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Introduction This lesson is intended for those who: •  Would like to learn more about Jesus Christ. •  Are born again. •  Desire spiritual growth in Christ. •  Seek a greater understanding of themselves. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.  Matthew 5:6 Those   who   are   born   again   (and   willingly   yield   to   the   guidance   of   the   Holy   Spirit)   will   experience   a   day-by-day   step-by- step   process   of   becoming   spiritually   mature   (sanctification).      The   greatest   prize   (while   we’re   still   in   our   physical bodies) is to become an unrestrictive vessel through which God may express His a gape love in what we say and do. 2   Peter   1:5-7   provides   us   with   an   insightful   list   of   8   steps   to   spiritual   maturity.      As you   read   the   scripture   below,   follow   the   steps   in   the   graphic   to   the   right   (starting at the bottom with faith). Giving   all   diligence,   add   to   your   faith   virtue,   to   virtue   knowledge,   to   knowledge, self-control,   to   self-control   perseverance,   to   perseverance   godliness,   to   godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. It   is   important   to   note   the   scripture   begins   with   the   words   “giving   all   diligence.”     Diligence   is   defined   as   a   careful,   earnest,   dedicated,   committed,   and   persistent effort.      Diligence   conveys   more   than   a   once-a-week   church   experience.      Simply stated,   for   each   of   us,   growing   into   Christian   maturity   is   a   daily,   and   sometimes moment-by-moment   exercise   of   diligence;   as   He   lovingly   prepares   our   hearts   and souls for eternity. Note   how   each   step   builds   upon   one   another,   and   each   step   supports   the   steps   above.      For   example,   consider   the 4th   step:   self-control.      It   is   very   difficult   for   someone   to   persevere   (5th   step)   in   situations   when   they   do   not   have   self- control—especially   when   the   flesh   (our   sinful   nature)   is   screaming   for   some   type   of   fulfillment   (retribution,   fulfillment   of an addiction, and so forth). Similar   to   a   ladder,   each   step   provides   a   means   to   spiritually   elevate   to   the   next   step.      Meanwhile,   as   we   progress upward,   we   witness   a   radical   transformation   of   our   thoughts,   our   emotions,   our   desires,   and   our   behavior—including how   we   look   at   ourselves,   and   how   we   view   the   world   around   us.      What’s   more,   each   step   brings   us   into   a   closer relationship with our Lord as we become more like Him and less like ourselves. Progression is facilitated by the Holy Spirit as we: 1.  Make free will decisions to obey His guidance. 2.  Internalize scripture. 3.  Pray. 4.  Interact with like-minded Christians. But most important, those who spiritually grow do so because it is the desire of their heart. There   are   additional   aspects   to   the   8   Steps   to   Spiritual   Maturity.      For   example,   the   8   steps   correlate   to   increasing degrees   of   maturity:   from   infancy   to   adulthood.      A   newly   born   Christian   (an   “infant”   in   Christ)   will   often   lack   the behavioral   attributes   of   each   progressive   step.      Whereas,   a   mature   Christian   (an   “adult”   in   Christ)   will   exemplify   the transforming power of God’s grace. The   steps   also   provide   a   means   to   evaluate   our   level   of   maturity.      As   the   spiritual   attributes   of   each   step   is   explained, it will likely cause: 1.  Remembrance of inappropriate thoughts and behavior. 2.  Identification of areas for improvement. 3.  Listing of transformational changes. 4.  Determination of which step we are in our growth. When   we   stand   back   and   look   at   our   lives   from   a   distance   (looking   back   over   time),   many   of   us   will   realize   we   have moved   up   and   down   the   steps   during   various   times   in   our   lives   as   we   responded   to   trials   and   tribulations.      However, over   the   long   term,   many   of   us   will   also   see   how   we   have   progressed   into   higher   levels   of   maturity:   evidenced   by   the fruit of the Holy Spirit emanating in our thoughts, desires, and actions. But   the   fruit   of   the   Spirit   is   love,   joy,   peace,   longsuffering,   kindness,   goodness,   faithfulness,   gentleness,   self-control. Against   such   there   is   no   law.   And   those   who   are   Christ’s   have   crucified   the   flesh   with   its   passions   and   desires.     Galatians 5:22-24 I’d   like   to   add   that   the   steps   should   not   be   viewed   as   negative   motivational   tool,   or   a   listing   of   thou   shall   and   thou   shall not.      These   steps   are   not   intended   to   point   out   our   failures   or   weaknesses.      Remember,   we   are   all   imperfect,   and   we are   all   forgiven   because   we   have   decided   to   believe   and   trust   in   God’s   unmerited   grace   in   Jesus   Christ.      Also remember…God is more interested in the desires and attitude of our heart.  Besides,   consider   our   sinful   nature   and   how   we   respond   when   someone   attempts   to   “push”   us   up   the   ladder.      We   do not   like   being   pushed.      We   may   grudgingly   comply,   but   our   heart   will   increasingly   struggle   against   whomever   is   doing the pushing. But   rather,   it   is   His   grace   and   His   love   that   changes   the   desires   of   our   heart   as   He   compels   us   to   move   upward   and towards Him.  Each step is a free-will choice that results in transformational changes in our heart, soul, and spirit. I nternal Transformation: Born Again So,   let   start   with   the   first   step   of   faith:   which   may   be   simply   defined   as   a   belief   in   something   without   proof   or   evidence.     Which   gives   rise   to   a   quandary,   in   that   our   flesh   relies   upon   the   physical   realm   to   verify   the   existence   of   something, usually   by   one   of   our   five   senses.      For   example,   all   of   us   can   relate   to   the   following:   If   I   cannot   see,   hear,   touch,   smell, or taste it…how do I know it exists?  Plus, I’ll believe it when I see it! However,   faith,   the   type   of   faith   described   here,   exists   in   the   spiritual   realm.      Think   about   the   following…   God   is asking   us   to   believe   in   His   son,   Jesus   Christ   (who   lived   2,000   years   ago)   gave   His   life   and   His   blood   as   a   sacrifice   for our   sins   so   that   we   may   be   forgiven.      To   some   this   may   be   incomprehensible,   let   alone   impossible   to   validate   with   our physical senses. But   without   faith   it   is   impossible   to   please   him:   for   he   that   cometh   to   God   must   believe   that   he   is,   and   that   he   is   a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.  Hebrews 11:6 For   God   so   loved   the   world   that   He   gave   His   only   begotten   Son,   that   whoever   believes   in   Him   should   not   perish   but have everlasting life. John 3:16  Believing   in   God,   believing   in   His   word,   and   believing   in   what   He   has   done   for   us   in   His   Son,   Jesus   Christ   is   the   key that   unlocks   the   door   into   the   heavenly   realms   and   everlasting   life.      For   example,   those   who   have   placed   their   faith   in Jesus   will   discover   new   spiritual   senses:   including   what   is   seen,   what   is   heard,   and   what   is   experienced.      But   what’s more, they will also witness a radical transformation of who they are…for all things are possible for those who believe. Jesus said “ …all things are possible to him who believes.”  Mark 9:23 Jesus   spoke   words   that   align   with   our   earthly   minds   to   reveal   spiritual   realities   and   truths.      For   example,   Jesus   said “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3 First,   with   regards   to   being   born   again,   He   was   not   referring   to   a   physical   birth,   but   a   spiritual   birth.      Second,   Jesus said   those   who   are   not   born   again   cannot   see   the   kingdom   of   God.      Conversely,   those   who   are   born   again   can   see the   kingdom   of   God.      