by Mike Ratliff
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)
When the Lord circumcised my heart in August 2004, I was truly amazed at the level of spiritual discernment that came with that blessing. Leading up to this, God had drawn me ever deeper into our relationship. I had been in a deep, close, intimate walk with Him over a period of several weeks. I was fasting from anything that distracted me from my devotion to Him. I was praying, worshipping, studying my Bible, and researching doctrine, all in obedience to His drawing me to Him. Just a few days before Labor Day in 2004 I woke up one morning and knew that everything had changed. It was probably the most joyous and humbling experience I have ever had. I realized right then that I no longer cared for anything except to do His will. His glory was paramount. For someone who was had been in bondage to self-focused, flesh oriented, desperate pursuits for self-gratification for over 50 years, this was a genuinely miraculous thing.
My level of spiritual discernment was beyond any previous experience I have ever had up to that time. I would be right in the middle of a conversation with my pastor and realize that he was completely blind to what I was trying to convey to him. There were a few others at our church who seemed to be on the same path as me. They did understand what I was talking about. There was no fear of the unknown in our little group. We were all terribly excited about the daily changes God was doing in our hearts. The problem was that this little group of sold-out believers was seen as radical and trouble makers at our church. The leadership just could not understand, refusing to believe the truths we were sharing with them were from God. I had one of the men there tell me that I was just excited and would eventually get over it.
There are some common denominators that I have noticed with all of the believers I have encountered who are on this narrow path. Each of us are committed to God’s glory. Each of us see man-focused religiosity as a complete waste of time. Each of us see spiritual maturity as key. Christlikeness is far more important than being part of a huge growing church. We all have a deep desire to see the Church repent, become pure and 100% focused on God as it obeys the Great Commission. Also, those whom God has awakened to this level of walking blameless before Him, have spiritual discernment that is completely outside of their own abilities. It is supernatural to be able to see the spiritual blindness in most professing believers. I can listen to someone speak on things spiritual or read what they write and know within a very short period whether that person is tenderhearted towards God and, therefore, not spiritually blind, or he or she is hardhearted towards God and, therefore, spiritually blind as a bat.
Does this mean that I can strut around showing everyone how spiritual I am. Oh, my Lord no! May it never be! Quite the opposite in fact. The closer I get to God the more I see how utterly helpless I am without Him. Any spiritual advances I have made are really His work. All I have done is obey Him and remain faithful as I abide in my Lord. Without Him I can do nothing. Humility is the marker of all who walk this narrow way of the cross.
What are the markers of those who are not walking this walk by Faith? Well, only the humble can do it consistently. That means that the prideful cannot do it at all. From their pride we can observe several markers that identify them as Spiritually immature.
The first marker is an inability to receive strong doctrine. That means they are as I was for most of my life. They conceive of God and His ways their own way. They cannot grasp God’s Holiness, Righteousness, Justice, Wrath, Love, etc. All of that seems as mumbo-jumbo to them.
“To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast?” (Isaiah 28:9 ESV)
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV)
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV)
This inability to receive strong doctrine is actually catered to by many church leaders. In fact, instead of discipling their flocks, they feed them spiritual baby food and never the meat of the Word. There is no demand to grow up, taking their own crosses and following Christ. Instead they are taught only that their church activities are what it is all about.
The second marker is a dire need for tutoring or discipling. Their Bible knowledge is rudimentary at best. They use their Human Reason to try to understand spiritual things because no one has come along side them to teach them how to rightly divide the word of truth. They really don’t know that self-focus and self-absorbtion actually separates them from fellowship with God.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:1-3 ESV)
This marker is an indication that the world is still their source of self-gratification. They have not learned how crucial it is to fast from the world as they feast on God.
The third marker is instability in their faith. These believers are constant victims of the latest Christian fad. They hear some “Bible Teacher” proclaim some new thing and off they go. They are not firmly anchored to the truth because they get their nourishment from the world, not from God.
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. (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)
This passage is taken from the chapter in Ephesians where Paul gives us the various spiritual gifts that God gives people in a local church so that people can be equipped to not fit this description due to a lack in proper teaching and preaching. Of course, in our 21st Century Church environment, there are many false shepherds and false expounders of God’s word out there actually ensnaring people into counterfeit Christianity.
The fourth marker is a continuance in the primary department. There is never any growth into higher spiritual things. It is all about being a Christian on their own terms.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, (Hebrews 5:12 ESV)
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation– (1 Peter 2:2 ESV)
These markers are prevalent in our time in large part due to the lack of mature spiritual leadership in our churches. The blame must go to the shepherds of the flocks. They are focusing their efforts on building larger and larger churches and not feeding the their sheep the spiritual food they need. Many who call themselves Christians probably aren’t, but no one can tell the true from the false because they all look the same. Why? Baby Christians look very much like people of the world because they are not being taught to forsake the world and follow Christ on the way of the cross.
Those who God has drawn into a closer, progressively deeper walk with Him will be marked by growing righteousness, purity, humility, contentment, etc. All of the character traits of Jesus Christ will become manifest in their life. They will become Christ-like in every increasing spiritual depth and width. The markers we discussed above that mark those who are mired in a love relationship with self and the world will drop away from the maturing Christian.
Yes, it’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop being self-focused, self-absorbed baby Christians by putting ourselves in the position where God will do His wonderful work in our hearts. That means drawing near unto Him. He will then draw near unto us and clean house. No one will ever reach spiritual perfection in this life, but we are called to pursue it. Don’t wait for your pastor or church elders to say it’s time to do this. God works one-on-one with each of His children. We are all unique so our paths to the way of the cross may differ somewhat, but Christ will be the center of each of those ways and they will all be in the shadow of the cross.
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