Christ-like character (the fruit of the Spirit) then also the more eternal glory will be ours, for our capacity for glory in eternity is determined by the character we develop now. That is why we can rejoice by faith when under trial, for we know God is using it to make us more like Christ and prepare us for eternal glory as we look to Him. 

Matthew 5:10-12: “BLESSED are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. REJOICE and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

2Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore, we do not lose heart (in trials and difficulties, rather we rejoice in God). Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen (the temporary problem), but at the things which are not seen (the eternal unchanging God and His Word). For the things which are seen are temporary (subject to change), but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 

James 1:2-4,12: “My brethren, COUNT IT ALL JOY when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing... BLESSED is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Romans 5:3-5: “We also GLORY in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance (patience); and perseverance, character; and character, hope (of the having the glory of God in us). Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Romans 8:17,18,28-30: “If children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (of the glory of God), if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us....And we know that all things (that happen in life) work together for good to those who are loving God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified these He also glorified.”

In overcoming setbacks we get stronger. As we develop muscles by pushing against resistance, so our faith is challenged to operate more fully when there is resistance and thus it is developed more. When everything is perfect, we do not feel the need to use our faith much. Difficult times present the greatest demand on our faith and the greatest opportunity to use it. Trusting God in hard times causes greater spiritual growth than anything. Trials expose our weakness and the futility of trusting self, thus causing us to trust more fully in God, allowing His strength (grace) to work more fully in and through us. 

In 2Corinthians 12:9,10, Paul describes how he learnt to respond to difficulties with rejoicing. In this way, in his weakness he laid hold of the grace of God in a greater way and rebounded with greater grace, coming back stronger than ever. Every setback was a stepping stone, moving His life and ministry forward:

“He (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul rejoiced in situations that revealed his need for God for he knew: “God's strength is made perfect in weakness.” As he REJOICED by faith he found: “the power of Christ rested upon him.” In our awareness of weakness we reach out and put our trust in God, joining ourselves by faith to His strength. When we have done this we can say: “I am strong not in myself but in the grace of God.” Let the weak (those who feel at the end of their own strength) say: “I am strong in the strength of my God.”

(4) REBOUNDING FROM HURTS and OFFENCES (from the sins of others) by QUICK and FULL FORGIVENESS. 

A great danger to our growth is not rebounding when others sin against us. If we nurse the hurt, then the seed of bitterness gets rooted in us and will grow up in us, troubling our life, spoiling our character and causing us to fall short of God's grace: “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). In seeking to punish them, we only punish ourselves. 

REBOUND by FORGIVING QUICKLY and FULLY. 

Leave all judgement and vengeance to God (Romans 12:19-21). Forgive and PRAY for them that they will find God's forgiveness and blessing (as Jesus did on the Cross). This will remove all evil seeds of bitterness from your heart. This will keep you from falling when others mistreat you and let you down. You will then continue to grow in grace and glory, just like Joseph did, despite the unfair and cruel behaviour toward him by his brothers.

Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you (completely and freely)” 

It helps to remember how much God has forgiven you and that to hold others in unforgiveness brings torment (Matthew 18:21-35). It blocks the flow of the grace of God in your life and your growth like no other sin: “whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25,26, also Matthew 6:14,15). 

The mark of spiritual maturity (perfection) is forgiving your enemies, praying for them and acting toward them in love as God does: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven -for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect (mature), just as your Father in heaven is perfect (mature)” (Matthew 5:43-48). 

“Blessed are the peacemakers (through forgiveness), for they shall be called (mature) SONS of God” (Matthew 5:9). 

Mature ones have learnt to do this by putting the Word into practice, not because they felt like it. Thus by doing the Word, their inner man has gained dominance and they have become mature sons of God. They have become more like their Father.

A major part of growing up is learning how to REBOUND in faith. REBOUND techniques are MILK - basic Christianity. We must master these first principles of the Word first, before we can take (receive) the meat. Knowing and applying them is essential for us to grow up into spiritual adults.

If we do not learn to REBOUND we will stay babies.

*If we don't confess our sins (1 John 1:9) we will stay a baby.

*If we don't rejoice in tribulation (Romans 8:28) we will never build any muscle and so will stay a baby. 

*If we are slow to forgive, harbouring resentments and nursing bitterness, we are still a baby and in order to grow up we must learn to forgive quickly from the heart.

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