Toward Spiritual Maturity
Some believe that, after they are baptized and receive the spirit of God, they are not required to expend any further effort to obtain salvation. However, baptism by water and the holy spirit are only the first steps toward becoming an immortal being in the Family of God. From these first steps, a newly converted person must begin to fulfill the purpose and responsibilities for which they have been called.
Created for a Purpose
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph.2:10 KJV).
The Father and Christ want to have a relationship with the children of God that is characterized by intense personal interaction. A child of God is not only called to participate in the Family of God but also to perform a work that will result in others being granted sonship in the Family of God.
There are four basic reasons why God calls people to salvation during this age:
1. To grow in grace and knowledge and to learn and perfect the ways of God in their lives, so that they will be able to fulfill the purpose for which they were called. See 2.Pet.3:18.
2. To preach the good news of the soon coming Kingdom of God:
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt.24: 14 KJV).
3. To preach the message of repentance:
"Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you . . ." (Matt.28:19-20 KJV).
4. To prepare a people to help Jesus Christ rule the world:
"And has made us to our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev.5:10 KJV). See also 1.Thes.3:13; Rev.3:21; 20:4-6.
In order to fulfill these responsibilities, each child of God must grow in grace and knowledge toward spiritual maturity and perfection. Those in the first resurrection are to be the examples, leaders, and teachers of the way of God for the rest of humanity who have never had an opportunity for salvation.
After repentance, baptism, and receiving the holy spirit, there must be a process of growing toward spiritual maturity and perfection, which is referred to in the scriptures as "overcoming." This process of overcoming is a lifelong endeavor that includes learning about God the Father and Jesus Christ, making correct decisions, and living a righteous life to the best of one's ability. As a part of this process, people find themselves going through varying degrees of trials and tests. See Rom. 12:21; 1.Jn.5:4; Rev.3:5.
Sons of God
A child of God should always remember that they are very different from other humans. A child of God is actually a son of God, a member of the divine and holy Family of God, and a being that did not exist in the physical or spirit realms prior to Jesus. When God's spirit enters a person, that person actually becomes a new and different creature and a member of the Family of God. See 2.Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15; Eph.2:10; Col.3:7-10; Jms.1:18.
Not of This World
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you" (Jn.15:18-19 Para). See 1.Cor. 5:9-11; 10:20-21; Eph.5:1-11; Rev.18:3-4.
"But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also despise your brother? For all shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it has been written, I live, says the Lord, that every knee will bow to me, and every tongue confess to God. So then each one of us will give account concerning himself to God" (Rom.14:10-12 KJV Para.).
Everyone who has been given an opportunity for salvation during this age must give an account for what they have done with this opportunity:
"For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive the things done in his body, according to what we did, whether good or bad" (2.Cor.5:10 Para.).
God the Father and Jesus Christ are righteous and perfect; therefore, those who are called to become a part of their family must also become perfect.
Jesus knew that everyone would someday come before the judgment seat of the Father, and because nothing unrighteous can come into God's presence and live, he admonished those who would follow him to seek spiritual maturity and perfection.
"Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt.5:48 KJV).
The English word perfect is translated from the Greek word teleious, which means whole or undivided. Thus, our effort and conduct toward being righteous before God should be whole and undivided.
Some might believe that they could never be perfect; however, Jesus Christ says, "Be perfect." Jesus would never ask us to perform something that was impossible. Therefore, it is possible for us to become perfect.
While speaking to the Hebrews about the trials and tests of life, the writer reminds them of how difficult it was to obtain salvation under the old agreement and the ease with which one may obtain salvation under the new agreement.
"But you have drawn near to Mount Zion, even the city of the living God, to a heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, and to an assembly, a church of the firstborn ones having been enrolled in heaven; and to God the judge of all; and to the spirits of just ones who have been perfected, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new agreement, and to the blood of sprinkling speaking better things than that of Abel" (Heb.12:22-24).
Yes, we can become spiritually mature and perfect. Others have done it and so can we, if we use the powerful spiritual tools that God the Father has made available to us through Jesus Christ. When we have accomplished what God has given us to do with our lives through overcoming evil with good and becoming totally subject to his will, we will have reached spiritual maturity and perfection.
