A Call to Spiritual Maturity

February 25, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Hebrews 5:11- 6:3 |


A Call to Spiritual Maturity | Hebrews 5:11-6:3
Brian Hedges | February 25, 2024

Today we’re going to be in Hebrews 5:11-6:3.

While you’re turning there, let me remind you of a story that probably all of us know. It’s the story of Peter Pan. I’m sure that you’ve seen some of the Peter Pan films; maybe you saw the animated film from Disney that was made years ago, or if you grew up in the ’90s you might remember Hook. That was Steven Spielberg’s version that kind of gives a new take on the Peter Pan stories, a film that had Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams in it. Every few years, this story kind of gets recycled again into a new movie, a new film, or something.

I think it’s easy for us when we think of that to just think of it as a fantasy film; it’s really for kids. It’s not something we’re interested in at all. But we can forget that in the original novel and then play that Peter Pan was, the author, J.M. Barrie, was actually doing some social commentary. He was talking about a problem, he was commenting on a society in which people fail to reach maturity. In fact, the very opening line of the novel was, “All children, except one, grow up.”

The whole theme of this novel is that Peter Pan is kind of stuck in immaturity. He’s stuck in this fantasy world of Never-Never land.

In 1983, a psychologist named Dan Kylie picked up on this idea, and he published a book called The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Never Grow Up. Since then that phrase, “Peter Pan syndrome,” has kind of been in the world of pop psychology, applied to socially immature adults.

Now, understand that this isn’t a medical term. There’s nothing clinical about this. But there are some common symptoms that you might imagine of Peter Pan syndrome. It would be those people who have difficulty with responsibilities and commitments, they are self-absorbed, self-centered, they have difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors, they’re overly dependent on others, they avoid criticism at all costs. That would be the typical socially immature adult person who really hasn’t grown up and entered into maturity.

Well, today we’re considering a similar problem, and I would argue an even worse problem, and it’s spiritual immaturity in the life of a Christian. It’s what we might call Peter Pan syndrome in the church. This is the case of believers with arrested development, Christians who, instead of thriving and developing into mature followers of Jesus Christ, settle into a lazy, sluggish unresponsiveness that leads to spiritual and moral decline.

That’s what this passage is about, Hebrews 5:11 and following. It’s part of our ongoing series through this wonderful letter, the letter to the Hebrews. We’ve called this series “Jesus Is Better,” because this letter is really exalting for us the supremacy, the superiority of Jesus Christ, showing that Jesus is better than all that went before in the Old Testament, the old covenant, that prepared the way for him. He’s better than the angels, he’s better than the law; he’s brought God’s final word, his final revelation. He’s better than Aaron and his priesthood and all that went before. He’s offered a better sacrifice. Jesus is better, and because Jesus is better there is this urgent call to cling to Christ and to hold fast to the confession of our faith.

Today we’re looking at Hebrews 5:11-6:3. The author says,

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”

This is God’s word.

The letter to the Hebrews could really be described as a letter of both exposition and exhortation. The letter kind of alternates between these two things—exposition or explanation, explaining for us how Jesus is superior, how Jesus is better. You have this throughout the letter, as I’ve already mentioned how Jesus is shown to be better than all that went before.

But punctuating the argument, the exposition, there is a series of exhortations, of urgent warnings, where the author is calling upon his readers to pay attention to this final word that’s been given through Jesus, to pay attention to the gospel, to cling to Jesus, to look to Jesus, to not harden their hearts, to not drift away or fall away, but rather to hold fast the confession of their faith.

This is the beginning of another one of those warning, exhortation passages. In fact, it goes on down into Hebrews 6 with one of the more urgent warnings that we find in Scripture. We’re going to consider that next week.

Today, as he begins to kind of lead into this, he says in Hebrews 5:11 that he has much to say to them about what he’s already been talking about. He’s been talking about the priesthood of Christ and how Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He says, “I want to say more about this, but it’s hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing.” Then he goes on to describe this condition that they are in.

I think as you look at this passage as a whole it really shows us three things. It shows us:

1. The Problem
2. The Cause of the Problem
3. The Solution to the Problem

I want us to look at each one of those three things.

1. The Problem: Spiritual Immaturity

The problem is spiritual immaturity. It’s a problem of arrested development in their spiritual lives.

I think you see this in the language, the word pictures, the illustrations that he gives us in Hebrews 5:12-14. The illustrations are just built into this passage.

