The Mark of Maturity

Probably at some time in your life you have known someone who was a living example of Christian maturity.  God worked mightily in them and through them.  Perhaps you know someone like that right now.  What makes them different?  What makes them a mature Christian?

In Hebrews 5:14 God reveals to us one of the marks of a mature Christian, which is the ability to discern both good and evil.  In Genesis 2:9b, 3:5, and 3:22, the word “knowledge” comes from the same Hebrew root, yada.

“The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the  tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Gen. 2:9

“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Gen. 3:5

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.”  Gen. 3:22

In these verses, the word “knowledge” would more accurately be understood as “determine.” Thus, the sin of man, from the time of the garden, and ever since, has been the act of determining for ourselves what is good and evil. Man desires to establish his own laws and not obey the laws of God.

When Adam took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was, as Calvin wrote, “trusting to his own understanding” and establishing himself as “an arbiter and judge of good and evil.”1

Sutton agreed with Calvin when he wrote,

“[Satan] offered Adam divine authority.  He told man that he would                become like God, ‘knowing (determining) good and evil’ (Gen. 3:3), if            he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . But the way            to manifest God was not by ‘knowing’ (determining) good and evil;                rather, it was by ruling as a delegated authority.”2

Adam’s sin was not simply in coming to know the difference between good and evil, but in determining for himself what was good and evil. Adam’s sin, and even Satan’s rebellion, stemmed from a desire to decide for himself what is good and evil.

Christian maturity is just the opposite.  Mature Christians are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul reveals that Christians can experience different levels of spirituality and carnality.  In Hebrews 5:14, the instruction from God is that a mature Christian is one who can discern God’s Law and apply it to everyday situations.  The difference is between determining and discerning. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14).

To “discern” both good and evil is to distinguish between what God considers good and evil. W.E. Vine defines “discern” as, “a distinguishing, a clear discrimination. . . . In Heb. 5:14 . . . of those who are capable of discriminating between good and evil.”3  Robertson adds, “To discern . . . ‘For deciding between’ . . . (between good and evil).”4

So, we must conclude that, if we aspire to maturity, we must study God’s Law and learn to apply it to our lives.  For me, this means I must not only know and understand the Ten Commandments, but also the case law of the Old Testament – Exodus 21-23 where the Ten Commandments are applied to specific cases5 – as well as the Sermon on the Mount and the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Maturity demands diligent study of the Word of God and discerning application of the Law of God.

Think about it!

NOTES

  1. Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 1, John Calvin, translated by the Rev. John King, M.A., Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979, p. 118.

2.  That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas, 1987, p. 44.

3.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary, W.E. Vine, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Fleming Revel Co,, Old Tappan, NJ, 1981, p. 315.

4.  Word Pictures in the Old Testament – Vol. 5, Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1932, p. 372.

5.  Tools of Dominion, Dr. Gary North, Institute for Christian Economics,    Tyler, Texas, 1987.

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Is Christianity Intolerant?

Is Christianity intolerant?

A friend of mine some time back told me that he could never be a Christian because Christianity was intolerant. I think that what many people call intolerance in Christianity is actually exclusivity. Christianity is exclusive, not inclusive. Our Lord said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” That is totally exclusive. Only those men, women, and children whose faith is in Jesus Christ are true Christians and are recipients of what Jesus Christ accomplished by His death on the cross and resurrection (i.e.; justification, adoption into God’s family, sins forgiven, Christ’s righteousness imputed, atonement, eternal life with Christ, etc.) All others, whose faith is not in Jesus, are damned to an eternity of torment and darkness. This is the exclusivity of Christianity.

What God teaches in His Holy Word is an exclusive faith: justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the Bible alone is our primary source for all of faith and practice, and all of our lives should be lived for God’ s glory alone. If anyone does not believe this, then they are not a Christian.

This being said, throughout all of the Bible – all 66 books written over 4000-5000 years of human history – reveals to us God’s marvelous tolerance towards all men. He is long suffering, through millennia, not willing that any of His children should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Christians are taught that we should love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to peacefully and lovingly coexist, as much as lies within us, with all others. Does this sound like intolerance? We are at peace with God and strive for peace in this world.

Is there intolerance in the Church of Jesus Christ?

Obviously there has been, and still is, intolerance in the Church. There are three reasons for that: there are congregations of people calling themselves Christian but are not; there are people in the Church who are not, and never have been true Christians; and there are true Christians who, out of pride, think, say, and do intolerant things.

Without getting into too much theology and ecclesiology, there are some congregations who call themselves Christians but are far from believing in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the Bible alone is our primary source for all of life and practice, and all of our lives should be lived for God’s glory alone. We recognize these non-Christian churches as Christian Cults. They violate God’s moral law (the Ten Commandments) and His commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a systemic violation of God’s law found in the official teachings of the congregation.

Within true Christian Churches, those who believe, teach, and preach God’s Word, and administer the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there are a mixture of wheat and weeds. The weeds are those who have said all the right things and jumped through all the right hoops to be members of the Church, but whose faith is not in Jesus Christ. Non-believers in the Church, by nature, are filled with pride and hate towards others who do not agree with them or are somehow noticeably different from them. As a result, they do not speak or act lovingly towards them.

The wheat in the Church are those who are true believers, but who struggle daily with pride and arrogance (which in all honesty is most of us), and thus occasionally speak and act intolerant. We are called to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves all the time, but we occasionally fall into the sin of intolerance. This is one of the reasons we meet together every week in Christian worship where we are disciplined by God through the preaching of His Word and receiving Holy Communion. We repent of our sins, hear God’s words of absolution, receive encouragement and correction through the preached word, and receive spiritual strength at His Table. We are then sent out into the world to sin no more.