Progress Requires Change
In order to begin to accomplish spiritual maturity and perfection there are a number of things a person must change or eliminate as a part of their attitude, behavior, thoughts, and character. Paul spoke of this process of change as putting off the old man and putting on the new. Notice what he says to the elect at Ephesus and Colossae about living as a son of God in the flesh:
"If truly you heard him, and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus; for you to put off the old man, as regards the former behavior, having been corrupted according to the deceitful lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and to have put on the new man which according to God was created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph.4:21-24 Para.). Also read verses 25-32.
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things above, not the things on the earth, for you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God. Whenever Christ our life is revealed, then also you will be revealed in glory with him" (Col.3:1-4 Para.).
Again, we see that the former life, which was under the law of death, is gone forever after one receives the holy spirit. Moreover, after receiving the holy spirit, we should focus our lives on seeking heavenly things instead of earthly things:
"Then put to death your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil lust, and covetousness, which is idolatry; on account of which things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience; among whom you also walked at one time, when you were living in these. But now, also put off these things: wrath, anger, malice, evil speaking, and shameful words from your mouth" (Col.3:5-8 Para.). See also Rom.8:12-13.
In order to obtain the spirit-power and glory that God the Father and Jesus Christ want us to have, we must make a serious commitment and effort to put away our former evil behavior and replace it with God's righteous standards. The way to accomplish this type of commitment and behavioral change is through using the power of the holy spirit that resides within us.
"Do not lie to one another, having put off the old self with his practices, and having put on the new, having been renewed in full knowledge according to the image of the one creating him" (Col.3:9-10 Para).
BECOME A LIVING SACRIFICE
In speaking to the elect in Rome, Paul uses the example of the sacrifices to illustrate the kind of life a child of God should lead:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom.12:1-2 KJV).
Under the sacrificial system, all sacrifices were to be as physically perfect as possible, and only those that conformed to God's standards of perfection were acceptable to him. See Lev.22:20-24; Deut.15:19-21.
In order to live the kind of sacrificial life that Paul was inspired to speak about, a person cannot continue to conform to this world's standards. One must continually seek to conform to God's standards of righteousness by overcoming the pulls of the flesh and the daily challenges that would damage one's spiritual character.
The English word transformed in Romans 12:2 is translated from the Greek metamorphoo, which means to undergo change (i.e., a metamorphosis).
Humans were designed by God to be transformed from a lower life form (Heb.2:5-8) to a higher life-form through a process of metamorphosis (i.e., change). There are four major stages to this metamorphosis:
- The human egg is fertilized and God forms the human spirit within it. See Job 31:14-15; Zech.12:1.
- The human is born and lives a physical life until God the Father presents the opportunity for salvation.
- The human accepts God's call to salvation and becomes a son of God at the very moment that the holy spirit merges with the human spirit. See Acts 2:38; 3:19.
- The son of God grows toward spiritual maturity until being changed into an immortal spirit-being. See 1.Cor.15:51-54.
A truly converted person is in a stage of change throughout their entire life until their final change to immortality. Once a person is called and converted into the New Creation, change toward spiritual maturity and perfection must be an ongoing process. See Eph.4:11-13; Heb.6:1-8; 12:23; Rev.3:5.
SIN NO MORE
One major aspect of being a living sacrifice is the elimination of sin from one's life. Paul reminds the elect at Rome that, because they had accepted God's way of life and were dead to past sins, they were to cease practicing sin:
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know you not, that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism to death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom.6:1-4 KJV).
Because the old self died and was buried in the baptismal waters, the new person should begin to live as what they are: a son of God seeking to do God's will in their life:
"Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Rom.6:16-18 NIV).
Notice what the apostle John said about overcoming the old self after becoming a son of God:
"The person who has been born into God's family does not make a practice of sinning, because now God's life is in him; so he can't keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and controls him—he has been born again" (1.Jn.3:9 LBP). See also 1.Jn.5:18.
Although the above is not an exact translation, the Living Bible Paraphrased clarifies what John was trying to convey about overcoming the old self with the power of the holy spirit.
WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION
Understanding how difficult the battle for the mastery of the mind and body is, the apostle Paul encouraged the Church at Philippi to be earnest and sincere in working toward salvation:
"Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure" (Phil.2:12-13 KJV). See also Gal.6:3-10.
The way to salvation is a growth process that requires an ongoing effort in order to receive immortality and eternal life. God the Father gives the opportunity for salvation, but it is the responsibility of each individual to make an ongoing effort to develop spiritual maturity and perform the work to which they have been called.
