by Mike Ratliff
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:16-18)
In the spring of 2004, I was in the midst of my spiritual renewal that God was taking me through. In August of that year, it culminated in a wonderful spiritual awakening that came by God circumcising my heart. However, that spring, I was still struggling mightily with self-focus and many inconsistencies in my walk. I had been nominated as a deacon candidate in our church. One Sunday in May, I had to give my testimony in both of our morning worship services, as did the other deacon candidates. I have no problem teaching or even preaching now and then, but this is different. I had to develop a very short 5-minute testimony to present quickly then get off the stage. I struggled with my message. Finally, I prayed. What a concept! God led me to simply share what He had been taking me through over the last several months as well as my commitment to learning how to walk by faith. I did it in both services and was very surprised when I was elected.
Walking or living by faith is easy to talk about, but is impossible to do outside the grace of God. Most Christians I know look at me as if I am from Mars when I talk about walking in the spirit. I had one experience when a friend told me he thought I was just excited about my revival and I would get back to normal after awhile. That one hurt. However, not only was he completely wrong, but he showed his ignorance about the tremendous work God will do in our hearts when we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ completely committed to living for His glory. My love for God and devotion to serving Him continuously has only grown deeper. How is this possible? Many modern believers do not think it is. However, God has revealed to me that not only is this possible, but it is His desire that His people turn their hearts back to Him. That does not mean simply getting serious about "church."
Our Western culture is geared toward self-gratification. The current socio-political environment leans towards political correctness. That means we must not say or do anything that is offensive to anyone. That is, except those stupid evangelical Christians. This environment coupled with a constant bombardment of advertisements that tell us we must never be content with what we have is hostile to a Spirit-led believer who is determined to walk the Walk by Faith. Our physical environment is an incredible distraction away from directing our hearts to God. The church has not grasped the tragedy of this spiritual downgrade. It attempts to treat the symptoms of it, but seems not to know what their root cause is. The root cause of spiritual immaturity is self-focus empowered by pride.
Since the Western Church is primarily Arminian most of our believers think they came to Christ by their own free will. They also believe that we mature in Christ by working very hard in church until we learn to like it. I ran on that treadmill for nearly 20 years. I was consumed with serving God in my own strength because that was all I knew how to do. I attempted to pray in my own strength. I attempted to serve as a deacon in my own strength. The only time I depended on God to work through me was as I taught. When I was not in church or around church people, I was fleshly and completely self-focused. Of course, I am describing a Soul-led believer. In August of 2004 that all changed when I surrendered completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I had been going through several weeks of deep worship nearly all day every day. I dug deep into the Bible. I prayed all through the day. I quit watching TV and replaced that with giving God my evenings. The result was closeness with God that I cannot adequately describe. I had joy so intense at times that I could not stop weeping. I had learned how to direct my heart to God and away from my flesh. I learned how to walk by faith through each day denying self and living for God's glory.
As I look back on my walk since then I am very amazed at the path God has led me to take. I thought the step into becoming Spirit-led was a huge. However, as God led me to study doctrine my maturity level has deepened and I have found myself in closer step with the Spirit. Why? The doctrines of grace are intricately bound to both sacred scripture and the glory of God. They exist to reveal to God's people His sovereignty and the incredible blessing of salvation by grace through faith. They build humility and destroy pride. The righteous shall live by faith. That means those who are truly in Christ will have regenerated hearts that make them new creations.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The tragedy of believers never maturing past the Baby Christian stage is a curse of mediocrity for the Western Church because they make up a vast majority of those populating the pews in our churches. Many of those we call Baby and Adolescent Christians are not authentic believers. Only God knows for sure. The Bible tells us that the genuine believer is a new creation. That means, of course, that they are Born Again. This speaks of their regenerate heart. A regenerate heart is one populated by the Holy Spirit. His presence quickened it. The genuine believer now has the ability to choose to not sin. Prior to regeneration, that was impossible. Since this is true why do believers still choose to sin? This is a sign of spiritual immaturity. If a believer cooperates with God in their sanctification, they will grow in grace and mature unto Christ-likeness. That does not mean they will be perfect. However, they should be able to gain the victory over besetting sins and learn to deny their flesh, wear the whole armor of God, and walk in the spirit so they will not carry out the desires of the flesh consistently.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
These two passages show us the way to walk or live by faith. The Holy Spirit will lead us, guide us, and direct us to walk according to righteousness. Therefore, we must become Spirit-led. Not only that, but we must become familiar with the incredible blessings which come with our salvation. Look again at each piece of armor from Ephesians 6:10-10. If we prayfully ask God to make those things a reality in our hearts coupled with being Spirit-led we will walk the Walk by Faith completely armored and ready to stand and not fall.
