The Maturing Process
Tim Temple


The most important thing about the Christian message is not the fact that it is just the way to get to Heaven, although it certainly is the way to get to Heaven, but it is much more than that. The richness of the Christian message is that as we come to know Christ Jesus more fully and walk with Him more closely, we discover a way of becoming complete human beings. That is the really tremendous thing about knowing Christ. God, you see, is not just interested in making saints; God is not just gathering up the choir for Heaven; what He is really interested in is producing men and women who are all that they can be. He is interested in making saints and He is interested in having us enjoy Heaven fully, but what God is really after is men and women to have fellowship with Him. That is why He created the human race and made us in His image, so that He can have fellowship with us. His goal is not sainthood, but manhood and womanhood and humanity in all that He intended it to be.

All of the writers in Scripture aim to that goal and we see this clearly, maybe more clearly than anywhere else in this first letter from John. He makes clear right from the beginning that what is important is this fellowship with God that we have through Jesus Christ. It is impossible, John says, for men and women to be men and women as God intended them to be without first becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. In other words, belief in Jesus Christ, acceptance of Christ as our Savior, is absolutely necessary to the proper fulfillment of humanity. We will never be all that God intends human beings to be without the work of God in our hearts, without His provision for our salvation.

God and relationship to God is not just one of the available options in life as we are being told by the world around us. Rather, relationship with God is a basic necessity of life. It is impossible to live and fulfill ourselves without coming to know God through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself put it very flatly in Matthew, chapter 4, verse 4. He said:

Matthew 4:

4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Three Stages of Growth

That is essential to full development of true manhood and womanhood. In this passage of I John, John has told us that there are three stages in the process of becoming what God wants us to be. He describes these in chapter 2, verses 12-13. Let's look at those verses for a springboard for the next verses that we want to look at. In verse 12, he says:

I John 2:

12I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
13I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one…

As we saw in our last study, there are three classes, three stages of growth that John refers to: little children, fathers, and young men. We talked last week about what is implied by each of those terms, and we are going to talk more about them today. This is a threefold step in fulfilling manhood and womanhood. When Jesus was on earth, He told the Parable of the Sower and He said that when the good seed, which He said was a picture of the Word of God, falls on good ground, it brings forth in three degrees—some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold and some a hundredfold. There are three stages of growth: little children, young men and fathers. This threefold aspect of the Christian life or the threefold picture of the Christian life is evident in the three types of food that the Scriptures mention as available to Christians.

Peter and Paul both talked about the milk of the Word of God for new Christians, for babes in Christ, because milk is the proper food for infants. John tells us that the Lord Himself said that He was the Bread of Life that makes for strength in the Christian experience. Then Paul speaks of the strong meat of the Word. In those three, you have a reference to those three stages of life: the baby, the young, growing Christian, and the mature Christian.

Those three stages can also be seen in Romans, chapter 12, where Paul talks about the Christian's experience of understanding the will of God. In verse 1, he says:

Romans 12:

1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Then he goes on to say that if we do that, and as we do that, we come to know what is the good and the acceptable and perfect will of God. There are those three stages again. To an infant, the new Christian, the will of God is good. He is willing to accept that, but probably a new Christian can't really see beyond that. It is not always pleasant, but as he grows in the Lord, he learns that it is acceptable, that it is the right thing to seek for, that God's will is the right way to work things out. But he still hasn't learned to enjoy the will of God. Then at last he comes to the place in his Christian growth where he understands that what God chooses for him is perfect and is exactly what he should have. So even though a mature Christian may not really enjoy in the flesh the will of God as God brings it into place, he still rejoices in what God is doing. He comes to the place that he understands the will of God is not just good and it is not just acceptable, but it is perfect. There are those three stages of understanding.

We could go on and on. We could see those three stages in the degrees of rewards that are promised to believers in I Peter, chapter 1, verse 7, where he speaks of the praise and the honor and the glory that God will bestow on us and that we will understand when we come to Heaven. Paul talks about the three things that abide in I Corinthians, chapter 13, the great love chapter. He says there are these three things: faith, hope and love. All the Scriptures speak in terms or make reference to at least these three stages of growth in the Christian life. It is important that we understand that because sometimes, as new Christians, we look around us and we see that other Christians are responding more quickly than we do or they seem to be accepting things better as a Christian who is still growing, moving along in the Christian life, not yet a mature Christian. We can misunderstand the reactions of the babies who are newer in Christ than we are or the reactions of the grown, mature Christians, so it is important that we understand these three stages of growth and that we realize that probably various ones of us are in those different stages of life. We are all in the family of God. We are all children of God, but some of us are older than others.

