Have you ever been so happy you were almost ecstatic? Maybe you got that raise you've been wanting or got accepted into the college you had dreamed about. It's easy to be happy when things are going your way. Listen to this lesson to learn about a true joy believers can have in the middle of unimaginable disasters. See that God has a training program tailored for each of us to develop the spiritual skills we need to experience this joy. Find out that this requires choices on our part so that even when it's hard and uncomfortable we can apply the Word of God to guide our actions.
Testing and Adversity
1 Peter 1:7–9
1 Peter Lesson #030
October 15, 2015
“Father, we’re so very grateful that we have Your Word. It’s just a minefield of wisdom. The more we study and the deeper we dig into it, the more we come to understand You. At least, that’s the purpose, not just to know Your Word for the sake of knowing Your Word, but so we can know You. We can walk with you, walk by the Holy Spirit, and walk in the light so that God the Holy Spirit can transform us from day-to-day into the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Father, we pray tonight that as we study in 1 Peter and as we come to understand the vital principles here that are so important to help us understand the role and the significance of adversity in our lives, that as we study this, we should come to understand how we should approach adversity when it comes and understand that You have it there in our lives for a purpose.
We pray that You would open our eyes to these truths in Christ’s name. Amen.”
A couple of things that actually fit what is going on in our topic. What we have in 1 Peter as I’m focusing tonight, having come out of our study of verses 6–9 exegetically is to develop a framework of application from what we’re learning in the text. This is how things should be.
What we see is that we run into different kinds of adversity. Some of it is self-induced misery. Some of it is the result of decisions that other people make that are in our periphery who are in rebellion against God. Some of it is just because we are living in the devil’s world.
Some of it is going to be directed at us specifically and personally. It may come from a family member. It may come from someone we thought of as a friend. It may come from people in the workplace because they know that you are a believer in Jesus Christ and they vibrate in hostility toward you every time they see you simply because you stand for something they feel personally threatens them.
As we go through these culture wars in our society and as Supreme Court decisions move us more and more away from establishment truth, this just gives greater freedom to a lot of people in this country to come out, I’m not talking about the homosexual issue, per se, but to come out of the closet to express their hostility toward Christianity.
It may be for any number of reasons. It may have to do with environment. It may have to do with various moral issues. It may have to do with Second Amendment rights. It may have to do with any number of things but they know that you as a Christian believe something that they think threatens them personally. As a result of that, you are going to have a target on your back. I’ve been walking around with a target on my back for a long time. The trouble is that most of the people shooting at me have been Christians. That’s what happens to pastors. Usually it’s his congregation. Not in my case.
Here we have a case. Most of you probably heard bits and pieces of this recently. This is one report that came out in the Daily Signal today which is a publication of the Heritage Foundation. It has to do with a situation in the workplace. I have said for twenty-five years that the most dangerous threat to Christians and their Christian life is what you are forced to compromise at the workplace by human resources. Most Christians don’t even know it. Now it’s becoming more and more overt and they’re waking up to it.
I talked with a man the other day who just resigned from his position working in the oil and gas field. He was responsible for about 6,500 people worldwide in terms of the project that he oversaw. He said, “I just couldn’t do it anymore. As a Bible-believing Christian the pressure on me from HR was getting so bad that I had people working for me who are going through desperate situations in their lives and I can’t say anything to them about how to resolve their problems. I can’t ask them into the office and close the door and have a private conversation because someone may accuse me of some kind of sexual harassment. The whole thing just makes it virtually impossible.”
This is a situation, a court case, taking place in Atlanta regarding the Fire Chief in Atlanta who was fired from his job. The reason he was terminated from his job is because in his private life, on his own time, he wrote a religious book—a book related to his Christian beliefs. That book included, although it was not a book about his views on homosexuality but that was a topic he touched on there. As a result of that, he was terminated from his job because his views were against same-sex marriage. There is a civil case now dealing with the fact that he has been wrongfully terminated.
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel summary of the argument of the city of Atlanta, he said, “The City of Atlanta actually argued that you are entitled to have beliefs and opinions but you have to keep them to yourself inside the four walls of your house.” Notice he’s not saying that you can’t bring them into the workplace. It goes much more beyond that.
That’s wrong. There are laws on the book that affect your First Amendment rights of Christians, of any person whatever their beliefs are, at the workplace. That’s not what they’re arguing. They’re not saying he can’t bring them down to the firehouse. They’re saying he has to keep them within the four walls of his private residence and the four walls of his church. He cannot take them anywhere out in public.
