Youth leaders, parents, teachers, ministers rejoice when they witness spiritual growth in a young person. It makes all their effort worthwhile when they see some fruit in the life of a young person, especially when it comes spontaneously and not forced. Such moments are golden.
It happens sometimes in a young people’s society. Suddenly the members become alive and interested in the subject. Each one puts forth effort to contribute to the discussion. Some even open up their hearts to share some meaningful experience and how they learned through it. All go home inspired. Then again it may come from the lips of a young person in prayer, not just another prayer, but one that shows real spiritual. communion with God and that breathes a sincere desire that God will show His mercy upon them. You see this occasionally in school when a young person will go out of his way to show kindness to someone who obviously has a problem and needs to bend someone’s ear. Then again, it may mean willingness to stand up and be different and not complain, even though the “crowd” go their merry way.
Youth are also put to the test.
To stand strong does not just happen. You young people perhaps know other young people who in your mind are more spiritual than you are. As you look at them and see them in action, you may even be a little envious. Perhaps you just brush it off and say, “Well, so and so is just different; I’m not that way; I’ve got to have my fun; I just can’t stand up and be different as he or she is.” All right, so someone else can contribute more to a discussion than you can. Big deal, you’ve probably got other good points. You think that way some time?
In this article I’d like to suggest that spiritual maturity is not only controlled by the things we discussed in our previous article. We mentioned the basics, we need the Word of God, that Word must be applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit who gives us grace. It helps us to go to church faithfully and read our Bibles at home regularly. Without these things we would not have any life, much less any growth!
There is more, however.
Spiritual growth comes also from the experience of Christian living itself. The more we practice our Christian faith in our daily life, the easier it will become for us to continue living as a Christian. The opposite is also sadly true, if we neglect our Christian practice, we become spiritually weak and never amount to much.
Surely the Bible speaks often of spiritual exercise, training, as essential to well-toned spiritual muscles. If our hands are going to be busy serving the Lord, our heart must be exercised in love. I like the way Jay E. Adams expresses it in his little booklet, Godliness Through Discipline, page 3:
“How can I discipline myself?” you ask insistently. It is time to begin to consider the answer to that question. First, you must recognize that the very word discipline makes it clear that godliness cannot be zapped. It cannot be whipped up like instant pudding. Godliness doesn’t come that way. Discipline means work: it means sustained daily effort. The word Paul used is the one from which the English words “gymnastics” and “gymnasium” have been derived. It is a term clearly related to athletics. An athlete becomes an expert only by years of hard practice. There are no instant athletes. Do you think that Brooks Robinson became one of the world’s greatest third basemen simply by appearing at the stadium in Baltimore one afternoon after he had decided that morning that he was going to play ball? Do you think that it is only when there is a game that he plays? You know otherwise. You know that he has spent countless hours practicing. When you watch him in action, it is hard not to conclude that he was born with a glove in his hand. He must have teethed on a bat! It takes years of regular practice to achieve such skill.
No weight lifter, for example, says, “Here is a very heavy weight, I never lifted weights before, but that looks like the largest one, I’ll try to press it.” He is likely to break his back. He can’t do it that way. He must start out with a small weight the first week, then gradually over the months and years add heavier and heavier ones. He must work up to the heaviest one; Nor does he decide, “This week I’ll lift weights for five hours on Friday and then I’ll forget about it for the next six weeks.” Athletes must practice regularly, usually every day for at least a short period of time. They work daily, day after day, until what they are doing is “natural” (i.e. second nature) to them. That is what an athlete does. And that is exactly what is involved in the word that Paul used here. Continued daily effort is an essential element of Christian discipline.
His reference to Paul’s writing is found in I Tim. 4:7, 8, “. . . exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
Our Reformed fathers considered such daily growth in sanctification in Lord’s Day 32 and 33 of our Heidelberg Catechism.
Q. 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
A. Because that Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit, after His own image, that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us: also that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.
Q. 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?
A. By no means; for the Holy Scripture declares, that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Q. 88. In how many parts doth the true conversion of man consist?
A. In two parts, in the mortification of the old and the quickening of the new man.
Mortification of the old man simply means saying No when you should say No.. I’m afraid that this is one area that is being neglected by us, and such neglect contributes to spiritual lethargy and subsequent spiritual flab.
The immediate danger of riches, luxury, affluence, call it what you will, is that we are conditioned to get what we want. Sometimes it is so bad that parents and young people cannot even think of things they would like to receive as gifts. A little child says, “Mommy, I want a gum ball.” Well, reach for a penny; it’s the best way to get Johnny to quit nagging. Soon the gum ball is replaced with a bat and ball and probably some grand assortment of trucks. Then it’s got to be a trike, eventually a 10-speed. By some amazing wonder it isn’t long and it’s “four on the floor.”
Carry this through a little more. Soon Johnny gets himself a gal that he wants to call his own. They decide on marriage. Young couples don’t start out today with a minimum; no, they have to have a beautiful house, and, of course, filled with all kinds of furniture, including the color television set. They need it.
To add insult to injury, we are constantly harangued with commercials; we’re told we need this or that. And evidently if we’re told often enough, we will decide that we do indeed need it, or I don’t se how such expensive advertising would ever pay. We’re brainwashed to say, “Yes, it’s true.”
It is in that kind of setting that it! becomes so hard to say No to anything. To say No is like trying to get your gear into reverse while you are going 50 miles an hour forward. It presents problems. This we find out in our Christian life.
What is the solution? We must learn to say no to certain things from childhood on. You must expect this and practice this. You will then get used to using that reverse gear. You don’t have to go out every night something is going on. Say No sometimes. You don’t have to dress like every one else; say No sometimes. You don’t have to use the same old jargon everyone else may deem so “neat”; say No sometimes. If your friends want to do something you don’t, say No! Say No to the television set at certain times. Say No to the sports-craze if it is getting out of hand.
James reminds us that it is not only important for us not to do evil, he also tells us that if we know what is good, but fail to do that good, we sin by not doing it, James 4:17.
Don’t become over burdened with saying no. Remember that every time you say No, there is a golden opportunity next to it to say Yes! We do not live in a vacuum; we are active every moment. And if we refuse to do evil, we have that opportunity to get busy and do something good.
Instead of wasting your time with television, get your school work done the way it should be done; this is good. Instead of trying to be popular because you are a push over and everyone takes advantage of you, try standing up for what you really believe, and don’t be afraid to tell others. You may not be so popular, but you will have the inner satisfaction of having acted out of principle (belief), and not out of the way of least resistance.
The more that you do this, the more you show that you are maturing. This is what your parents are looking for when they are about to decide whether you are old enough to take on more responsibilities. You want to get a job? You want to take the family car out for an evening? You want to begin dating? You want to go on a trip? You want to get married?
The answers to these important questions will not be found in attaining the magical age of 18 years. The government may say that you are old enough to accept adult responsibilities at that age. What else can the government do but set the age as it is determined by the majority of people? And since the 60s were years of uprisings, especially on college campuses by militant youth, the government set that age.
Maturity is not determined by the number of times you have changed the calendar. Rather, it is determined by the way you conduct yourself, the way you show that you can obey and be trustworthy, the way your word is good and you do what you promise, the way that you say Yes when you should and No when you shouldn’t.
Indeed, you need the Bible to know when God requires of you the Yes and the No; you need the instruction of catechism and church to help you; you need the Holy Spirit to work grace in your heart. You also need practice.
Your ability to implement this in your life improves with such practice.
This is what God requires of us, “I 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,” Rom. 12:1.
May God provide you the grace to do this.