How to be a Successful Overcomer
In order to succeed at anything, there are a number of things that are essential to know and understand.
1. What is the goal?
The goal for a child of God is to succeed in becoming an immortal being in the Family of God and to fulfill the responsibilities that they have been given to perform before and after the return of Christ.
2. What are the obstacles to success?
One's old self, temptations of the flesh, and the forces of evil that rule this present world are all obstacles to success.
3. How does one acquire the tools and skills necessary for success?
Each person whom the Father calls to salvation already has some of the tools and skills necessary for success. However, the Father gives the holy spirit to each of his children, and through the holy spirit all the other tools and skills that are necessary for success are either given at baptism or can be developed.
TEMPTATIONS, TRIALS, AND TESTS
On the road to spiritual maturity and perfection God the Father's children experience various obstacles in the form of temptations, trials, and tests. Although these are sometimes unpleasant, they provide opportunities for spiritual growth and they indicate whether or not we have our priorities correct. See Heb.12:9-11.
God and Temptations
Most of us have heard someone say that God must be testing them, when they find themselves in a difficult situation; however, it is important to understand that God does not test a person with evil. It is our own decisions, desires, and normal everyday circumstances that tempt us with evil:
"And remember, when someone wants to do wrong it is never God who is tempting him, for God never wants to do wrong and never tempts anyone else to do it. Temptation is the pull of man's own evil thoughts and wishes. These evil thoughts lead to evil actions and afterwards to the death penalty from God. So don't be misled, dear brothers" (Jms.1:13-16 LBP).
In the Bible, the desire to do and practice evil is called "lust." It is this lust to gratify the flesh that is in opposition to the law of God and has an adverse effect upon a person's spiritual character:
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever" (1.Jn.2:15-17 KJV).
It is primarily the desire to participate in behavior that is opposed to God that can cause a converted person many problems. These things only give temporary satisfaction because they are not eternal like the things of God.
Remember, all people experience and are subjected to temptations, and trials whether or not they have God's spirit:
"There has no temptation taken you but, such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will, with the temptation, also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1.Cor.10:13 Scofield Bible).
Although temptations are common to all people, God shows special favor to those he has called to salvation. The Father will not allow his children to be in a situation with which they are unable to cope. He also says that with each tempting situation in which we find ourselves, he will make a way of escape.
"The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished;" (2.Pet.2: 9 KJV).
Our God is all powerful and he has the ability to save us from any situation. However, even when he does this, we may still suffer the physical consequences of being in a trying situation. Remember that the Father and Jesus are ultimately interested in the saving of our spirit, not our flesh. See Matt.5:29-30; 18:8-9.
How we react and the decisions we make about life's temptations, trials, and tests will reflect our value system at that point in time. If we react in a righteous manner to life's experiences, we will know that our value system and priorities are correct before God.
Trials of Faith
Both James and Peter speak of the joys of having one's faith tried and tested. But why?
"My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations. knowing that the proving of your faith works patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (Jms.1:2-4 Para). See also Rom.5:3-5; 12:12; 2.Thes.1:3-7.
"Happy is the man who doesn't give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get as his reward the crown of life that God has promised those who love him" (Jms.1:12 LBP).
"So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return" (1.Pet.1:6-7 LBP).
Why should we be happy when we experience adversities in life? We should be happy because as we overcome these tests and trials, we gain spiritual character and strength. Moreover, such trials should make us happy because we are gaining spiritual maturity and perfection. However, we should not try to place ourselves into situations that would test us. Notice what Jesus advises us to ask of the Father when we pray to him:
"Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen" (Matt. 6:13 Para.). See also Matt.26:41; Lk.22:40.
Through successfully overcoming various trials and tests, we should acquire greater spiritual maturity and perfection and a deeper love and appreciation for God the Father and Jesus Christ.
THE OBSTACLE OF EVIL SPIRITS
Although one's own failings and lustful desires are a formidable foe to conquer, the child of God must also be aware that evil spirits present a powerful threat to their eternal destiny. Paul encourages the Romans and Ephesians to use God's power and protection in their battle against evil spirits:
"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom.12:21 KJV).
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph.6:10-12 KJV). Read also verses 13-18.