The quote reads that they actually argued that you’re entitled to have beliefs and opinions but you have to keep them to yourself inside the four walls of your house or your church. That you shouldn’t bring them out into the public and you shouldn’t bring them out if you’re employed by a government agency. So someone who writes a book on their own time with their own effort away from their employment, because they work for the government, they can be fired because they hold to a view that is unacceptable to the administration, unacceptable to the government.
I’ve been saying this for a long time. This is coming. This is why cases of this kind need to be adjudicated in a court of law. Courts are still on our side in most of these things. They are not going against us. We can’t just sit back and be passive.
The next story I want to tell you about is what happens when the government truly goes against you. This is a story basically of two men. You probably never heard of either one of them but there’s an outside chance that if you have ever read anything about the Protestant Reformation then you may have heard about Hugh Latimer but I doubt that unless you went through a church history course where you studied the English Reformation.
The person who is even more obscure who is the really significant person in this is a man by the name of Thomas Bilney. If you’ve gone through any kind of secular education on the Protestant Reformation you were told that the German Reformation started with a Catholic monk named Martin Luther. They said the Protestant Reformation had nothing to do with religion.
It had everything to do with producing a male heir to the throne of England. They say that Henry VIII really didn’t change his theology. He just didn’t want to obey the Pope. There is a modicum of truth to that. The problem is that by the time that Henry broke with the Pope and with the Roman Catholic Church, the influence of Luther and Calvin had become so great in England that there were numerous theologians who had become converted to Protestant beliefs, both in Scotland and in England.
As soon as Henry made the break, they were able to come out of the woodwork and this lit the fires on the jet of the English Reformation. Latimer, who I mentioned at the beginning, was staunchly opposed to the Protestant Reformation. This man, Bilney, who was a New Testament scholar at Cambridge University and Latimer gathered regularly at a place called The White Horse Inn to have a secret Bible study and prayer.
He was discovered and eventually he was burned at the stake for his heresy, which was reading the Bible in English, he was burned at the stake at Norwich, England on August 19, 1531. Before he died he was able to influence Hugh Latimer. Latimer had previously opposed the Reformation and had preached a strong sermon against Lutheranism at Cambridge. But Bilney was able to privately seek him out and persuade him of the errors of his belief. As a result of that Latimer came to a grace understanding of the gospel and began to preach that justification was by faith alone.
As a result he fell into disfavor by the powers that be at Cambridge and in Henry VIII’s reign and he was arrested and put into the Tower of London. When Henry died and his son, Edward VI, came to the throne, Latimer was released and engaged in ministry. Then when Edward VI died after two or three years on the throne, his sister, Queen Mary Tudor, who was known as Bloody Mary, came to the throne and he was put back into prison.
He was tortured and then he and another Protestant reformer by the name of Nicholas Ridley were tied back-to-back to a stake. The fires were lit under then. As the flames rose, Latimer was heard to yell out, “Be of good cheer, Mr. Ridley. Play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust will never be put out.”
Isn’t that great? These guys had dying grace. They faced the suffering. I can’t imagine being burned alive at the stake. They faced it with incredible courage. That came only because they had a solid understanding of grace in their soul. They understood the Word of God and as a result, they were able to face adversity without compromising their convictions and without compromising the Word of God.
That’s what Peter is talking to us about and talking to his audience about: the importance of understanding the dynamics of adversity and suffering and being able to face it with joy. To be able to shout out as you’re being burned alive at the stake, that by God’s grace we’ll light a fire in England that will never be put out. That’s pretty much what has happened until recent years.
Looking at the long sentence of verses 6–9, we covered that pretty well. The first thing I want to remind you of is that in these last weeks we focused on understanding the usage of the word salvation, God’s plan of salvation. You notice on the slide I changed the title from three phases of salvation to God’s plan of salvation. The reason for that is as we look at this particular slide we realize the word saved or salvation can refer to one of three phases in salvation.
Phase One is justification. That instant in time, that nanosecond when you recognize the truth that Christ died on the Cross for your sin, that you believe that, that you affirm that, and that you assent to that as true, at that instant, God the Father imputes to you the righteousness of Jesus Christ and declares you just and regenerates you and gives you eternal life. It all happens simultaneously within a microsecond. You are then a new creature in Christ. That is being saved from the penalty of sin for now and you will spend eternity in Heaven.
That kicks off Phase Two. As soon as you come to life, you’re going to live. It’s not long, probably, before you sin so there has to be a recovery from sin. Most people don’t learn about 1 John 1:9 for a while. The second phase is Phase Two where we’re saved from the power of sin. This is spiritual life, spiritual growth, and learning as Paul says in Romans 8 to put to death the deeds of the flesh, to kill the enemy.
