“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”
1 Corinthians 3:1
There was a time when Hollywood and the general public seem to have this obsession with child celebrities. I don’t know if that is still the case today. But when I was growing up, kids who were gifted actors and who had an irresistible charm about them were tremendous assets in the entertainment industry. One famous kid that I remember enjoying watching was an actor named Gary Coleman. Some of you may recall his role as Arnold Jackson on the sitcom, ‘Different Strokes’. Many found him to be a rather hilarious fellow—particularly when he would get mad at his older brother, Willis. He would furrow his brow, fold his little arms and in octave lower than his natural voice say, “Whatcha talking bout, Willis?” That memory still brings a smile to my face. Sadly, because of a medical condition called nephritis Gary Coleman never grew beyond 4 feet 8 inches. His height was permanently stunted. He would never know the experience of physical maturation that most of us sort of take for granted.
What are we to make of believers in Christ who never seem to make any progress towards spiritual maturity? Should there be concern for a brother or sister in the Lord who appears to be stagnant in their walk—who may have even begun to regress in very measurable ways?
As the apostle Paul observed the spiritual progress of the believers in Corinth, he felt a need to sound the alarm and make them aware that their level of maturity was cause for great concern. According to Paul, they were believers whose lives were still largely governed by worldly and sinful desires. They were still babes in Christ.
I believe that every genuine believer desires to grow in their walk with God. Yet, not a few will find themselves stumbling over the same sinful behaviors, even as they make efforts towards spending more time in the Word and in prayer. They fail because they are still relying upon their human energies (the flesh) to produce spiritual results. The solution is in the believer learning to draw from the energies of the Spirit of God who alone is able subdue the power of indwelling sin.
“but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”. Romans 8:13 (emphasis mine)
A carnal Christian may at times demonstrate victories over his flesh. However, he will time after time discover that same sin to be very much alive and well. That is because the sin was never dealt with at its root. The Holy Spirit of God is able to “kill the root of temptation in the human heart” (Piper). He alone is able to apply the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) to our heart issues in such a way that brings total victory. He alone is able to bring our bodies under holy discipline (1 Cor. 9:27) so that we are taking care not to make provisions for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). He alone can produce a righteous hatred in our heart and mind for those things that breaks the heart of God.
Paul is saying to believers that it is God, the Holy Spirit who produces spiritual maturity. Your responsibility is to live in daily and moment by moment dependence upon Him.
Therefore we must…
“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13