Things I did which brought judgment from my father when I was 19:
- Kept a messy room
- Did not pay my bills on time
- Constantly procrastinated
- Was not overly concerned with getting to work on time
- Drove recklessly
- Stayed out late and entertained less than spiritual activity
- Kept friends who had a similar slacker attitude
Abandoning this youthful shortsightedness is considered part of being a mature adult. I'm nearly twice that age now and I find myself still dogged by similar problems, although public pressures such as the need to maintain good credit and the desire to sustain gainful employment has cured me somewhat. Also, reaping what I sowed early in life proved to be a powerful natural corrective measure.
The biggest behavior-changing influence came as God began to pursue me in unusual ways. A great burden was placed on my heart at that same age to submit. In pain from the results of my idle youthfulness, stripped of my pride, the word I received from the Lord was not about changing my behavior. The word I received was much more direct: Surrender.
I had asked Jesus into my heart at age 7, yet at 19, there I was on my knees as a sinner who had only begun to recognize his total depravity. It was God's revelation to me. It was such a release to unburden myself, to recognize that I was unable to perform in the role of Christ. It was real freedom to know it was God's work in me -- not my work for God -- that would lead me into His favor.
While this supernatural event had a healthy impact on my personal and professional life, it was one large step towards something greater: spiritual maturity. It was then I learned spiritual maturity trumps all other forms. Through time and experience, I've learned we can become more spiritually mature, but at no time should ever consider ourselves to have arrived at a place where can rest as a completed work of God.
What are the signs of Christian spiritual maturity? It is when the Spirit begins to manifest in us the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
None of these are anything we can acquire for ourselves. We might be able to imitate them to a degree, but when a Christian is swept up in the maturing process, it is evidence of the supernatural nature of the Spirit of God. These are manifested even when we are most severely tested.
Paul describes this transformation as taking place when we behold God, when we gaze upon him, our eyes -- our very soul -- focused on His worth and value as the lone King of heaven and earth.
"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:18)Things Paul does not say:
- But as we become obedient to the Law ... we are being transformed
- But as we give more money to the Church ... we are being transformed
- But as we do more good deeds ... we are being transformed
However, implicit throughout all of Paul's writings is the direct relationship between the Spirit transforming us and us becoming more obedient, desiring to give more, and doing more good deeds. These are the evidences of faith, the result of the process, not the process itself.
The process begins with surrender, a spiritual white flag that sends notice to heaven and hell that you are submitted to the will of God and the purposes of God's kingdom. While the rest of the world views surrender as a sign of weakness, in heaven it is the priority order because God is at war with our sin. He is at war with our sin because He values us to the point of blood sacrifice. It puts us in the position of not only proclaiming Jesus as our Savior, but our Lord.
If you find yourself struggling with sin, sapped of your ability to do the work of God, I know the place of return, where a rejuvenating hope exists. It begins on the knees, not in seeking God's action against our enemies or the trials of our life, but in seeking God's work in our lives. This world will never change its nature, but God transforming us means we are better equipped to live in it.