Procedure For Growth

In verse 12 and the first part of verse 13, we have seen the process of spiritual growth. Today we want to talk about the procedure by which that growth takes place. Going back over these three stages of growth, referring to it in the same three ways—little children, young men and fathers—in the last part of verse 13 and going into verse 14, he adds another word. This time, not to describe what those stages of life are like, but to explain what made them this way. Look at verse 13, where he says:

I John 2:

13I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.we talked about that last week I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

If you are thinking, you will see that he addresses the three groups of people in verse 12 and the first part of verse 13, and then in the middle of verse 13 he goes right back and starts over again and he again addresses the little children, the young men and the fathers. As we read through that, we may wonder why he goes back and uses those same terms two different times within the space of four verses. The reason for that is, in the first listing, he tells what the characteristics of each of those stages are. In the verses that we are going to talk about today, he tells how we develop those characteristics in each stage.

He first addresses the little children in the middle of verse 13. In the previous verses, he describes these as “those who are forgiven.” The little children are the ones who understand that they are forgiven. The most elementary thing that you can say as a Christian is that your sins are forgiven. But why are those sins forgiven? That is what is described here in verse 13. He makes it clear. Why are they forgiven? “Because,” he says, “You know the Father.” That is the only reason that sins are forgiven—because we know the Father. These new Christians, these baby Christians, have joined the family of God, and they have come to know the Father because now they are in the family. Before that, God was just some kind of a being off in the distance somewhere, if they even believed in God at all. But now they have moved from that generic kind of understanding of God to an understanding that He is their Father. Because their sins are forgiven, they can understand that. They have come to God through the only way that anyone can come to God to know the Father. That is what the Lord Jesus Himself said in Matthew, chapter 11, verse 27:

Matthew 11:

27All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.

These new Christians, these little children as John calls them, have come to know the Father. Their sins are forgiven because they have come to know the Father. Jesus said it another way in John, chapter 14, verse 6:

John 14:

6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Conversely when we accept Christ as Savior, we come to the Father. John says, “I write to you little children because you have known the Father…” It is important to know that John uses a different word here in verse 13 for children than he used in verse 12. In verse 12, he has used a word which literally means “little born one,” but obviously it could be translated “babies,” even though it is translated in verse 12 “little children.” It is talking about the newborn children in the family. It is a word that refers to babies, but here in verse 13, he uses a word which means literally “children under instruction.” So it is talking about the younger children—elementary children, as we might think of them in our society today, Christians who are newborn, but they have begun some growth in Christ. In human terms, they are like little elementary school children. They are beginning to develop. They are beginning to learn, and he says, “I write to you because you know the Father.”

The first lesson that the Holy Spirit teaches a new Christian is that he has come to a Father. The first lesson that God begins to teach new Christians is the nature of Himself. They begin to come to a new understanding that God is not a stern, austere judge, as some people think of God; rather, He is their Father. Certainly they haven't come to a senile, sentimental, old grandfather who just lets His children do anything they want to do. They understand that He is a Father, yes, but He is a Father Who gives guidance and a Father Who expects response. They learn that they have come under the care and affection of a strong, tender, true Father—one with a Father's heart, one Who has an interest in His children in a way that they may never even know humanly. God, as Father, is everything and more than we think of as the ideal Father from a human standpoint, and He teaches His children that as they come to know Him.

You remember the way Paul put it in Galatians, chapter 4, verse 6. It is a beautiful statement. He said:

Galatians 4:

6And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

You have heard that the word Abba is a baby's word for Father . It is the equivalent of Daddy in the English language. As we come into the family of God, God teaches us through various means that not only is He our Father, but He is our Father to the extent that we can call Him Daddy , if we want to.

