I listened to another sermon by Tim Keller today that caused me to stop and consider my current spiritual maturity. Our culture is pretty good about keeping track of progress during our formative years as humans on the planet. Soon after we’ve learned to walk and talk, we begin the assessment process from Pre-K all the way through Twelfth Grade or beyond. Each year forever etched in our memory like rings around a tree. We know we’re growing because we receive a report card from those who have gone before and have earned the position to stand in judgment. It’s funny that those we viewed as mature leaders don’t seem so old and wise as I get older, but that’s not the point and not where I’m going. For the sake of argument, let’s assume our teachers did an adequate job of grading us all those years. What’s next?
Once we get beyond the academic environment, we graduate into a society that grades us much differently. How we grow and mature is no longer monitored by tests and grades; instead, it’s much more difficult to assess. Keller’s sermon, How We Can Grow1, caught my attention as he set the groundwork for his series on growing in Christ. It seems fitting that we pause on New Year’s Eve to consider how we matured in the past year. Consider Peter’s concise beginning to chapter 2:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:1-3
One of the key phrases in this passage is the notion that we can directly impact our growth by craving pure spiritual milk. The time we invest approaching God in complete surrender provides great strength for the coming days. The opposite holds as well. If we choose not to spend time with God, we become weaker and are unable to cope with the troubles of this world effectively.
Keller made some particularly interesting points in his sermon concerning growing up. When a baby cries because she’s hungry, her parents will feed her immediately. But if a 15-year old cries for the same reason, the reaction is much different. Think about that for a moment. I’m sure I’ve said something like this to one of our 15-year old daughters, “If you’re hungry, fix yourself a sandwich!” Right? As a parent, you’re helping the child by not doing everything for them as they mature. The moment we first come to Christ, when we truly open our hearts and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are just like the newborn baby. However, fifteen years down the road, we should not be acting like a newborn anymore. We should not expect God to treat us the same, but so many times, I catch myself wondering why I’m facing this difficulty or some test that seems to be out of my reach. I cry out to God, “Why did you do this?” Then I wonder, am I still an infant?
What does this have to do with the biblical mandate to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely? I’m delighted you asked. To be blunt, it has everything to do with serving others, with living out our faith. As we become more Christ-like, we will naturally seek to save the lost, to help the afflicted, to be unnaturally kind to the oppressed. We have come to expect that of Jesus; why would we not expect that of ourselves? We must grow in our salvation to effectively serve those who are struggling to survive.
Peter continues to offer encouragement.
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
Pause for a moment and consider that these words are coming from Peter. Reflect on the spiritual growth that he’s undergone and consider how Jesus reinstated and supercharged his ministry. Peter would not have been able to say these words 30 years earlier as a young follower of Christ. No one would expect that of him. Likewise, we should not expect new believers to have such maturity, even if they express unquenchable passion, but we should all be growing in a positive direction.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
Peter tells us we are a chosen people, God’s special possession. We are sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty — all of us. One of my favorite verses in the Bible exhorts us to behave in a way that draws people to Christ.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:12
When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then love our neighbor as ourselves, we will live in such a way that others will want to join our family. There is no better evangelism, not stronger discipleship than living and loving the way that Christ lived.
Lord, we are amazed that you called us to be a chosen people. In our early days, you fed us like infants then watched us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). May we choose to grow in the coming years. Help us mature to better serve your kingdom on earth. Challenge us when we need to be stretched and forgive our whining when the days are long. Help us to see progress, however small, to encourage us to take the next steps to bring as many people as possible into the fellowship, the true Koinonia.
1 This sermon was preached by Rev. Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on October 1, 1989. Series “Growth in Christ, Part 1”. Scripture: 2 Peter 1:1-11. Sometimes it’s only as you begin to see what the Bible says is true of a Christian, what is in store for a Christian, the kind of growth that can happen in the Christian’s life, that you can come to see very clearly you’re not a believer. You’ve been in and out of churches. You’ve been in and out of different religious organizations. “How do you know?” Sometimes one of the best ways to know is to look and see what the characteristics of Christian growth are. Growth in grace is the very essence of the gospel; otherwise, you’re left with a “niceism” or a “moralism” instead of Christianity. Link to Sermon