Biblical Principles for Christian Maturity

John H. Stoll, Th.M., Ph.D

Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll

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In Ecclesiastes 12:12, Solomon states, "---of making of many books there is no end". With the plethora of books today, on any given subject, why should there be another one?

When I was trying to decide the research project for my doctoral dissertation at the university, I searched for an idea that would be challenging, as well as fruitful, to use in my ministry. Having been a Bible and Theology professor for over 25 years, and taught thousands of students, I felt that by and large Christians were basically ignorant, not of Bible facts, but of Biblical concepts and principles which was the underlying purpose for which God had revealed Himself through the scriptures. They knew names, dates, places, events, history, geography, etc., but could not fit this information into the larger picture, i.e. God's desire that the Bible be a guide for mature Christian living.

In addition to my classroom teaching, I had been privileged to minister in many churches and various denominations, held Bible conferences in churches and conference facilities, as well as conducting home Bible study classes. All of these resources of information that I had experienced led me to believe that my basic premise was valid. Therefore, I undertook to investigate it in a research project for my dissertation.

My first concern was to find a testing instrument that would evaluate what I wanted to know. Unfortunately, after careful research on a testing device, I found that there was none. I did find Bible knowledge tests, but they tested the things that I already knew that people understood about the Bible. They did not evaluate the concepts behind the facts. So, my first task was to design a Biblical conceptual evaluating instrument to provide me with the information I wished to obtain. It took a year to design and validate my testing instrument. Then I administrated it to over 1300 high school seniors in 33 Christian academies. Basically these students had been raised in a Christian home, attended an evangelical church, and for the most part had gone to Christian schools. I felt that they, if any, should have many of the Biblical concepts for Christian maturity of life. At that point my basic premise stood up.

Since that time, and many years have passed, I have been privileged to direct a Christian counseling clinic, with a Bible teaching element directed toward business people. I have continued to pursue my premise, believing that Christians are basically illiterate of the underlying revelation of God through His word to His children, and the real reason for the Bible. My present ministry along with my teaching career, and my research, has only confirmed what I originally perceived to be a deficiency among God's children.

Once a person has become a Christian, with a personal committal of life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and what He did for us through His death, burial, and resurrection, God's anticipation for His child is spiritual maturity. That is primary and foremost of what God desires in each of us. In I Peter 2:2, it states, "As newborn babes, crave the unadulterated milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." Then in II Peter 3:18 we have what I believe is the primary concept of God for His children, that is to, "Grow in Grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In both passages it is in the imperative mode in the Greek, which means a command to do it.

Growing in Grace means to become more Christ like in our character, so that we exemplify in our behaviors the fruit of the Spirit, as seen in Galatians 5:22-24. To grow in the knowledge of Christ has two aspects, intellectual knowledge of Him through the Bible, and experiential understanding through the trials and tribulations of life. When all this is put together in one's life, with an openness for the Holy Spirit to apply the basic principles of the Bible to life, then that person truly experiences the fullness of life that God intends all of His children to have. That is why Christ said in John 10:10, "I am come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly."

To further enlighten the reader as to what I believe the Bible refers to as the maturation process of the Christian, let me illustrate by analogy. When one begins to learn a foreign language, he memorizes elements of that language, then he begins to formulate sentences, etc., but when he "crosses over" and begins to think in that language, he enjoys a fullness of understanding never afforded to him before. It opens up a whole new concept of understanding. So likewise, God not only wants us to know the facts of God's Word, but He desires that we know the concepts and principles primarily, so that we can put them all together and think Biblically, as God thinks. This is what is meant by I Cor. 2:14, "But the unregenerate person receives not the things of the Spirit of God - - because they are spiritually discerned". God desires that His children have this discernment in life, not just to know the facts of the Bible, so that we are able to apply these principles to life itself.

This is what this book is all about. Over forty years of teaching and ministering God's word to countless Christians, has impressed upon me the deficiencies of the knowledge of Biblical principles. Therefore, I trust that the chapters of this volume will help provide a conceptual understanding of God's truth, so that those who read it will be able to more clearly see what the revelation of God to us is really all about. When we get to heaven we will no longer need the Bible, for, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (I John 3:2). There will no longer be a "looking through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12), but a fullness of God Himself, in heaven, throughout eternity. No, the Bible is a book for the here and now, to guide us into mature living for today. Yes, there are glimpses of the future, but the fullness of that understanding awaits the revelation of it.

