Before one receives Christ as their personal Savior they are considered what the Bible refers to as the “natural man” and is describes as being unregenerate and devoid of the Spirit. To add to this, they tend to not have an appreciation for the gospel. Why? This is because the “natural man” does not receive the things of the Spirit of God and they are foolishness to him nor can he know them because they are *spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:13). We must keep in mind that the Spirit answers to spirit, not spirit to mind because the “Holy Spirit” interprets spiritual things to people whom He has taken residency inside of.
Next, once ones heart has been drawn by Gods Spirit and they choose to respond to that compelling by receiving Him as their Personal Savior, they then are given a “spiritual man.” This means that they are “regenerate” but at the same time because they are not yet spiritually mature, they are considered a “babe” in Christ or a “carnal man.” The “carnal man” simply means that, yes they are a Believer but they are living much like an unbeliever does. These are the Christians that people would look at and say, “And they are supposed to be a Christians?” They still have childish ways, as seen in the jealous and sectarian spirit. Due to their level of spiritual immaturity, these undeveloped Christians tend to live by human opinion more than for Christ. Now in the case of church leadership that is a different story because their window of imperfection is a lot smaller due to the position that they have chosen to operate in. To this point, even a leader can be a spiritual babe in their faith as well. Spiritual maturity is not predicated on one’s title or because they are an adult but how one has matured in their discipleship process. With this said, I strongly believe that the church needs to implement a better screening process when installing leaders, that requires spiritual maturity and training being the major components.
In connection to all of this, what we need to be mindful of is that “Salvation” or becoming “born again” is one aspect but “Sanctification” or the “spiritual growth process” for a Believer is, for a lack of a better phrase, a whole different ballgame. For example, let us face it, if an occupational harlot received salvation in church today, her life style and entire wardrobe is not going to change as soon as she gets home from church. In fact, even though she is now considered a “Christian” by way of experience, she still may engage in her unacceptable occupational activity until she matures in her faith. Contrary to some Christian’s limited doctrine and theology, one changes over time not over night. To add to this, progressive Sanctification is not being taught as often as it should be in today’s churches in order to encourage new converts as they experience the repeated failures early on in their new walk. The unfair aspect for babes in Christ is that the church does not give them time to progress in their spiritual growth and unbelievers see them behaving in not so Christ like ways. Is it fair to expect someone who has used profanity as a regular part of their vocabulary for a great portion of their lives who then gets “saved” on Sunday and then to stop cursing cold turkey on Monday? I’m not saying that it is impossible but it is very, very rare and or highly unlikely. I am not at all suggesting excusing sinful behavior or becoming accepting of it. I am suggesting that the spiritually mature Christians remember their own growing pains to maturity and find a healthy balance between extending love and accountability when dealing with babes in Christ as they go through their own growth process. Once again in the case of church leadership that is a different story because their window of imperfection is a lot smaller because of the position that they have chosen to operate in. None the less, no one gets “saved” and is instantly super spiritual and mature. It takes time and it also takes some work on behalf of the Believer. Not to sound like Robert Frost, but the painstaking process towards spiritual growth and maturity is liken unto the title of his poem; it is the road that is usually not taken.
So then how does one move progressively in their sanctification process from a babe, worldly, or the “carnal” Christian to the spiritually mature Christian? How does a Christian become the type of Believer who has the “spiritual man” who is “regenerate” and posses the spiritual maturity as seen in the freedom from the sectarian strife (1 Cor. 3:3-4)? How does a Christian become the type of Believer who has the nature that responds to truth and that unbelievers find difficult to understand, just as the Bible says that we are peculiar people? The answer is found in John chapter 15: 1-8 that references the “True Vine” where Jesus explains and uses the analogy of the relationship of the branches to a vine. The branches must continuously be attached and connected to the vine in order for the continuous growth and development to take place over time. This same analogy parallel’s the Christian’s relationship to Jesus on a daily basis so that continuous growth and development can take place in our lives over time as well.
- The Vine represents Jesus
- The Branches represents Believers
- The Sap that runs through The Vine represents The Holy Spirit (This is implied in the context of the Scripture and in the scope of truth. In Eph. 5:18 the Word commands Believers “but be filled with the Spirit”)
In verses 3-5 says:
3. “You are already clean (have already received salvation) because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5. I am the vine, you are the branches, He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.” (NKJV)
So in essence, in a congruent way, we also growth, develop and progress throughout our sanctification process as we continuously stay connected to God. In doing so, our lives will as the passage says, “bear much fruit.”