However,   it   is   impossible   to   see   the   kingdom   of   God   with   our   physical   eyes   because   the kingdom   of   God   is   in   the   spiritual   realm.      The   ability   to   spiritually   see   the   kingdom   of   God   requires   Holy   Spirit revelation   while   we   are   living   on   earth   (including   momentary   and   partial   views   of   His   glory).      But   what’s   even   more important   is   from   an   eternal   perspective:   His   words   are   a   promise   to   the   born   again   as   to   what   we   will   see   after   we die. Jesus also said: “Yet   a   time   is   coming   and   has   now   come   when   the   true   worshipers   will   worship   the   Father   in   the   Spirit   and   in   truth,   for they   are   the   kind   of   worshipers   the   Father   seeks.      God   is   spirit,   and   his   worshipers   must   worship   in   the   Spirit   and   in truth.”  John 4:23-24  “It   is   the   Spirit   who   gives   life;   the   flesh   profits   nothing.   The   words   that   I   speak   to   you   are   spirit,   and   they   are   life.”      John 6:63 Jesus   correlated   physical   hunger   and   thirst   with   unfulfilled   cravings   and   spiritual   voids   within   our   heart   and   soul.     Jesus proclaimed: “I   am   the   bread   of   life.   He   who   comes   to   Me   shall   never   hunger,   and   he   who   believes   in   Me   shall   never   thirst.”   John 6:35 “If   anyone   thirsts,   let   him   come   to   Me   and   drink.      He   who   believes   in   Me,   as   the   Scripture   has   said,   out   of   his   heart   will flow rivers of living water.”  John7:37-38 Seeing   the   kingdom   of   God,   fulfillment   of   hunger   and   thirst,   and   living   water   flowing   from   our   heart   are   spiritual indicators of the transformational change that occurs as a result of believing in Him. In   Revelation   3:20   Jesus   promised   “I   stand   at   the   door   and   knock.      If   anyone   hears   My   voice   and   opens   the   door,   I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Each   time   He   knocks   on   the   door,   and   each   time   He   speaks   to   us…it   is   not   heard   with   our   physical   ears.   But   rather,   it is   heard   by   our   heart,   and   our   soul,   and   our   spirit.      Also   note   He   knocks   (and   will   never   force   His   way   into   our   lives).     This   is   because   he   desires   a   relationship   based   upon   a   willing   heart.      So,   He   lovingly   stands   outside,   patiently   knocks on the door, and speaks illuminating truth that reaches into the depths of our heart and soul. Meanwhile,   as   He   knocks,   those   things   that   seem   important,   and   those   things   that   have   a   control   over   our   flesh   are illuminated   from   darkness   by   the   light   of   Jesus   Christ—thereby   enabling   us   to   spiritually   see   those   things   that   are detrimental, destructive, and damaging to our physical lives and spiritual well-being. Many   of   us   can   remember   what   we   experienced   when   Jesus   knocked   on   our   door:   the   turmoil;   the   raging   internal battle   as   Satan   fought   to   keep   us   under   his   control;   and   the   inexplainable   joy   and   emotions   we   experienced—and tears   shed—when   we   opened   the   door   and   let   Him   in,   and   as   our   Savior   embraced   us   with   His   grace   and   love.      When you   transition   from   darkness   to   light,   when   you   open   the   door   to   let   Him   in,   and   as   you   relinquish   control…those   who are born again will experience indescribable peace, joy, and fulfillment…because what occurs is spiritual. Here   is   an   interesting   question:   Did   you   choose   Jesus,   or   did   He   choose   you?      Did   you   apprehend,   or   were   you apprehended? Think   about   what   was   going   on   in   your   life   before   you   encountered   Jesus.      If   you   were   like   most   Christians   you   were in   sin,   unable   to   see,   walking   around   in   darkness,   trying   everything   possible   to   find   fulfillment,   and   was   absolutely   lost.     When    you    reflectively    consider    where    you    were    and    where    you    are    now,    it’s    easy    to    conclude    we    were    not enlightened by our own efforts. But   praise   God   in   that   there   was   something…a   redeeming   quality   deep   within   our   heart   and   soul…that   only   He   can see.  You   did   not   choose   Me,   but   I   chose   you   and   appointed   you   that   you   should   go   and   bear   fruit,   and   that   your   fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.  John 15:16 But   you   are   a   chosen   generation,   a   royal   priesthood,   a   holy   nation,   His   own   special   people,   that   you   may   proclaim   the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9 Exercising   our   faith   in   believing   what   Jesus   Christ   did   for   us   on   the   cross,   and   experiencing   the   transformational change   of   being   reborn   by   the   Spirit   is   the   foundational   step   that   supports   all   others.      Once   we   have   stepped   upon faith, the next step is virtue. Internal Transformation: Integrity, Honesty, Morality Once   a   person   is   reborn,   they   will   see   changes   occur   within   their   heart   and   soul.      They   will   also   begin   to   view   and experience   life   from   a   different   perspective—as   the   Holy   Spirit   continues   the   transformation   process—for   He   was actively at work before the rebirth occurred. Therefore,   if   anyone   is   in   Christ,   he   is   a   new   creation;   old   things   have   passed   away;   behold,   all   things   have   become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 A   new   heart   also   will   I   give   you,   and   a   new   spirit   will   I   put   within   you:   and   I   will   take   away   the   stony   heart   out   of   your flesh,   and   I   will   give   you   a   heart   of   flesh.      And   I   will   put   my   spirit   within   you,   and   cause   you   to   walk   in   my   statutes,   and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 This   is   when   our   hardened   heart   begins   the   healing   and   softening   process,   and   our   seared   conscience   begins   to recover   its   influence—as   we   become   more   sensitive   to   the   spirit   as   to   what   is   right   and   what   is   wrong—and   as   we begin   to   make   decisions   based   upon   integrity,   honesty,   and   moral   virtues.      This   is   also   when   we   begin   to   learn   how   to trust,   let   go,   and   let   Jesus   Christ   be   Lord   of   our   life—as   we   increasingly   yield   to   the   Holy   Spirit.      We   also   learn   that   it feels very good on the inside when we obey, and devastating when we disobey. I nternal Transformation: Understanding, Wisdom The   next   step   is   growing   in   knowledge   and   understanding   as   the   Holy   Spirit   unveils   the   magnitude   and   power   of   what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. For   by   grace   you   have   been   saved   through   faith,   and   that   not   of   yourselves;   it   is   the   gift   of   God,   not   of   works,   lest anyone should boast.  Ephesians 2-8-9 God’s   gift   of   grace   (our   forgiveness   of   sin—past,   present,   and   future)   is   offered   to   us   because   of   our   faith   in   what Jesus   Christ   did   for   us.      This   simple   truth   (which   confounds   the   world)   comprises   the   foundational   hidden   treasures   of unfathomable   knowledge   and   wisdom.      It   is   a   gift   that   can   only   be   received   and   cannot   be   earned.         Our   salvation   was bought and paid for by the blood Jesus as He died on the cross as the perfect sacrificial lamb. To   the   world   the   concept   of   God’s   love,   forgiveness,   and   grace   in   Jesus   Christ   is   a   mystery.      Their   eyes   are   blinded by Satan, and their hearts are hardened due to a preference for sin.  But   even   if   our   gospel   is   veiled,   it   is   veiled   to   those   who   are   perishing,   whose   minds   the   god   of   this   age   has   blinded, who   do   not   believe,   lest   the   light   of   the   gospel   of   the   glory   of   Christ,   who   is   the   image   of   God,   should   shine   on   them.     2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And   this   is   the   condemnation,   that   the   light   has   come   into   the   world,   and   men   loved   darkness   rather   than   light, because   their   deeds   were   evil.      