Now we can never fully kill it. We are to engage in that the rest of our life until we die physically. Then we are absent from the body, face-to-face with the Lord, and we’re saved from the presence of sin when we are with the Lord. This whole plan that includes Phase One, Phase Two, and Phase Three is sometimes summarized by the word salvation. That’s why I wanted to change it.
Sometimes the word saved or salvation refers to this whole plan focusing more on its culmination. It includes this whole process of God taking us from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive and glorified in Heaven.
Slides 4 and 5
The focus in Peter we have seen is from the deliverance of trials and tests in this life. There’s an emphasis, as well, on our ultimate rewards but the focus is on the here and now. We’ve gone through the first part of this section in 1 Peter 1:6–9. I have pointed out there are several key words here. The word rejoice, the words for various trials, the words for genuineness, DOKIMION, the word for faith, the word for tested, DOKIMAZO, the words for rejoice and joy and again down in verse 8, and then “the end of your faith” in verse 9.
These words are also used in James 1:2–4. Joy, various trials, testing, faith, and the word perfect twice, translating TELEIOS. These are the same words we have over here in 1 Peter 1:6–9. That tells us that the subject matter in verses 6–9 is the same subject as James 1:2–4. We’re not talking about how to get into Heaven. We are talking about how we are to respond to negative circumstances, adversity, testing, and suffering in this life.
So the context here is not talking about getting into Heaven, avoiding the Lake of Fire, Phase One salvation. It’s not talking about Phase Three salvation. It’s focusing on Phase Two salvation. The reason that is important and I want to remind you of this is because when we get into verse 10 it begins, “Of this salvation.”
When you look at that “of this salvation” in verse 10 and then you read the next part, “the prophets have enquired and searched carefully”. Where our minds go is that we automatically want to think that this salvation the prophets are looking into and prophesied what would happen when Christ came and His suffering and glories in verse 11, we think it just has to be the work of Christ on the Cross.
What happened at the Cross? Jesus suffered. What’s the topic here? Suffering. Jesus glorified the Father and as a result of that, Jesus was delivered through the resurrection. That is what Peter is going to set as a pattern for us, as our model in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. So he’s not talking getting into Heaven by-and-by, he’s talking about deliverance in the midst of adversity right now by putting our faith and trust in God and the provision and the sustaining ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
This whole section is about rejoicing in the midst of the present fiery trial because of our knowledge of the Word and our love for Christ which enables us to look to a future deliverance in this life as well as the glories to come. You won’t find too many people taking that particular view. I happened to look at the New Testament Commentary that the Grace Evangelical Society published. It’s interesting but I don’t know who wrote that particular commentary on 1 Peter but he got really close to this. It’s really hard when you’re looking at some of the language here to think that this isn’t talking about what is accomplished for our justification.
It’s not. It’s the end statement of 1 Peter 1:9 where we finished last week, “Receiving the end of your faith.” The culmination of our faith. That’s our faith-rest drill. Not faith at the Cross. But the faith-rest drill. The end of our faith as we’re facing trials and we’re claiming the promises of God. It’s the salvation of our souls.
As I pointed out last time that the word “receiving” there is talking about the fact that in verse 8 we rejoice with inexpressible joy full of glory when we receive. So when we get out of that dark tunnel and we realize God’s deliverance then we are excited. We rejoice with exceeding joy at that particular time when we receive the end result of our faith which is what? The deliverance of our life.
I’ve translated that a little differently. Most translations say the salvation of your soul. But the word SOZO translated salvation can refer to anything from healing to deliverance in the midst of a war. It can refer to justification and it can refer to other aspects of the Christian life.
Where we have a parallel is James 1:21 where James writes, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness [“superfluity of naughtiness” in King James].” It’s basically talking about confession of sin there. “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word.” What is it able to do? “To save your souls.” That’s the same language we have in Peter.
What it’s talking about here is not Phase One justification because we know that he is writing to “my brethren”, “my beloved brethren”. They’ve already received the Word. It’s called the “implanted Word” right here in this very verse. They’re already justified so they are receiving this to deliver them, to deliver their lives in times of trial and in times of testing. This is the same kind of use where the word “souls” is used as a synonym for “life”. It’s a more archaic antiquated use today to refer to that when people die it’s a lost soul, using this as a euphemism for death. That so many souls died on the Titanic. That was how it was reported. The word soul was understood as a synonym for life.
