Christianity is far more than feeling a certain way. It involves knowing God. To be a Christian is far more than being saved from the eternal flames of hell. It involves a lifetime pursuit of God. Paul explains the Christian pursuit in Ephesians 1:18-19, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you , what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the work of his great might.”
Today, much of evangelical Christianity is based on feelings. We choose churches based on how the services make us feel. We listen to certain preachers based on how they make us feel. We read certain books in order to stir-up certain feelings. And the list goes on and on. Have you considered the fact that God wants us to know some things about Him?
When Paul uses the phrase, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” he is referencing the inner core of our human person. The center of our spiritual and physical person is often referred to as our heart in the Scriptures. This is where the seat of our emotions, volition, and thinking occurs. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus (and surrounding cities) was that they would know God intimately and grow in their knowledge of Him. Alistair Begg writes the following:
[We] must understand that Christianity is not served by mindlessness, but by the knowledge of God through the Word of God. Such knowledge engages our minds, stirs our hearts, and transforms our lives. This knowledge is personal. How is it fostered? By listening to what He says (the priority of preaching), by engaging Him in conversation (the emphasis on prayer), by spending time in His company (the need for a devotional life), and by being with others who know Him too (the need for gathered worship). This knowledge is progressive and dynamic, not static. At the end of our journey, we should still be exclaiming with Paul: “I want to know Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2). 
As we read through the Scriptures, we see that this pursuit is not merely a human effort. It requires diligence from us, but it likewise involves the work of the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to understand. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we read, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We likewise read that without the power of God, we cannot understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Although we were once darkened and our understanding of God and His marvelous grace (Eph. 4:18) was a hidden mystery, after causing us to be born again, we are given the ability to understand the Word of God. Therefore, we must give ourselves to the study of God.
Knowing God involves quite a bit more than showing up for a church service on Sunday morning. It’s impossible for your pastor to give you all of your spiritual nutrients in one sermon. It is the will of God for us to know God. This involves:
- Knowledge of what God has done for us in the past.
- Knowledge of what God is doing for us in the present.
- Knowledge of what God is planning for us in the future.
According to Paul, in Ephesians 1:15-19, his prayer was for the Ephesian believers to have the knowledge of God which involved the hope they possessed in God, the glorious riches of their inheritance in God, and the immeasurable power toward those who believe. This type of understanding involves a lifelong pursuit and should not be relegated to the back burner of life. Knowing God is more important than your business ventures, your retirement plans, your children’s athletic pursuits, and anything else you could give yourself to in this life. While participating in a Q&A one day, James Montgomery Boice was once asked, “What do you think is the greatest lack among evangelical Christians in America today?” He replied, “I think that the greatest need of the evangelical church today is for professing Christians really to know God.” 
- Alistair Begg, Made For His Pleasure, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 22.
- James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 34.
Life is full of goals. We spend time charting and planning everything from automobile maintenance schedules to college tuition funds. Add that to our health goals after our recent trip to the doctor, along with our future retirement goals, and it seems that we have goals for almost everything in life. What about spiritual goals? Have you set goals regarding spiritual maturity? Have you thought about ways to accurately chart your progress? Have you considered the fact that your pastors have set goals for your spiritual life?
Spiritual Maturity Results in Gospel Ministry
The role and responsibility of pastors is to equip the church membership to do the work of gospel ministry. It’s a categorical error to look at the pastors as the “professionals” who earn a paycheck to do the work of ministry. Would it be a shock for you to know that God views all church members as ministers of the gospel? According to Ephesians 4:12, God has gifted the church with pastor-teachers for the purpose of equipping the church to do the work of ministry.
The ministry of the local church can be divided into two primary areas — discipleship and missions. Although there are specific overlaps, this is the work of the local church. In going and telling the gospel, we baptize and teach believers the Word of God. It is the plan of God for His children to grow-up and pursue spiritual maturity. We must read warnings in Hebrews 5:13-14 and make sure that we avoid such errors. Are you just a “come and watch” church member or do you have your hands and your heart involved in the work of gospel ministry to make disciples for the glory of God?