First of all, he says, “You’re like teachers who should be teaching others, but you need to learn the ABCs all over again.” You see this in verse 12. He says, “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.”

The oracles of God would be the word of God, the truth of God. But these basic principles—that’s a Greek word that carried the idea of the basic elements of creation or the basic rudiments of learning or even the ABCs—the most basic things. He’s saying, “You ought to be able to teach others,” and he doesn’t mean that everybody should be able to get up and give a lecture or preach a sermon or teach a class, but he means that you should be mature enough that you’re able to explain the gospel to others, you’re able to teach someone else something about the word of God, you’re able to share what you have learned and how you have grown and the insights that you have in God’s word—you should be able to share that with others, but instead of that, you need to go back and learn the ABCs! You need to learn the basics all over again.

Then he uses another illustration. We see this at the end of verse 12, leading into Hebrews 5:13-14. He says that you’re like adults who should be eating solid food, table food, but you still need to be bottle-fed. Look at verse 12—he says, “You need milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child, but solid food is for the mature.” So you have this contrast between children and mature, between milk and solid food.

This solid food, as one commentator says, represents “Christian truth undergirded by a profound appreciation of Christ and his work of redemption.” I think he especially has in mind these truths about Jesus, who’s better than the old covenant, and about the new covenant realities that are ours in Jesus Christ. He wants them to grasp that, but he says, “You’re not ready for it yet. Instead, you need milk, and you’re unskilled in the word of righteousness.”

The word of righteousness probably talks about the righteousness into which they will be led, the right living into which they will be led if they fully understand the work of Jesus Christ as their priest and their sacrifice, the one who brought the new covenant, and so on.

When you put these two illustrations together, it gives us a very clear picture of spiritual immaturity, and I think it invites us to do some self-examination. That’s why I hope all of us this morning will ask ourselves some hard questions about our own level of spiritual maturity.

Let me ask you three questions.

(1) Number one: do you need to be spoon-fed to grow spiritually? Instead of there being an active engagement in discipling and serving others, are you the kind of person who’s always dependent on other spiritual leaders to prop you up? Are you the kind of person who has no hunger and no capacity to really dig deeper into spiritual truth, into deeper teaching? Are you the kind of person who fails to do self-feeding?

You’re not really doing any regular Bible study, you don’t have a robust prayer life, you’re haphazard in church attendance and in worship; you’re not really engaged. What you are constantly looking for is other people to kind of do the work for you. You need to be spoon-fed. That would be a sign of spiritual immaturity.

(2) Here’s another—second question—do you regularly act in fleshly ways? I ask that question because this same language is used in another passage, this time by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. I want to read it to you. Paul there says,

“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? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”

You see, the problem in the church at Corinth is that people were behaving in spiritually immature, emotionally immature ways. There were all kinds of relational dysfunction in the church. There was strife, there was jealousy and bitterness, different parties, different groups. There were cliques in the church. There were some people who would say, “I follow Paul,” and other people would say, “I follow Apollos.” This wasn’t Paul and Apollos’s doing, but this was the way people were thinking and were behaving.

Paul confronts this, and he says, “You’re behaving like an unbeliever, a merely human person, somebody who doesn’t even have the Holy Spirit! This is fleshly behavior; this isn’t spiritual behavior. It’s not spiritual maturity.”

This would apply to any of us in our relationships, where the relationships are characterized by deep dysfunction because we don’t know how to relate in wholesome, holy ways. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, and so on—instead, we’re characterized by jealousy and by strife and envy and division and gossip, constantly in conflict, and we’re not good at conflict resolution. Paul says that’s carnal behavior; that’s spiritually immature behavior.

I’ve benefited greatly in reading the books of a guy named Peter Scazzero. He’s written a lot of material on emotionally healthy spirituality.

One of the things Peter Scazzero says is that you cannot be spiritually mature if you’re not emotionally mature. That’s part of it. Part of growing into conformity to the image of Christ is to begin to look like Jesus in the way we love others, in the way we relate to others.

You might check yourself here. Think about your relationship with your spouse, think about your relationship with your children, think about your relationship with your friends and with other people. Are you the kind of person who is bearing the fruit of love and of peace in your relationships, or are you constantly in turmoil and dysfunction because of poor relational skills? That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity.

(3) Here’s the third question: do you lack moral or spiritual discernment? You see this in Hebrews 5:14, where it says that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

But the spiritually immature person is the person who’s lacking that discernment. They’re not making good decisions when confronted with good and evil. They’re stumbling into sin, they’re stumbling into evil.