What is it we learn as new Christians? That is what it is, isn't it? That God, Himself, is our Daddy. If you don't know that already, then you need to ask God to open your eyes to that wonderful truth. We are not living in a cold, mechanical universe, just cogs in a machine with no real purpose, just victims of whatever winds may blow us wherever it may blow us. No, we are children of God. We are children who have a Father Who provides for us and Who guides us and directs us, even though sometimes He may guide us into very difficult places—a loss of a friend or the failure of someone we counted on or all kinds of difficult things that God allows to come into our lives even though He doesn't bring them into our lives. He takes us through those things because He is a loving Father. He is a Father Who knows us and loves us and has an intense concern for our development and for our strengthening and our growth. He is a Father Who Jesus told us has the very hairs of our head all numbered and without whom a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without His knowledge. He is a Father Who is aware of our deepest needs and is fully able to provide for our needs. That is the One to whom we have come as new Christians. John says, “I write to you little children because you know the Father…”

What a glorious thing it is to see the birth of a new life in Christ and to watch the joy, we might say, of a baby with his father, as a new Christian begins to grow and develop and come to know the Lord more fully.

At this point, we have to be careful because even that kind of joy can turn into sorrow if the baby doesn't grow. If the baby remains forever a baby, that is a sad thing from a human standpoint, and it is just as much of a problem from a spiritual standpoint. One of the big tendencies in Christian circles is for Christians to try to cling to the joys of spiritual infancy. When we first come to know the Lord, it is such a glorious time. When we begin to understand that God loves us, that God is for us and all of those wonderful truths that we begin to learn as new Christians, we have the joy that we have entered into a new family circle of brothers and sisters in Christ. Many times, as Christians, we try to stay like that or we try to get back to that. It is interesting to me how many of the old hymns that we sing and a lot of the new choruses that we sing focus on trying to get back to or to stay in that intimate, loving relationship.

There is nothing wrong with that. We need to never forget that loving, intimate relationship with the Father, but that is not all there is to the Christian life. That is just the beginning, and we can't stay there and we shouldn't try to stay there; but we hope to never forget that loving relationship. We need to go forward because there is even more blessing for us as we move ahead in the Christian life. To remain as an infant would be just as sad as a human baby who remains at that point. Besides that, infancy is hard to live with if we have to live with it on an ongoing basis.

There are some of you here who have babies in their house and you know exactly what I am talking about. You are looking forward to the time that the baby sleeps all night. Someone told me this week that they think they are about to get there, that the baby is almost sleeping through the night. The camera man who usually works with me on filming our television program said to me when we were taping it, “She is just about old enough for cereal, and then we are going to be okay and she will sleep all night.” I didn't tell him, but I thought, “Lots of luck. I hope so.” There are a lot of problems with infants. We love to have those infants. People keep on having them, but there are problems with infants. We can deal with those problems as he is growing, but we wouldn't want the child to stay that way forever. It is the same way with Christians. Baby Christians can create problems for older Christians. They can get on our nerves, and we can wonder if they are ever going to grow beyond it. But they do as they walk with the Lord, and if you are a new Christian, I do not mean any of this critically of you. If you have recently come to know the Lord, that is a wonderful thing. We rejoice with you in that, and we are delighted to have you in God's family together with us. The thing that you need to do is focus to continuing to grow in Christ and to learn even more of the blessings that He has for you; and the thing that we need to do is to remember that these baby Christians will grow up. We should try to minister to them any way that we can and take care of them any way that we can and know that they will come through this period just as human infants do.

Description Of A Mature Christian

Coming back to the text and to the first part of verse 14, he goes on to the father. He skips over that middle level of maturity, the young men, and in verse 14, he said:

I John 2:

14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning…

If you are thinking with me, if you will glance back at verse 12, you will see that that is exactly what John said in verse 12 when he was introducing the categories of Christians. It is word for word the same thing. He doesn't change a thing. In both places, he describes fathers as those who know Him Who is from the beginning. What that tells us is this: The way to maturity and the mark of maturity are the same thing. What else can we say? That is the layout of these verses.

When a person comes to know God as He really is, when a person, through years of walking with the Lord, comes to realize that the way he has come to know the power of God and the faithfulness of God and the love of God is that he has known the Father, that is the description of a mature person. So “one who has known the Father” is the description of a mature person. He also tells how he got to that place of maturity.