Spiritual Maturity Prevents Doctrinal Drift
As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, we grow doctrinal roots that are not easily moved. We’ve all seen the aftermath of a violent storm or high winds that uprooted trees. That same thing can be true when false doctrine sweeps through a home, a church, or across the Internet. God expects His children to grow into mature believers who are not led astray by false teachers who speak with deceptive tongues delivering damnable heresies. Paul explains one of the purposes of pastoral leadership in Ephesians 4:13-14:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
I have watched people be swept away by the winds of Roman Catholicism, prosperity teachings, and other cult groups who present crafty teachings through the television and Internet. Those who are pursuing spiritual maturity avoid these problems because they can spot the false doctrine like a red barn in the middle of an open green field. The spiritually immature believer often doesn’t possess such discernment. Don Whitney writes, “In my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.”  Like a deep root system on a majestic tree, spiritual maturity does the same thing for believers who put in the discipline to know God through His Word.
Spiritual Maturity Results in Biblical Submission
We’re born with the seed of rebellion in our depraved hearts, and then if you’re fortunate to be born in a nation like America where such rugged individualism is celebrated — submission is a backward way of thinking. After becoming a Christian, we learn that submission is the way of the Christian life. We’re called out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ. This new life in Christ involves submission to authority. We’re called to submit to authority, and it all begins with a submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Biblical submission involves a willingness to submit to authorities in various roles of life including:
- Submission to the Lordship of Christ (we are the servants of Christ).
- Submission to the Word of God (the Scriptures are authoritative and sufficient).
- Submission to civil leaders and the laws of the land.
- Submission to family roles (wives to husbands and children to parents).
- Submission to those in authority over us in the work world.
- Submission to the church family (the church caring for one another in love).
- Submission to the pastoral leaders placed over you.
We are wired to resist and avoid authority. However, when God changes a person’s heart, that individual learns to lovingly submit to the law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). The individual who possesses a rogue and rebellious attitude toward authority should evaluate themselves closely. To the young believer, pursue spiritual maturity in order that you will become strong in the faith and never forget that a heart that’s willing to submit to authority is not weak. R. C. Sproul has accurately stated, “The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls.” 
What books are you reading? What sermons are you listening to? Do you have a plan for Scripture reading? How is your church attendance? Are you engaged in intentional discipleship opportunities within your church? When was the last time you talked with your pastor about ways you could grow spiritually? Perhaps it’s time to set some real goals for spiritual maturity in your life. Setting a goal to run a 5k or a marathon is commendable, but to set a goal for spiritual maturity is far better.
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 17.
- R. C. Sproul, “The Divine Foundation of Authority,” Tabletalk, (March, 2009), 6.
In 1946, President Truman threw out the first pitch on opening day of baseball season in Washington. The picture you see below documented the occasion and it hangs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What’s most interesting to me is not that a president would throw out the first pitch of a baseball season, but that baseball fans would assemble to watch a game wearing dresses and suits. The men were dressed in three-piece suites and wearing top hats. The women were wearing dresses and overcoats. Let’s just say, times have changed. Diana West said in her book titled, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization, “These days, of course, father and son dress more or less alike, from message-emblazoned T-shirts to chunky athletic shoes, both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp. In the mature male, these trappings of adolescence have become more than a matter of comfort or style; they reveal a state of mind a reflection of a personality that hasn’t fully developed, and doesn’t want to–or worse, doesn’t know how.” 
Not only has time changed in the way baseball fans dress, but that same pattern is also visible in the way church members dress. Historically, church members would wear their “Sunday best” to worship, but those days are quickly fading away. Today many contemporary churches have branded themselves with a “come as you are” image. This is not only a pattern in the pew, but it’s likewise visible in the pulpit. In many cases, the pastor doesn’t even have a pulpit, and he may or may not own a suit. Let’s just say, times have changed.
Today’s church is far different than it was 75 years ago. Tragically, the difference is not based solely upon clothing and hair styles. We’re living in a day where mature men are becoming a rare thing in the life of the church. From skinny jeans to emoji communication, we’ve abandoned the serious pursuit of manhood and womanhood in the life of the church. There was once a time where teenagers were discipled and taught doctrine, the importance of worship, the necessity of the prayer meeting, and the need to pursue wisdom and holiness from God. Unfortunately, today we’re seeing forty year old teenagers who have little skill in carrying on a serious conversation without endless repetitions of “like” and “dude” being thrown around in rapid succession.
