30. Yet to Come

Meditations in 1 John : 30 : Yet to Come

1 John  3:2  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

For some twenty plus years I have preached, “God loves you exactly as you are, but he also loves you so  much that He has something better for you than what you are at present.” John hints at this same thing. In his distinguishing Christians from the world and from the antichrists, he has noted that we are actually children of God, we are the ones who have a living relationship with the Father in heaven, by means of the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross.

Yes, we are actually children of God now, this very minute. We won’t have to wait for some future date or experience to be made children of God; He’s already made us that – but what we are at the present is not a finished work, but a work in progress. There are a number of hints at that in the New Testament.

One of the most obvious ones, in the light of our present verse, is from the apostle Paul: “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:15-18) Paralleling our experience with that of Moses whose face shone when he met the Lord in the Tabernacle, Paul says we are being changed bit by bit, more and more, as we too encounter the Lord. Notice the phrase “ever increasing glory”. That speaks about ongoing change.

Later in that same letter Paul speaks of, “as your faith continues to grow.”  (2 Cor 10:15) His expectation is that not only will we grow older but we will also grow in faith. To the Ephesians he wrote, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph  4:15,16) The growth he speaks of there is growing up into Christ, presumably becoming more like him, and that in turn will build and strengthen the Church.

The apostle Peter spoke similarly: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2) His point was that if we yearned for the truth, the word of God, we would grow up spiritually.  At the end of his second letter he expressed his hope that his readers would, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18).

So there we have it: the Christian life is to be a life of growth and change as word and Spirit and the very presence of the Lord change us. We grow in faith and we grow in grace and we become more and more like Jesus as we serve the Lord. This is an ongoing process that will continue until the moment we die and leave this earth, or Jesus comes back.

And that brings us right back to our verse today. The end product of what we will become has not yet been made known.   We may think we have an idea but the reality is that we really don’t know what we are going to be like as the ‘end product’ beyond saying we shall be like him.  And why will we be like him? The answer, according to John is because we shall see him as he is.  That will be the culmination of that process that Paul referred to in 2 Cor 3 where we are changed in ever increasing glory because of our contact with him.

So, to put it right back into context, we are distinguished from the rest of the world because we are children of God who have embarked on a wonderful God-led life where we are being constantly changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and that means we will be exhibiting his character and doing, and been seen to be doing, the same things he did.   These are the realities that distinguish us; this is what the Christian life is all about.

19. Newborn Babies

Meditations in 1 Peter : 19 :  Newborn Babies

1 Pet 2:2,3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Trying to follow the flow of thought in the letter writers in the New Testament is a fascinating exercise. In the previous chapter Peter spoke about us being ‘born again’, and we have given some consideration to that, and so it is perhaps not surprising that he now speaks of “newborn babies.” But he doesn’t now say that we are newborn babies, just that we should be like newborn babies in respect of what he is going on to talk about.

Really the last part of the verse could equally come at the beginning: “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” i.e. you’ve been born again and you have experienced a little of the Lord, and what you have experienced is good. So, now you know this new life is good, yearn to be fed and grow. That is where this is going, so let’s consider the individual parts of the verse.

“Like newborn babies”. We’ve already noted that he is using new babies as an illustration of what he wants us to be like. What do they do?  “Crave…milk” or yearn to be fed, again and again. Young mothers know the reality of this and the first weeks are spent feeding and feeding and feeding which sometimes almost becomes a trial for the mother but is essential for the baby. In those early months the baby may be taken to be weighed and the hope is that it will be putting on weight through feeding, and if it hasn’t then there is a checking out of its feeding.

This is the picture Peter is presenting to us as an illustration of what he expects to see in newborn Christians. He wants to see them craving for “pure spiritual milk.” Now he doesn’t explain what he means by that but it has got to refer to spiritual food which we must take to mean the word of God. This is where the Bible – reading it and being taught it – is revealed to have a unique role as God takes it and feeds the new believer with it. There’s nothing so wonderful as being instrumental in bringing others to Christ, but that is followed by the wonder of having the privilege of feeding hungry spiritual babies, new Christians. They are full of questions and when they first come across truths in the Bible their hunger is a delight to behold.

The writer to the Hebrews chides his readers using the same sort of language: you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature.” (Heb 5:11-14) There he refers to milk as “elementary truths of God’s word.” Milk, he says, is for infants and you need to go on to something more substantial.