For   everyone   practicing   evil   hates   the   light   and   does   not   come   to   the   light,   lest   his deeds should be exposed.  John 3:19-20 Paul wrote: “The   mystery   which   has   been   hidden   from   ages   and   from   generations,   but   now   has   been   revealed   to   His   saints.   To them   God   willed   to   make   known   what   are   the   riches   of   the   glory   of   this   mystery   among   the   Gentiles:   which   is   Christ   in you, the hope of glory.”  Colossians 1:25-27 “That   their   hearts   may   be   encouraged,   being   knit   together   in   love,   and   attaining   to   all   riches   of   the   full   assurance   of understanding,   to   the   knowledge   of   the   mystery   of   God,   both   of   the   Father   and   of   Christ,   in   whom   are   hidden   all   the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Colossians 2:1-3 What’s   more,   as   a   Christian   grows   in   full   awareness   of   the   depth   and   breadth   of   God’s   grace   in   Jesus   Christ…a transformational    revelation    and    realization    occurs…in    that    all    human-inspired    delusional    intellect,    all    worldly knowledge, and all earthly treasures are absolutely useless and vain. For   the   remainder   of   our   years   on   this   earth   the   Holy   Spirit   will   continue   to   glorify   Jesus   Christ,   confirm   we   are   God’s chosen   children,   forgiven   by   grace,   called   out   of   darkness,   appointed   as   ambassadors   of   Christ,   and   heirs   to   the Kingdom. The   Spirit   Himself   bears   witness   with   our   spirit   that   we   are   children   of   God,   and   if   children,   then   heirs—heirs   of   God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  Romans 8 Internal Transformation: Discipline, Restraint, Will If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Although   spiritually   reborn,   every   Christian   still   lives   inside   their   body,   and   still   has   a   soul   filled   with   impurities.      As such,   they   must   willingly   confront,   learn   how   to   control,   and   actively   deny   the   demands   of   their   flesh.   This   is   where   the rubber   meets   the   road;   this   is   why   we   experience   trials   and   tribulations;   and   this   is   when   we   learn   to   make   free   will decisions to seek and obey the Holy Spirit. Sometimes   the   process   of   cleansing   can   be   overwhelming…but   God   promised   we   would   not   be   tempted   beyond   what we are able to handle.  God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.  1 Corinthians 10:13 If   we   fail,   it   is   because   of   our   free   will   choice.      However,   if   we   continue   to   walk   in   the   Spirit   He   will   provide   us   with   the resolve and spiritual strength to overcome whatever is before us. To   become   more   like   Him   (and   less   like   ourselves)   we   need   to   crucify   our   flesh.      This   will   often   require   resolute   heart- driven   free   will   decisions   to   avoid   those   things   in   our   lives   that   generate   fleshly   desires   and   destructive   behavior.      This also   requires   discipline,   prayer,   reading   God’s   word,   attending   church,   and   sometimes   seeking   the   assistance   of   a trusted like-minded Christian as an accountability partner. One    more    thing…never    forget    the    pain,    the    shame,    and    the    dreadful    feeling    of    being    disconnected    from God—including   the   consequential   impact   it   had   upon   others.      These   memories   will   assist   in   overcoming   the   flesh   and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 As   we   learn   to   walk   with   and   yield   to   the   Spirit,   He   will   strengthen   our   heart   with   the   resolve   and   spiritual   strength   to overcome   our   flesh   (body   and   soul).      Simply   stated,   to   become   more   like   Him   (and   less   like   ourselves)   we   need   to wash   the   impurities   from   our   flesh.      The   spirit   and   life   in   God’s   living   word   is   the   water   that   cleanses   each   of   us   (and the church) of impurities. …Christ   also   loved   the   church   and   gave   Himself   for   her,   that   He   might   sanctify   and   cleanse   her   with   the   washing   of water   by   the   word,   that   He   might   present   her   to   Himself   a   glorious   church,   not   having   spot   or   wrinkle   or   any   such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  Ephesians 5:25-27 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 I nternal Transformation: Steadfastness, Character The   next   step   is   perseverance—which   is   bolstered   by   life’s   challenges   and   tribulations.      Difficulties   in   life   serve   as   a means   to   strengthen   our   faith.      When   we   are   in   the   midst   of   anxiety   and   unable   to   figure   out   what   to   do…is   when   we realize   there   is   nothing   we   can   do   other   than   place   our   hope   and   faith   in   God.      It   is   when   the   “dust   settles”   and   we   are able   to   reflect   upon   what   occurred   is   when   we   realize   He   was   in   control   the   whole   time.      Meanwhile,   our   ability   to steadfastly weather another “storm” and our character has been changed to be more Christ-like. …but   we   also   glory   in   tribulations,   knowing   that   tribulation   produces   perseverance;   and   perseverance,   character;   and character, hope.  Romans 5:4 Internal Transformation: Righteousness, Goodness Here   is   a   question   to   ponder…What   does   godliness   mean   to   you?      Some   may   answer   by   describing   one   who   is religious.      Some   may   refer   to   persons   who   live   in   secluded   places   high   in   the   mountains.      Others   may   define   persons who   wear   religious   garments   and   follow   prescribed   rituals   of   worship.      And   some   may   describe   one   who   is   somewhat disconnected and separated from the “common people” as they perform their “holy” duties. However, when we understand the nature of God…our definition of Godliness radically changes. And   without   controversy   great   is   the   mystery   of   godliness:   God   was   manifested   in   the   flesh,   justified   in   the   Spirit,   seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16 If   you   want   to   know   what   godliness   looks   like…look   at   Jesus...in   whom   God   manifested   Himself.      To   know   and understand   the   nature   of   God   (and   godliness)   look   at   the   life   and   words   of   Jesus   Christ.      Jesus   said   “I   and   My   Father are one.”  John 10:30 The   attributes   of   Christ   (His   godliness)   exemplifies   an   intimate   relationship   with   the   Father,   and   reveals   a   desire   to have a loving (agape) relationship with man.  Here   is   another   truth   about   our   sinful   nature   and   spiritual   transformation:   we   have   a   propensity   to   pridefully   take   the glory   for   the   work   He   is   doing   in   us.      If   at   any   time   you   perceive   you’ve   arrived;   you’re   at   the   “pinnacle”   of   your Christian   walk;   and   “I’ve   got   this.”   …your   perception   is   tainted   by   pride—the   same   delusional   pride   that   resulted   in Satan’s   demise.      But   rather,   humbly   realize   it   is   only   by   God’s   grace   you   were   saved   and   are   being   continually transformed   into   His   likeness—which   will   continue   until   your   physical   body   no   longer   functions.      Meanwhile,   realize everything   you   are   in   Christ   is   because   of   Him,   and   humble   yourself   before   the   One   who   saved   you—for   He   alone   is worthy of praise. I nternal Transformation: Benevolence Expressing    kindness    towards    others;    being    friendly;    doing    or    giving    things    to    others    (without    expectation    for reciprocity)—exemplifies    Christian    benevolence.        