What we see here when we look at versed 8 and 9 as I was wrapping up, the joy when we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, that idea of glory is related to the glorification of God by passing the test through the application of doctrine. That’s interesting as it brings glory into this situation. Frankly when we hit a lot of these trials, the last thing we’re thinking about is glory. We’re just thinking, “Why me? Why now? I’m just too tired to deal with this Lord.”
That often happens in our lives because situations hit us at the wrong time. But where in the world do we see this connection of glory to joy in the midst of adversity? It takes us right back to one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, Romans, chapter 5. So if you keep your finger in 1 Peter we’ll just flip back to Romans, chapter 5 which is talking about the results of justification in terms of reconciliation.
In Romans 5 Paul is explaining the consequences of having been justified by faith in verse 1. As a result of that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and then in Romans 5:3 he says, “And not only that [there’s more than just being saved from the penalty of sin] but we also glory in tribulations.” Now that is another word for what? Isn’t that the same thing as counting it joy? Isn’t that the same thing as rejoicing with great joy? Sure it is. We also glory in tribulation.
What gives us the ability to glory in tribulation? I want us to think about this as every situation where there’s a little adversity. This afternoon I was on the computer trying to work on some remote access things and nothing was working. Of course, I texted Brice and said, “I’m teaching on adversity tonight so this is exactly what we can expect.” It never did work.
So we have all kinds of problems. We’re going to call up tech support. We’re going to call up customer service. We’re going to go to the airport and we find that our plane has been delayed five hours. Then after three hours we hear that it’s going to be delayed another eight hours. Or we miss a connection. There are all kind of things that happen.
We are in a hurry to get to a meeting somewhere and there’s a wreck or there’s construction. Everything goes catawampus. We need to think in terms of the fact that God is still in control. Maybe there’s a divine reason for this. Maybe we’ll know it and maybe we won’t know it. Maybe the divine reason is just to get us to think, “Hmm. My response here should not to be anger, resentful, bitterness, or react out of self-centeredness but to focus on the Lord and trust Him, putting the circumstances and situation in His hands.”
Each circumstance like that is another test and an opportunity to rejoice in tribulation. Tribulation is not necessarily something big and terrible. In fact, a lot of times the “charge of the mosquito”, especially if you’re getting one after another, can be much more aggravating and irritating than when the elephant jumps on you. When the elephant jumps on you, you just say, “Well, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.” But when you’re just getting hit with one little thing after another all day, it’s very easy for us just to get irritated, impatient, and out of fellowship.
So we glory in tribulations. The next word is a participle which we went through last time. This is a causal participle. We glory in tribulations because we know something. That’s the same thing James says, “Count it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials because you know [causal use of participle]. So the reason we can joy, exult, and have joy is because we know something. Tribulation produces perseverance.
There is not a single recruit in the first week of boot camp that really enjoys everything they’re going through when they start going through training because they have to revamp the way they do their whole life. They can’t sleep in until 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00. They can’t stay awake as late as they want to at night. They can’t wake up in the morning and decide they just don’t want to make their bed. They can’t say, “Well, I just don’t feel like running today. I think I’ll just walk.” Their volition is gone and someone else is controlling their life to train them so they can be efficient when they go into combat and that other people can depend upon them and they can depend upon others to survive combat situations.
That’s what happens in the believer’s life. That’s what happens in your life and what happens in my life. God is taking us through a spiritual boot camp to train us to trust in Him so that when we get to a certain point, we’re going to be able to handle the really tough situations and circumstances in life. If we’re going to be like a Hugh Latimer. If we’re going to be like Thomas Cranmer, who held out his hand over the flames while they were burning him alive at the stake at Smithville. He sang hymns to the glory of God condemning his hand that had previously signed a letter of recantation of his protestant faith. Those are men who had spiritual character formed in them, whose focus was on the Lord so that they could handle what they faced even though they were going through incredible misery.
We know that tribulation produces endurance. Perseverance, the ability to hang in there and to stick in there, develops mental focus to block out the distractions and to focus on what really matters so you can grow and mature and go through this circumstantial situation in a way that honors God because it’s building character in you. That’s the next thing. Perseverance builds character.
Character is what Christ is after. Not making you a character. We have lots of people like that but making character in you. Whose character? The character of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit. “Christ in us,” Paul says, “the hope of glory.” He’s not only talking about the fact that Christ indwells us but that He is forming His character in us in our spiritual life.
When that character is developed then we are spiritually optimistic. We have hope. We have a confident expectation. God is in control even though I’m in jail. Even though I’m in chains. Even though I’m being tortured. Even though my toes are being cut off with wire cutters, my fingers are being cut off. Even though they’re doing horrible things to me, I can still focus on the Lord. See, if you go through the little things and you never develop the ability to focus on spiritual things and focus on the Lord, then when it really gets bad, how are you going to focus?