Ask God to open your heart to the truth then study whatever he leads you to study. Never think you can mature unto Christ-likeness by simply trying to be good. Most Christians make that mistake. They see that they are better than most people are so they do not see the need to go deeper with God. The problem is they are comparing themselves to other people. The model or standard we should compare ourselves to is Jesus Christ. How are you doing in that comparison? When we look at it that way, it is a very humbling experience.
The way a believer matures unto Christ-likeness is through walking the Walk by Faith in complete cooperation with God's sanctification He is accomplishing in our hearts. Through all of this, we must dig deep into the Word of God. We must obey whatever He tells us to obey. We must pursue doctrinal purity. I read an article today that said that the roots of all doctrines outside of Reformed Theology are firmly planted in human pride. A year ago, I would have rejected that statement. A few months ago, I would have tried to rationalize it. A few weeks ago, I would have tried to reconcile the two sides. Now I know its right. God has led me to saturate my learning with the writings of very godly men such as Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, John Owen, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Aurelius Augustin, R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, and John Piper. All of them led me to the Pauline writings in the New Testament. Human pride is a noxious weed that thrives in the hard, rocky, and sour soil of a hard heart full of unbelief. It withers and dies in the broken up, fertile soil of a tender heart. Humility and pride cannot coexist.
Not all Arminians are hard hearted. Not all Calvinists are tender hearted. The amazing thing we must grasp however is that even those who claim to be Arminian, if they are tender hearted, will always say they were saved by God's work alone. They pray like Calvinists as well. They are Spirit-led. I was Spirit-led way before I became an adherent to the doctrines of grace. However, as I grasped them, God opened my spiritual insight even more. As He revealed His remarkable plan of salvation through those wonderful doctrines, I suddenly realized I had taken a huge step towards becoming spiritually complete. Why? Election and predestination were no longer things to avoid talking about, but revealed God's perfect plan for redeeming those He chose to become His adopted children whom would be conformed unto the image of His Son. (Ephesians 1:1-7; Romans 8:29-30) The gospel suddenly made sense. The doctrines of grace explain perfectly why some people become temporary believers. They fall away because they responded to the general call of the gospel without regeneration. The regenerate will never fall away. As I examined my own salvation, I found God had indeed dragged me into believing. I did not decide for Christ, instead, He grabbed me and saved me. The profundity of this humbled me. God has shown me that humility is the key attribute of the Mature Christian. Our growth from Baby Christian to Adult Christian then to Mature Christian is the outcome of humility replacing pride in our hearts. The more humble we become the more mature we become in Christ. Or is it the other way around? Are we humble because we are mature or are we mature because we are humble? I believe humility is godliness the Lord has grown in our hearts. From that godliness, we exhibit the attributes of the Mature Christian.
The point of this discussion is to show how Christian maturity removes our self-focus, our pride, our self-confidence and any thought we were in any way responsible for our salvation. As we walk the Walk by Faith, these things will come under attack by the cleansing fires of sanctification. We are all unique, but there will be many points along the way of our journey where God will cause us to have to make choices to believe Him or not. To believe we must step out on faith and move forward with Him. If we do not believe, we stop growing and become stagnant in our maturity until God draws back to the truth. That was how it was for me when I discovered the doctrines of grace. It took God several weeks to break down my resistance. The problem I had was I could not see how anyone could make the decision to believe if there was no way to seek God for salvation through a sinner's prayer. It took a lot of study and prayer for God to reveal to me how He makes it all work.
God demands that we preach the gospel to all people. This is the general call of the gospel. We must still witness to the lost. He uses the presented gospel to plow the field of the hearts of the unsaved elect. God plants the presented gospel in that field. In God's timing, He effectually calls the elect who have heard the gospel. No one can resist this call because part of it is the regeneration of the heart. The new believer is Born Again by the Spirit. Now he or she sees the enormity of their sin, they repent and turn to Jesus as Lord and savior. As they repent and believe God justifies them, adopts them, and begins the sanctification of the hearts.
The reason I presented this again was so I can show to you the different spiritual realities we have in the many stages of our spiritual maturity. If I had begun study of the doctrines of grace a year ago, I would have become confused or resentful about them. God knew the proper time to show me the truth because He knew I was mature enough to grasp them and that they were exactly what I needed to take another step towards spiritual completion. None of this would have happened if I had neglected to live by faith. My Walk by Faith keeps my spiritual discernment active and alert. God has also revealed how difficult it is going to get for me when this series goes public. Some believers do not want to hear it. God has shown me that I must remain in my Walk by Faith in order to remain humble. If I respond to those who dissent in any other fashion except humility, I err.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version? Copyright���2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.