How to Grow Up Spiritually
How to Grow Up Spiritually
I remember that first night so well. Every time we heard the slightest sound, we leapt out of bed and picked him up. He was so tiny – not that much bigger than a hand. This was a new life. Our first child had been born. We were so proud. Three or four times a night, he would wake craving milk. Pippa would feed him regularly. Of course, he grew up. Now as I look at him, almost twice the size of Pippa, it is hard to believe that he was once so small.
New birth is an exciting moment. So is new spiritual birth. Jesus said, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again’ (John 3:3). In our passage for today, Peter writes about ‘a new birth’ (1 Peter 1:3). ‘Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for’ (v.3, MSG).
This spiritual birth is contrasted with natural birth, which led only to a ‘dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in’ (v.18, MSG).
New birth means you can now call God your Father (v.17). In fact, the whole Trinity is involved: ‘God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus’ (v.2, MSG).
Physical birth will one day end with physical death. But spiritual birth leads to eternal life – ‘a future in heaven – and the future starts now!’ (v.3, MSG). Physical life is like grass that withers. But this brand new life is conceived by God himself and goes on and on forever (vv.23–25, MSG).
In today’s passages, we see the implications of this new birth, the various stages of spiritual growth as a son or daughter of God and how ‘you may grow up in your salvation’ (2:2).
Trust like a babyPsalm 131:1–3
Sometimes I get worried, anxious and even fearful. That is why I love this psalm. It is a beautiful picture of total trust: ‘Like a baby content in its mother’s arms’ (v.2, MSG). When I look at any of our baby grandchildren in their parents’ arms, I see a picture of total trust and security.
How does this total trust happen? First, resign as managing director of the universe. Stop trying to control everyone and everything. The psalmist writes, ‘I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans’ (v.1, MSG).
Second, put your trust in God in the same way that a baby has total trust in a parent: ‘I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content’ (v.2, MSG).
Lord, please give me your peace today like that of a weaned child with its mother.
Grow like a child1 Peter 1:1–2:3
Life as a child of God is exciting. The apostle Peter writes about being ‘filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1:8). It comes as a result of ‘new birth’ (v.3). Peter tells us that ‘new birth’ leads to:
Security in spite of ageing
Your future is certain because it is based on the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was buried. God raised him from the dead (v.21). One day, the same will happen to you.
You are an heir to the greatest inheritance. Nothing in this life is perfect – all earthly possessions will ultimately decay or be destroyed. But your inheritance will ‘never perish’: it will never ‘spoil’, it will never ‘fade’ (v.4). It is guaranteed, ‘kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time’ (vv.4–5). It has your name on it.
C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘As we grow older, we become like old cars – more and more repairs and replacements are necessary. We must just look forward to the fine new machines (latest Resurrection model) which are waiting for us, we hope, in the Divine garage.’
Rejoicing in spite of suffering
Rejoicing is not dependent on circumstances (vv.6–7). Life is not always easy: ‘In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials’ (v.6). This letter was probably written from Rome, around AD 62–64, in the days immediately before the persecution by Nero. The Christians were already suffering. My suffering may be very small compared to theirs, but we all suffer bereavements, disappointments, opposition, temptation and all the struggles in life.
Peter says, ‘you greatly rejoice’ (v.6, see also James 1:2) for three reasons:
the relative shortness of the trials (‘for a little while’, 1 Peter 1:6) compared to what lies in the future.
because there is a purpose behind them: our ‘faith – of greater worth than gold’ (v.7) is being refined.
their result is ‘praise, glory and honour’ (v.7) when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Intimacy in spite of invisibility
Peter had actually seen Jesus. Those to whom Peter is writing had not, yet: ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (v.8). Like them, you have never seen Jesus – but also like them, you too can experience a personal and daily relationship with Jesus, and receive the goal of your faith – the salvation of your soul (v.9).
It is an extraordinary privilege to live in a time after the first coming of Jesus. You live in the age of the Spirit. You have received the grace to which the whole Old Testament pointed. The ‘Spirit of the Messiah’ was at work in the prophets, pointing to Jesus’ suffering and glory. Jesus was active in the Old Testament, but they had to wait for his full revelation.
He is coming back. Be prepared.
In the meantime, grow up: ‘As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy”’ (vv.14–16, MSG). Only the Holy Spirit, who brings about this new birth and now lives in you, can make you holy.
Leave behind the empty way of life and, instead, live a life of ‘sincere love’, loving one another deeply from the heart (v.22). This is the ultimate goal of the Christian life: love for Jesus who died to make all this possible (vv.19–20) and a passionate love for one another (v.22).
‘So,’ the apostle Peter writes, ‘clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretence, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God’ (2:1–3, MSG).
Lord Jesus, I have not seen you, but I love you. Help me to grow up and become a strong, healthy child of God, loving others deeply from my heart.
Bear fruit into old ageEzekiel 41:1–42:20
Some people never lose their beauty. It moves from their faces to their hearts. There is an old English proverb, ‘the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.’ At the age of ninety-eight, Titian painted his magnificent picture of the Battle of Lepanto. Old age can be a time of great fruitfulness.
Ezekiel continues his description of the new temple. As he describes the ‘Most Holy Place’ (41:4), he seems to focus on ‘cherubim’ and ‘palm trees’ (v.18). We may assume that their function was merely decorative, but actually they are richly symbolic.
Since we know from our New Testament passage that these words were inspired by the ‘Spirit of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:11), perhaps it is not too much to see significance in the two faces of each cherub; one of a man and one of a lion, pointing forward to the one who was both fully human being and ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (Revelation 5:5) – that is, Jesus Christ.
The psalmist writes, ‘the righteous will flourish like a palm tree... They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green’ (Psalm 92:12–14).
The palm trees were probably date palms – one of the world’s oldest food-producing plants. Dates provide energy, vitamins, minerals, fat, fibre, protein, sugar, riboflavin and niacin. The palm trees speak of strength, nourishment and endurance.
Lord, thank you that you take me through all the stages of life, from new birth to being a new born baby craving pure spiritual milk, to an obedient child growing up in my salvation, right the way through to bearing fruit even in old age. May I be like a palm tree – a source of strength, nourishment and endurance.
Ezekiel 41: 23
‘Both the outer sanctuary and the Most Holy Place had double doors.’
We don’t have to get stuck behind double doors in the outer or inner courts of the temple, trying to get near to God. Through Jesus, we can go straight into the presence of God.
Verse of the Day
‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1:8).
C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, (W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1967) p.78
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.