This also applies to the kinds of teaching and information that they’re taking in. You can see this in another parallel passage—I won’t read all of it, but you can see it on the screen—Ephesians 4. There Paul is also talking about maturity, and he talks about how the gifts have been given to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry so that people will grow and mature into the measure of the stature of Christ.

He says in Ephesians 4:14, “. . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” These are the people who are spiritually immature in the sense that they’re easily blown off course when they hear some new teaching, teaching that doesn’t line up well with Scripture, and it blows them off course in their spiritual lives. They get side-tracked. They get side-tracked with peripheral things, or they get side-tracked with even false teaching, with teaching that points them away from their resources in Christ. It’s a lack of spiritual discernment, and again, it is a sign of spiritual immaturity. That’s the problem that the author to the Hebrews is addressing here. And he tells us the cause of the problem, actually in verse 11. This is point number two.

2. The Cause of the Problem: Spiritual Sloth

The cause is what we might call spiritual sloth or spiritual laziness, and you see it in this phrase in Hebrews 5:11. “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” Now I actually don’t know if that phrase quite captures the nuance of this word. This is a word that’s only used two times in the New Testament. It’s used right here in Hebrews in chapter 5:11 and again in chapter 6:12. Alright? So it’s really the end of this fuller paragraph. We’ll consider the rest of that next week, but Hebrews 6:12 reads like this, “...so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” And he’s really building an argument here. There’s an inclusio—this is a literary device. And he’s describing their spiritual condition and the reason for this spiritual condition.

I think it helps, actually, to look at some of the other translations. I looked at a bunch of different translations to see how this word is translated in different versions. So, sometimes you’ve got things like “dull of hearing” or “no longer trying to understand,” but you’ve also got “sluggish in hearing” in the New English Translation. You’ve got “lazy” in the NIV in Hebrews 6:12. Or you’ve got “too lazy to understand” in the Christian Standard Bible. And that’s the idea here. It is a spiritual sluggishness.

It is one of the old seven deadly sins that they called sloth. Or the Latin word for it was acedia in that original list. It’s not just that in Roman Catholic theology there was a difference between mortal sins and venial sins—a distinction that I don’t really see in Scripture—but in the oldest list of those sins, they were called capital sins. The word capital carries the idea of “head”, where everything else kind of follows it. So you have “capital headwaters” or something. And the idea was that these sins would lead to other sins. And one of the key sins that leads to other sins is this sin of acedia, or the sin of sloth. It’s a spiritual laziness. It’s apathy. It’s lethargy, lassitude—lots of different words we could use for this—but it’s this deep indifference to spiritual things.

Here’s the way a couple of the commentators put it. Peter O’Brien says,

“Their difficulty is not simply mental laziness but spiritual resistance. They are now unwilling to work out the deeper implications of the gospel in their lives.”

Or William Lane—he says,

“What is implied is they lack a responsiveness to the gospel and unwillingness to probe the deeper implications of Christian commitment and respond with faith and obedience. It’s an apathetic attitude that has been left unchecked.”

This is the cause. He’s saying because you are spiritually lazy you are spiritually immature. You should be able to teach others, but you need the ABCs all over again. You should be eating solid food, but you really need milk. And it’s all because of this spiritual sluggishness or sloth.

So what does that look like? How does that manifest in a person’s life? I’ve been really helped by the old Puritan author John Owen. He wrote this book on indwelling sin in the life of a believer. And in this book he’s talking about this passage, and he talks about four characteristics of spiritual sloth. And I’m mostly just going to paraphrase them here, but I think this will help us with application.

(1) He says the first characteristic is carelessness. And you might think of it this way: it’s the difference between a reckless driver and a defensive driver.

Has anyone ever had to take a defensive driving course? You know the difference. A reckless driver is a driver who’s not paying very good attention. They aren’t watching the speed limit. They are driving too fast. They’re not paying good attention to the oncoming traffic. They’re not staying in their lane. They’re checking their phone. They’re not watching the mirrors, the rear view mirror and the side mirrors. They’re not alert. They’re not engaged. Maybe they’re growing really sleepy and in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. All this would be reckless driving. And what they’re doing is endangering their own lives and endangering the lives of others because they’re not focused on the task at hand.

In contrast to that, think of the defensive driver. The defensive driver is wide awake. Hands are on the wheel. Paying attention. Watching the traffic signs. Watching the speed limits. Looking at the mirrors. Constantly assessing, analyzing, paying attention so as to be as safe as possible.