And that is exactly where Peter is going: so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Do you remember something we consider earlier in chapter 1: “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:9). Do you remember, we spoke of it being an ongoing process that he is referring to there. So this process of going on receiving your salvation involves you receiving the truth of God’s word into your life and thereby growing.

We need to realise that this isn’t merely receiving new information; it is receiving it and applying it. Jesus taught, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, …. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) Becoming a disciple means becoming a doer of God’s word, not merely knowing about it. For instance Jesus again taught,  “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” and “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:21 & 24). This is what the feeding the Peter speaks about should do. It should be taken in and received and then bring forth fruit of a changed life. Indeed that is what maturity is about.

That, we should note, is the goal of this verse, that we “grow up”. Paul spoke similar language: “as your faith continues to grow.” (2 Cor 10:15). Peter is going to finish his second letter with a further similar exhortation: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). Yes, when we come to Christ that is only the beginning. We have a life of learning infront of us and if we don’t we will never mature but will remain spiritual pigmies. God doesn’t want that; He has something better for you! Receive it, grow in it.

33. Growing in Christ

Ephesians Meditations No.33

Eph  4:14,15 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Imagine you go to a garden centre and buy a small plant which, the attached label tells you, should grow into a large bush. You faithfully tend it and water it and do everything you should to it – but it doesn’t grow one bit. I think you would be disappointed or even annoyed. Why hasn’t it grown? Yet when we come to the Christian life, do we opt for no change? If we stopped every person going into every church in your area and asked them, “Excuse me, can you tell me how you have changed and grown as a Christian in the past three years,” I wonder what sort of answers you would get. I’m sure there would be some just bemused at the thought, and others defensive and others even angry at the thought that they needed to change!

Many years ago I started preaching what I believe the Bible teaches: God loves you just like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than what you are. Why am I saying this? Because the objective of the verses that we considered in the previous meditation ultimately take us towards maturity and these verses today speak of us growing up! Growing up is all about change.

This idea of us growing up comes in a variety of places in the New Testament: “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand,” (2 Cor 10:15) i.e. Paul expected their faith to grow. He also spoke about “the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Col 2:19). He expected the Lord to help the body (church) to grow.

The apostle Peter taught the same thing: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2)) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). The same idea was there when Paul spoke about us when he said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18) again indicating the expectation of us changing. The Christian life as something that is passive and unchanging is not a New Testament concept!

What are the alternatives to this ‘growing up’? Paul tells us: “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Of course if you look at the verses above you will see that this is part of his call that he starts off with no longer be…” He doesn’t want us to be like this, but this is what it is like when you don’t ‘grow up’. If we don’t ‘grow up’ we remain spiritual infants! He says we will be tossed back and forwards. What does that mean? It means in our thinking we will be unstable and we’ll think one thing one week and something else the next, because we haven’t been grounded in the truth and so we don’t know what to believe when new fanciful teachings appear on the scene or people come and try and put us off our faith. Satan’s original unsettling words – “Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1) are still heard today in a variety of guises – and of course the untaught spiritual infant doesn’t know what to believe, and so it is no surprise that they are blown one way and another.

This is especially true when the enemy demeans us and says such things as, “You’re rubbish, you’re a failure,” or “You’re a nobody and nobody loves you”. At such times the spiritual infant doesn’t know the truth and doesn’t know what to answer. What is the answer? That we grow up!

Yes, the alternative to remaining spiritual infants is spelled out: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” But what is the reference to speaking the truth in love’ about? Maturity comes through teaching and teaching takes different forms. Consider Paul’s famous description of the word of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim 3:16). Often we see this as a list of four different things the Bible is useful for, but in reality teaching involves the other three. Teaching involves rebuking (pointing out error), correcting (showing the right way) and training in righteousness (showing the way to live according to God’s ways). Becoming mature involves bringing our minds, our thinking and our lives in line with God’s will and that means change and to help that change come about, we need teachers who will speak the truth to us in love.

When that is a regular process in our lives, “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” i.e. we grow in our union with Christ and although we remain separate and distinct from Christ himself, we will harmonise with him in our thinking and our feeling and our actions more and more or, even as we noted above, we are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18). Maturity thus involves becoming more Christ-like as we grow.

So, to summarise, Paul is indirectly warning us against remaining as vulnerable spiritual infants, and exhorts us to grow up as we receive correction and training and become more and more Christ-like. It’s a challenge. May we rise to it!