The apostle Peter also warns that the devil is an enemy who is trying to destroy the righteous person and he shows that the way to conquer the devil is to resist him and have faith that God will deliver us:
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you" (1.Pet.5:6-10 KJV). See also Jms.4:7.
The existence of the evil side of the spirit-realm was common knowledge to those who were called to salvation during the time of the early church. Paul explains to the Romans that no physical trial or evil spirit power is strong enough to overcome the power of God in one's life:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:35-39 KJV).
Although it is a powerful adversary, evil is no match for those who truly believe in the Father and Jesus, because they have the power to overcome all adversaries through the power of Christ's sacrifice and the holy spirit:
"And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives to the death" (Rev.12:10-11 KJV).
HOW TO SUCCEED AS AN OVERCOMER
The question many have about overcoming is not what to overcome, but how to overcome. How does one gain the mastery over an evil desire, a problem, a temptation, a trial, a test, or some adverse situation and use it to grow toward spiritual maturity and perfection?
Do Not Become Discouraged
Some people become frustrated and discouraged as they endeavor to live a godly life. This is also a part of the experience of overcoming as we travel along the road to spiritual maturity and perfection. Overcoming these periods of frustrations and discouragement will become somewhat easier if we remind ourselves that God has promised to care for us and help us through all adversity:
"Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;" (Phil.1:6 KJV)."
But the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and keeps the unjust for the day of judgment" (2.Pet.2:9 Para.). See also 1.Sam.26:24; 1.Pet.5:6-7.
"Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, "I will never, never fail you nor forsake you." That is why we can say without any doubt or fear, "The Lord is my helper and I am not afraid of anything that mere man can do to me" (Heb.13:5-6 LBP). See 2.Cor.1:3-6.
HELP IN OVERCOMING
We are not alone in our efforts to overcome and gain spiritual maturity and perfection. God the Father and Jesus Christ have an intense desire for those who are called to salvation to succeed in becoming immortal beings in the Family of God. Therefore, they have provided powerful spiritual tools for us to use in our endeavor to overcome the old self, temptations, trials, and tests.
The Holy Spirit
The holy spirit is a powerful tool, which has many functions that can be used to help us overcome the obstacles to spiritual maturity and perfection.
The Spirit as an Advocate
Before and after Christ's death and resurrection, he promised to send the holy spirit to comfort those whom the Father calls to salvation:
"If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (Jn.14:15-16 KJV).
The English word comforter is translated from the Greek word parakletos, which means advocate or helper. Other scriptures that mention the holy spirit indicate that it is indeed an advocate and helper to us in our physical and spiritual lives:
"But the Comforter, the holy spirit, whom the Father shall send in my name, it will teach you all things, and shall remind you of all things that I said to you" (Jn.14:26 Para.).
John records two very valuable functions of the spirit. He says that the spirit is a teacher of all things (all physical and spiritual knowledge), and that it will remind us of the things that Jesus taught.
"But when the spirit of truth comes, it will guide you into all truth" (Jn.16:13 Para).
The spirit is a guide to all truth (God's truth). If we are subject to God's will and are receptive to the holy spirit's guidance, we will have the ability to view life with its various trials and tests from God's perspective.
Paul also confirms that the spirit has power to transfer spiritual knowledge to the elect of God:
"According as it has been written, 'Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,' nor has it risen up into the heart of man, 'the things which God has prepared for those that love him. But God revealed them to us by his spirit, for the spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man within him? So also no one has known the things of God except the spirit of God" (1.Cor.2:9-11 Para). See also verses 13-16.
The Spirit and the Law
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Heb.8:10 KJV). See also Jer.31:31-33.
"Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart" (2.Cor.3:3 KJV).
When one receives the holy spirit, the law of God is made a part of their very nature and being, which makes it possible to be conscious of the difference between righteous and unrighteous concepts and behavior. Having these laws as a constant part of the consciousness alerts a child of God to the right spiritual path to be followed.
Working to overcome the former evil behavior is a challenge that can be taken on through the power and use of the holy spirit. This spirit power is an extremely valuable tool that should be cultivated and used in our daily lives.
It is important to note that the Bible was written primarily for those whom God has called to salvation during this age. Through the Bible, it is possible to learn from the experience and teaching of others and gain valuable knowledge, understanding, and inspiration to help us in our daily walk with God:
"Every scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; so that the man of God may be perfect, fully furnished for every good work" (2.Tim.3:16-17 Para). See also Eph.6:10-17; Heb.4:12.