You didn’t let yourself get trained to do that. You failed basic training. So we have to go through the little things in order to be able to handle the big things. Then Paul says in Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
One of the things that’s going to energize us and empower us and strengthen us is God’s love for us. As God works in our life, He is going to build that character and that character is going to be formed on the basis of His love.
1 Peter 1:8, “We rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
At this point before we get into the next verse I want us to take some time to think conceptually about what the Scripture teaches about suffering and how we are blessed in the midst of suffering. You can use the word suffering. You can use the word adversity. You can use the word testing but we talk about suffering for discipline and suffering for blessing. That suffering may not be big. It may be small.
Some people don’t like the word suffering. They think, “Well, it’s not suffering unless it reaches the category of Pastor Abedini suffering in an Iranian jail and being tortured there. Or if it rises to the level of a Hugh Latimer or a Thomas Cranmer. Or being put in prison and being hunted down like Martin Luther was.” That’s suffering.
Maybe you’re one of the Christians in Syria or Northern Iraq and you’re being hunted down and your family members and loved ones are being tortured before your very eyes before you’re being killed. That’s what you classify as suffering.
The Bible uses this word suffering as just a generic term dealing with any kind of adversity in life—basically when things are not in your comfort zone. When things are not going the way you would like them to go and there is an opportunity to evaluate whether you’re going to trust God or trust in your own human viewpoint techniques to keep things going smoothly through your own effort at manipulation and intimidation.
Let’s just review this. It will probably take us well into next week but that’s okay. We need to understand this.
First of all, we have to recognize that every believer goes through tests. Every believer goes through adversity. Every believer goes through challenges from the moment you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed. You get up in the morning. You didn’t sleep well last night. Your eyes are bleary. You can just barely put one foot in front of the other. You go into the kitchen and you turn on the coffee pot and no light comes on.
What do you do? See, that’s not really a big thing but for most of us that’s a significant thing. What if you’re in jail somewhere because you’re a Christian and you don’t even get coffee? Now we’re talking about some real suffering. So we have to think about this. We have to reflect on how we are going to respond to that kind of situation.
That’s not a very significant kind of situation but how we handle it is part of the training of how we’re going to handle other types of situations as we grow and mature. Every believer goes through tests. A test is when you have a choice, whether you are volitionally conscious of it or not. A lot of times we react out of habit so quickly we’re not even aware we made a decision to react that way. See we grow up in our families and we learn from our parents a lot of wonderful things. We also learn from our parents how to manipulate people. How to stay in our comfort zone. Al kinds of sinful patterns and strategies to avoid having to really have to depend upon God.
It doesn’t matter how godly your parents were, they were still sinners just like you. You probably have a sin nature that’s compatible with theirs so it worked. What happens now is you have to start training ourselves to think differently about each of these situations. Each situation is a test. Am I going to do it God’s way or my way? It’s pretty simple. It’s just like a binary equation: one way or the other.
We choose to either sin or we choose to obey the Word of God. We can react through mental attitude sins. We can react through sins of the tongue. We can react through overt sins. Depending upon the situation, we can be angry. We can be manipulative. We can malign other people. We can lie. We can deceive. We can avoid responsibility for situations.
Or, we can trust in God. We can say a prayer or we can give thanks in all things even when the coffee pot doesn’t work. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. That’s in the next stage of spiritual maturity.
Second point, God’s training program utilizes adversity to teach us to implement these spiritual skills and to practice them. It’s been really interesting lately. I’ve been reading a lot of different material on how biblical counseling has been used effectively with various what we might call psychological problems which are usually thought by most people in our culture to only be treatable through various drugs and pharmaceuticals. There’s been a tremendous amount of success.
If your presupposition isn’t that God is the only way and His grace is totally sufficient, then you basically create an escape hatch for yourself and you bail out and you try to find some other way. The hard way is to trust God. That’s not the simplest way because you still go through difficulties, so it’s a real challenge.
God takes us through this and these ten spiritual skills that we’ve studied in the past that are skills. That’s a critical word. A skill is something that takes a long time to develop. I know I’ve got people in the congregation who are musicians. I’ve got people in the congregation who are somewhat athletic. I’ve got people in the congregation who are involved and have been involved in the past in different areas of sports and athletics.
If you’re going to excel in any of these areas such as dancing, piano playing, trumpet playing, trombone playing, or clarinet playing, or in any kind of skill such as if you’re a craftsman, you have to practice over and over and over and over again. The people who win Olympic gold, the people who do well and are rewarded for their excellence are people who practice over and over again.