There are many and varied deceptions in the world, and the primary design of Satan against mankind is to keep one from an understanding of a person's separation from God due to sin, and how that separation may be overcome through a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Once a person has made a commitment to Christ, and become a regenerated person (i.e. a child of God), then Satan uses a very subtle deception on the Christian. Since the devil can't take a person's salvation from him, for that is God's gift of eternal life, he tries to keep the Christian from becoming a spiritually mature person, so that he does not develop as God desires, nor is he able to be used of God as an "ambassador" of Him (II Cor. 5:20). The means by which Satan achieves this deception is to fill the Christian's mind with the knowledges and facts of the Bible, thereby subtly causing the Christian to believe he has Biblical understanding, and is coming to maturity, rather than being taught the principles/concepts of Scripture, which are the elements of growth and productivity in the Christian life. I am not saying by this that Bible facts and knowledges are unimportant, I am saying that we have far too long placed an undue emphasis on facts, almost to the exclusion of principles, and been deluded unto believing we are mature Christians through knowing the facts.

The primary emphasis in the Bible is the principles, God given for our spiritual growth to maturity. He conveys these principles to us, couched in illustrations of human beings in the Bible, so that we can comprehend the principles. We have focused on the illustrations (i.e. names, dates, geography, history, etc.) and many times overlooked what God is trying to help us understand about spiritual growth. These facts of the deprivation of spiritual maturity in the majority of Christians, was borne out in my research of Bible knowledge tests, the examination of over a thousand Christians, and my fourty years of teaching Christians Biblical truths. I can honestly say that I believe the majority of Christians today are Biblically illiterate, not in the facts of the Bible, but in the principles and concepts for mature living, that God desires for each of us to have.

In II Peter 3:18, it states, "But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The "knowledge" that is spoken of here are the principles and concepts for mature Christian growth and development. This is further reinforced in Phil. 3:8,10. When we develop in the likeness of Jesus Christ, then the outliving of God's principles for us will be that our lives will exemplify God's grace, and we will be living examples of the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-24). To "glorify" God in our lives means to become more like Him in His moral attributes, and thereby live out His likeness, which helps us personally, as well as our being a better "light" to the world (Matt. 5:16).

It is my fondest desire that those who read the pages of this book, may be open to the Holy Spirit's leading and guiding. Christ said of the Holy Spirit that, "He will guide you into all the truth, -- and He will glorify me" (John 16:13,14). As growing Christians we need both the truth of God's Word, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I liken these two somewhat to a steam locomotive. In order to operate properly it needs both tracks upon which to run, as well as steam in its boiler. So, the Bible is the track of principles to give us guidance, and the Holy Spirit is like the steam to energize, motivate, and give understanding to the principles. In this way the maturity that God desires for every Christian is progressively being fulfilled.

There needs to be a word of caution in reading this book. One of the misconceptions that many Christians have about the Christian life is that God is primarily interested in our performance for Him. This comes from Christ's commission to His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all people, as well as the understanding that we are all ambassadors for Him. This is all true, but before we can carry out His command, we need to be instructed and to grow spiritually to Biblical maturity. The divine commission to go should not be so much of an external constraint from other people and the church, as it should be an inner compulsion generated out of a growing maturity that causes one to want to share his faith. The purpose of this book is to assist the Christian in his spiritual growth and journey, so that one will want to share what he is learning out of the resources of knowledge and wisdom he has gained from God's Word.

God has given to every Christian certain distinct gifts and talents, to be used for His service. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are the instruments God uses to develop and hone the gifts. The purpose God has for them, in each person's life, is found in Ephesians 4:12-14, "For the work of maturing of the saints, for the work of ministrations or helps, for the building up of the body of Christ: until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a mature person, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we be henceforth no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of false doctrine, by the deceitfulness of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."

It is this author's hope that as one reads this book, with the understanding that its purpose is intended to provide a framework of Biblical principles upon which to grow, that the reader will be open to the Holy Spirit's leading in developing one's talents, so that together, as the body of Christ, we may individually and collectively fulfill God's holy purpose in our lives. Then, both the author and the reader will be fulfilled through the exercise that both accomplish.

All my life long I had panted,
For a draught from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning,
Of the thirst I felt within.

Hallelujah! I have found Him,
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.

Feeding on the husks around me,
Till my strength was almost gone,
Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.

Poor I was, and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me,
Only mocked my soul's sad cry.

Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.

Hallelujah! I have found Him,
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.

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