"Now all these things happened to them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1.Cor.10:11 KJV). See also Psa.19:7; Pro.1:1-7; Dan.12: 9-12; Col.1:7-10.
Study God's Word
A person is not given perfect knowledge and understanding of all the mysteries of God's plan or his laws at the instant they receive the holy spirit. A short review of the apostles' letters to the churches shows that the acquisition of spiritual knowledge and understanding requires much time, effort, study, and prayer:
"The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things" (Pro.15:28 KJV).
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness" (2.Tim.2:15-16 NKJV). See also 1.Thes.4:10-12.
All those who have accepted the call of God are admonished to prove all things and hold onto the things that are good. See 1.Thes.5:21; Rom. 12:2.
Although the spirit of God imparts knowledge, understanding, discernment, and wisdom, a person must ask the Father for these things and follow through with study and meditation on his word:
"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psa.1:1-2 KJV). See also Psa.119:15-148; 1.Tim.4: 12-16.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil.2:5 KJV).
One of the primary ways to have the mind of Christ and to understand God, his ways, and his will, is to study what he has caused to be written for our encouragement and edification:
"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be you not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph.5: 15-17 KJV). See Col.1:7-10.
Listen And Obey God's Instructions
Because God speaks to us through his written word, we should study it in order to build a strong foundation of knowledge to help us grow and overcome:
"All who listen to my instructions and follow them are wise, like a man who builds his house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents, and the floods rise and the storm winds beat against his house, it won't collapse, for it is built on a rock. But those who hear my instructions and ignore them are foolish, like a man who builds his house on the sand. For when the rains and floods come, and storm winds beat against his house, it will fall with a mighty crash" (Matt.7:24-27 LBP). See also 1.Tim.6:17-19.
"But whosoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby we know that we are in him. He that says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1.Jn.2:5-6 KJV).
Prayer and Fasting
Prayer is an extremely powerful and readily available tool for use in the daily overcoming process; it is our communication link with God the Father. Through this vital tool, we can go directly to the throne of the Sovereign Father as a son. Moreover, through prayer, we can praise him and ask him for help with our needs, desires, and frustrations.
God the Father and Jesus Christ want those called to salvation to use this communication tool in order to grow toward spiritual maturity and perfection. For prayer to be effective, we must be earnest and consistent in its use:
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened" (Matt.7: 7-8 KJV).
"For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are opened to their prayers . . ." (1.Pet.3:12 KJV). See also Jn.16:24; Mk.11:24; Rom.12:12; Col.4:2.
The Holy Spirit and Prayer
One of the ways the spirit of God helps a child of God grow toward spiritual maturity is through its help in communicating our thoughts, emotions, desires, frustrations, and needs to the Father and Christ:
"And likewise the spirit also joins in to help our weakness. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the spirit pleads our case with groaning that cannot be uttered. But the one searching the hearts knows what is the mind of the spirit because he [it] intercedes for the saints according to God" (Rom.8:26-27 Para.).
Truly a person does not always know exactly what they need or how to express their emotions, thoughts, desires, and needs. However, one of the functions of the indwelling of the spirit of God is to act as an information gathering and communication system between a person and the God family. This function allows the Father and Christ to be aware of the innermost emotions, thoughts, desires, and needs of those called to salvation:
"But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you. Don't recite the same prayer over and over as the heathen do, who think prayers are answered only by repeating them again and again. Remember! your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him" (Matt.6:6-8 LBP). See also Psa.91:14-15; Isa.41:17; 58:9; 65:24; Matt.6:25-33; 6:28-31.
Because the spirit communicates one's true physical and spiritual condition to the Father and Christ, the child of God can always have the assurance that, even before they ask anything of the Father, he already knows what they need:
"A man's conscience [spirit] is the Lord's searchlight exposing his hidden motives" (Pro.20:27 LBP). The King James translation renders this scripture: "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly."
In the biblical record, there are examples which show fasting used with prayer in situations of extreme importance or need. Fasting combined with prayer shows God that one is very serious about what is being asked for and that one has resolved to put forth an intense effort to acquire his intervention in the matter. See Psa.35:11-14; Joel 1:13-15; 2:12-14; Lk.2:36-38; Acts 14:21-25.
