Three traits of a maturing believer
by Norm Miller
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMNews)—"There is someone here today I have a real problem with," said Dan Spencer, and that person "is a constant source of irritation to me."
Spencer, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, Tenn., challenged his detractor to stand up.
"Truth is, he's already standing. He's right here on the platform. I'm talking about myself," Spencer said in a chapel sermon at Truett-McConnell College, Cleveland, Ga.
"The person I have more trouble with than anybody else in the world is me. You know why? My performances does not match my desire," he said. "I've got a problem. The problem is, I'm a recovering sinner. And you are, too, if you are a believer."
In his sermon titled "Civil Wars," Spencer noted three traits of a maturing believer in Jesus Christ from his sermon text, Romans 7.14-25, a passage he called "raw and honest" and "an admission by the Apostle Paul":
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
In spite of being a Christ follower for three decades and having 27 years of Christian ministry experience, Spencer said, "I have this civil war going on inside of me."
Initially establishing aspects of the conversion experience, Spencer said the Bible notes past, present and future tenses of salvation. "I was saved, am being saved, and shall be saved," he iterated.
The past tense of salvation is justification by faith, the point at which unbelievers become believers, and when God "declares you 'not guilty,'" Spencer said. "Justification is the removal of the penalty of sin."
The present tense of salvation is sanctification, and Spencer suggested a helpful synonym for sanctification is "sanitize," which he said means "to clean something up, to make something pure that was dirty." Sanctification is a process "where God is making me more like Jesus," he said. "It is not a leap from lostness to perfection" but of conforming believers "to the image of Jesus Christ."
Spencer said God is committed to "that process in my life even when I am not" to the extent of bringing "perfecting problems into my life to turn me around."
But falling short of God's sanctifying work, Spencer said, "makes me miserable sometimes, makes me disgusted with myself sometimes."
Clearly noting who is and is not a Christian, Spencer said, "Where that ongoing work of sanctification is missing in a person's life, so is that initial work of justification missing in their past."
Spencer said the future tense of salvation is "glorification," wherein Christians "will be delivered from the presence and the power of sin once and for all, and I can't wait to get there."
Not until glorification will Christians be delivered from that same struggle the Apostle Paul had of wanting to do the right things, but "stumbling and doing the wrong things."
To hear Paul admit his struggles, "that encourages me," Spencer said, "to know that I am not the first believer in history to struggle with this inner civil war between the flesh and the Spirit."
"Anybody feeling that, today? he asked. Even Paul, arguably, one of the greatest Christians in history, found himself doing evil things he did not want to do."
Citing the approximate dates of Paul's conversion to Christ and his writing of Romans, Spencer noted that after more than 20 years, Paul admits his struggles with sin.
Spencer then noted three characteristic of maturing Christians, saying:
-- they struggle with sin,
-- they seek to serve God, and,
-- they surrender to the Holy Spirit.
Everyone is born with a fleshly, carnal nature, but if you were "born again, you got that new nature, that spiritual nature ... fashioned after Christ," he said. "But when you received that new nature, you don't lose the old one.
Spencer said the "flesh and the Spirit are mortal enemies."
If somehow a snake and a bird could be fused together in one body, Spencer said, then imagine the conflict -- the snake always wanting to slither on the ground, and the bird always wanting to fly.
"The old nature wants to pull you back to your former sins, but the new nature is pulling you toward the things of God," he noted.
Maturing believers also seek to serve God even while under the tension and the struggle between the two natures. "We want to overcome; that's our heart, he said. "God knows that motive of your heart – the desire is to obey God, and not to serve the flesh.
Growing Christians desire, and delight to serve the Lord, but "if we falter from that desire and delight, then we say, 'I'm disgusted with myself.'"
So was the Apostle Paul when he called himself a "wretched man" and asked for deliverance "from this body of death," Spencer said, adding that numerous ancient writers have noted how some rulers before the time of Christ were so cruel that they would execute criminals by tying a corpse to that criminal, face-to-face, so that the putrefying dead body eventually infected the living criminal, who would die a cruel and diseased death.
"I am carrying around a corpse, here," Spencer said as he paraphrased Paul. "This old life is corrupting me and infecting me and I can't get away from it.... Who can save me from myself? I need a rescue."
The answer to Paul's question is in verse 25 "the triumphant statement in this discussion: "Jesus Christ our Lord is the one who can deliver us from this body of death."
"You need to listen because this is where a lot of us live, carrying around guilt, shame, walking around disgusted with ourselves because we've fallen and ... come to the conclusion that this thing doesn't really work," Spencer said.
While others seem to be living in joy and walking with God, Spencer said, most Christians "can't seem to escape this body of death."
Saying Christians don't have to be slaves to sin because Jesus Christ's death brings freedom, Spencer added that "to the measure we appropriate that truth in our lives and our situations, we're going to be free."
Citing Romans 8.1, Spencer said there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
However, since Christians do struggle with sin, Spencer asked, "Do you think God is condemning you for that ... and will take away your salvation? No!"
The key to the whole thing for maturing believers is to surrender to the Spirit, Spencer said. "Gal 5.6 tells us that if we walk by the Spirit, then we will not gratify the desires of the flesh."
But when faced with temptations, maturing believers will rely on God's power through prayer, asking God to take over. "I believe that is a prayer God will always answer," he said.