Discernment and Christian Maturity

by Mike Ratliff

12 Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, διώκω δὲ εἰ καὶ καταλάβω, ἐφʼ ᾧ καὶ κατελήμφθην ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ]. (Philippians 3:12-13 NA28)

12 Not that I have already received or have been completed, I press on that, if possible, to apprehend it because Christ Jesus has apprehended me. (Philippians 3:12 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12 ESV)

Biblical scholars consider Philippians 3:12 to be a very challenging verse. Here is a word-for-word translation, “Not that already I received or already I have been completed, I pursue but if also I might apprehend on which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.” What is Paul talking about?

I have been a Christian since 1986, but I grew up going to church and before God saved me I was faithful attending church nearly every Sunday so I have been around Christian evangelicals all my life. What I am about to say comes from my observations and experiences both before and after God saved me. Christians can easily become satisfied and content with the spiritual level they have attained. Before God saved me, I didn’t notice anyone around me that had any particular spiritual gifts or abilities that they exhibited that I really wanted other than that thing about understanding God’s Word and praying. Those things eluded me. Then God intervened. Everything changed. I found that I could not get enough of God’s Word. I wanted to read it, devour it. I attended every Bible study I could. I took classes on how to study it. I learned how to conjugate Greek verbs, et cetera. That has never changed. I have been teaching myself Koine Greek for nearly 15 years with a lot of online help from some very good Greek Scholars. In any case, that part of my Christian walk has never diminished

However, on April 19, 1995 God allowed me to be a survivor of the Oklahoma City Federal Center bombing. I was a block south of the Federal complex when the bomb went off. I had been in the Federal Employees Credit Union just the day before. I knew some of those in the V.A. office. I knew some in the Social Security office. Well, after the explosion I and one of my coworkers made our way up to what was left of the front of the Federal Building. Cars were still exploding. People were laying in the street covered in blood. Smoke was everywhere. Other than the approaching sirens, there was…silence…I had nightmares about that for months. I descended into a pit of depression and anger that lasted from that day until August 2004 when God drew me out of it for healing and I have never been the same. I look back on that period as a very dry spiritual time for me. Oh, I went to church. I taught classes. I prayed. I read my Bible. I was angry all the time. I wanted to get my hands around the throat of Timothy McVeigh and wring his neck.. You see, that anger was consuming me.

Did I grow spiritually during that time? I think not, but I was being prepared for what God did in 2004 to the present. There are tentacles of anger that try to pull me back to the pit sometimes. I fight depression sometimes. However, God is good. When I pull back from whatever it is that is driving me that way and seek God and His way that stuff just means nothing anymore. So, what am I saying? Have I apprehended the spiritual maturity Paul was talking about in Philippians 3:12? Not hardly, but I do know that I have been apprehended by Christ Jesus and I also know that He has given me this ministry of discernment and teaching. Neither of those things come cheap.

13 ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἓν δέ, τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, 14 κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 15 Ὅσοι οὖν τέλειοι, τοῦτο φρονῶμεν· καὶ εἴ τι ἑτέρως φρονεῖτε, καὶ τοῦτο ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει· 16 πλὴν εἰς ὃ ἐφθάσαμεν, τῷ αὐτῷ στοιχεῖν. (Philippians 3:13-16 NA28)

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV)

Here is my personal translation of v13, “Brothers, I myself not consider to have apprehended; but forgetting the past and stretching forward to what lies ahead.” This verse sets up what the mature Christian does do instead of focusing on the past, dwelling on failures, letting life’s unfairness and tragedies overwhelm him or her as the immature or the not so mature Christian can find themselves doing…”I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” This is what the mature, or maturing Christian does do. What is this pressing on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Obviously it is the way the mature Christian thinks! What is it?

The goal is, of course, Christlikeness here and now, but the prize is Christlikeness in Heaven. The upward call of God is the time when God calls each believer to heaven and into His presence which will be the moment of receiving the prize which has been an unattainable goal in this life. Maturing Christians are to approach this life with this attitude. What will be the result? They will keep walking in progressive sanctification by the same principles that have brought them to their current spiritual growth.

What has this to do with discernment? First, what is it? Go here for a very good definition. Who can exercise it properly? Certainly not Christians who are not walking according to the example Paul gave us here for the maturing Christian. Those who attempt to do so may be gifted by God in certain areas that are useful in the battle for the Truth, but eventually they will become compromised and will become casualties and, sadly, we have seen this quite often. Our enemy hates the truth, but he can only attack us as God allows, but if we are not walking as maturing Christians then we become liabilities in the Truth War and so our Lord may allow the enemy to take us out or nullify us. On the other hand, even if we are doing it all just as Paul directs, we will never perfectly “apprehend” it all here in this life and God will allow us to be attacked and cause us to struggle and depend on Him alone in all parts of our lives because that is the nature of the Spirit filled walk.

All of that to say, God gives discernment to His servants in order for them to serve the Body of Christ to warn them of apostate teachers and heretics. They warn the sheep of wolves trying to attack the flock. They teach and preach the truth. They help the sheep learn to discern for themselves how to tell what is Biblical from what is not. They point to certain professing “Christian leaders” who are teaching or preaching things that are unbiblical and tell the Body of Christ to run from them. The real sheep hears these warnings and do run because that very voice is coming from the Lord Himself. Real discernment is not an attack to cause disunity. It is a ministry to remove pretenders from the flock who are causing harm to it, which is, of course, the real crime of causing disunity. We simply warn and tell the truth. It is God who opens hearts and speaks the truth to them.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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