A short review of how God used the angels to help righteous individuals under both the Old and New Covenants, will reveal that God has always provided spirit-beings to watch over and care for those he has called to salvation.
Jesus spoke of the continual attention of the angels over the children of God:
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven do continually look on the face of my Father in heaven" (Matt.18:10 Para.).
The writer to the Hebrews confirms that God uses angels to help his children:
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb.1:14 KJV).
It should be very comforting to know that God is so concerned about his children that he assigns spirit-beings to help them succeed.
OUR HIGH PRIEST
Under the first agreement with national Israel, the priesthood was not an adequate intercessor between God and his people because they were also sinful by nature and had to be cleansed of sin each time they appeared before God. However, Jesus is qualified to come before the Father, not by physical cleansing, but by his perfect obedience and submission to the Father and his law. His eternal qualification enables him to qualify the elect, whom he represents, so that they can come before the Father as well:
"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedec" (Heb.5:8-10 KJV).
The English word perfect in verse 9 is translated from the Greek word teleioo, which connotes perfection that enables one to stand before God.
Jesus' experience of overcoming temptations, tests, trials, and suffering qualified him to become our Savior and High Priest.
In his redemptive ministry, Christ overcame the temptations, trials, and tests that are common to man. He did this to remove the curse of death, which is the result of yielding to desires and situations that are in opposition to God's way of life.
The mental and physical temptations, trials, tests, and suffering that Jesus experienced are not unique to him; they are things that many will encounter on their road to spiritual maturity and perfection. See 1.Pet. chps.3;4.
Help in Time of Need
Our Lord and Savior understands our human weaknesses because he was human just as we are. Jesus, who was the Creator God, experienced life as a human. He fully understands human nature and why humans do the things they do. He can intercede on our behalf because he has firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be a fleshly being. He knows how weak the flesh is and he is able to tell the Father who has never been human how difficult it is to live in the flesh. With Christ as our intercessor, the Father is able to understand us, have mercy on us, and forgive our sins:
"My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is a propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1.Jn.2:1-2 KJV). See also 1.Jn.1:5-9.
"Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! he is the one who has forgiven us and given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ? No! For he is the one who died for us and came back to life again for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us there in heaven" (Rom.8:33-34 LBP).
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them" (Heb.7:25 KJV).
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1.Tim.2:5 KJV). See Eph.2:18.
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb.4:14-16 KJV). See also Heb.2:14-18; 9:7-25.
FAITH AND WORKS
An extremely important part of the overcoming process is the exercising of faith and works. In addition to knowing what God expects of us, in order to be successful in overcoming temptations, trials, and tests, there are two actions that must be taken:
- A person must have and exercise faith in the promises of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
- A person must put forth an effort to make and carry out righteous decisions in whatever situation they find themselves.
Although the Father and Jesus are extremely protective of the elect and have great pleasure in fulfilling their promise to help us in our effort toward spiritual maturity and perfection, they do expect us to exercise faith and works as a part of our daily life.
"For the God who said you must not marry a woman who already has a husband, also said you must not murder, so even though you have not broken the marriage laws by committing adultery, but have murdered someone, you have entirely broken God's laws and stand utterly guilty before him. You will be judged on whether or not you are doing what Christ wants you to. So watch what you do and what you think; for there will be no mercy to those who have shown no mercy. But if you have been merciful, then God's mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you" (Jms.2: 11-13 LBP).
A person is judged by what they do, as well as what they believe. It is very important to understand what James says concerning works. Many times it takes physical effort and a right attitude to fulfill God's laws, precepts, and principles in our life:
"Dear brothers, what's the use of saying that you have faith and are Christians if you aren't proving it by helping others? Will that kind of faith save anyone? If you have a friend who is in need of food and clothing, and you say to him, 'Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty,' and then don't give him clothes or food, what good does that do? So you see, it isn't enough just to have faith. You must also do good to prove that you have it. Faith that doesn't show itself by good works is no faith at all—it is dead and useless" (Jms.2:14-17 LBP). Please read the entire second chapter of James.
It is not enough just to have faith, because faith without works is no faith at all; it is dead and useless. However, a person should not try to prove their faith by doing works; true faith itself produces good works because it is the fruit of God's spirit-being manifested in one's life.