It isn't to say that mature Christians are faultless or perfect, but it is talking about spiritual maturity. No Christian ever comes to a place of sinlessness in this life. No matter how long we go, we still have that ability to sin, but in the sense of having mastered the fundamental principles of spiritual life and the sense of having been exposed to all that God wants us to do and having the equipment to live as God wants us to, those people are mature. Through walking with God, they have learned what it means to live a life of Christlikeness. Then the rest of their life is devoted to experiencing that relationship.

We use this terminology in physical life. Maybe it is easier for us to think of it in that way. When a child reaches the age of twenty-one, at least from a legal standpoint, we say that he is an adult. We say that he is fully grown. Do we mean by that that he is ready to stop living, that he has achieved all that there is to achieve? No, we don't mean that at all. In fact, we mean just the opposite. We mean that now he is ready to start living life to the full. He now has opportunities and advantages available to him that he did not have until he reached that point. The same thing is true spiritually. When a person becomes a mature believer, that comes by spending time knowing God, coming to know Him more fully. It takes time to become a human adult, and it takes time to become a spiritual adult. The difference is that in the human growth process, it is automatic; in the spiritual growth process, we can take time out if we choose to and not grow at all—maybe for years sometimes. But, to become a mature, adult Christian, it is spending time with the Father, living according to principles of His Word, claiming His promises, bringing needs to Him and waiting for Him to meet those needs.

When we become a mature Christian, that doesn't mean that we just sit back and wait to go to Heaven. That means that now we are equipped to really live life to the full and to face whatever problems in life there are with God's power and with the full understanding of that power; and it may be many years of Christian maturity on earth before we get to Heaven. That is spiritual maturity. The fathers are those who are mature because they have learned these things about God. They have learned how God operates and they are ready to live the rest of their lives in the light of that knowledge.

The Secret Of Spiritual Growth

In the last part of verse 14 we come to the third class—the young men. As I have said, just as in the human terminology, the young men come between the children and the fathers. I am not sure exactly why John has written it in this way, but that is the way he has done it. He starts with the babies and then goes to the fathers. Now he comes to the middle group, the young men. Look at verse 14:

I John 2:

14 …I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

I think he may have placed the young men last because he has already described these young men in verse 13 as those who have overcome the wicked one. He repeats that again, but he adds this explanation. In verse 13, he said, “You have overcome the wicked one.” In verse 14, he says, “You are strong and the word of God abides in you.” How have they overcome the wicked one? Because the Word of God abides in them. These who are beyond the stage of infancy, but who are not yet to the process of maturity, how do they come from that stage of infancy into that stage of young manhood? The Word of God abides in them.

Listen to me carefully. That is the secret of spiritual growth right there—the Word of God abiding in us. What makes a person spiritually move from infancy to fatherhood? This in the middle between these two is the abiding Word of God. That is the secret of growth. That is what moves us from one stage to another and brings us ultimately to maturity. Here is God's program for spiritual growth; it is simply the Word of God. It is absolutely impossible to grow spiritually as a Christian unless the Word of God abides in you. That is why the Devil fights this whole thing of Bible study vehemently. He does not want you to build your life around the Word of God and the authority of Scripture. That is why there are constant attacks on the Word of God—because it is the most important thing that God uses to move us to maturity and to make us all He wants us to be as human beings. The Devil tries hard to stop us from being Christians, but he can't keep us from becoming Christians. So if he fails to keep us from becoming a Christian, then his goal transfers over to just keeping us from growing as Christians. If he can't keep us from being a Christian, at least he can try to keep us from growing as a Christian. He knows that the best way to do that is to keep us away from the Word of God or at least to keep us from a focus on the Word of God. He introduces false means of maturing because he knows that everybody wants to grow. He tries to divert our attention and to get us on the sidetrack.

He brings in what we might call spiritual shortcuts . He gets us to think that if you can have the right experience—maybe the experience of speaking in tongues or maybe some other experience—then you will instantly be a mature Christian. Or if we can just read the right book or go to the right seminar or see a vision of Jesus or any kind of a thing, if you will do that or go there or read that you will instantly become spiritually mature. Of course, those are things that God sometimes allows us to experience. There is nothing wrong with good books and seminars. There are sincere believers in Jesus Christ who say they have spoken in tongues and all of those things that I have referred to are well and good within their own right and God uses them in the lives of various believers at various times; but if those are the focus, they will only bring an arrest in our spiritual growth because the thing that causes us to grow is the Word of God.