And that same contrast can also be seen in the spiritual life. There are a lot of people who are reckless. They’re Christians, but they are reckless in their spiritual lives. They’re not paying attention to temptation. They’re not quick in dealing with sin. They’re not alert to what Paul calls the wiles or the snares of the devil. They're not watchful over their hearts. They’re not paying attention to the kinds of things they’re bringing into their minds or their hearts—maybe the things they are listening to or the things they are watching. They are just kind of coasting through life with an occasional dip in the Bible, but not really focused and intent and engaged in their spiritual growth. They’re reckless. They’re not watching and praying. And they find themselves regularly stumbling into the same bad habits, the same sins, the same problems, the same temptations over and over again. It’s because of a carelessness in the spiritual life.

(2) Owen says the second characteristic is an unwillingness to act. And here he quotes from Proverbs 19:24 that talks about the sluggard—the sluggard who buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth. This is a person that’s so lazy that they won’t even take time to feed themselves. It’s kind of a caricature, of course. But Owen says,

“In this person there is an unwillingness in sloth to take any notice of warnings, calls, stirrings up by the word, Spirit, judgments, any thing that God makes use of to call the mind back to due consideration of the condition of the soul.”

This is a person who’s just not paying attention, and they’re not willing to act on the warnings that do come. You might think of a person who's kind of in this spiritual condition and they even have friends who are trying to do some kind of intervention. Or maybe it’s a spouse or another member of the household who’s trying to say, “Listen, this is a problem. I’m concerned about your spiritual life. It seems like you’re drifting. It seems like you’re hard-hearted. You’re doing things that are harming your marriage. You’re doing things that are harming the kids. You’re doing things that are hurting your relationships with others.”

And the spiritually mature person is going to try to respond humbly to that. “Thank you for talking to me. I really want to be open to whatever you are seeing. Would you pray with me? Would you pray for me? I want to work on this. Let’s get some help.”

But the spiritually immature person is just going to get angry—is going to lash out and is going to react in pride and anger. There’s an unwillingness to look at oneself and an unwillingness to act to try to solve the problem.

(3) And then thirdly, Owen says it is half-hearted effort, weak and ineffectual attempts to recover itself unto its duty. He quotes Proverbs 26:14: “As the door turns on its hinges, so does the sluggard on his bed.” I mean, this is the classic example of the person who loses the battle with the sheets in the morning. You know, they’re hitting the snooze button again and again and again and again. They’re not getting up. Constantly running late. A lack of discipline in their lives, right? An unwillingness to act and kind of a half-hearted effort. Owen says, “In the turning of a door upon its hinges there is some motion but there’s no progress.” This is a person, he says, who's always beginning and never finishing.

So think about that. Does that describe your spiritual life? Maybe January rolls around and you think, “You know, this year I’m really going to get serious and I’m going to read the Bible.” And you start but you never finish. You get a few weeks in, but you’re not really consistent in maintaining any kind of robust devotional life. Or, maybe you’re constantly church hopping. You’re going from church to church to church, but you never really dig in, plant yourself, and get connected where you’re actually growing in relationships with other people. Or maybe you’re in a church—maybe you're in this church—but you’re constantly bumping from group to group and you’re not really establishing any deep, long-term friendships. Or maybe you start something in ministry but you’re burning out too quickly. You’re not really sticking to your commitments. You’re just giving half-hearted efforts.

(4) And then, fourthly, Owen says this person is easily discouraged by every possible difficulty. And again he quotes Proverbs, this time Proverbs 22:13. This says, “The sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion outside. I shall be killed in the streets.’” Of course he’s imagining a problem. There’s no lion outside. He’s just making an excuse for why he’s not going to actually follow through on commitments. And this would be the spiritually immature believer, who instead of taking courage in the realities of the gospel and in the grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and the promises of the word of God, this person, instead, is just imagining every difficulty. “I’m just going to fail again.” He doesn’t even try; he’s easily discouraged instead of taking heart. All these would be characteristics of this spiritual kind of sloth, this laziness, this apathy that can take root in our hearts and our lives.

Again, the application here I think is pretty obvious. You just check yourself. Are any of these things true of you? And if so, what’s the solution? What do we need to do? How do we combat this? fight this spiritual sloth so that instead of becoming spiritually immature or staying spiritually immature people, we actually become spiritually mature?