The mere performance of good works is of no value if these works are not based on godly love (see 1.Cor.chp.13). Godly love, faith, and works come from an internal desire to do what is right and good, not from a desire to prove something to another person. True love, faith, and good works are the natural result of yielding to the influence of the holy spirit:
"But someone may well argue, 'You say the way to God is by faith alone, plus nothing; well, I say that good works are important too, for without good works you can't prove whether you have faith or not; but anyone can see that I have faith by the way I act'. Are there still some among you who hold that 'only believing' is enough? Believing in one God? Well, remember that the devils believe this too—so strongly that they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that 'believing' is useless without doing what God wants you to? Faith that does not result in good deeds is not real faith" (Jms.2:18-20 LBP). The King James Version renders the last half of verse 20 "Faith without works is dead."
Abraham's Faith and Works
"Don't you remember that even our father Abraham was declared good because of what he did, when he was willing to obey God, even if it meant offering his son Isaac to die on the altar?" (Jms.2:21 LBP).
James says that Abraham was declared righteous because of what he did; he was willing to obey God even if it meant offering his only son Isaac as a sacrifice.
Trust in God
"You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to; his faith was made complete by what he did, by his actions, his good deeds. And so it happened just as the scriptures say, that Abraham trusted God, and the Lord declared him good in God's sight, and he was even called 'the friend of God' So you see, a man is saved by what he does, as well as by what he believes" (Jms.2:22-24 LBP).
This statement is very important because it shows that, without the manifestation of works, faith is not complete. James says that Abraham was willing to trust (have faith) in God no matter what God asked him to do and because of his works (it took physical effort to perform God's request), his faith was complete.
True worship of God requires faith and physical effort. If we have faith and works, we are truly obeying God's way of life. Through faith combined with good works, we show God the Father and Jesus Christ that we truly love them and their way of life:
"For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Rom.2:13 Para.).
DOING AND BELIEVING
James showed that a child of God is justified or made righteous by what they do, as well as by what they believe. It is evident that Abraham proved he had faith in God by his physical efforts. When one is prompted by faith and love, one does not have time to try to find good works to do because they are too busy taking care of all the opportunities already available, many of which go unnoticed by those around them.
Needs are everywhere and the person filled with God's spirit sees them and works on them. The person who is merely trying to act like a Christian will only see the obvious and do what will be noticed by others.
Although there are many examples of how children of God should conduct themselves in serving those outside of the Family of God, the word of God reveals that the primary responsibility of the elect of God is to accomplish the task of growing into spiritual maturity and perfection, not to perform a social gospel or attempt to save or reform the world through their own efforts. When this is accomplished, the elect will be equipped to help Jesus Christ save those who have never had an opportunity for salvation.
Keep Going Forward
From the moment a person becomes a child of God, the change toward immortality must be a continual process, and the cares of this world, and anything else must not be allowed to impede their progress toward the Kingdom of God. See Mk.8:35-37.
Because we are flesh, it is easy to allow the cares and concerns of this world to overshadow the things of God unless one continually thinks on the great goal and opportunity of God's calling to salvation.
In the Book of Revelation, Christ gives a stern warning to those who are guilty of unfaithfulness and those who have a casual attitude toward their calling.
To the Ephesians
"But I have against you that you left your first love. Then remember from where you are fallen, and repent and do the first works. And if not, I am coming to you quickly, and will remove your lamp-stand from its place, unless you repent" (Rev.2:5 Para.).
The Ephesians were not being faithful to their calling and they needed to return to God, make a positive change toward righteous behavior, and renew their commitment to God or they would lose the knowledge of the truth they had been given.
The symbolism of light in the scriptures is very clear; when the light of truth is gone, there is only darkness and no hope of salvation.
To the Laodiceans
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth" (Rev.3:15-16 Para.).
The Laodiceans were not making progress in their spiritual growth; they were standing still, neither going forward nor backward. Moreover, they lacked zeal for their calling. Because of this casual attitude and lack of enthusiasm toward their calling, they were in a dangerous spiritual condition.
"Because you say I am rich, and I am made rich, and I have need of nothing, and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Rev.3:17 Para.).
The Laodiceans had deceived themselves into thinking they were spiritually rich, but they stood before God as spiritually poor and without righteous garments. However, there was still hope for their salvation if they would heed the advice of Jesus Christ:
"I advise you to buy from me gold having been fired by fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nudity may not show. And anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see. I, as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten, Be zealous, then, and repent" (Rev.3:18-19 Para.).