This    is    when    spiritual    growth    has    reached    a    point    where    the Christian understands…It’s not about me. A   new   commandment   I   give   to   you,   that   you   love   one   another;   as   I   have   loved   you,   that   you   also   love   one   another.   By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35 As   we   are   molded   and   shaped   by   the   Holy   Spirit   we   will   experience   a   deep   and   indescribable   appreciation   for   our brothers   and   sisters   in   Christ…for   they   are   also   walking   the   same   path   to   glory.      This   is   when   our   spiritual   cleansing enables   us   to   look   beyond   each   person’s   imperfections...because   our   soul   is   also   tainted   by   impurities.      This   is   when we    strive    to    maintain    harmony.        This    is    also    when    we    desire    to    help,    fulfill    needs,    and    become    increasingly charitable…for we realize only those things done for His glory will last for eternity.  I nternal Transformation: Agape Sacrifice The   highest   level   of   spiritual   maturity   is   agape   love—in   that   it   is   a   reflection   of   the   love   God   has   towards   us—and   is expressed   by   what   it   does.      In   addition,   agape   love   is   not   based   on   a   feeling.      It   is   a   determined   act   of   the   will   and   a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. By   this   we   know   love,   because   He   laid   down   His   life   for   us.   And   we   also   ought   to   lay   down   our   lives   for   the   brethren.     1 John 3:16 However,   agape   does   not   come   naturally   to   us.      Because   of   our   fallen   nature,   we   are   incapable   of   producing   such   a love.  If we are to love as God loves—agape—it can only come from its Source.  Click this text to view a video that explains agape love. Pure   agape   love   is   exemplified   in   the   words   of   Jesus   Christ—as   He   hung   on   the   cross—when   He   prayed   for   His executioners “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34 The   foundational   essence   of   agape   love   is   sacrificial   forgiveness,   which   flows   from   the   Father   through   us   when   we reflect   His   unmerited   grace   and   love   He   has   given   us   through   His   son,   Jesus   Christ.      This   is   where   we   will   find   the resolve to unconditionally love—because we are unconditionally loved by God. And   yes,   because   of   our   flesh   it   can   be   a   challenge   at   times   to   expresses   God’s   forgiveness   and   love   towards someone—especially   if   they   have   done   us   wrong.      As   such,   here   are   some   reflective   and   heart-revealing   questions   to ask   yourself   when   anger,   pride,   or   other   vain   reasons   get   in   the   way.      Look   at   yourself   from   a   “distance”   (i.e.   think outside   of   the   situation   and   finite   awareness)   by   looking   at   the   big   picture   from   an   eternal   perspective.      Then   ask yourself the following questions: •  Was I lost in darkness?  •  Did I understand the impact and consequences of my sin and behavior upon others? •  If I am forgiven, what right to I have to not forgive others? •  Is all of this frustration, internal conflict and turmoil worth it? •  What is the Holy Spirit saying and guiding me to do? Peter also found it difficult to forgive—revealed when he asked Jesus how many times he should forgive. Then   Peter   came   to   Jesus   and   asked,   “Lord,   how   many   times   shall   I   forgive   my   brother   or   sister   who   sins   against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 You’d   think   seven   times   would   be   sufficient.   After   someone   sins   against   us   seven   times,   to   forgive   them   seven   times should   be   sufficient,   and   we’ve   accomplished   “our   part.”   We   should   be   “good-to-go”   and   able   to   check   this   off   our   “to do   list.”   Compared   to   worldly   standards,   forgiving   someone   seven   times   far   exceeds   human   expectations   and   we should   be   “legally   free”   to   be   done   with   them.   What’s   more,   we   should   be   able   to   rightfully   hold   onto   non-forgiveness from   that   point   forward.   Besides,   most   persons   would   not   forgive   more   than   one   time—which   is   reflected   in   the   adage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." But   Jesus   said   no.      Jesus   said   we   should   forgive   seventy   times   seven,   or   490   times.   This   is   a   huge   quantity!   No   one in   their   right   mind   would   continue   to   forgive   someone   these   many   times!      However,   these   words   of   Jesus   reveal   more than   the   number   of   times   we   should   forgive—they   reveal   God’s   heart.      Jesus   would   have   never   asked   us   to   do something   that   He   is   not   willing   to   do.   The   response   by   Jesus   conveys   the   number   of   times   God   will   forgive us—which   extends   beyond   490   times   and   beyond   human   comprehension—because   His   love   and   forgiveness   is infinite.  Even when we commit the same mistake over and over. God’s   grace—and   His   Love—is   the   powerful   agent   that   cleanses   our   heart   and   soul   of   impurities.      This   cleansing process is magnified when the desires of willing Christian heart prays… Search   me,   O   God,   and   know   my   heart;   try   me,   and   know   my   anxieties;   and   see   if   there   is   any   wicked   way   in   me,   and lead m e in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24 There   are   two   additional   aspects   of   the   8   steps   to   consider.      First,   note   how   it   is   possible   to   divide   the   steps   into   three categories based upon the focus of the maturing Christian. The   first   three   steps   are   focused   upon   self:   placing   faith   in   Jesus   Christ,   virtuous   behavior,   and   growing   in   knowledge and   wisdom.         The   next   three   steps   transition   the   focus   from   self   to   others   as   the   character   of   the   Christian   continues to   become   more   like   Jesus   Christ;   and   as   the   Holy   Spirit   teaches   the   importance   of   willful   self-control   and   discipline as they interact with the world around them.  The top two steps are based upon the Christian’s focus upon others. The   second   aspect   is   related   to   sin—which   may   cause   us   to   spiritually   step   down   some   steps.      When   we   sin,   it   is because    we    made    a    free    will    choice.        We    subsequently    separate    ourselves    from    God    and    experience    the consequences   of   our   sin:   including   painful   feelings   on   the   inside,   guilt,   shame,   and   attacks   by   Satan   as   to   our unworthiness, our incapabilities, our unworthiness, as peace is replaced by turmoil. However,   all   of   the   negative   consequences   of   sin   are   a   good   thing.      In   fact,   it   is   a   very   good   thing   because   it   is   God’s means of spiritual chastisement. Do   you   discipline   your   child   (based   upon   love)   when   they   disobey—because   you   know   the   harm   that   may   occur   if they continue their behavior?  As God’s children…wouldn’t you expect the same? Besides, did you have this type of experience when you sinned—before you knew Jesus Christ? My   son,   do   not   despise   the   chastening   of   the   Lord,   nor   be   discouraged   when   you   are   rebuked   by   Him;   For   whom   the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.  Hebrews 12:5-6 Once   the   spiritual   pain   begins   to   subside…and   we   realize   God   still   loves   us…unconditionally…and   we’re   forgiven because of Jesus Christ…we have spiritually stood upon the step of faith so that we may continue our climb. In   summary,   these   8   steps   to   Spiritual   Maturity   represent   a   process   of   sanctification...   which   is   defined   as   a   process   of becoming holy and set apart for God’s glory. As we grow in grace we become more like Jesus…and less like ourselves. Each   person’s   degree   of   sanctification   is   based   upon   the   desires   of   their   heart,   and   their   willingness   to   follow   the guidance   of   the   Holy   Spirit.   Even   Paul   claimed   that   he   had   not   reached   perfection,   but   pressed   on   to   obtain everything Christ desired for Him. Not   that   I   have   already   attained,   or   am   already   perfected;   but   I   press   on,   that   I   may   lay   hold   of   that   for   which   Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Philippians 3:12 I   pray   the   8   Steps   to   Spiritual   Maturity   provides   you   with   a   greater   insight   into   yourself;   you   have   an   improved understanding   of   your   stage   of   sanctification;   and   it   is   your   heart’s   desire   to   continue   to   grow   in   grace   and   reflect God’s agape love. But   we   all,   with   unveiled   face,   beholding   as   in   a   mirror   the   glory   of   The   Lord,   are   being   transformed   into   the   same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:18 All for His Glory, Harold D. Thomas
