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
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 3:10-14
“There are Christians who grow up and have no relish for anything spiritually advanced. They’re preoccupied by their first lessons. The average church is a school with only one grade and that is the first one. These Christians never expect to get beyond that and they don’t want to hear a man very long who wants to take them beyond that. If their pastor insists they do their homework and get ready for the next grade, they begin to pray that the Lord will call ‘our dear brother’ somewhere else. … All he’s trying to do is prepare them for another grade, but that church is dedicated to the first grade, and the first grade is where it’s going to remain.
“Paul said some of them went up into the second grade and gave it up, and said, ‘It’s too hard here,’ and they went back to the first.
“‘How long have you been in the first grade, Junior?’
“Paul said, ‘forgetting those things which are behind. … I press toward the mark’ (Philippians 3:13-14). There was a man not satisfied with the first grade.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, Success and the Christian
Throughout grade school, I would be very prayerful after the tests were completed at the end of the school year. I would sweat for days in anticipation. My thoughts were always, “Did I do enough to advance to the next grade?”
Then the report card would come in the mail. There would be a scattering of “A” and “B” grades. No tardiness. Few absences, mostly the standard childhood diseases. And the important word, “Promoted.”
My parents would laugh at my anxiety. They knew my grades were always good. They knew that the teacher would have talked to them if there was any doubt. They laughed, but they never comforted my irrational fears.
The eighth grade was different, but that was a turning point in life. I came out of the eighth grade charging toward good grades through graduate school.
But let’s look at spiritual grade school. The Scripture from 1 Peter lists things that we need to avoid: all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Peter suggests that to avoid those bad things, we need to grow in our faith.
The Apostle Paul, in the Scripture from Philippians, talks of keeping his eyes on the goal. In so doing, he was always moving forward, never backward.
But isn’t Tozer correct when he says that the average church is happy with first graders? Tozer’s indictment on the modern church is a strong one. Consider your desire to advance to the next grade in school, the embarrassment that you would have felt if you failed and had to repeat a grade. Now think of how many people are satisfied with having one spiritual experience, considering that their salvation, and then they coast. I cannot count the times that I have heard, “If I barely get inside the door to heaven, I am fine with that.”
Is it possible to have totally opposite reactions to the same stimulus? In science, they would say ‘impossible’.
Could it be that we do not take God, God’s kingdom, God’s sovereignty, and the business of heaven seriously?
I know what we will do! We will add the words ‘malice’, ‘deceit’, ‘hypocrisy’, ‘envy’, and ‘slander’ to the Political Correct naughty list. That way we can stay in the first grade and have no one point out how wrong we are in not wanting to grow.
For me, I cannot see Truth in an attitude that accepts no growth as a Christian. If Jesus is really in your heart, you will have a desire to be more like Jesus. It will be a burning desire, not a casual interest.
Then you look upon the suffering Jesus, and you cringe. Okay, maybe not that far.
But, yes. Jesus calls us to suffer in His name.
I will admit that my spiritual growth has been spotty over the years. My Bible reading was and is consistent. My prayer life has not been as it should be, but it is improving. My service life could have been better, but when you have two boys, a lot of the service revolved around them.
I have learned through writing Christian essays that you grow a lot more when you commit your life to it. When you pour out your heart, God is purging the old bad habits and replacing them with new good habits. That does not mean everyone needs to write a blog. Each of us has our own way of making the Christian life real.
When my wife became born-again in the year 2000, she explained that she had always believed the Bible to be true. She had always believed God and Jesus existed. But upon her revelation, she simply said, “This is truly real.”
If it is truly real, then our life-long desire should be beyond the first grade. We should never be happy with stagnation. Our desire must be to advance to greater and greater heights. And with each step, we become more like Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.