Sometimes it is hard to see the difference between the weeds and the wheat.

Do You Want to Survive?

I’ve been thinking a bit this last week about something Sensie Russell Wadell said at the Aikido clinic in Grapevine, TX. He asked something like this, “How far are you willing to go to stop someone from hurting you or a loved one?” My friends, this is a critical question that must be thought through if you are to survive a real threat. Please let me turn this question in a slightly different direction and ask you, “Do you want to survive?” The all-out commitment to survive is the most important element to that survival. This commitment includes a positive mental attitude, planning and preparation, regular and consistent training, and, when the shit hits the fan, a will to live.

Positive Mental Attitude
By positive mental attitude, I am referring to a high confidence level in your ability to do what needs to be done to survive an assault. Are you in good physical condition? Are you psychologically and spiritually prepared for confrontation? Do you have the skills and tools you need to survive?

You should exercise regularly and eat healthily. Think through the psychological and spiritual ramifications of injuring or killing another person. And make a self-conscious decision to make the effort and spend the money to acquire the needed skills and tools for self-defense.

A few years ago I met and amazing warrior, Lt Col Dave Grossman. I was fortunate enough to sit in on two presentations he made at my place of employment. I highly recommend two of his books, On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace and On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society .

Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation requires you to spend a bit of time meditating on “what ifs”. Play some scenarios by your mind’s eye. You are home alone and someone breaks into your house. Can you get to your handgun (or knife, sword, stick, etc.) easily and quickly? What will you use to protect yourself? How far will you go? Are you willing to use deadly force to stop the intruder? What would be a good plan? At what strategic locations should you place your weapons?

Creating and thinking through scenarios in this way, planning and preparing an appropriate response, greatly increases your ability to survive an attack. Make a plan, and work the plan. If you have no plan, you run the chance of freezing up, wasting valuable seconds deciding what to do. If your plan is in place and the moral questions about using deadly force are already contemplated, then your response can be swift and effective.

Regular and Consistent Training
Regular and consistent training, no matter what martial art you choose, including the use of firearms, is vitally important. Under the extreme stress of an attack, you will react according to the way you have trained. If you do not train at all, or rarely train, your conscious mind will switch off, and for a few vital seconds your response will be to do nothing. Obviously, it’s better to do something in those seconds than to do nothing. And even better is to do something effective to your defense, placing you in a safer and more defensible position. Some martial arts are better than others. Any martial art is better than none.

Will to Live
Finally, the will to live (the most difficult of these four points to articulate) — if attacked and injured, do you have the will to live? This can also be thought of in terms of the will to complete the mission at any cost. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to protect you or another from serious bodily injury or death. Do you have the will to carry this mission through? I believe that some people who have been shot and died did so because they gave up the fight. You are conditioned by television shows and movies, showing unrealistic responses to pepper spray, tasers, knives, and guns, that you expect, if tased to be knocked out, if cut or shot to die, so that you give up if injured. Self-consciously and deliberately determine right now, that if injured, you will continue the mission to the end.

Beginning Aikido Students

Some things to understand and internalize in your beginning Aikido career are: maintaining your balance, proper distance and timing, the most economical way of walking, the need to get off the line of force, do not confront force with force, and utilizing your opponents off-balance points.

Maintaining your balance requires good posture. Your feet should be about a shoulder width apart, most of your weight on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent, and your shoulders over hips. Even with good posture and a balanced stance, if you are stationary, there are eight major points of off-balance. The off-balance points are North, South, East, West, North-East, South-West, North-West, and South-East. So, we learn the importance of movement in maintaining balance.

Proper distance and timing in Aikido, maai in Japanese, refers to the minimum distance and time you should allow your opponent before you respond. Maai is more than this, but is at least this. For most times, maai will be about six feet away, just out of reach where your opponent cannot hit or kick you without moving one step closer. Learning to judge where and when you must move in response to an attack is a necessary part of Aikido.

In Aikido, we walk differently than most people have learned to walk. Most of us learned to walk pushing off with our back foot, stretching out our front foot, and striking the ground with the heel of the front foot. This produces an up-down body motion and wastes a fraction of a second as we shift our weight to the back foot in preparation for the step. In Aikido, we use less energy and time when we step. If we make a left step, we begin by lifting our left knee until our weight drops to the left side, step with the left foot striking the ground first with the ball of the foot, then move the right foot up to balance. This produces a down-up body motion.

Common to a lot of martial arts and self-defense courses, Aikido requires movement off the line of force. The line of force is the direction your opponent is moving toward you. For instance, if a punch is coming directly at your face, the movement of force is from North to South. A simple step on your part to the North-West, West, South-West, North-East, East, or South-East, will take you off the line of force. One of the first things you will learn is the Walking Kata. The Walking Kata teaches all the basic movements of Aikido. Practically every movement in the Walking Kata takes you off the line of force.

Unlike most other martial arts, such as Karate, Tai Kwon Do, Kick Boxing, and Boxing, in Aikido, we do not meet force with force. If someone tries to hit or kick, we will not meet that force with a block or strike. Instead, we blend our movement with the attacker’s movement and vector the energy in a direction we want it to go. Whether we enter quickly or float with our opponent, our objective is to blend with their energy and create off-balance. Some Aikidoka use strikes in their techniques, but these strikes are not to knock down the opponent, but simply to distract and off-balance.

Understanding and paying attention to your opponent’s off-balance points is critical to Aikido. When your opponent gives you his energy to use, vector that energy to one of his off-balance points and he falls down. If he does not fall down, then his recovery takes him to another, more dangerous, off-balance point. Keep sending his energy, and your own, to these off-balance points, and he eventually will fall.