It’s not just practice. It’s perfect practice. If you practice it wrong over and over again then what you’re doing is embedding into muscle memory the wrong movement. So you have to practice it perfectly. I used to hate that.
When I was in band we had to come in several times a week just to practice technique. It’s much more fun to play melody but just technique is learning basic skill sets and learning how to play up the scale and down and play difficult things and shift from a high note to a low note. To rapidly tongue through a series of sixteenth notes. These kinds of things take practice over and over again.
When you’re playing various melodies that call for these, then you’re able to perform. The boring part is often the training part. Or if you’re in dance, going through the same movement over and over and over again. Or if you’re playing football and you have to learn how to tackle. You’re hitting that tackle dummy over and over and over until your shoulders are all black and blue.
Or if you’re just working out, if you’re a weight lifter you have to learn how to lift those weights properly. Set correctly before you begin to move. Have your feet in the right position, your knees pointed in the right direction. Have your back in the right position. Have your glutes tensed the right way, all of those things. If you’re off just a little bit and the weights are really heavy you can seriously damage yourself. You can seriously hurt yourself and you can find yourself on the way to the hospital.
The fact that these are skills means that this is something that has to be practiced over and over again. There’s only one person outside of God who is going to take you through that drill. That’s you. Being willing to say that you need to master this, you need to set up and memorize a series of promises so that when you’re getting ready to call customer service, for example, you have a series of verses on the use of the tongue that you’ve memorized out of Proverbs. Like “A soft answer turns away wrath.” You just rehearse those verses in your mind for five or ten minutes before you pick up the phone. While you’re on hold you might quote a few things dealing with patience and gentleness and these things until someone comes on the phone. You have to adopt that procedure yourself and make yourself work your way through those things.
You have to practice so you set up those kinds of drills. That’s what is necessary in the spiritual life if we’re going to develop those kinds of skills. I’ve known a lot of Christians who are extremely skilled in the first spiritual skill which is confession of sin. They confess sin very quickly and very easily.
The next step is to walk by the Spirit and they’re just still crawling at best for two or three seconds and then they’re back to skill number one because they say, “I can just do that really well. I’ll just keep confessing my sin.” But we have to walk by the Spirit. That’s where real life is. We have to learn how to go through those particular skills.
Scripture says we have three different levels of spiritual growth. This comes out of 1 John. Spiritual childhood is referred to by the word TEKNON. In spiritual childhood we have five basic skills to work on: Confession, walking by the Holy Spirit (WHS), filling with the Holy Spirit (FHS). There’s a reason I put walking by the Spirit first. I had a conversation with someone last week. We were talking about this and I said, “How many times have you heard me teach this?” They just mumbled.
I asked why they put filling of the Holy Spirit before walking by the Holy Spirit. They said that’s how they were always trained. I told them, “Yeah, but you’re wrong and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. If this is a skill, who is doing the work of learning the skill? It’s an active voice verb to walk by the Spirit. That’s addressing your volition. You have to walk by the Spirit.” In Ephesians 5:8 it says to be filled by the Spirit. That’s not an active-voice verb. It still engages your volition but it’s passive. A skill is something that by definition I’m actively learning so I prefer to put walking by the Spirit first.
If I’m asking how to handle this problem, the way I handle it to walk by the Spirit. That means I stay in fellowship. If I’m walking by the Spirit I will be filled with the Word by the Spirit. That is automatic. That is reflexive. If I’m not walking by the Spirit I won’t be filled by the Spirit. But if I am walking by the Spirit I will be filled by the Spirit. You can’t be filled by the Spirit before you’re walking. The walking is the priority command.
As a result of that we learn to trust in promises, the faith-rest drill. And then the next two go together: grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. Grace orientation means we have to grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that when Peter says that in 1 Peter 3:18 he says to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. He connects the two.
It is integrally related to knowledge of the Word of God. We have to know the Word of God. These skills when we practice them we will develop to the point of spiritual maturity to the point where we can begin to approach adolescence.
Now think back if you’re a mom or a dad. If you’ve raised kids you watched this, but if you’ve never had kids then you can think about it in terms of your own experience. Reaching maturity from about 9 to 25 is not a straight line progression. If I were Baptist, I would ask if I had an amen here. It’s not a straight line progression. We go up and we go down. Sometimes we go up a little and go down a lot. It’s all over the board, isn’t it?
