5 primary resources for spiritual maturity

Spiritual maturity is God’s primary goal for our lives. God is actively and progressively changing us into the image of Christ. He is far more concerned about changing us than He is about changing our circumstances. 

God’s changes are thorough—affecting every aspect of our being—our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. Spiritual growth involves a deep transformation of our character that is sometimes painful (Hebrews 12:1-11).

A maturing Christian is one who is continually pursuing God’s will. This is growth process that will involve his intellect (as he uses his mind to explore God’s truth), his will (as he increasingly yields to God’s authority), and his emotions (as he cultivates godly affections).

A Christian can only grow in Christlikeness by God’s grace (I Peter 5:6; II Peter 3:18) and not by human strength and effort that is disconnected from God’s work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). This means that gospel-centered humility must always be the basis for spiritual transformation. The gospel reminds us that God’s love only reaches us based on His mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Spiritual maturity produces godly humility and the absence of self-righteousness legalism. 

“For the Christian, the path of connectedness to God involves the development of a Christlike mind, will, affections (or emotions), character, relationships and actions. When any of these capacities is undernourished, our spiritual growth will be stunted” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality).

The New Testament outlines five primary resources to bring us to maturity.

  1. God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23)
  2. God’s People (Hebrews 3:13-14;13:17; Ephesians 4:11-16) 
  3. God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12; I Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:21-25; I Peter 1:23;2:1)
  4. God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16; Colossians 4:12; James 4:8; I Peter 5:7-8)
  5. God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-8)

Steve Cornell

The pathetic idea of flesh trying to be holy

There are countless Christians fighting a battle that is already lost, trying in their own strength to overcome the subtleties of sin. 

That is a battle you can fight all your days, but I tell you now, you cannot win! It is a battle already lost, lost in the first Adam, who was made a living soul, and died; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has already defeated sin and death and hell, and Satan himself!  Why not accept in Him the victory that He has already won?

Victory over the flesh is not to be attained — it is to be received.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). No matter what it is that threatens you, if you walk in the Spirit, you can turn around and face your enemy.  You can find him helpless because God has already bruised the serpent’s head! (see Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In other words, to walk in the Spirit is to assume by faith the victory with which He credits you. God will vindicate your assumption and make it real in your experience.

Now the devil loves to invert truth and turn it into a lie, and probably what he has been saying to you is this: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former.  He knows that in this way, he will keep you preoccupied with yourself, instead of being preoccupied with Christ. 

Nothing is more nauseating or pathetic than the flesh trying to be holy!  The flesh has a perverted bent for righteousness — but such righteousness as it may achieve is always self-righteousness; and self-conscious righteousness is always full of self-praise.

This produces the extrovert, who must always be noticed, recognized, consulted, and applauded. On the other hand, when the flesh in pursuit of self-righteousness fails, instead of being filled with self-praise, it is filled with self-pity, and this produces the introvert. 

The devil does not care whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.  He does not care whether you succeed or whether you fail in the energy of the flesh, or whether you are filled with self-pity or self-praise. He knows that in both cases you will be preoccupied with yourself, not with Christ. You will be egocentric and self-centered rather than God-centered.

Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that, ‘walking in the Spirit’ is the consequence of your effort not to fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’ (adapted from a devotional by Ian Thomas).

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Take time to reflect on this truth. Discuss it with others. Share it.

Steve Cornell

 

Deep thoughts on Spiritual maturity

Spiritual maturity is God’s primary goal for our lives. We are beings who have fallen from the greatness of the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 3:23). When we are reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17-21), God begins to restore us to the greatness of His image (Romans 8:29-30; II Corinthians 3:18).

This is the process we call spiritual maturity. God is far more concerned about changing us than about changing our circumstances.

We must recognize that God’s changes are thorough — affecting every aspect of our being — our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. His work is a deep transformation of character. Consequently, sometimes these changes are painful (II Co. 1:8-9; Heb. 12:1-11; Ja. 1:2-5).

Spiritual maturity is a process of bringing your will into conformity with God’s will. This involves your intellect (as you use your mind to explore God’s truth), your will (as you increasingly yield to God’s authority), and your emotions (as you cultivate godly affections). A maturing Christian will pursue all of this with increased humility.

“For the Christian, the path of connectedness to God involves the development of a Christlike mind, will, affections (or emotions), character, relationships and actions. When any of these capacities is undernourished, our spiritual growth will be stunted” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality).

Salvation

Spiritual maturity must be understood as part of the gift of salvation, for “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29). We experience this in dimensional and sequential progress based on the three tenses of salvation. We are saved; we are being saved and we will be saved.

We have joy in what we possess but we wait and groan for its completion. We taste and are satisfied as we go on to hunger for what awaits us.

The gospel is a gift that we receive once for all in Christ and experience in temporal sequence until “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, Jesus transforms our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20) and then “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” — “so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).

