The Bible says there is an outer you and an inner you. The outer you is comprised of things like your skin, hair, face and body. The inner you is comprised of things like your character, heart and soul. The outer you is visible to everyone who sees you; the inner you is not visible. The outer you is temporary; the inner you is eternal. The inner you is far more important than the outer you, yet too many of us take care of the outer you like it is the only thing we have going for us. The Bible reminds us that outwardly we are wasting away, yet it is possible that we are simultaneously growing and maturing on the inside.
There are some of you reading this blog that have achieved some kind of outward accomplishment. You are accomplished or mature in certain areas of your lives, but inside the spiritual side of you is still like a baby: immature, stuck and arrested in its development. Some of you have been stuck for awhile. Most of us have tried to spiritually grow and mature. For many of us there is a shiny new Bible and a journal we bought at one point when we made a commitment to wake up at some crazy hour to clench our fists and grit our teeth to read and journal everyday. For some of us we could go to the Bible and journal 10 years later, 20 years later, even 30 years later and find just three entries in it from the first three days that we owned it. Since that time we have become stuck. We are stuck with that junky old sin we picked up somewhere along the way. We have not been able to shake it from us. Some of us may have even tried to go to classes and attend small groups and worship services faithfully. Maybe we even bought a book about prayer and got to the fourth chapter. Over time, the excitement and initiative fades away. The rest of our lives just kind of moved on because they have to in this world.
There are many reasons people get stuck. Some people get stuck because they are stubborn, undisciplined or distracted with less important things that seem more important. Some people get stuck in sin, and others get stuck while not even knowing they are stuck. They are totally clueless. Some people are bitter and resentful about something that happened in their past, and they get stuck there. Frankly, some people have just completely given up.
During this blog series, we will examine some practical ways to give ourselves a jumpstart and get unstuck. Today’s message will lay the building blocks for the rest of the series. We will look at a passage today where Peter promises that spiritual growth is possible. Peter is a guy that, although he was very close to the Lord, his spiritual life would be all over the map if it were charted. Peter spent many seasons of his life being stuck. This passage we will look at today is written by a guy who knows what it looks like to be spiritually stuck. He provides us a roadmap out. Let us look at 2 Peter 1:3-11 below:
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We can draw several general truths from this passage. We will examine each of them below.
1) Being spiritually stuck is costly. This passage says we become ineffective, unproductive, near-sighted and blind. We forget about the good news that we have been rescued and saved from our sins by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have a misconception that all of the different arenas our lives can be separated. We think there can be a spiritual part of us distinct from the career part of us, family part of us and the relationship part of us. We think we can be successful in some arenas and not so great in others and still be okay. The reality is that every single part of us makes up the whole person. All of these different arenas make us who we are as individuals. The spiritual development component of us affects every other arena in our lives.
2) Getting stuck is not just possible, it is expected. The Bible is filled with the idea that we don’t just receive forgiveness and salvation just so we can go to heaven. We also receive it so that we can grow and mature and live a full and faithful life while we are here on this planet. We are to move towards growth and progress. Peter tells us in this passage that faith is just the beginning. It is just the starting place of our spiritual development. We must add to our faith. The sad reality is that when we have fallen into a kind of Christianity that just stays at this first stage then we get a kind of Christianity that is highly ineffective. There are countless studies out there showing that self-proclaimed Christians live lives that are indiscernible from everyone else. There is no difference between us and anybody else in anything that really matters. It is a weak faith. Add to your goodness knowledge and to knowledge self control. There is progress, pulsing and surging forward we can see in this passage. Peter says that if we possess these qualities in increasing measure then we are doing the things that God has in mind for us.
Growth is expected, and it is understood clearly throughout the Bible. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” We are being changed into the likeness of Christ from one degree of glory to another. There is growth and progress happening. Paul says in Philippians 3:13, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul basically says he is moving forward in his faith. Paul says in Colossians 3:10, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” There is renewal happening. The author of Hebrews says in 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” The Bible knows nothing but this pulsating, moving, growing faith.
The warnings against those who are idle or who fall away are equally numerous and equally intense. There are great dangers associated with falling spiritually backwards. The scriptures never envision a faith, that over the long haul, is not progressing, maturing and deepening. Look back over the past five or 10 years of your life and ask yourself: Are you spiritually progressing? Do you possess the qualities stated in the passage above in increasing measure? Are you becoming more loving, self-controlled, Godly and kind then you were five or 10 years ago? If you are spiritually stuck then you are in an unacceptable place. You need to move.