That’s the same way in the Christian life. Some days we do pretty good and then the next three days we don’t. In fact we don’t even think about the Word of God for three days. Then we sort of slap ourselves up the side of the head and think, “I need to do something a little better.” Moving into spiritual adolescence doesn’t mean that we’ve got a lot on the first five spiritual skills. Any more than reaching the age of thirty means that all of those basic things you should have learned in kindergarten, all the basic things related to good manners and treating others with respect and treating other people’s property with respect and not reacting in anger, all of those basic things related to life you were supposed to have begun to learn in kindergarten you may not have fully mastered at thirty.
You’ve moved on and you’re trying to master other things because you’ve mastered them thirty, forty, or fifty percent which enables you to move to the next level. The next level is spiritual adolescence. 1 John 2:13 described this with the term NEANISKOI, which is a young man. It’s spiritual adolescence.
When we get here we move to the point where we’re thinking about life long term instead of short term. That’s one of the hallmarks. I remember my mother reading an article about this to me when I was about fifteen from the sense that “you need to learn this, kid.” Maturity is learning to postpone gratification. It’s learning to put something off today in order to enjoy it better and be more prepared for it later. It’s playing the long game but not the short game.
When we get into the Christian life in terms of our personal sense of our eternal destiny we begin to realize that my spiritual growth, my spiritual maturity right now impacts what’s going to happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ and that’s going to impact the quality of my experience in the kingdom. My roles and responsibilities when I get into the Millennial Kingdom and on in to eternity are going to be directly impacted by what I do here and now.
Some people are going to have rewards. Some people are going to have a lot of gold, silver, and precious stones. We studied this last time in 1 Corinthians 3, verses 12 and following. Other people are going to enter Heaven yet as with nothing. No rewards. No roles. No responsibilities. We have to learn to live today in light of eternity.
Then as we get into maturity we have these three connected. We’re learning to really love God. Now babies can love their mom and dad. They look at their mom and dad and think, “You fed me. You gave me a big teaspoon of sugar and I love you for it.” When you’re nine that love begins to be a little more rounded out. When you’re nineteen it gets a little shaky sometimes but it’s still there in a clench.
When you get to be twenty-nine and thirty you really begin to appreciate your parents and you begin to love them a lot more in a fuller, more mature way. Personal love for God becomes a great motivator to stay with it. I think from my experience, not from the Scripture but from my experience, people fall out at spiritual adolescence. They get functional spiritually and then they get a little proud. They think they’ve made it. They’re not hearing anything new in Bible class.
I realized this in my own life. When I came back from Dallas Seminary and moved back to Houston and was sitting in Bible class every night, I really wasn’t learning a whole lot that was new. I realized that the reason I needed to be there every night was that I needed to be reminded of what I already knew every night. The sin nature makes me want to forget it every day. I needed that reminder every single night.
It wasn’t that it was new. It wasn’t that I was answering questions. When you’re young you come to church and want to know many things. I want to know what God wants me to do. I want to know how I know God really exists. I want to make sure I really understand I’m saved. I want to learn how to pray. All these questions that young believers have, the answers to life’s questions.
Once they get these answered, they wonder why they need to go back to church anymore. They think they’ve already learned all of this. Well, not as well as you think you have, number one. Number two, you need to be reminded of it over and over again because your memory is fleeting.
This is what happens and why a lot of people fall apart when they hit spiritual adolescence. We haven’t really learned to love God yet. So here we learn personal love for God. Second is impersonal love for all mankind. We have to learn to love others as Christ loved us. That’s really tough. We’re not going to get there in this life.
Then our occupation with Christ. This is what this passage in 1 Peter 1:8 says, “In whom having not seen you love, though now you do not see Him, yet by believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” It’s learning to love Christ whom we haven’t seen. We don’t have that empirical experience with Him. We haven’t touched Him. We don’t sit down to dinner with Him. We have to learn to love Him and the only way we can do that is how? Studying His Word.
We have to come to understand who He is and the only way we can do that is by studying His Word. We can’t come to understand Him by just sitting around and texting. That’s what you see today. You’re out at a restaurant. You see six people sitting there. The family is having quality family time together and they all have their smart phones out and they’re all texting. To each other even. They’re not talking to each other.
We have to learn to think about this. One of the greatest examples I know of is my first grade Sunday School teacher. She is a German Jew whose family escaped the Holocaust in 1938 and they were able to go to Shanghai. That was the only place open to Jews. There was a Jewish community there. Her name is Ursula Kemp. Some of you knew her at Berachah Church.
When she was in Shanghai she actually got out of high school and became a dental assistant. One of the other dental assistants asked her to come to a Christmas party and she tried to beg off, but her friend said she’d send someone to pick her up. She sent this member of the British Constabulary to pick her up.
