Take the Next Step
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
Part 3 of Above & Beyond! Colossians 1:28
Peter Foxwell. The Cornerstone Church. January 21, 2018.
INTRODUCTION: WE ARE BEING CHANGED
Did you see the CNN story about the five friends who have taken the same group photo in the same location every five years since 1982? They've agreed to do this every five years until they die.
The photos are so interesting. I kept going back and forth between the 1982 and the 2017 photos - changes of face weight, hairline, face shape, and so on. These are the same people but they're not the same people.
A lot changes in 35 years. Not just in the natural. Jesus-followers are changing in the supernatural. The Bible says we're on a lifelong journey to full spiritual maturity. We're being slowly conformed to Christ (Romans 8:28-29). We're the same people we were 20 years ago, but we're not the same people - know what I mean?
Some days might not seem very supernatural. Last week, I had a text conversation with a dad in our church. He's got young kids and the winter crud has been going around. His daughter had a 104 degree fever. It's a hard on him and his wife; exhausting.
I remember those days with my kids. Looking after a sick kid doesn't seem very supernatural or spiritual. But God used times like that change me deeply: I needed to learn how to care for someone else more than I care myself.
If you look back five years, you'll see that God has been changing you. Not everything and maybe not as much as you'd like, but God's work of transformation is happening - usually quietly, under the surface, in the background. One day, it will be very obvious.
The most important journey we ever take is the road to spiritual maturity. Today, we're going to discover how God takes us down that road.
SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS NOT INEVITABLE
Someone might be thinking, "I've been a Christian for five years now, so I must be spiritually mature." Not necessarily. I know plenty of people who've been repeating their first year of faith over and over again for decades. They're still babies in the faith - still in spiritual diapers - just like the believers in 1st century Corinth:
1 Corinthians 3:1 "Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere INFANTS in Christ."
These "brothers and sisters" had been Christians for years, but they hadn't changed much and they hadn't grown up spiritually speaking.
Paul wrote this letter to urge Christians back to Jesus so they reach mature faith. The Colossians were trying to get spiritual by worshipping angels and following special days and diets. It wasn't working:
Colossians 2:22-23 These rules ... are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but THEY LACK ANY VALUE in restraining sensual indulgence.
Some plans for spiritual growth just don't work - THEY LACK VALUE. They don't bring us closer to God; they don't make us better people; they don't fill us with spiritual power.
Fortunately, God has a plan for your spiritual maturity. And it works. Let's look at it now ...
A. MATURITY HAPPENS IN CHRIST.
Over and over again, Paul points us to Christ:
Colossians 1:27: CHRIST in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 1:28: HE is the ONE we proclaim.
Colossians 1:28b: ... present everyone fully mature IN CHRIST.
Colossians 2:2-3 ... the mystery of God, namely, CHRIST, 3 in whom are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:6: Just as you received CHRIST Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives IN HIM, rooted and built up IN HIM.
Colossians 2:10: In Christ, you have been brought to fullness.
What do these verses tell us? We reach spiritual maturity by a PERSON, not a plan. And we never graduate from the PERSON of Jesus to something or someone else.
The first step of your spiritual journey is putting your faith in Jesus. The connection to spiritual energy starts when we say, "Jesus come into my life." That's when the growth begins. Jesus told his disciples:
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
When you put your faith in Jesus, HE moves inside of you. You are now rooted deep into Jesus and all his power for your transformation. He's the power to break the grip of negative habits. He's the power to live a beautiful of life.
Once Jesus is living in you, make sure to stay rooted in Jesus:
Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, CONTINUE to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him ...
Well-meaning people will tell you that Jesus is great, but you need more; you need to try this or that amazing strategy for breakthrough; or this method of finding deeper joy; or whatever. Thank them, but say, "I have found that Jesus is enough. I'm building myself up in him."
B. MATURITY HAPPENS IN COMMUNITY.
One of the best ways to continue in Christ is to connect with Christ-followers in the church. Hanging out with spiritual people will help you grow spiritually. For some of us, this is the next step in the journey. Not just attending church services, but connecting with people at a level where their growth influences our growth.
Why is this helpful? Because the church is like a greenhouse for spiritual growth. My dad built a greenhouse in his back yard. Scotland's growing season is pretty short, but that little glass hothouse grew plants even when it was cold outside. My dad's plants grew bigger, faster, in the greenhouse. This church - this community, our relationships, small groups, families, friendships, study groups, - is God's greenhouse for spiritual growth. How does it work?
Paul explains in verse 28:
"He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching EVERYONE with all wisdom, so that we may present EVERYONE fully mature in Christ."
In the first half of the verse, he said, "I gave you the Word. I taught it and urged you to follow it." So that's one benefit of the church - it's where Bible learning happens.