Attributes of Christ Servant Compassionate Humble Understanding Obedient Forgiving
Supporting Scripture For   the   Son   of   Man   did   not   come   to   be   served,   but   to   serve,   and   to   give   His      life   a   ransom   for many.  Mark 10:45 But   when   He   saw   the   multitudes,   He   was   moved   with   compassion   for   them,   because   they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Matthew 9:36 Let   this   mind   be   in   you   which   was   also   in   Christ   Jesus,   who,   being   in   the   form   of   God,   did   not consider   it   robbery   to   be   equal   with   God,   but   made   Himself   of   no   reputation,   taking   the   form of   a   bondservant,   and   coming   in   the   likeness   of   men.   And   being   found   in   appearance   as   a man,   He   humbled   Himself   and   became   obedient   to   the   point   of   death,   even   the   death   of   the cross.  Philippians 2:5-8 For   we   do   not   have   a   High   Priest   who   cannot   sympathize   with   our   weaknesses,   but   was   in   all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Hebrews 4:15 For   I   have   come   down   from   heaven,   not   to   do   My   own   will,   but   the   will   of   Him   who   sent   Me.     John 6:38 And   when   they   had   come   to   the   place   called   Calvary,   there   they   crucified   Him,   and   the criminals,   one   on   the   right   hand   and   the   other   on   the   left.   Then   Jesus   said,   “Father,   forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  Luke 23:33-34
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Introduction This lesson is intended for those who: •  Would like to learn more about Jesus Christ. •  Are born again. •  Desire spiritual growth in Christ. •  Seek a greater understanding of themselves. Blessed      are      those      who      hunger      and      thirst      for righteousness, for they shall be filled.  Matthew 5:6 Those   who   are   born   again   (and   willingly   yield   to   the guidance   of   the   Holy   Spirit)   will   experience   a   day-by-day step-by-step    process    of    becoming    spiritually    mature (sanctification).      The   greatest   prize   (while   we’re   still   in our   physical   bodies)   is   to   become   an   unrestrictive   vessel through   which   God   may   express   His   a gape   love   in   what we say and do. 2    Peter    1:5-7    provides    us with    an    insightful    list    of    8 steps    to    spiritual    maturity.      As    you    read    the    scripture below,    follow    the    steps    in the     graphic     to     the     right (starting   at   the   bottom   with faith). Giving   all   diligence,   add   to your    faith    virtue,    to    virtue knowledge,    to    knowledge, self-control,        to        self-control        perseverance,        to perseverance   godliness,   to   godliness   brotherly   kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. It   is   important   to   note   the   scripture   begins   with   the   words “giving   all   diligence.”      Diligence   is   defined   as   a   careful, earnest,    dedicated,    committed,    and    persistent    effort.      Diligence    conveys    more    than    a    once-a-week    church experience.      Simply   stated,   for   each   of   us,   growing   into Christian   maturity   is   a   daily,   and   sometimes   moment-by- moment   exercise   of   diligence;   as   He   lovingly   prepares our hearts and souls for eternity. Note   how   each   step   builds   upon   one   another,   and   each step   supports   the   steps   above.      For   example,   consider the   4th   step:   self-control.      It   is   very   difficult   for   someone to   persevere   (5th   step)   in   situations   when   they   do   not have   self-control—especially   when   the   flesh   (our   sinful nature)     is     screaming     for     some     type     of     fulfillment (retribution, fulfillment of an addiction, and so forth). Similar    to    a    ladder,    each    step    provides    a    means    to spiritually   elevate   to   the   next   step.      Meanwhile,   as   we progress   upward,   we   witness   a   radical   transformation   of our    thoughts,    our    emotions,    our    desires,    and    our behavior—including   how   we   look   at   ourselves,   and   how we   view   the   world   around   us.      What’s   more,   each   step brings   us   into   a   closer   relationship   with   our   Lord   as   we become more like Him and less like ourselves. Progression is facilitated by the Holy Spirit as we: 1.  Make free will decisions to obey His guidance. 2.  Internalize scripture. 3.  Pray. 4.  Interact with like-minded Christians. But   most   important,   those   who   spiritually   grow   do   so because it is the desire of their heart. There   are   additional   aspects   to   the   8   Steps   to   Spiritual Maturity.          For     example,     the     8     steps     correlate     to increasing     degrees     of     maturity:     from     infancy     to adulthood.      A   newly   born   Christian   (an   “infant”   in   Christ) will     often     lack     the     behavioral     attributes     of     each progressive    step.        Whereas,    a    mature    Christian    (an “adult”   in   Christ)   will   exemplify   the   transforming   power   of God’s grace. The   steps   also   provide   a   means   to   evaluate   our   level   of maturity.        As    the    spiritual    attributes    of    each    step    is explained, it will likely cause: 1.  Remembrance of inappropriate thoughts/behavior. 2.  Identification of areas for improvement. 3.  Listing of transformational changes. 4.  Determination of which step we are in our growth. When    we    stand    back    and    look    at    our    lives    from    a distance   (looking   back   over   time),   many   of   us   will   realize we   have   moved   up   and   down   the   steps   during   various times    in    our    lives    as    we    responded    to    trials    and tribulations.      However,   over   the   long   term,   many   of   us will   also   see   how   we   have   progressed   into   higher   levels of    maturity:    evidenced    by    the    fruit    of    the    Holy    Spirit emanating in our thoughts, desires, and actions. But     the     fruit     of     the     Spirit     is     love,     joy,     peace, longsuffering,        kindness,        goodness,        faithfulness, gentleness,   self-control.   Against   such   there   is   no   law. And   those   who   are   Christ’s   have   crucified   the   flesh   with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:22-24 I’d   like   to   add   that   the   steps   should   not   be   viewed   as negative   motivational   tool,   or   a   listing   of   thou   shall   and thou   shall   not.      These   steps   are   not   intended   to   point   out our    failures    or    weaknesses.        Remember,    we    are    all imperfect,    and    we    are    all    forgiven    because    we    have decided   to   believe   and   trust   in   God’s   unmerited   grace   in Jesus   Christ.      Also   remember…God   is   more   interested in the desires and attitude of our heart.  Besides,   consider   our   sinful   nature   and   how   we   respond when   someone   attempts   to   “push”   us   up   the   ladder.      We do   not   like   being   pushed.      We   may   grudgingly   comply, but   our   heart   will   increasingly   struggle   against   whomever is doing the pushing. But   rather,   it   is   His   grace   and   His   love   that   changes   the desires   of   our   heart   as   He   compels   us   to   move   upward and   towards   Him.      