3. The Solution to the Problem: Spiritual Growth

The solution is spiritual growth. I mean, it’s that simple. It’s spiritual growth. We need to grow spiritually. You see it in Hebrew 6:1-3. He says,

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity [that’s what he wants], not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”

He wants them to mature, to go on to maturity and leave the elementary doctrines.

Now, that doesn’t mean we leave the gospel behind. The elementary doctrine here has to do with the very foundational and most fundamental truths, which is how a person begins their journey. But he’s concerned that they’re not actually growing in a full understanding of these and of other truths so that they have a fuller, more robust understanding of the gospel.

He gives us a summary of these truths in Hebrews 6:1-2. The commentators point out these include biblical themes that are basic to the gospel, such as resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment. It includes a basic moral response—repentance from dead works and faith in God. And it includes what are probably ritual issues that were of special concern to these Hebrew believers, so the instructions about washing and the laying on of hands.

Now, that can mean one of two things. That could either be a reference to baptism and to the laying on of hands that often happened in the New Testament following baptism where the Holy Spirit was imparted to people—it could be a reference to that, but it’s in the plural here. It’s not washing, but washings. And it probably has in mind, instead, the ritual washings of the Old Testament of the old covenant. There are all kinds of these cleansing laws in the old covenant, and he’s wanting them, I think, to move from that and instead embrace the reality of being cleansed through the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s probably what he has in mind here.

But whatever the exact reference here, it’s clear that he wants them to grow. He wants them to mature. He wants them to go on. He doesn’t want them to stay where they are. He wants them to be moving forward.

So what does this look like? What I want to do is just end by pointing out three very common metaphors or word pictures in Scripture for spiritual growth and how each of them suggests to us some practices that will help us to grow. These are familiar pictures. I mean, this won’t be new to many of you.

The first one is the physiological metaphor. It’s the idea of the body, the body that grows. You’ve got it right here in this passage, so the idea of biological, physiological maturation that takes place as an infant grows into an adult.

The second metaphor is architectural. And this is the idea of a house or a building that’s being built up. And again, you’ve got this right here, I think, implied in the passage. “...not laying again a foundation of repentance.” What is a foundation? A foundation is something you build on. If somebody’s building a house, they don’t lay the foundation and then lay it again and again and again and again. You don’t build a house by putting multiple foundations in, you lay the foundation right the first time, and then you build a superstructure on that foundation.

The same is true in the Christian life. In fact, often the Scriptures, when it’s talking about this idea of a building, it’s most of the time using a corporate picture. It’s a picture of Christians together in the church. Remember how Peter talks about us being a temple that’s being built up to the Lord, a spiritual house, and we are living stones that are being built up into this spiritual temple for the Lord with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone? So, one of the things this implies is that we do this together.

And then the third image is the agricultural image or metaphor. So think of anything like references to seeds and plants and fruits. Think especially of John 15, the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. And just as a branch can’t bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, so you can’t bear fruit unless you abide in me.”

Those are the three images. These are really clear in Scripture, and they are easy to understand. I think they suggest practical things we can do to grow. And here they are.

(1) First of all, feed. Alright? The biological, physiological image here, the way in which a child grows and matures, is by taking in nourishment. And of course, it begins—the newborn child with its mother’s milk. But eventually he or she is starting to eat soft foods; you know, baby foods, Gerber, things like that. And then they’re beginning to eat some table food. And they’re growing in their appetite and in their capacity and in how much they can eat, so they can take on more and more solid food, and that is an essential component to normal, healthy growth.

And listen, in the Christian life you begin with the milk, but you’ve got to move on. You’ve got to move on to the meat. And you’ve got to feed. Very practically, this means we’ve got to learn to feed ourselves. And I push on this often, but I’m going to do it again this morning. It means, brothers and sisters, the most critical personal discipline you can develop in your life is a strong, regular, ongoing devotional life, where you are regularly spending time on your own in God’s word and in prayer. And you’re developing in this way. You’re growing in this way. You’re not dependent only on what happens on Sunday morning. You’re not dependent on someone else doing it for you. But you are spending time, carving out time to spend with the Lord.

I know how hard it is. I know how busy our schedules can get. And I know even in ministry—and I get paid to study the Bible and I love what I do—but there’s a difference between preparing a sermon and reading the Bible, not because I’m about to teach something to somebody else, but reading it for my own soul. And nothing can be more critical for our spiritual lives. We’ve got to make time for this. We’ve got to do it both privately in our own spiritual lives, and of course, we need to be doing it together corporately, which is what we do in corporate worship and small groups and so on.