Look at the attire of presidents in U.S. history and it reveals much about the attitude and emphasis of the culture. For instance, President John F. Kennedy was not only a very young president, but he was likewise the first president to refrain from wearing a hat openly and routinely. Interestingly his presidency had an emphasis upon the youth culture and what followed his administration (after he was assassinated) was a very clear focus on the younger population. It was almost a deemphasis upon the older population. It seems that the same thing happened in the evangelical church. How often have we seen an unhealthy emphasis on the youth of the church and a deemphasis upon the adults? Have we created an atmosphere in the church where it’s difficult for adults to grow up?
If asked to provide an honest evaluation, does your church promote and aid maturity among the younger population or would you say that your church promotes a dangerous perpetual adolescence? Are thirty and forty year old men still throwing Xbox parties while finding it difficult to communicate without their cell phones? Does your church culture promote the “fortysomething teenager” mentality or a serious minded pursuit of adulthood through maturity in life and doctrine? Are you seeing a passion among younger adults to grow in holiness and to know God through His Word? Do you see a dangerous delay among men in choosing a bride and starting a family? Are men in your church lazy and disinterested in holding down a job and providing for their family? Are the young ladies in your church more interested in getting together to watch “The Bachelor” as opposed to prayer and Bible study?
Allow me to make a clarifying remark. Sadly I’ve met men who faithfully dressed in a suit and tie for worship on Sunday, but they didn’t know much about God. Outwardly they appeared to be mature, but doctrinally they were shallow at best. I’m not saying that if a forty year old man plays a video game or uses an emoji in a text message that he’s immature. What I am saying is that the pursuit of maturity and wisdom among adults (especially men) in the church today is lacking. We’re living in a time in church history where it seems that adolescence abounds. According to Melinda Penner, “An extended male adolescence marks the lifestyles, expectations, and behavior of far too many young males, whose masculine identity is embraced awkwardly, if at all.”  Perhaps we can connect the dots of immaturity in doctrine with a casual attitude toward worship, but that’s not always the case.
When we worship together as a church, there should be a high view of God, a robust understanding of His sovereignty, and a humble sense of gratitude through a consideration of God’s amazing grace. Our worship services should not come across as VBS for adults. Our fellowship among the church should not be shallow and immature, but rich and spiritually beneficial. The posture of the preacher should reflect the seriousness of his assignment and the weightiness of the burden that lies upon his shoulders every time he enters the pulpit and opens God’s Word. No matter what the context may be, the church should gather for worship with an attitude of thanksgiving, a desire to sing praises to our exalted triune God, an emphasis should be placed on genuine prayer to God, and a longing to hear from God through His Word should be pulsating in the hearts of the people. The children of the church should progress upward in sanctification and transition into adulthood at the proper time and in the proper manner. According to Titus 2, we’re to train the younger generation to follow in our footsteps. Are we leading the younger generation into mature adulthood as followers of Christ or a dangerous path of perpetual adolescence?
Immaturity among the adults today will produce immature and perpetual adolescence within the church tomorrow. Something must be done to alter this pattern. Don Whitney writes, “In my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.”  The evangelical church today needs a true revival of holiness. Holiness produces maturity, because by nature a person who is progressing in holiness will not desire to remain in a state of perpetual immaturity in life or doctrine. As the church returns to the Word and has an unbreakable confidence in the sufficiency of God’s Word, only then will God’s church become discontent with the trivialities and mesmerized by God. If anyone should be fighting to save the adult from extinction it should be the church of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-16 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
- Diana West, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization, (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2007), 2.
- Melinda Penner, “Perpetual Adolescence” (www.str.org, 2005).
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 1991), 17.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I venture to say that the bulk of Christians spend more time in reading the newspaper than they do reading the Word of God.” As a pastor, that’s a troubling reality! In our day, we could likely say that Christians spend more time on social media or their iPhone than reading the Word of God. As a pastor, it’s exciting to see people hunger for the Scriptures. I have seen people in the church who didn’t seem to have any true hunger for the Scriptures, and I’ve also witnessed people who were constantly in the Word. The church needs Bereans! But, what exactly does that mean? You have probably heard of the Berean Bookstore (Berean Christian Stores). You have most likely heard of people being described as Bereans. Maybe you have heard of a Sunday school or small group in your local church that was named – The Bereans. What is a Berean?