Each   step   is   a   free-will   choice   that results   in   transformational   changes   in   our   heart,   soul, and spirit. Internal Transformation: Born Again So,   let   start   with   the   first   step   of   faith:   which   may   be simply   defined   as   a   belief   in   something   without   proof   or evidence.      Which   gives   rise   to   a   quandary,   in   that   our flesh    relies    upon    the    physical    realm    to    verify    the existence    of    something,    usually    by    one    of    our    five senses.        For    example,    all    of    us    can    relate    to    the following:   If   I   cannot   see,   hear,   touch,   smell,   or   taste it…how   do   I   know   it   exists?      Plus,   I’ll   believe   it   when   I see it! However,   faith,   the   type   of   faith   described   here,   exists   in the   spiritual   realm.      Think   about   the   following…   God   is asking   us   to   believe   in   His   son,   Jesus   Christ   (who   lived 2,000    years    ago)    gave    His    life    and    His    blood    as    a sacrifice   for   our   sins   so   that   we   may   be   forgiven.      To some     this     may     be     incomprehensible,     let     alone impossible to validate with our physical senses. But   without   faith   it   is   impossible   to   please   him:   for   he   that cometh   to   God   must   believe   that   he   is,   and   that   he   is   a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.  Hebrews 11:6 For    God    so    loved    the    world    that    He    gave    His    only begotten   Son,   that   whoever   believes   in   Him   should   not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16  Believing   in   God,   believing   in   His   word,   and   believing   in what   He   has   done   for   us   in   His   Son,   Jesus   Christ   is   the key   that   unlocks   the   door   into   the   heavenly   realms   and everlasting   life.      For   example,   those   who   have   placed their   faith   in   Jesus   will   discover   new   spiritual   senses: including    what    is    seen,    what    is    heard,    and    what    is experienced.      But   what’s   more,   they   will   also   witness   a radical   transformation   of   who   they   are…for   all   things   are possible for those who believe. Jesus    said    …all    things    are    possible    to    him    who believes.”  Mark 9:23 Jesus   spoke   words   that   align   with   our   earthly   minds   to reveal   spiritual   realities   and   truths.      For   example,   Jesus said   “Most   assuredly,   I   say   to   you,   unless   one   is   born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3 First,    with    regards    to    being    born    again,    He    was    not referring   to   a   physical   birth,   but   a   spiritual   birth.      Second, Jesus   said   those   who   are   not   born   again   cannot   see   the kingdom   of   God.      Conversely,   those   who   are   born   again can   see   the   kingdom   of   God.      However,   it   is   impossible to    see    the    kingdom    of    God    with    our    physical    eyes because   the   kingdom   of   God   is   in   the   spiritual   realm.     The   ability   to   spiritually   see   the   kingdom   of   God   requires Holy    Spirit    revelation    while    we    are    living    on    earth (including    momentary    and    partial    views    of    His    glory).      But    what’s    even    more    important    is    from    an    eternal perspective:   His   words   are   a   promise   to   the   born   again as to what we will see after we die. Jesus also said: “Yet   a   time   is   coming   and   has   now   come   when   the   true worshipers   will   worship   the   Father   in   the   Spirit   and   in truth,    for    they    are    the    kind    of    worshipers    the    Father seeks.      God   is   spirit,   and   his   worshipers   must   worship   in the Spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24  “It   is   the   Spirit   who   gives   life;   the   flesh   profits   nothing. The   words   that   I   speak   to   you   are   spirit,   and   they   are life.”  John 6:63 Jesus     correlated     physical     hunger     and     thirst     with unfulfilled   cravings   and   spiritual   voids   within   our   heart and soul.  Jesus proclaimed: “I   am   the   bread   of   life.   He   who   comes   to   Me   shall   never hunger,   and   he   who   believes   in   Me   shall   never   thirst.” John 6:35 “If   anyone   thirsts,   let   him   come   to   Me   and   drink.      He   who believes   in   Me,   as   the   Scripture   has   said,   out   of   his   heart will flow rivers of living water.”  John7:37-38 Seeing   the   kingdom   of   God,   fulfillment   of   hunger   and thirst,   and   living   water   flowing   from   our   heart   are   spiritual indicators   of   the   transformational   change   that   occurs   as a result of believing in Him. In   Revelation   3:20   Jesus   promised   “I   stand   at   the   door and   knock.      If   anyone   hears   My   voice   and   opens   the door,   I   will   come   in   to   him   and   dine   with   him,   and   he   with Me.” Each   time   He   knocks   on   the   door,   and   each   time   He speaks   to   us…it   is   not   heard   with   our   physical   ears.   But rather,   it   is   heard   by   our   heart,   and   our   soul,   and   our spirit.      Also   note   He   knocks   (and   will   never   force   His   way into   our   lives).      This   is   because   he   desires   a   relationship based    upon    a    willing    heart.        So,    He    lovingly    stands outside,    patiently    knocks    on    the    door,    and    speaks illuminating    truth    that    reaches    into    the    depths    of    our heart and soul. Meanwhile,    as    He    knocks,    those    things    that    seem important,   and   those   things   that   have   a   control   over   our flesh   are   illuminated   from   darkness   by   the   light   of   Jesus Christ—thereby    enabling    us    to    spiritually    see    those things   that   are   detrimental,   destructive,   and   damaging   to our physical lives and spiritual well-being. Many   of   us   can   remember   what   we   experienced   when Jesus    knocked    on    our    door:    the    turmoil;    the    raging internal    battle    as    Satan    fought    to    keep    us    under    his control;    and    the    inexplainable    joy    and    emotions    we experienced—and    tears    shed—when    we    opened    the door   and   let   Him   in,   and   as   our   Savior   embraced   us   with His   grace   and   love.      When   you   transition   from   darkness to   light,   when   you   open   the   door   to   let   Him   in,   and   as you   relinquish   control…those   who   are   born   again   will experience         indescribable         peace,         joy,         and fulfillment…because what occurs is spiritual. Here   is   an   interesting   question:   Did   you   choose   Jesus, or   did   He   choose   you?      Did   you   apprehend,   or   were   you apprehended? Think   about   what   was   going   on   in   your   life   before   you encountered   Jesus.      If   you   were   like   most   Christians   you were   in   sin,   unable   to   see,   walking   around   in   darkness, trying    everything    possible    to    find    fulfillment,    and    was absolutely   lost.      When   you   reflectively   consider   where you   were   and   where   you   are   now,   it’s   easy   to   conclude we were not enlightened by our own efforts. But     praise     God     in     that     there     was     something…a redeeming   quality   deep   within   our   heart   and   soul…that only He can see.  You   did   not   choose   Me,   but   I   chose   you   and   appointed you   that   you   should   go   and   bear   fruit,   and   that   your   fruit should   remain,   that   whatever   you   ask   the   Father   in   My name He may give you.  John 15:16 But   you   are   a   chosen   generation,   a   royal   priesthood,   a holy    nation,    His    own    special    people,    that    you    may proclaim    the    praises    of    Him    who    called    you    out    of darkness into His marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9 Exercising   our   faith   in   believing   what   Jesus   Christ   did   for us   on   the   cross,   and   experiencing   the   transformational change   of   being   reborn   by   the   Spirit   is   the   foundational step   that   supports   all   others.      Once   we   have   stepped upon faith, the next step is virtue. Internal Transformation: Integrity, Honesty, Morality Once   a   person   is   reborn,   they   will   see   changes   occur within   their   heart   and   soul.      