Not passive

Of course, we are not passive recipients but active participants who are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling. But we can only do this because it is God who works in us “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). And the gospel reminds me that I am an unworthy recipient who has been made worthy by Jesus.

We need the deep encouragement and confidence that comes from knowing that sanctification is God and the believer at work together, not pitted against one another (Colossians 1:29; Philippians 2:13).

God put his treasure (the gospel) “in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Yet “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Grace-based motives

We are motivated to godliness by the fear of the Lord, the consequences of evil, love for one another, the judgment seat of Christ, and other worthy realities.

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:9-10).

A grace-based motivation for godliness will not diminish our need to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” or “the struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:1-4). But trying to do these things without “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of faith” will easily degenerate into something unworthy of the gospel.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

The gospel of grace must always be the primary motivational reality for transformation. And it will be for chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinners who go home justified (Luke 18:9-14). Without this as our motivation, we easily slide toward religion where I must get myself to the place where God looks with favor on me. This is to engage in religious notions of propitiation where I try to propitiate the Deity and ignore the truth of the gospel that our loving God already propitiated Himself by becoming the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-2).

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 3:3; 5:16, 25).

Steve Cornell

Get perspective!

It’s easy to lose perspective in a fallen world. Have you ever had a time when processing life became difficult? A time when you found it hard to keep a good and godly perspective?

There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who lost perspective about God and life.

Servants of God like Job (Job 3:10-13,16); Moses (Numbers 11:13-15); Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10), all lost perspective so badly that they wanted to die.

Perspective (or how we choose to see things) can make a big difference in the quality of life.  We can’t always choose our circumstances but we can usually choose our perspective toward them.

Some life-controlling perspectives

1. Discouragement

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negativity

Do you expect the worse to happen? Do tend to see the dark side of things first? Perhaps through setbacks or disappointments, you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism but you feel like your just being realistic.

3. Anger

Are resentment and anger your primary lens for life? Perhaps you always have a slow burn under an outwardly pleasant veneer. Anger can erupt at any time and rule your life. Is anger an occasional disruption or the way you process most of life?

4. Complacency

Have you become complacent? Perhaps you’ve just stop caring because you feel that caring doesn’t help and often leads to hurt. Maybe you’ve drifted from God and you no longer take spiritual matters very seriously. 

5. Self-absorbed

Are you all about yourself? Is life about how you feel and what you want and you, you, you? Does it always have to be your way and about you?

All of these involve perspectives — ways of seeing things or construing life. What is your general outlook on life? Does you feel like your attitude is caught in a bad flight pattern? If you’re stuck in one of the perspectives above, you might need some counseling to help you move forward (some perspective sessions).

And please remember that your perspective not only affects you. All of those who must relate with you or who are under your influence are affected by your perspective.

How to keep a good and godly perspective

My recommendation for maintaining a good and godly perspective is as simple as it is profound. And it might change the way you approach the Bible and thus change your whole outlook on life in a way that conforms to God’s will.

We simply must recognize that all Scripture was given for perspective formation.

Consider what the Apostle Paul taught about the origin and role of Scripture: 

II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

God’s Method

God’s method for changing you is that you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 describes it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds.” God is committed to changing your outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5).

Romans 14:13 specifically challenges us regarding this:

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The italicized words in english come from a greek term which means “a pro-visionary way of thinking.” Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB). Another says, “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

To overcome sinful attitudes, perspectives and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based outlook that counter-veils the wrong way of thinking?

Two Provisions from God

Perspective is often closely associated with personality or temperment. Transformation in this area doesn’t mean that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two divine provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word – all Scripture.
  2. The Spirit indwell community - the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (see, II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word (Scripture) and the Church — the community of believers (see, Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25).

We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creatures. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, suffering, death and eternity. We would have nothing that offers univocal and universal authority transcending human culture and opinion. We would have many human stories but no original story to shape perspective. The Bible provides this for us!

Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us – but it was all written for us. And it presents God’s dealings through different times of history — which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Timothy 2:15).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges truths that transcend time and culture! (Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5).

When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or to maintain godly perspective. 

Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

Three unique perspectives 

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

  1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life
  2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life
  3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of life.

The Bible also answers really important questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 

Remember that behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (you’re struggling with habits and actions). Why do I feel this way? (you’re struggling with emotions). What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills.

Loss of perspective must be challenged by daily perspective forming sessions with God.                                        

Don’t try this alone

We cannot do this alone. God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation. We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. The Church is God’s ordained place for this to happen. 

When we lose perspective, we’re tempted to travel in the company of those who share our outlook. “Misery likes company.” To maintain good and godly perspective, we need to travel with people who reinforce it (see: Hebrews 10:24). 

Steve Cornell

Audio clip: Heart, mind and emotion

The change we really need

When you look at all the trouble in the world or in your own life, remember that we need more than external changes to our social and political circumstances. 