In the second half of the verse he repeats, "everyone" to make it clear that he taught the Word to the whole group and he did it for a reason: It's as a group, it's in community, that we grow to maturity in Christ."
The truth is: we move to maturity together. The journey is relational. Everyone can grow spiritually, but we need everyone together to make it happen.
Soloists are great in concertos, but not so great in churches. It's really tough to be holy and a hermit.
Your next step may be to commit to community. Make spiritual friends by joining small group, or meeting someone for coffee and prayer every week.
C. MATURITY HAPPENS IN CHARACTER BEFORE CONDUCT.
The word "mature" there in Colossians 1:28 is first and foremost about our CHARACTER. It means complete, or finished, or adult in our character.
"Mature" describes what we're like inside when God has finished molding and shaping us. There is a reason why Jesus lives in us and not just with us. He is transforming our hearts so that our hearts will transform our habits. Life flows from the heart - never the other way round (Matthew 15:16-20).
Something terrible will happen to you if you try to reverse the order. What? You'll become a religious hypocrite. Your behavior may change, but your heart will stay the same - proud, judgmental, angry, and ugly. Jesus pointed out the danger:
Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
In the story of Little Red Riding Hood, when that wolf put on the grandma's clothes, and lay in the grandma's bed, did that wolf become Red's grandma. No, it was still a wicked wolf.
Spiritual growth happens from the inside out. Remember that: Being before behaving; heart before habit; character before conduct.
Your next step to growth and change might be to take a good look at your heart. You look pretty good on the outside, but try this: Set aside an hour and get alone somewhere. Ask Jesus to search your heart and point out the stuff he wants to change.
CONCLUSION: CHANGE MY HEART OH GOD
Over the years, God has met me in powerful ways through music. One song that has really helped that happen is Eddie Espinosa's Change My Heart Oh God:
Change My Heart Oh God
Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You
You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray
Maturity happens when we allow Jesus to search and change our hearts.
The founder of Marriage Today is Jimmy Evans. Last week, he wrote an email about the change he experienced when he let Jesus search his heart:
"For years I’d been trying to earn the praise of my earthly father ... and I believed I had to perform to deserve God’s love and blessings too. In the middle of a bad year, I woke up one morning and I was just worn out. I said to the Lord; “I can’t peddle any harder. I’m done, and I will accept whatever consequences come along." To my surprise, as soon as I was finished uttering those words, the Lord spoke this to my heart, “If you will rest in My love, I will take care of you – treat me like I’m the perfect Father and see if you can prove me wrong.” At that moment I told the Lord I was going to trust Him as my perfect Father … and everything changed. My focus was no longer on my performance. It was on God’s love and presence. In the process, He revealed Himself to me in incredible ways. Today I know God as my loving, gracious, present, faithful Father. And I trust Him to lead me daily. That is what turns a bad year into a good year." - Jimmy Evans email, January 17, 2018.
Take the next step: "Jesus, search my heart. Change me from the inside out."
APPENDIX 1: "MATURE"
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults (mature).
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete ...
Ephesians 4:13b ... mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Clearly that does not mean we become God. It means that our character is conformed to Christ.
Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
APPENDIX 2: MATURITY AND THE BIBLE
Paul wrote in verse 28, "He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom."
Proclaim is the general word for a public announcement. Paul means his teaching about Jesus. Today, that's preaching, teaching, studying, sharing Bible.
Teaching is instruction in Christian doctrine and its application. (Matthew 28:20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 3:2)
Admonishing is encouragement or counsel. It is used mostly of urging Christians to follow Jesus and forsake sin. (Acts 20:31; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
The reason we make so much room for Bible teaching at the Cornerstone is because learning, applying, and living the Bible is the fuel of spiritual growth. Paul preached to produce maturity - verse 28. When the church gathers to hear the Word, expect great things (see Nehemiah 8-9, the preaching led to national repentance and a new commitment to God and his ways.).
APPENDIX 3: THE MATURITY MYTH
The maturity myth claims that spiritual growth is manageable. The myth says there's a formula to follow: "If I do A, then B will result." For example, if we work hard at spiritual disciplines - read the Bible, pray, fast, listen to preaching, whatever - we will absolutely grow and change. If we're not growing, then its because we need to work harder at it.
The truth, however, is this: Change is not predictable or linear or formulaic like that at all: You can't draw a line from A to B. Listen what Paul said about his journey:
Romans 7:15 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
No one ever worked harder at spiritual growth than Paul. In spite of this, he experienced setbacks and delays and lack of progress. If you've been frustrated with your progress, give yourself a break. Growth isn't manageable or predictable. But it is doable when we follow God's plan. Paul didn't give up. He pressed on in faith:
Philippians 3:10-14 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.