Jesus Material Measure of Spiritual Maturity

In 2 Corinthians 8.7 the Apostle Paul challenges us to grow in the grace of generosity through giving:

“But as you excel in everything -in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

Within his textbook, Biblical Ethics, Robertson McQuilkin, formerly President and then President Emeritus of Columbia International University, likens personal giving patterns to personal maturation stages, as a metaphorical expression of spiritual maturity.   McQuilken says the Bible teaches us that our giving patterns are “Jesus’ material yardstick for measuring spiritual maturity”.

In sum, here is the “yardstick”:

  • Infancy: Non-giving
  • Kindergarten: Impulse Giving
  • Elementary: Legalistic Giving
  • Secondary: Honest Managership
  • Higher: Love Giving
  • Graduate: Faith Giving

How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – of by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus, then according to the Apostle’s instruction these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives our response should not be to simply resolve to stop it, but we need to discern it’s source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior, has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover it’s tributaries and it’s origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what “idols” are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow to be more like him, and enabling us to rely on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

5 Gospel Perspectives That Shape Lives


Tim Lane & Paul Tripp, in their helpful book How People Change, suggest that there are 5 Gospel Perspectives that shape lives.  In other words when we understand these principles, and regularly consider our own lives in relation to them, we see change.  These principles, considered collectively,  cultivate the best conditions to see fruitful sanctification.

  1. The need to recognize that God calls for ongoing and continual growth and change in all of us.
  2. The need to understand the extent and gravity of our sin.
  3. The need to understand that the heart is central; that behavior and attitude is a reflection of the heart.
  4. The need to understand the present benefits of Christ.
  5. The need to live a Lifestyle of Repentance & Faith

If you are curious, you might want to check out an interview with Lane & Tripp, where they describe their motivation for writing the book, and explain how to apply the gospel to real life to bring about real change: Interview

Portrait of a Recovering Pharisee

by Nancy Scott     

When Sally first heard the gospel at age eleven, she understood immediately that God’s grace is what saves us. She already knew her heart was full of evil and that she had nothing to bring to God. It made perfect sense that God would have to do the saving, if any saving was to be done. The solution of Jesus’ death on the cross was perfect, and she understood that He had died in her place.

The Bible church where Sally began her pilgrimage strongly taught the concept of grace. She learned that grace meant “undeserved favor.” Grace was getting something you didn’t deserve, whereas mercy was NOT getting what you did deserve. The gospel addressed both of these areas of life in the provision of Jesus’ death on the cross. So she fully understood that she came to Christ because God was reaching deep into her soul to regenerate her and to bring her to an awareness of her need and of His provision for her salvation. She entered the path to the kingdom on her knees, got up, and took off running.

By the time Sally was seventeen, life was not as clear-cut as it had been at the tender age of eleven. She had understood what it meant to be saved by grace; now she began wondering what it meant to live there. She began to struggle with the difficult choices of life and a tension in her desires to do the right thing. When she went to her Bible teachers for advice, they told her that God had given her all the resources she needed to live a victorious Christian life, and she only needed to avail herself of the Spirit of God who now lived inside her. If she tapped into His power, He would grant her the ability–and the desire she lacked–to do the right thing. The Bible teachers asked Sally if she did her daily devotions, and they recommended some helpful Bible studies. These things, they said, would help unleash the Spirit’s power to work in her life.

Sally took off running again. She dove into her daily devotions with renewed vigor, and even though she wasn’t a morning person, she began to get up an hour earlier. Sally was so grateful that God had given her this extra measure of grace to be so dedicated to him at such a young age. Things seemed to improve for a while.

Then something slowly changed. The excitement began to wear off, and Sally suspected that her non-Christian friends were having more fun than she. She indulged with them every now and then, only to feel tremendously guilty and to make a renewed commitment to God with each failure. The longer this pattern went on, the more confused Sally became. Why wasn’t God unleashing His Spirit inside her for victory anymore, even when she carried out all her spiritual practices and dedication? Why was the evil around her becoming more attractive instead of less attractive? Was it normal for her to find herself rededicating her life to God so routinely? Was this what it meant to live by grace?

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Benefitting in the Benefactor

Sinclair Ferguson offers this wise insight about the gospel-centered life:

“…we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual … but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirtuality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about ourself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Slow Like Oak

Great Oak

In a culture conditioned to instant everything, perhaps we would do well to pause and consider these words from John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace:

“A Christian is not of hasty growth, like a mushroom, but rather like the oak, the progress of which is hardly perceptible, but in time becomes a great deep-rooted tree.”

-from The Letters of John Newton

Grace of Repentance


Today is Ash Wednesday. That does not mean much to many in my theological circles.  But for many other Christians it is a day that launches the Season leading to Easter – the Season of Lent.  This day is designated Ash Wednesday because of an ancient practice of marking believers with ashes as a symbol of repentance. 

Hopefully it is more than symblolic, but is also a reminder that, as Martin Luther said, “When Christ said ‘Repent’ he called for the entire lives of Believers to be lived out in repentance.” 

Repentance is a lost art.  Repentance is also a neglected practice.  I suspect that many assume repentance is someting to be avoided; that repentance is what we must do if we have sinned; but if we can avoid sin we have no need of repentance. 

Seems logical. Except it mischaracterizes the nature of sin.  Sin is not what we do, sin is the condition we have, whether we are aware of it or not.  I find helpful the old saying: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”  Thus, as Luther suggested, the necessity of life lived out in repentance. 

Perhaps a better way of putting it might be that our lives should include repentance.  I say that because repentance never stands alone. Repentance should always accompany Faith; and Faith should always accompany Repentance.  They are two sides of the same coin of Gospel Christianity.

I like the way the old Puritan Thomas Watson says it:

“Faith and Repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.” 

I love the imagery. It shows us that our salvation involves not only our conversions (which, by the way, requires both Faith & Repentance), but is a sanctifying journey which requires us to grow in our awarenss of both our ungodliness and the greatness of the Gospel.  To have one wing longer than the other; or worse, to have only one wing, would be disastrous.  Try it for yourself.  Try flying one of those balsa wood planes, with one wing longer than the other and see how it flies.  But this is life without both Faith & Repentance.

Three books I have found helpful in shaping my understanding and appreciation of the need of ongoing repentance:

Repentance & 21st Century Man by C. John Miller

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson

Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel by Richard Owen Roberts