And this is one of the key themes in Hebrews. Hebrews is saying, “Pay attention.” “Pay attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Pay attention to the gospel and don’t refuse him who is speaking here. Listen, it’s all about taking in the truths of the word of God. Feed.

(2) Build. You have to build on the foundation. And since this picture in Scripture is a picture that usually has to do with the church, one of the applications would be that we are building together and we’re helping each other, we are building one another up in the faith. We’re taking our place as the living stone in the temple. We’re engaged in relationships with one another. The author to the Hebrews says it as well in his own words when he says, “Exhort one another every day while it’s called today lest your hearts be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” Alright? You’ve got to consider one another, how to stir one another up to love and to good deeds. That’s Hebrews 10. Over and over again he’s calling them to engagement with each other. And that’s part of spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. Feed. Build.

(3) And then number three, abide. Abide in the vine. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches; the only way we can bear fruit is by abiding in him.

What is abiding in Jesus? It means being connected to him in a life-giving, organic way, so that we’re drawing strength from him. This isn’t self-help; this isn’t pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. This isn’t just effort—work harder, do better, try really hard to be a Christian. That’s not the idea! There is a kind of sanctified effort, but it’s really the intentionality of staying connected to Jesus. It’s being close to Jesus. Jesus is the one who helps us to grow. So abiding in him, connection to Jesus, dependence on Jesus, remaining in Jesus—all of that applies to this word “abide.”

It reminds us that Jesus Christ is himself the key to growth. Many of these different disciplines help us to abide, but especially prayer. We are casting ourselves on him, asking him for his help, for his grace and mercy.

One of the things I often try to emphasize when we have, as we had today, so many of these young believers who are choosing to follow Christ in baptism, one of the things I try to emphasize is you need these three things: you need the word, you need prayer, you need the church. I mean, that’s basic Christian living, folks. You need the word and you need to feed yourself. You need prayer, you need to abide in Jesus. And you need the church, you need to build your spiritual life and build also the spiritual lives of others as you serve alongside others in community and relationship.

Let me ask you this morning, could it be that you have Peter Pan syndrome? That you’re a Christian who has refused to grow up because of some kind of spiritual indifference in your life?

Let me end in this way. There may be three kinds of people in this room.

There are, first of all, the new believers—those just baptized and those who have been baptized in the last year or two. You’re fairly new to the faith, and right now most of you probably have a zeal to grow. That’s awesome; that’s wonderful. My exhortation to you is keep growing. Don’t stay an infant; keep growing. Go deep in the word, deep in prayer, deep in the church; keep growing in your faith.

Some this morning are lapsed, backslidden, drifted. Maybe that’s you this morning. Maybe you’ve drifted far from the Lord, and you hear this message and you’re convicted. “Yes, that’s me. I’m characterized by these things, this spiritual immaturity.” So the exhortation to you today is to turn to Christ again. It’s not doing penance, it’s not making yourself feel bad about it, it’s not a guilt trip; but if there’s conviction, it’s knowing that God the Father is like the father in the story of the prodigal son. He is waiting with arms wide open; he is ready to receive you. But you have to run back in his arms; you have to get back in relationship, get committed once again to the word of God, to prayer, and to the church. Begin to grow again.

Then, for anyone else where maybe you’re spiritually mature, maybe you see some evidences of some of these things, but basically you’re walking with Christ, for you, the exhortation is just to hold fast. Keep walking, keep trusting, keep believing, keep praying. Stay in the word. Don’t let down your guard. Continue to grow in Christ. That’s the call on us this morning. May God give us grace to obey. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you this morning for your word, and we pray for the grace and the help of your Holy Spirit to help us today to apply it to our hearts and lives in whatever ways we need. Lord, you are the great searcher of hearts; you know every one of us better than we know ourselves. You know exactly what we need today to do in response, and we pray that you would make that clear to us in these moments, and that you would help us this week, not so much in terms of self-determination and relying on ourselves, but instead looking to you, trusting in you, leaning into your grace, to pursue the growth that we need.

Lord, as we come to the table this morning, we pray that you would minister to us. Just as we are fed with the food your holy word, may we be fed as we come to the table, as we by faith look to Christ, who gave his life for ours; Christ, who is the Lord. We ask you to draw near to us in these moments, to fill us with your Spirit, to encourage us in the gospel, and to give us strength for the coming week, that we may walk with you. We pray that in this and in all of our worship you would be honored and glorified this morning. We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.