3) Getting unstuck involves God’s power and your effort. You cannot get out simply on your own. Getting unstuck is usually a two-man job. If your car gets stuck in the snow in the winter then you usually need an outside force to push you out. If you get stuck in an elevator then you need a mechanic or electrician to fix something so you can get out of there. God comes to our aide. Spiritual progress is a beautiful partnership between God and us. God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. God brings to the table His power, His presence and His precious promises. These things make spiritual growth possible.
Getting unstuck is not just God’s job. God has given us the Holy Spirit as a comforter and teacher to whisper in our ears and work in our lives. Peter says in this passage that you and I are to make every effort. Spiritual growth is not easy. It takes intentionality and effort. There is a partnership that comes with spiritual growth. God has a role, and we have a role. God provides power and promises, and we provide effort.
4) Spiritual progress is measured by fruit and not by activity. How do you measure spiritual growth? We cannot measure it by religious activities. God has no patience for those trying to replace real righteousness with religious activities. In the Old Testament God told the people at one point that He hated their fasts because their hearts were not it it. The whole idea of replacing justice and mercy with some kind of religious activity makes God sick. In Matthew 7:22-23 we read, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We have to be careful that we are measuring spiritual progress with the right measuring stick. Spiritual progress is measured by fruit: faithfulness, goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. If you are not seeing these kinds of fruit growing and progressing in your life then go find things that will stir your affection towards Jesus Christ! When we know what we are measuring, it helps us to decide what kinds of steps to take to get from here to there.
5) Getting unstuck involves forward motion. Sometimes it feels like we are paddling and flailing, but our canoe isn’t going anywhere. It can seem like there is no movement at all. Part of getting unstuck is just moving forward a tiny bit–even if it is frustrating and feels like a lot of effort to get there. Even when we fall as Christians, in the long term we are moving forward in the right direction.
If you feel stuck today, you can have forward motion. Every spiritual journey is different, and we cannot mass produce what forward motion will look like for all Christians. Spiritual growth takes place on a personal, individual level. Each person grows in different ways. Churches that try to produce assembly-line spirituality will fail. What would grow an orchid would drown a cactus and what would feed a mouse would starve an elephant. There are certain similarities for all living things–everything needs light, food, air and water–but in different amounts and conditions. The key is not to treat everybody the same, but to find the unique conditions that help each person to grow. No one can tell you what forward motion looks like to you, but you probably have an idea. We say we have tried everything and done all we could do, but often this is not true. Most of us know the conditions that bring spiritual growth in us. Many of us just are not doing these things.
God’s promises for getting unstuck are phenomenal! Peter says in verse 10, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” There is an assurance that comes with spiritual growth. Have you every been in that place where you are not growing and you feel like if you died that day you would not even be sure whether you are going to heaven? Today’s passage says that when we are consistently progressing in our faith, we have this assurance inside of us that heaven is our destination. The Bible says we will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Take a moment and look honestly where you are at in terms of spiritual growth. We all need reminders. Peter says further on in this passage in verses 12 through 14 that he will “always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” We are forgetful people. Let Peter’s words be a reminder to you that the spiritual component of you is ultimately important. Whenever you see a mirror this week, may that mirror be a reminder to you to take an honest look at your spiritual growth and to face the truth about your spiritual life.
What are the contributing factors to you being stuck? Are there habits that need to be changed? Are you pretending to be somebody you are not? Is there is anything in you–pride, anger, judgment, self-rightousness, stubbornness, selfishness or fear–that you have been refusing to face? Are there relationships that you need to make right? Self-examination is an important component of the Christian life because an honest look at where you are at gives you a fighting chance to grow. You cannot grow if you are a liar.
Commit to taking a spiritual step. It may be a baby step and paddling while looking over to the shore to see you have had a little bit of movement. No matter where you stand in your spiritual journey, there is a next step. It doesn’t matter if you are a new Christian or a long-time Christian. Every single one of us has a next step. We are not mature and complete until we die. We must grow and stretch and make advancements while we are still breathing here on Earth. It might be counseling or getting involved somewhere. Maybe it is accountability or mentoring. Perhaps it is making yourself available to teach others or recommitting yourself to one of the spiritual disciplines. It could mean eliminating things clogging up the good works in your life. The key, again, is to find those things that stir your affection for Jesus and eliminating those things that rob your affection for Him.
It is worth it to take a step! If you are stuck today, the time is now. God’s plan was to begin a society of the transformed heart, not to have people parade around their religious activities. God wants people whose hearts are being changed from one degree of glory to another, and people who are progressing and becoming more like Jesus everyday. It is a joint effort between us and God. Jesus and the Holy Spirit should guide, direct and lead us. Get unstuck today and realize forward motion!