Are you Growing?

One of our recent sermons was about “When I Mess Up.” And we all mess up sometimes. In fact, if you claim to be sinless, you are deceiving yourself, calling God a liar, and His word is not in you (1 John 1:8-10).

But that does not mean that we should make peace with our sin. It does not mean that our sin is no big deal since “I’m only human,” and “nobody is perfect.”

So how do we find the balance between a life of perfectionism that is filled with excessive guilt, shame, and fear of punishment, and a life of flippancy in which we tolerate moral decay because we think it does not matter?

Consider this passage: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Notice, Paul does not tell the Corinthians “because you are behaving as men of flesh, it is clear that you have never been saved, and that you are eternally lost and hopeless.” Rather, because they are behaving as “men of flesh,” he calls them “infants in Christ.” Of course, this description was only appropriate because the Corinthians actually were young in Christ. They were a new church full of new converts who wanted to follow Christ, but lacked the spiritual maturity that someone older in the faith should have.

The concepts from this passage can help us to think about our sins in an appropriate way. The journey of a Christian is one of growth over time. Not all humans grow, either physically or emotionally, at the same rate. But we all should be growing.

Indeed, while we expect less from an infant than we do from a grown man or woman, we do expect even an infant to be working towards skills such as crawling, sitting up, standing, walking, speaking, etc. If an infant is not progressing over time, we become deeply worried. Likewise, we are deeply concerned when an adult behaves like a child, perhaps throwing a tantrum, refusing to share, or calling others by petty names.

In this respect, the spirit of a Christian is no different. There are two options that, like all living things, our spirits must choose between: growing or dying. Praise God that though our bodies are subject to death and decay, our spirits are free to grow and to soar for as long as we may live on the earth, and then into eternity with even greater glory.   “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So let us assess ourselves. If I am young in the faith, what steps am I taking towards maturity? If am older in the faith, do I still behave as though I were a spiritual infant? If we are not growing, we are in grave danger of spiritual death, and it is right for us to be filled with a holy fear of the Lord.

What about you? Are you content with a one-time event of “being saved,” and unconcerned with spiritual growth over time? Are you still sinning in the same ways, with the same frequency, years after your conversion? Can you point to spiritual growth in the past year? What step should you be taking next in your spiritual life? Will you be willing to take the next step of faith towards being the image of Christ? Or, having come so far, will you sink back into eternal spiritual decay?

1 John 1:7 May Not Mean What you Think it Does

1 John 1:7 is one of the more well known verses in the Bible. It gives us comfort because it helps to answer the questions, “how can I know if I will go to heaven when I die? Could my sins keep me out of heaven, even though I try to be a good Christian?”

When these questions are raised, we remind each other of John’s words: “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” This verse is thus repeated quite often in the context of questions about the security of the believer, with a focus on the fact that the blood of Jesus cleanses us when we walk in the light.

But in focusing exclusively on this one part of the verse, especially when plucking it from the wider context of 1 John 1, we may have neglected to properly consider another part of the verse. Specifically, we may have misunderstood what John means when he says, “we have fellowship with one another.”

While studying 1 John 1 together this past week, myself and many in the church here discovered that “having fellowship with one another” appears to refer NOT specifically to fellow Christians experiencing unity, but rather to the individual in question having fellowship with GOD HIMSELF. Look at the context even just of verses 5 through 7 and see if you do not agree.

 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

The passage states plainly enough that fellowship with Him (capital H) is impossible in the darkness. Fellowship with Him, therefore, is a benefit of walking in the light because “He Himself” is in the light, and walking in the light is thus walking with Him. Greek scholars tell us that the grammar of the original text supports this reading.

Maybe you have always understood this verse to give this teaching, but many such as myself have come to the verse with preconceived notions for so long that we failed to understand it in this way. This can be a reminder to us of the dangers of “proof-texting” to the exclusion of genuine Bible reading, and the importance of coming to the text with an open mind.

Furthermore, this discovery gives us something new to think about. Fellowship with God Himself! To walk in the light is to walk with God! May we grow in true fellowship with Him.