The Bereans as a name and adjective is traced back to the story of Acts 17. Paul and Silas had been in Thessalonica preaching the gospel. They were met with great hostility there because of the message of Jesus. Paul had explained the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and then connected the dots to the OT promise of the Messiah. He clearly identified Jesus as the Christ. In fact, Paul was teaching the people that there was a more lofty and exalted King than Caesar – and that King is Jesus. This teaching fueled a fire first with the Jewish community that spread to the city authorities. They formed a mob and went searching for Paul claiming that “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6). After they searched Jason’s house, they took money from him, and then let him go because Paul was not with him.
Meanwhile Paul and Silas slipped out of town and went to Berea. Upon their arrival, as was the pattern of Paul when entering a new city, they went to the local synagogue. When Paul stood and preached Jesus as the Christ of God to those in the synagogue, they listened intently. In fact, the Scripture says, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Rather than simply throwing rocks at Paul, dragging him to prison for blasphemy, or running him out of town, they simply examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was the truth. As a result, many of these Jews came to faith in Jesus as the Christ of God – and the church was born in Berea.
In the life of the church, we need Bereans who will study the Scripture with eagerness – examining the Word to learn and grow in the Lord. Unfortunately, the church today seems to be plagued with a large population of “Thessalonians” rather than Bereans. The most healthy church as a whole, and for individual family units, will be the church that is populated with Bereans. When presented with a doctrine or view of Christ that doesn’t seem “mainstream” – Bereans will search the Scriptures rather than texting, e-mailing, and calling people to form a mob. In the “Berean” church context, you will have men, women, boys, and girls examining the Scriptures to see the grand truths of Christ. Below are several reasons to pray for God to populate your church with Bereans.
- Bereans are not likely to fight over their pet doctrines they have taken on by tradition. They are more likely to examine the Scripture to see if their longtime doctrinal position is true.
- Bereans are those who are likely to admit when they have been guilty of holding to a false interpretation.
- Bereans are not likely to be led astray by crazy bloggers, authors, or preachers who find great joy in throwing rocks at others (within the same faith) who disagree on biblical matters.
- Bereans are likely to formulate theological boundaries and a priority of importance for fellowship and worship. Bereans will know what doctrines to divide over – and this will bring great unity to the church. Dr. Albert Mohler has done a great job of putting together a “Theological Triage” map and his article is also worth reading.
- Bereans are likely to have a priority of family worship in the home. One of the tragedies that plagues the local church is the idea that the only time the Bible should be opened and explained is while assembled with the church family. J.C. Ryle said, “The Bible in the pulpit must never supersede the Bible at home.”
- Bereans who become leaders in state and national levels of the SBC will most likely have enough doctrinal maturity to lead effectively without grinding an ax over theological issues that should be considered within the realm of a “family debate.”
- Bereans are more likely to experience unity rather than divisive attitudes sparked by ignorance of the Scriptures. Therefore, it’s likely that Bereans will permeate a spirit of brotherly love (even when they don’t agree on non-essential issues) and avoid church splits.
We should seek to become like the Bereans in our personal study of Scripture. It will change our family and our church as a result. We should pray for our church and in that prayer – we should ask the Lord to bless us abundantly with many Bereans. Jonathan Edwards once said in his 28th resolution, “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”
If you are like most people, the time spent checking your e-mail is often cluttered with deleting forwards from friends, family and complete strangers. The majority of those forwarded messages seem to be consumed with false doctrines, conspiracy theories and anti-biblical ideas that we should not believe nor pass on to our address list. Unfortunately, many people in our churches believe these ideas and pass them on to their friends. This problem is not with e-mail itself, but with the need for discernment in the lives of Christians.
It was a couple of weeks before the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President when I received an e-mail asking my opinion about a specific e-mail she had received. This lady who sent the e-mail is a member of my church and a great Christian who is committed to the Lord and demonstrates a great deal of discernment. She was not claiming to believe it herself, but she mentioned that she knows people who do believe it and they had forwarded it to her. The e-mail claimed that some major national disaster would erupt before the inauguration causing Bush to remain in office and that Obama would not take office in January. The content of the e-mail was mixed with eschatological events (end times) and theories based upon a supposed heavenly visitation experience where this man (Scott Walkington) received this information from God. The full e-mail text is too long to print here but it can be read by clicking here.
