We’re in a series study through Peter’s first letter to the church, so if you have your Bible, grab it and turn there/screens.
1 Peter 2:1-3
2 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
Those of you who know me know, that Dave and I have 3 daughters – toddler, tweenager, adolescent – very conscious of ages and stages – varying needs, varying temperaments, varying capacities obviously…
Also as parents, the varying stages of – whereas we carry our toddler across the road – we might or might not hold our 10 year olds hand – but our 14 year not… so at this point, we obviously hope that our endless chats about road danger and modelling road safety have landed… and she is well able take herself to and from school, shops, outings and she does…
We might feel like babies in our faith, we might feel like giants in our faith… maybe we have been a christian for years and years (me), we might be questioning our faith… I don’t think the innate desire to grow ever leaves us… and here God is guiding us toward spiritual growth.
Let’s look at this passage with humility, because the word is alive and hence, always relevant, always pointing us to grace and truth, always calling us deeper into the Lord and higher in how we live.
Before we start on the how-to’s… I want to look at what Peter means by “as newborn babes” Because if we jump to the practical/pragmatic/ how-to’s first, we’re like “yeah yeah yeah got it” but sometimes we need to know where we’re at to appreciate where we need to go.
This idea of being newborn babies spiritually is mentioned a few times in the bible…
Hebrews 5:13-14 NLT 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
The Hebrews author is suggesting there’s a maturation process spiritually that parallels the biological and mental and psychological maturation process we go through.
In 1 John we find a cross reference passage of scripture as he writes the introduction to his letter to a group of christians that he obviously feels are at varying stages in their journey of faith.
I John 2:12-14
12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.
Different stages to the christian life are just like the biological life – babyhood – youth – adults. The christian life must be seen as a journey, not hierarchical or status based – theres no preference of people… Regardless of age, intellect, talent, common sense, wisdom – we start our christian life, our relationship with Jesus as babies and the aim is to grow up.
What does it mean to grow up in our salvation?
These scriptures address this as John addresses three different groups of people here:
We’re all on a spiritual journey – and we’re all somewhere on it…
Like any journey – different skills are needed as we traverse through different pathways, mountains, valleys, darkness, light, complex traversing…
At every stage, there are certain skills, lessons, attitudes, capacities that we have to learn to master before moving to the next one.
Christianity is not a status thing – there’s no preference of people or hierarchy – but it’s a journey.
However, just like children and adolescents don’t always understand themselves – there’s so much growing and changing going on physically, mentally, emotionally – there’s confusing feelings, desires, thoughts and the rest… because of that, it’s illegal to allow them to do certain things under a certain age and considered neglect if not adhered to.
People think when the bible talks on scriptures like Galatians 5 about the desires of the flesh he just means carnal desires e.g. food, sex, alcohol, strife etc and that Christians are meant to push down.
Galatians 5:17-21 ESV
17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (that you were under before). 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What he’s talking about is how before you become a Christian, your heart was completely united in its opposition to God’s salvation.
Then when we become a christian – there’s a new system – a new power – our heart begins to operate on a whole new system of identity, morality, life – our salvation becomes our basis of self worth.
Yet, we still have a major part of our heart wanting to operate on the old system – vying for control.
Just like a bear isn’t dangerous unless it feels cornered – then it’s very dangerous…
When you become a christian, this whole new way and power comes into your life, and the old system is cast aside – and the thrones of our heart – our pride, fears, selfishness, defensiveness, self consciousness are cornered, wounded even.
Those things were a danger to us before but now they are aggravated… and when those first beautiful loving feelings – our first love we might call it with Christ – those things can be of greater danger to us.
And we’re baby christians then, we don’t understand all that’s going on inside and around us and we need help – we need to be able to depend on other people further down the line – we need fathers and mothers in faith, we need comrades to walk with – a church family.
We can’t be self-contained units at any stage of our christian life, but particularly not baby stage – the christian life doesn’t work that way – you can move around church to church – people group to people group – event to event – podcast to podcast as if you’re totally in charge of your life.
If we move around like that, it’s like we’re spiritually homeless, and that doesn’t lead to a great place.
There’s a lot to learn and understand in our relationship with Jesus and we need a healthy church family for that.
Spiritual growth stages are by no means neat and ordered and the same for all, they’re not specifically progressive… just like babies don’t grow at exactly the same rate… but there are some general stages which John points out to help us move forward and grow.
1/ Have encountered Jesus and know your sins are forgiven
12 I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13b I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.
The first lesson is knowing our sins are forgiven and we never get out of spiritual babyhood unless we know that, otherwise we always carry the remnants of a legalistic spirit, working to feel worthy of our salvation.
Baby christians may intellectually believe Jesus is their saviour but actually and psychologically and functionally in day to day life might act as if something else is their saviour – a spouse, family, work/vocation, possessions, lifestyle.
It makes one radically insecure when there’s no real revelation of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and acceptance.
Let me ask you – are you sure your sins are forgiven?
Are you sure you know that Jesus bore your sins, died your death, has risen again to stand as your representative, your assurance, your advocate, your substitute before the father?
Or are you looking at the inept areas of your life, or your shortcomings or failures and letting them accuse your heart?
Because to grow beyond babyhood spiritually, we need to understand the difference between grace and works, and find the security that comes in knowing the Jesus has forgiven us.
2/ Stand strong in God’s Word regardless of opposition, feelings or circumstances
13 I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
14 I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one.
Like crossing the street, as adolescent christians, God starts to call us to face things without always that beautiful flowing ease and sense of his presence.