This year we will finish thirty years of ministry as a pastor. Across the experience of those years, I have watched these kinds of things prevent people from growing spiritually when they put their focus on something other than the Word of God because the Word of God is the one divinely designed instrument to bring us to maturity. I am not talking about Bible study as an academic exercise, but what I am talking about and what John is talking about is that study of the Word of God which then brings us to obedience. It is that decision that not only am I going to learn what the Word of God has to say, but I am going to obey it as I understand it, and by God's strength and by God's power, I am going to be obedient to what He tells me to do.

This passage says that the Word of God abides in those young men. It doesn't say that they know the Word of God, but that it abides in them. It means a knowledge of the Bible plus obedience to the Spirit of God as He reminds us of the truth that He has enabled us to understand. It is not just talking about knowledge. It is talking about obedience to that knowledge. The knowledge is given to us as we study the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the power to obey it comes from the Spirit of God. Together, it is abiding in the truth of the Word of God, in the principles that God reveals to us in His Word that produce maturity. We take it in. It becomes a part of us. We abide in it. We obey it, and it brings us to maturity.

That means that the Word of God has to have a very special place in our lives. As I have pointed out to you many times before, it is the reason we try to make the study of the Word of God the focus of our services and activities here at Abilene Bible Church. Our name implies that. It is what God has designed to make us all that He wants us to be and all that we want to be in Him. That means that our study has to be deliberate. We have to make up our minds that we are going to spend time in God's Word and to learn from it. That demands some commitment. It demands some time. The Word of God is full of exhortations along this line. II Peter, chapter 3, verse 18, says:

II Peter 3:

18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Be diligent to learn the Word of God.” It requires making time and taking time to study the Word of God, to understand what He wants us to do and to understand how to defend our faith to people, how to bring them to Jesus Christ. All of that is in the Word of God. All things that pertain to life and godliness are there. As the Word of God comes into our lives by that means and then is permitted to govern our lives, we begin to move toward that maturity that God wants us to have.

I hope you don't depend on the Bible teaching that you get on Sunday morning as enough food for that kind of growth. It is important that we understand the Word of God, and it is important that we focus our teaching time around that, but you need to be taking in the food of God's Word on a daily basis. How would a baby grow if we only fed him once a week? How would children grow if they only got to eat once a week? You need to spend time daily in God's Word because that is where the maturity comes—not just taking it in, but acting on the basis of it.

I believe this carries over into something that a lot of us are concerned about and complain about and that is the condition of the world around us. I believe that at least one of the reasons that we have so many problems in our world today and why things just don't seem to be going in line with the Word of God in so many areas of society today is because too many Christians have not, for whatever reason, grown spiritually, and we are not having an impact on the world around us. It is a one-by-one thing. The longest journey starts with a single step. God's influence in our world today, God's influence on the things that are happening in our society, are going to be based on how you respond to the people around you, the kind of testimony you have to the people with whom you come in contact. There are many of us who are so concerned with the focus of our nation, but we are really not making any effort to walk more closely with the Lord ourselves. We are not making enough of an effort to obey the Word of God in what we do.

As I am obedient to the Word of God and have some impact on the people right around me and as you are obedient to the Word of God and have some impact on the people around you, if you multiply that even by the number of people who are in this room today, that could have a tremendous effect on our society. But too many Christians are acting like babies. They just take in the milk of the Word, and they are not responding real well to that a lot of times. Jesus said that we are to the be the salt of the earth, that we are to be that which preserves society, that which makes possible stability in society. I am afraid, because the Word of God is not abiding in the hearts of many of us as it should, because we are not into that and continuing in that young men's stage, to use John's terminology, we are not the kind of salt in our society that God wants us to be.


Do you want to be an immature Christian all your life, a problem to others, constantly needing to be helped along with this crutch or that crutch? Is that what you are looking for—just some secret to becoming a mature Christian? Or are you deeply desiring to be a strong, mature, fully God-dependent man or woman, all that God designed you to be, able to walk through life and face its problems without being overthrown or tossed about by every wind of doctrine that comes along? Do we want to be what God wants us to be and all that we really want to be if we know our own hearts? That is what God has called us to do and that comes through fellowship with God, feeding on His Word, walking with Him, coming to know Him more and more fully as we move through life. That takes diligence. That takes commitment. That takes time. Let's begin to move in that direction.

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