After reviewing the e-mail, I could tell in a matter of 15 seconds that the e-mail was not creditable and certainly was not going to come to pass. I was tipped off to this by the obvious biblical contradictions and theological blunders that were present in the e-mail. I responded to my friend and church member by saying:
It sounds very entertaining, but unfortunately, I do not put much stock in such messages. You see, the person has proclaimed himself a prophet to send a message to us which is outside of the Word of God. God has already spoken to us – and it is through His Word. When He comes back – it will be like a thief in the night, in the twinkling of an eye – not expected through an internet / e-mail prophecy. So, I think this gentleman may have had too much onion with his cornbread the night before he sent this e-mail.
As we consider the situation in most churches today, the pews are overflowing with very shallow Christians who do not know their Bibles and therefore do not know how to spot false doctrine. The best way to spot false doctrine is to be an expert on the true biblical doctrines contained in Holy Scripture. Spiritual maturity combats false doctrine. Below are several ways that the local church can achieve spiritual discernment and combat the doctrines that often toss people around like a sailboat sitting upon an angry sea with powerful waves.
1. Through Pastoral Leadership: This is a must for spiritual discernment. If the people are going to grow and mature in their faith, they must have leaders who are committed to leading them to the truth and modeling such growth in their own lives. Shallow Christianity often built upon a foundation seeking larger numbers will not lead people to spiritual maturity. The overseers (elders / pastors) of the local congregation must be teaching saturating the mids of the people with the Word of God.
2. Through Doctrinal Maturity: Most people in the local churches do not know what they believe or why they believe it. Doctrinal maturity is a must for combating false doctrine. Claiming to hold to a set of beliefs because “Grandpa” always believed that way is not sufficient for the angry waves of false doctrine.
3. Expository Studies: At some level in the local church, there must be expositional studies (verse by verse teaching and preaching) taking place in order to truly understand what the Bible says. Simply jumping from Isaiah to Revelation and back to Malachi from week to week will not supply spiritual maturity. People need to know the Bible in order to combat the false doctrines that often show up in our e-mail boxes or during lunch break with our fellow co-workers.
4. Good Reading Material: There are many books today that are being sold in Christian book stores (Lifeway included) that are not spiritually uplifting nor biblically accurate. For instance, if you really want to know what the Bible says about life, you should avoid the Joel Osteen books and move toward more spiritually deep and accurate choices. However, the truth is – most people do not read and this presents a greater problem when it comes to spiritual sanctification, maturity and discernment. One thing to remember is that just because it is being sold in a reputable book store does not mean that it is something you should be digesting.
5. Good Website Choices: One of the greatest inventions in history is the internet. Undoubtedly a person can grow faster in biblical studies in our present day than ever before in history. The internet provides a wealth of knowledge at the click of a button. Many resources, commentaries, blogs, audio and video messages are available for absolutely no cost. This is wonderful for Christian growth, but it must be approached with great caution. It must be noted that a person can create a website in less than 2 minutes. With blogs and blogging software, the ability for anyone to publish their own ideas and information in form of words and video is available free and can be done in a matter of minutes. Therefore, just because it appears on the web does not mean it is accurate. A person should always consider the source when using information gathered from the web.
6. Scripture Memory: One of the greatest ways of internalizing Scripture and fully comprehending it is through Scripture memory. This discipline is directly connected to spiritual discernment. Adults and children should both practice this great discipline in order to experience spiritual growth. Click here to see more information regarding Scripture memory.
Recommended Book: I would highly recommend the book by Tim Challies titled, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. The book review from the DBG site can be viewed here and the book can be purchased here. In his book, Tim speaks about the lack of spiritual discernment and explains solutions to this great problem that plagues many Christians in our day.
Romans 12:2: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The word, “prove” in the KJV is a word that means “discern.” We must be transformed and renewed through the Scriptures in order that we may discern what is good, acceptable and perfect in the eyes of God!
For the glory of God and the discernment of His Church!
Pastor Josh Buice