Jesus says in John 5:17 NLT, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”
God is always working, even if we don’t see it or feel it. It is easy to believe when we can see something with our natural eyes but it’s not so easy when we can’t see.
2 Corinthians 5:7 As God’s children, we live by faith not by sight.
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
That is adolescent faith.
No matter what is happening in the natural, as believers in Christ, we can be certain that God is working even if we can’t see it or feel it.
(The prayer wall so powerful…. story)
We can be certain that God is fighting our battles, arranging things, making a way for us even when we don’t see a way.
Sometimes he doesn’t seem like he’s listening, or he’s there, or he’s even real, but as adolescent christians we have to cross the road in faith, with our spiritual armour on
– Truth of His word buckled around us as we move forward
– Peace beyond understanding as we step out in faith
– Shield of faith overcoming opposition and confusion sent to throw us off track
– Confident in our salvation
– Filled with the Spirit which is the Word of God marinating in us over years of daily discipline ingesting it
Funnily enough, as we grow as Christians, we become more mistrustful of our own heart, and more dependant on God because we begin to understand the absolute holiness of the Lord, comparative to our flawed human ways:
We cling to God in prayer
The Word becomes our literal guide
We become more loving, more forgiving and more willing to be used by God
And whether or not we always feel it, we do what His Word says in faith that He is with us
If no one gets out of babyhood christianity without knowing the difference between grace and works, knowing our sins are forgiven….
Noone gets out of adolescent christianity until we understand that everything he sends is necessary and nothing can be necessary that he withholds from us.
It doesn’t mean we don’t feel it when hard things happen, it means we can process them with the Lord and in His word, remaining steadfast in our faith.
3/ Know the Lord through regular prayer and communion (regularly seeing His glory revealed in your personal walk with Him)
13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
You become a father or mother in faith when you learn and practise the regular disciplines of prayer and communing with him so that you are regularly seeing his glory revealed in your personal walk with Him. There’s less need for spectacular, the spectacular is in the day to day of your personal walk with Him.
Paul prays for the Ephesians… he says (Ephesians 1 ESV, paraphrase)
15 …I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, ….and don’t stop giving thanks for you… 17 that the God…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 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….
When we’ve grown up spiritually, our regular communion with God, our discipline and routine of prayer and reading and doing the Word of God, it takes effect… we have a deeper communion… a knowing, an enabling of our faith to do the things God asks of us:
Examples…radical works of faith
Nehemiah (out of deep commitment to prayer and obedience to God – amazing story – rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in spite of the fierce opposition)
Job (lost so much, more than you would think one could bare and remained in faith in God through to see the redemption of all he lost)
Esther (understood where God had positioned her and made massive life choices in faith for a purposeful moment she was marked for)
Noah (built an ark in holy fear of the Lord, how weird would that have been…)
So many more…
In summary –
We’re Baby christians until we understand the difference between grace and works, fully accepting God’s forgiveness
We’re Adolescent christians until we learn that everything is necessary that he sends, and nothing is necessary that he withholds, we learn how to live according to the bare word of God in spite of feelings, circumstances or opposition
We become a father or mother in faith when we start to learn the disciplines of prayer and communing with him so that we are regularly seeing his glory manifest in and through our lives and those around us
Do you see where you are?
Can you recognise yourself?
These are not clear cut categories but are you seeing progress or are you stuck right now because you haven’t learned the lesson for your stage?
This requires humility and its personal – none of us like to think of ourselves as babies but sometimes there are tweaks we need – no matter how mature you are, how smart you are naturally, no matter how talented – when you start out as a christian, you are an infant which may be hard to accept… but we are called to grow up IN TO our salvation…
God reminds us many times in the bible to remain childlike, not childish… he’s talking about humility, being imitators of Him, not worried about image, giving out love freely, dependent on Him…
HUMBLE Mat 18:1-5 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
CHRISTLIKE Eph 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Look at Jesus, the most childlike and wise, mature person possible… real, completely genuine, not worried about how others perceived him, secure in the Fathers love, dependent on Him, didn’t make a move without his Fathers lead, not jaded or cynical…
What if we, resolved to grow – grow out of our childish ways and in to our salvation as mature adult christians, fathers and mothers in faith for those around us so out of deep communion, deep faith, deep wells or prayer and communion, we can pour out for those around us who are needing salvation, needing the Lord
V2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow
The more His Word takes affect, the less those behaviours (malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, evil speaking) will trip us up… and they are convictions of the Holy Spirit…and we need to attend to them…
DESIRE THE (pure milk) WORD
DESIRE is a strong word
Let’s get an appetite for it
Babies don’t have milk once a day, they have it so many times a day – especially ours – without it there would be serious malnutrition and growth defects
Our spiritual maturity will be defected without the Word filling us and growing us
Pure milk – not watered down through someone else’s filter – God revealed to you is so personal – it can’t always be through someone else’s filter
We need the live Word to read us more then we need to read it
So that we may grow – to cause increase, to become great christians, assured of our salvation, and able to assure others of theirs.
***Bit further back in 1 Peter 1:23 it says the word is imperishable – so we can build our life on it / anything else we can build our life on is perishable (the approval of people – the strength of your family ties – the love of your spouse – your financial security – because they are perishable you’ll never feel secure in what will eventually fade). The only way to find security is finding the permanence of building your life on the word of God.
***the word is living – the place we can encounter the very voice of God speaking to us, in real time, with real direction and putting that kind of life in our souls.
So, let’s nourish ourselves in the word of God – build deep communion in to our daily lives, not for survival but for GROWTH in our salvation.
Ministry and prayer