Deep inner change is necessary if we hope to address our deepest needs. 

But can we produce this inner change in ourselves or in others?

According to Scripture, we need a divine recreation or a new creation – by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) — for the restoring of the image of God in us.

We need the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” to “make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

We need to be reconciled to God to become a “new creation” in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). And it follows that, “all this is from God” (II Corinthians 5:18), because it cannot be from us.

But what does this new creation look like?

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person” (II Corinthians 5:17). Then we learn that, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (II Corithians 5:17b, NLT).

  • What does this involve?
  • What does the “new life” look like?

We know how we become a new creation in Christ. This is explained clearly:

“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. … For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19,21).

  • But what does this change look like in my life?
  • Or, What should it look like?

Radical reorientation of life

Perhaps the best way to explain the change is through the previous verse: “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (II Corinthians 5:15). 

This is a radical re-orientation of life because of our relentless compulsion to live for ourselves.

When Jesus called people to follow him, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NLT).

The words “turn form your selfish ways” are very strong. Jesus was not saying that we just need to think of others a little more. These words point to self-renunciation. And this fits with the imagery of daily taking up your cross.

This is an abandonment of self; a renouncing of self or death to self. Radical? Yes. But also liberating! 

My greatest challenge in life is me or ME.

Me, myself and mine! This new person in Christ (where the old life is gone and a new life has begun) is observed when I “no longer live for myself but for Christ, who died and was raised for me.”

I am tempted to live for myself on three levels. I can find myself alternating between them when I make life about me. 

  1. Self-indulgence
  2. Self-pity
  3. Self-congratulations

A life lived for self is a prison – not freedom.

The message of our culture is the opposite. The path that seems so fulfilling but leads to despair is the self-centered or self-absorbed life. The new person in Christ is distinguished by the opposite. And in this life of “death to self” and self-giving devotion to the Lord of life, we find the joy of restoration to the image of the One who created us and humbled himself for us so that we may live.

Mediate on these words:

  • “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
  • “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
  • “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:3-11)

Lean deeply into these provisions and promises

  • “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (II Corinthians 3:18). 
  • “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (II Corinthians 1:21-22).
  • “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires (Galatians 5:16-17, NLT).
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25).

Steve Cornell

(See: Is self-love our greatest need?)

Gospel centered prayer (with a great song)

All Your lovingkindness to me is in Your Son,
I bring Him to You by faith,
I honor His saving Name as the One who died for me.
I plead His blood to pay my debts of wrong.

I accept

    His worthiness for my unworthiness,
    His sinlessness for my transgressions,
    His purity for my uncleanness,
    His sincerity for my guile,
    His truth for my deceits,
    His meekness for my pride,
    His constancy for my backslidings,
    His love for my enmity,
    His fullness for my emptiness,
    His faithfulness for my treachery,
    His obedience for my lawlessness,
    His glory for my shame,
    His devotedness for my waywardness,
    His holy life for my unholy ways,
    His righteousness for my dead works,
    His death for my life.

O Lord God,

Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation; that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From the cross of Christ wave upon wave of grace reaches me,

  • deals with my sin,
  • washes me clean,
  • renews my heart,
  • strengthens my will,
  • draws out my affection,
  • kindles a flame in my soul,
  • rules throughout my inner man,
  • consecrates my every thought, word, work,
  • teaches me your immeasurable love. 
How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!
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  • Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
  • in him I draw near and feel his loving presence.
  • Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
  • in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.
  • Without him I hide my lips in fear and shame;
  •  in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.
  • Without him all is wrath and consuming fire;
  •  in him is all love, and rest for my soul.
  • Without him hell is open below me, and eternal anguish;
  • in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.
  • Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
  • in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.
  • Without him all within me is terror and dismay,
  • in him every accusation is turned into joy and peace.
  • Without him all things external call for my condemnation;
  • in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. 

I praise You for grace and for the unspeakable gift I have in Jesus Christ my Savior.

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(adapted from ‘The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers,’ edited by Arthur Bennett)

Scriptures to strengthen you in the gospel

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:10, 14).

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Truths we must learn

“When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arms to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on him. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in himself.”

How does God accomplish this purpose? 

“Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another — it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast”  ( J. I. Packer, Knowing God).
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II Corinthians 1:8-9

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“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

Spiritual principles

1.  God’s power is experienced from a position of humble trust and dependence on Him

    • (Deut. 8:3-5; Ps. 62:8; Pr. 3:5-7; I Pe. 5:5-6).
2.  The threat to spiritual power is often prosperity 

    • Deuteronomy 8:11-12 – “Be careful…when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.”

3.  The conversion of weakness to strength happens in a heart that yields to God by moving from passive resignation (accepting what must be) to active acceptance of God’s plan for giving strength and power through weakness.

    • II Corinthians 12:9-10 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Steve Cornell