They   will   also   begin   to   view and   experience   life   from   a   different   perspective—as   the Holy   Spirit   continues   the   transformation   process—for   He was actively at work before the rebirth occurred. Therefore,   if   anyone   is   in   Christ,   he   is   a   new   creation; old   things   have   passed   away;   behold,   all   things   have become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 A   new   heart   also   will   I   give   you,   and   a   new   spirit   will   I   put within   you:   and   I   will   take   away   the   stony   heart   out   of your   flesh,   and   I   will   give   you   a   heart   of   flesh.      And   I   will put   my   spirit   within   you,   and   cause   you   to   walk   in   my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 This   is   when   our   hardened   heart   begins   the   healing   and softening   process,   and   our   seared   conscience   begins   to recover   its   influence—as   we   become   more   sensitive   to the   spirit   as   to   what   is   right   and   what   is   wrong—and   as we    begin    to    make    decisions    based    upon    integrity, honesty,   and   moral   virtues.      This   is   also   when   we   begin to   learn   how   to   trust,   let   go,   and   let   Jesus   Christ   be   Lord of   our   life—as   we   increasingly   yield   to   the   Holy   Spirit.     We   also   learn   that   it   feels   very   good   on   the   inside   when we obey, and devastating when we disobey. Internal Transformation: Understanding, Wisdom The      next      step      is      growing      in      knowledge      and understanding   as   the   Holy   Spirit   unveils   the   magnitude and power of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. For   by   grace   you   have   been   saved   through   faith,   and that   not   of   yourselves;   it   is   the   gift   of   God,   not   of   works, lest anyone should boast.  Ephesians 2-8-9 God’s    gift    of    grace    (our    forgiveness    of    sin—past, present,   and   future)   is   offered   to   us   because   of   our   faith in   what   Jesus   Christ   did   for   us.      This   simple   truth   (which confounds   the   world)   comprises   the   foundational   hidden treasures   of   unfathomable   knowledge   and   wisdom.      It   is a   gift   that   can   only   be   received   and   cannot   be   earned.        Our    salvation    was    bought    and    paid    for    by    the    blood Jesus   as   He   died   on   the   cross   as   the   perfect   sacrificial lamb. To   the   world   the   concept   of   God’s   love,   forgiveness,   and grace    in    Jesus    Christ    is    a    mystery.        Their    eyes    are blinded   by   Satan,   and   their   hearts   are   hardened   due   to   a preference for sin.  But   even   if   our   gospel   is   veiled,   it   is   veiled   to   those   who are    perishing,    whose    minds    the    god    of    this    age    has blinded,   who   do   not   believe,   lest   the   light   of   the   gospel   of the   glory   of   Christ,   who   is   the   image   of   God,   should shine on them.  2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And   this   is   the   condemnation,   that   the   light   has   come into   the   world,   and   men   loved   darkness   rather   than   light, because   their   deeds   were   evil.      For   everyone   practicing evil   hates   the   light   and   does   not   come   to   the   light,   lest his deeds should be exposed.  John 3:19-20 Paul wrote: “The   mystery   which   has   been   hidden   from   ages   and from    generations,    but    now    has    been    revealed    to    His saints.   To   them   God   willed   to   make   known   what   are   the riches   of   the   glory   of   this   mystery   among   the   Gentiles: which   is   Christ   in   you,   the   hope   of   glory.”      Colossians 1:25-27 “That    their    hearts    may    be    encouraged,    being    knit together   in   love,   and   attaining   to   all   riches   of   the   full assurance    of    understanding,    to    the    knowledge    of    the mystery   of   God,   both   of   the   Father   and   of   Christ,   in whom    are    hidden    all    the    treasures    of    wisdom    and knowledge.”  Colossians 2:1-3 What’s   more,   as   a   Christian   grows   in   full   awareness   of the   depth   and   breadth   of   God’s   grace   in   Jesus   Christ…a transformational    revelation    and    realization    occurs…in that    all    human-inspired    delusional    intellect,    all    worldly knowledge,    and    all    earthly    treasures    are    absolutely useless and vain. For   the   remainder   of   our   years   on   this   earth   the   Holy Spirit   will   continue   to   glorify   Jesus   Christ,   confirm   we   are God’s   chosen   children,   forgiven   by   grace,   called   out   of darkness,    appointed    as    ambassadors    of    Christ,    and heirs to the Kingdom. The   Spirit   Himself   bears   witness   with   our   spirit   that   we are   children   of   God,   and   if   children,   then   heirs—heirs   of God   and   joint   heirs   with   Christ,   if   indeed   we   suffer   with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  Romans 8 Internal Transformation: Discipline, Restraint, Will If   we   say   that   we   have   no   sin,   we   deceive   ourselves,   and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Although    spiritually    reborn,    every    Christian    still    lives inside    their    body,    and    still    has    a    soul    filled    with impurities.      As   such,   they   must   willingly   confront,   learn how   to   control,   and   actively   deny   the   demands   of   their flesh.   This   is   where   the   rubber   meets   the   road;   this   is why   we   experience   trials   and   tribulations;   and   this   is when   we   learn   to   make   free   will   decisions   to   seek   and obey the Holy Spirit. Sometimes      the      process      of      cleansing      can      be overwhelming…but    God    promised    we    would    not    be tempted beyond what we are able to handle.  God   is   faithful,   who   will   not   allow   you   to   be   tempted beyond what you are able.  1 Corinthians 10:13 If   we   fail,   it   is   because   of   our   free   will   choice.      However, if   we   continue   to   walk   in   the   Spirit   He   will   provide   us   with the   resolve   and   spiritual   strength   to   overcome   whatever is before us. To   become   more   like   Him   (and   less   like   ourselves)   we need   to   crucify   our   flesh.      This   will   often   require   resolute heart-driven   free   will   decisions   to   avoid   those   things   in our   lives   that   generate   fleshly   desires   and   destructive behavior.      This   also   requires   discipline,   prayer,   reading God’s   word,   attending   church,   and   sometimes   seeking the   assistance   of   a   trusted   like-minded   Christian   as   an accountability partner. One   more   thing…never   forget   the   pain,   the   shame,   and the     dreadful     feeling     of     being     disconnected     from God—including    the    consequential    impact    it    had    upon others.      These   memories   will   assist   in   overcoming   the flesh and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I   say   then:   Walk   in   the   Spirit,   and   you   shall   not   fulfill   the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 As   we   learn   to   walk   with   and   yield   to   the   Spirit,   He   will strengthen    our    heart    with    the    resolve    and    spiritual strength   to   overcome   our   flesh   (body   and   soul).      Simply stated,     to     become     more     like     Him     (and     less     like ourselves)    we    need    to    wash    the    impurities    from    our flesh.      The   spirit   and   life   in   God’s   living   word   is   the   water that cleanses each of us (and the church) of impurities. …Christ   also   loved   the   church   and   gave   Himself   for   her, that   He   might   sanctify   and   cleanse   her   with   the   washing of    water    by    the    word,    that    He    might    present    her    to Himself   a   glorious   church,   not   having   spot   or   wrinkle   or any   such   thing,   but   that   she   should   be   holy   and   without blemish.  Ephesians 5:25-27 “If    anyone    desires    to    come    after    Me,    let    him    deny himself,   and   take   up   his   cross   daily,   and   follow   Me.   