So then what exactly is this “fruit” or outward evidences of an inward transformation that our lives will exemplify? How is this “fruit” manifested in the life of a Believer who has matured because they have ripened in their faith over the years? Galatians 5:16-17; 22-23 tells us which says:
16. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the *lust of the flesh. 17. For the flesh *lust against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, *peace, *longsuffering, kindness, goodness, *faithfulness, 23. gentleness, *self-control. Against such there is no law.” (NKJV)
So in essence the phrase “walking in the Spirit” is an expression that means living one’s life under the influence of or under the power of the Holy Spirit while being guided by Him. However, even thought one is led by the Spirit, there is still a daily, unrelenting, lifelong conflict between the Spirit which is willing to do right and bear fruit and the flesh nature which is weak (Matt. 26:41; Mk. 14:38). The key is that no Believer “winning” at temptation every day, which goes without saying. Christians need to understand that they cannot be victorious over this everyday inward struggle in and of their own strength. It takes daily dependence on the Holy Spirit and the power of God. Understanding this principal is an easy one if we want to be honest. All we have to do is think of an example of some negative occurrence in our personal lives that we vowed never to do and after having a bout with temptation, we ended up repeating the behavior. Afterwards we even pondered to ourselves, “Why did I do that again.” On the other hand, we can think of some temptations in our lives that used to defeat us regularly that do not “as much” or “anymore” because we have matured in our faith. The good news is that we may not be where we would like to be in our walk with God but due to the changes that have taken place in our lives we are not what we used to be. Ultimately, when the Spirit controls the life of a Believer, he or she produces “most” or in rare cases “all” these “fruit” or graces. The first three fruit deals with our attitude toward God, the second three deals with our social relationships and the last three describes principles that guide Christian conduct. The awesome thing is that the Believer being led by the Spirit does what is right freely and not by the compulsion of the law and therefore is not under its bondage and condemnation (Gal. 5:18)
Once again I want to reiterate that this growth and maturity process takes years and years and years, depending on the Believers commitment to their Christian discipleship. It is Gods will that His children become “Christ like” and even has a pruning process in place of His own in connection to how He will encourage our growth. God, in John chapter 15:1 is referred to as the loving “Vinedresser” who prunes or cuts the withering branches as well as the branches that are producing fruit in order that they might bear more fruit (Jn. 15:2) This is where we as Christians can despise the chastening of the Lord, when He is pruning or cutting away ungodliness in our lives so that we might grow and become more Christ like. Just like a horticulturalist cares for plants by pruning and cutting them so that they might grow, so it is the same with God. Sometimes even we as Believers are tempted to think that God is hurting us on purpose or against us when we are experiencing this sometimes painful growth process. Even we as Believer’s get angry at God because we don’t always understand what He is doing and why. The only thing that we are certain of at that time is that the pain that we are experiences (it does not mean that every time we experience painful circumstances in life that it is automatically God either) does not feel good to us. However, when we have matured, grown and have gain victory over sin and negative circumstances in our lives, we began to realize that God was doing this to help us and not to hurt us. He was doing this because He loves us and our understanding of this causes our attitude to eventually become like Paul when he said in Ps. 119:67-68, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep your word. You are good, and do good; Teach me your statutes.
As I mention earlier in the article that unbelievers can find the Spirit filled, mature Christian difficult to understand as the Bible clearly states would happen. In some cases, unbelievers can find Christians to “be crazy” for a lack of a better term. I mean how could Paul call God “good” and refer to him as “doing good” for afflicting him? Is this a normal human response? Even I must admit that this does sounds kind of “crazy” but it is not. How is it that a Believer can be persecuted, despitefully used, lie on and talked about and still exemplifies genuine love to those that they know are mistreating them? To add to this, during their personal prayer time, pray blessing upon them, their children and their families. How is it that a Believer can lose their job during the Christmas season, not know how they are going to pay their bills and buy their children gifts and still have joy? How is it that a Believer can get a bad doctor’s report conveying that they have contracted cancer and still have peace? How is it that a Believer can patiently exemplify longsuffering by “suffering long” through a painful trail even when everyone thinks that they are “insane” not only for waiting but for continuing to believe that it is going to get better? It is strange but simple; it is the supernatural power of God displayed through the supernatural fruit of His Spirit operating in a Believers life. When a Christian has matured to this place in their walk, there is really not much in life that can move them one way or the other. It is not a “crutch” to deal with life’s struggles and misfortunes or to deal with the death and afterlife question for that matter (though these are benefits). It is an empowerment that even the Believer being empowered does not totally understand but knows that it is real. For those who may think that it is “crazy” I must agree with you that it is because even the Bible tells us that it “passes all human understanding” and is “perplexing” to us as well. (Phil. 4:7; 2 Cor. 4:7-8). Forget all this talk about Heaven and Hell (though the Bible speaks about the reality of both places), the Christian walk is about finding, stepping into and fulfilling God’s purpose in your life on earth so that you can help someone else find, step into and fulfill their God given destiny on earth. More than all of this, along with being able to fulfill our purpose that entails being equipped to bless others during our life time, our fruit bearing allows us to have effective prayer lives (Jn. 15:7), we demonstrate our Christian discipleship (Jn. 15:8-10) and our joy becomes full through experiencing Christ own joy within us (v.11). Lastly but certainly not least, it glorifies God. However, it is a process that takes time.