Yes Milk But Eventually Steak
Some of the best selling "Christian" books of all time actually teach very little actual Christianity. Instead, they are filled with what theologians and scholars call "moralistic deism." That is just a fancy way of saying that rather than pursuing genuine obedience to Christ, we prefer to just be a better version of ourselves. We tighten up our bootstraps and give our best effort at cleaning up our act. At least until we inevitably fall back off the wagon and back into whatever nagging, persistent sin struggle(s) continue to weigh us down.
The problem with moralistic deism, as opposed to genuine Christianity, is that it is devoid of the power that fuels the genuine repentance that puts sin to death and leads to lasting life-change...the power of the Gospel. Trying to be a better you means that you are always chasing a carrot on a stick. Without any true north by which we can navigate, the future, better you is always another day away. Eventually days become months, then years, then decades, still chasing that new and improved version of you.
This is why God's word is so vital to the spiritual well-being of God's people. Psalm 119:105 calls scripture "a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." It illuminates and guides us. A Christian who doesn't consistently engage with God through his word is like a sailor floating aimlessly at sea. Imagine what it would be like in the middle of a seemingly endless ocean. With no map, no compass, no way to navigate, every direction looks the same. How do you choose which way to go? Is this the path that leads to an island of salvation, or are you sailing headlong into a hurricane of destruction? Who can tell???
In my time in ministry, I have met many believers who share frustration over their lack of biblical understanding, their continual struggle with sin, and constant feelings of loneliness and separation from God. He feels like a stranger to them, not a loving father. What I usually find through our interactions is that the reason they aren't experiencing the fruit of a relationship with the Lord is because they don't have one...and aren't making any effort to cultivate one. I can speak with great confidence on this matter, because I lived it myself.
For years I existed in nominal Christianity. I claimed to be a Christian, but didn't live like one. Why doesn't the Bible make sense to me? Why am I not experiencing growth in my sanctification? Why don't I feel or act any different than the non-believers in my life? The answer to all of those questions was me...and my lack of true love and devotion for God and his word. The reality was, I was lazy and complacent. I wanted the benefits of a vibrant relationship with God, but without any of the work. This isn't how the Christian life works though...at least not for a mature believer.
Much like our human infancy, during our spiritual infancy, we lack that which is necessary to consume a hearty meal. Instead, we must rely on easily digestible milk. In the same way, much like newborn infants, we require a great deal of care and nurturing. Babies are like sponges, they consume everything around them and take it all in. No one ever expects or requires anything from a baby in return. We expect to take care of them and raise them through their childhood and into adulthood.
However, as children grow and mature, expectations are introduced into the relationship. For example, I don't expect to give my now teenage daughter a bath at night. She's capable of taking care of that herself. If I were to still be a part of that, we would rightly find that to be strange, and quite frankly, more than a little inappropriate! Surprisingly though, we don't find it strange or at all inappropriate when we find grown Christians still acting like spiritual newborns...always consuming with no expectation of giving back or doing for themselves.
Not only do we allow this type selfishness and immaturity in our churches, quite honestly, we often design our ministry efforts to cater to it. This approach stymies the spiritual growth of our people and kills our churches by placing an unfair and unnecessary burden on our mature believers to do so much of the heavy lifting and to make up for so many who do so little. This is why so many ministries don't last and can't be sustained. Eventually people become overwhelmed and burnt out. Sadly, they may even give in to bitterness and resentment towards others. I've seen and experienced that first hand as well.
Instead, we must challenge our spiritual children and encourage them to pursue independence and maturity. We must move past milk and provide them with meat. Not only that, but we must teach them to find meat on their own. This is what it means to grow-up in the faith. We know the problem...too many baby Christians and not enough parents. So, what is the answer?
Well, I think the best way to sum it up is with an analogy. Let's call it the bucket analogy...
What if every believer considered themselves to be a bucket? A bucket, while simple and rather unimpressive to behold, can be a very useful thing to have around. It can serve many purposes. The most unique thing about a bucket is that it is useful both when you fill it up, and when you empty it out...depending on the job. Like a bucket, every believer needs to be filled up at times to be useful. We all require a time and a place where we can be poured into. Every bucket will eventually run empty. In the same way however, their are also times when a bucket needs to be emptied out to fulfill the task at hand. Eventually a bucket is full, and if it isn't ever emptied out, it is no longer useful for anything. It's just a place to store a bunch of useless junk.
Here's the really cool thing about buckets though. One bucket by itself, no matter how quickly you fill and empty it, can only make a relatively small impact. But enough buckets, continually being filled up and emptied out, can make a big impact. They can even extinguish a massive deadly fire...much like the one that our world is facing today. That's just some food for thought.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 38 - Listen Carefully
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How do people strengthen their faith?
2. How does Paul engage people at the synagogue?
3. How are we to listen to any sermon we hear?
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