Luke 9:23 Internal Transformation: Steadfastness, Character The   next   step   is   perseverance—which   is   bolstered   by life’s   challenges   and   tribulations.      Difficulties   in   life   serve as   a   means   to   strengthen   our   faith.      When   we   are   in   the midst   of   anxiety   and   unable   to   figure   out   what   to   do…is when   we   realize   there   is   nothing   we   can   do   other   than place   our   hope   and   faith   in   God.      It   is   when   the   “dust settles”   and   we   are   able   to   reflect   upon   what   occurred   is when    we    realize    He    was    in    control    the    whole    time.      Meanwhile,    our    ability    to    steadfastly    weather    another “storm”   and   our   character   has   been   changed   to   be   more Christ-like. …but     we     also     glory     in     tribulations,     knowing     that tribulation    produces    perseverance;    and    perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5:4 Internal Transformation: Righteousness, Goodness Here    is    a    question    to    ponder…What    does    godliness mean   to   you?      Some   may   answer   by   describing   one   who is   religious.      Some   may   refer   to   persons   who   live   in secluded    places    high    in    the    mountains.        Others    may define   persons   who   wear   religious   garments   and   follow prescribed   rituals   of   worship.      And   some   may   describe one   who   is   somewhat   disconnected   and   separated   from the “common people” as they perform their “holy” duties. However,   when   we   understand   the   nature   of   God…our definition of Godliness radically changes. And     without     controversy     great     is     the     mystery     of godliness:   God   was   manifested   in   the   flesh,   justified   in the   Spirit,   seen   by   angels,   preached   among   the   Gentiles, believed   on   in   the   world,   received   up   in   glory.   1   Timothy 3:16 If   you   want   to   know   what   godliness   looks   like…look   at Jesus...in   whom   God   manifested   Himself.      To   know   and understand   the   nature   of   God   (and   godliness)   look   at   the life   and   words   of   Jesus   Christ.      Jesus   said   “I   and   My Father are one.”  John 10:30 The   attributes   of   Christ   (His   godliness)   exemplifies   an intimate    relationship    with    the    Father,    and    reveals    a desire to have a loving (agape) relationship with man.  Here   is   another   truth   about   our   sinful   nature   and   spiritual transformation:   we   have   a   propensity   to   pridefully   take the   glory   for   the   work   He   is   doing   in   us.      If   at   any   time you   perceive   you’ve   arrived;   you’re   at   the   “pinnacle”   of your   Christian   walk;   and   “I’ve   got   this.”   …your   perception is    tainted    by    pride—the    same    delusional    pride    that resulted   in   Satan’s   demise.      But   rather,   humbly   realize   it is   only   by   God’s   grace   you   were   saved   and   are   being continually    transformed    into    His    likeness—which    will continue   until   your   physical   body   no   longer   functions.     Meanwhile,    realize    everything    you    are    in    Christ    is because   of   Him,   and   humble   yourself   before   the   One who saved you—for He alone is worthy of praise. Internal Transformation: Benevolence Expressing    kindness    towards    others;    being    friendly; doing   or   giving   things   to   others   (without   expectation   for reciprocity)—exemplifies   Christian   benevolence.      This   is when   spiritual   growth   has   reached   a   point   where   the Christian understands…It’s not about me. A   new   commandment   I   give   to   you,   that   you   love   one another;   as   I   have   loved   you,   that   you   also   love   one another.   By   this   all   will   know   that   you   are   My   disciples,   if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35 As   we   are   molded   and   shaped   by   the   Holy   Spirit   we   will experience    a    deep    and    indescribable    appreciation    for our    brothers    and    sisters    in    Christ…for    they    are    also walking    the    same    path    to    glory.        This    is    when    our spiritual    cleansing    enables    us    to    look    beyond    each person’s   imperfections...because   our   soul   is   also   tainted by    impurities.        This    is    when    we    strive    to    maintain harmony.      This   is   also   when   we   desire   to   help,   fulfill needs,    and    become    increasingly    charitable…for    we realize   only   those   things   done   for   His   glory   will   last   for eternity.  Internal Transformation: Agape Sacrifice The   highest   level   of   spiritual   maturity   is   agape   love—in that    it    is    a    reflection    of    the    love    God    has    towards us—and    is    expressed    by    what    it    does.        In    addition, agape   love   is   not   based   on   a   feeling.      It   is   a   determined act   of   the   will   and   a   joyful   resolve   to   put   the   welfare   of others above our own. By   this   we   know   love,   because   He   laid   down   His   life   for us.   And   we   also   ought   to   lay   down   our   lives   for   the brethren.  1 John 3:16 However,     agape     does     not     come     naturally     to     us.       Because    of    our    fallen    nature,    we    are    incapable    of producing    such    a    love.        If    we    are    to    love    as    God loves—agape—it can only come from its Source.  Click this text to view a video that explains agape love. Pure   agape   love   is   exemplified   in   the   words   of   Jesus Christ—as   He   hung   on   the   cross—when   He   prayed   for His   executioners   “Father,   forgive   them;   for   they   know   not what they do. Luke 23:34 The    foundational    essence    of    agape    love    is    sacrificial forgiveness,    which    flows    from    the    Father    through    us when   we   reflect   His   unmerited   grace   and   love   He   has given   us   through   His   son,   Jesus   Christ.      This   is   where we   will   find   the   resolve   to   unconditionally   love—because we are unconditionally loved by God. And   yes,   because   of   our   flesh   it   can   be   a   challenge   at times   to   expresses   God’s   forgiveness   and   love   towards someone—especially   if   they   have   done   us   wrong.      As such,    here    are    some    reflective    and    heart-revealing questions   to   ask   yourself   when   anger,   pride,   or   other vain   reasons   get   in   the   way.      Look   at   yourself   from   a “distance”   (i.e.   think   outside   of   the   situation   and   finite awareness)   by   looking   at   the   big   picture   from   an   eternal perspective.  Then ask yourself the following questions: Was I lost in darkness?  Did   I   understand   the   impact   and   consequences   of   my sin and behavior upon others? If   I   am   forgiven,   what   right   to   I   have   to   not   forgive others? Is   all   of   this   frustration,   internal   conflict   and   turmoil worth it? What is the Holy Spirit saying and guiding me to do? Peter   also   found   it   difficult   to   forgive—revealed   when   he asked Jesus how many times he should forgive. Then   Peter   came   to   Jesus   and   asked,   “Lord,   how   many times   shall   I   forgive   my   brother   or   sister   who   sins   against me?   Up   to   seven   times?”      Jesus   answered,   “I   tell   you, not   seven   times,   but   seventy-seven   times.”      Matthew 18:21-22 You’d    think    seven    times    would    be    sufficient.    After someone   sins   against   us   seven   times,   to   forgive   them seven      times      should      be      sufficient,      and      we’ve accomplished   “our   part.”   We   should   be   “good-to-go”   and able    to    check    this    off    our    “to    do    list.”    Compared    to worldly   standards,   forgiving   someone   seven   times   far exceeds   human   expectations   and   we   should   be   “legally free”   to   be   done   with   them.   What’s   more,   we   should   be able    to    rightfully    hold    onto    non-forgiveness    from    that point   forward.   Besides,   most   persons   would   not   forgive more   than   one   time—which   is   reflected   in   the   adage: “Fool   me   once,   shame   on