He picked her up and took her back across town to the British part of town and was her escort for the evening. On the way home he informed her [she was 18 and he was 33] that she was the woman he was going to marry. She thought he was either drunk or crazy or both. He got her to translate a letter to her father asking if he could come and visit and come and talk. So they spent time together, just coming together and talking. Not going off or being unchaperoned.
Three months later the Japanese invaded China and captured Shanghai. As a member of the British Constabulary, he was put in a POW camp. For the next five years they got to write each other once a month, no more than ten words. Think about that. That’s how they got to know each other. That’s about 55 to 60 months. That’s how they got to know each other, by writing very carefully.
That’s how she developed her writing skills. She wrote the original Sunday School curriculum at Berachah Church along with Betty Thieme. That’s where she developed those skills. You learn to know someone by writing like that. We learn to know Jesus by studying His Word. It’s the mind of Christ. So we have to learn that.
We become occupied with Him and the result of that is that when we face adversity we can rejoice with great joy. We can share the happiness of God. Even though we’re facing our own cross, our own adversity, we can do so as Jesus did [Hebrews 12:2] “for the joy that was set before Him.” That’s the key.
As we look at 1 Peter 1:6–9 we see four spiritual skills emphasized here. Remember all of this is just part of point two of the twelve points of undeserved suffering or suffering for blessing. So joy is what we refer to as inner happiness, sharing the happiness of God. We see that as that ultimate spiritual skill. We see that mentioned twice in this particular verse. In verse 6, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while.” Then when we get down to verse 8, “You rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
The second thing that’s emphasized is faith in terms of the content of what we believe. That is doctrinal orientation. We see that in verse 7. We’re tested that the “genuineness of our faith”. It’s not just the act of believing but it’s acting on what we believe. Trusting in what we say we believe.
Third, we develop love for Christ, an occupation with Christ. We love Him even though we haven’t seen Him in verse 8. Then in verse 9 we’re told that by believing we rejoice with joy inexpressible. This isn’t the content of our faith. This is the act of trusting in what we have been taught.
So what we’ve seen in these first two points is that every believer goes through these tests. These give us the opportunity to either implement what we know or not. Remember in Proverbs you either take the path of wisdom or the path of the fool. The fool does what is right in his own eyes and the end thereof is death. That’s not physical death necessarily. That’s a death-like experience, a lack of life. The person who is wise is the person who experiences the fullness of life. There’s not a third choice. There’s not a middle way. There’s one way or the other. The right way or the wrong way. There’s nothing in between.
So we have to train ourselves to make the right choice when we don’t want to. When that’s not the knee-jerk reaction of our sin nature. When that’s not what seems to be most comfortable for us.
Okay, the third point before we wrap up. We’ll just get one more in. God trains us through situations that teach us to respond biblically. In doing this, we have to learn how to think and not to emote. We have to learn how to think biblically. We have to analyze the situation and also analyze the Word of God so we can take the Word of God and the situation and pull them together. That’s the issue.
We have lots of circumstances every day where things happen that don’t go the way we want them to go. Immediately we want to react in impatience, anger, resentment, or depression, discouragement, and failure, rather than stop, think how the Word of God relates to this. What is the promise? If you haven’t memorized promises it’s really hard to apply them at this particular point.
We’re basically trying to shoot the problem with a gun filled with blanks. That’s why we need to memorize Scripture. That’s why we need to fully load the magazine with appropriate Scriptures.
Next time we’re going to come back, talk a little more about the Spiritual skills. The fourth point we’ve already covered. Let me just add that. The skills relate to anything from musical instruments to physical training, any kind of physical activity. It demands self-discipline and self-mastery. We have to decide this is what we want.
Then we have to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it so that it becomes ingrained in our brain. We can retrain. You spend a lot of time probably before you were saved or before you knew any doctrine and you have a lot of bad habits. What you have to do is retrain yourself. The Word of God tells you that you can. It’s not hopeless. It may take a long time. It may not be comfortable. It may take you away from friends and situations that you have always enjoyed and take you in a new direction. That’s how we move from being mediocre to being excellent. That’s our objective, to do everything to the glory of God.
Next time we’ll come back and talk about this in terms of the spiritual life and walking by the Spirit in what will be the fifth point.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to think about these things, think about how important it is to be trained under the ministry of God, the Holy Spirit. Taking your Word and applying it more conscientiously every day about the circumstances we’re in and how Your Word teaches us, instructs us, to respond in those circumstances. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”