Notice that their hope lies in putting forth the effort it takes to gain salvation. Jesus advises them to begin to seriously work at being righteous.
A Stern Warning
There are many stern warnings to those who decide to depart from the faith, after they have accepted the call to salvation. Their fate is the same as the incorrigible wicked:
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the holy spirit, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame But that which bears thorns and
briers is rejected, and is near to cursing; whose end is to be burned" (Heb.6:4-6, 8 KJV). See also Ezk.18:24,26; Heb.2:1-3; 2.Pet.2: 20-21.
"For if we willfully sin after receiving the full knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice concerning sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and zealous fire being brought about to consume the adversaries. Anyone not regarding the law of Moses dies without pity on the word of two or three witnesses: How much worse punishment do you think he will be thought worthy to receive having trampled on the Son of God, and having counted the blood of the covenant in which he was sanctified common, and having insulted the spirit of grace?" (Heb.10:26-29 Para.)
A child of God who continually breaks their baptismal agreement and makes a practice of violating God's laws, precepts, and principles will die an eternal death, because a truly converted person can never again become purely human. This is their only opportunity for salvation and they will either succeed or fail, depending on their desire and effort to become immortal.
If there is no sustained effort to live according to God's ways, God will not grant eternal life, instead, he will destroy the wicked person with fire—"For the wages of sin is death" (Rom.6:23).
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31 KJV).
HOW TO NEVER FAIL
The call of God is the most important event and experience that can ever happen to any individual. All other priorities, concerns, and endeavors are insignificant when compared to the call of God and the opportunity for immortality as a member in the Family of God.
Because God the Father and Jesus Christ want us to succeed, they have made us many powerful promises and placed many tools for success at our disposal. They have also inspired many words of encouragement to be recorded for us:
"Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue:' (2.Pet.1: 2-3 KJV).
"Whereby are given to exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust' (2.Pet.1:4 KJV).
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity' (2.Pet.1:5-7 KJV).
"For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ' (2.Pet.1:8KJV).
"But he that lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fail" (2.Pet.1:9-10 KJV).
Fight the Good Fight
Paul encouraged Timothy and the elect at Rome to continue to strive toward obtaining eternal life:
"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses" (1.Tim.6:12;19 KJV).
"He will give eternal life to those who patiently do the will of God, seeking for the unseen glory and honor and eternal life that he offers" (Rom.2:7 LBP). See also Matt.19:16-17; Lk.10:25-27; 18:18-20.
Endure and Overcome
Those who persist in the overcoming process are promised that they will be saved and obtain great, awesome, and wonderful rewards:
"And you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved" (Mk.13:13 KJV). See also Matt.24:13.
"He that has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev.2:7 KJV).
"He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev.21:7 KJV). See also Heb.1:1-2, 5-8.
"He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white garments; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev.3:5 KJV).
"To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sit down with my Father in his throne" (Rev.3:21 KJV).
This brief study shows that the Father and Jesus Christ expect those called to salvation to grow toward spiritual maturity and perfection. They both would like to be able to say to each of us at the first resurrection, "well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt.25:21).
For all those called by God to salvation, the pursuit of righteousness and the Kingdom of God must be their number one priority in order to be successful in obtaining eternal and immortal life.
Overcoming is a lifelong process that takes effort, which is based on knowledge and understanding of what is required by God. In addition to knowledge and understanding, overcoming requires taking positive action toward spiritual growth by living a righteous life to the best of one's ability.
We do this through the help of the Father, Jesus Christ, the study of their word, and yielding to the influence of the holy spirit that will correct, encourage, and help us in overcoming the temptations of the flesh.
Overcome the World
"For whoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1.Jn.5:4-5 Para.).
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb.13: 20-21 KJV).
God the Father has made a special effort to call some people in this age to salvation, and Jesus Christ came and gave his life so that those called could be saved. God the Father and Jesus Christ have committed themselves and their tremendous resources to help us succeed and obtain the goal of salvation, and in order to succeed, all one has to do is put forth a sincere effort. See Matt.6:25-34; Heb.13:5-6; Jn.14:12-14.
"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom.8:31 KJV).
By B.L. Cocherell b6w4