Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Notes on the Deficiencies of Youth Part 1 of 4

I've recently had occasion to recall the deficiencies of youth in their Christian walk.  By youth, I mean those Christians who are inadequately trained up in their faith.  In fact that often means youth in age - as in pre-teens, teenagers and twenty-somethings.  However, it also means older Christians as well, even those in leadership, pastors and authors and speakers nationally well known for their exposition of Scripture or things of the Faith.  If indeed, these persons are inadequately trained up in their faith, they will be immature Christians and exhibit serious and marked deficiencies in their fruit and usefulness to Christ and his Church.  For that purpose I’ve set forth to quickly and most inadequately enumerate a few of these deficiencies and how they are marked in a young believer’s life.  My hope is that someone more skilled in doctrine and communication will take up the banner and better communicate these truths.

Before I entertain the markings of immaturity, it should be pointed out that maturity in Christ does not mean perfection.  Any mature Christian will still have defects - notable and serious often.  As a mature man or woman still has defects, so too does a mature Christian.  Maturity is the expression of the whole and admits that parts are still lacking.  We continue to mature in Christ all our lives and in some expressions all of eternity; for while our spirits will one day be perfect without sin and our bodies perfect in resurrected glory - we will always, for eternity, be creation incapable of completely knowing creator in His infinitude and complete perfection.  We will know perfectly in truth but not perfectly in scope.  That is the glory and anticipation and hope of eternity - to continue to worship God anew every new day in a New Jerusalem because there is yet more to God, more to His Glory, more to His Perfection, more to His Deity that we have not yet experienced.  And so, we will in that sense, mature for all time.

However, on this earth, and in this time, while we await the redemption and glorification of our flesh, we battle against flesh and its lust to obtain Godliness in our daily walk.  This is our purpose here - Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame and has sat down at the right hand of God.”  Hebrews 3:13 “But exhort one another, day after day - while it is still called Today! lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  Sin is deceitful and it easily entangles us.  We are to lay aside sin and walk in perfection.  We are to spend our days working together corporately to kill sin and avoid the inevitable hardness that unmortified sin occasions in our lives.  This is maturity in Christ.  What follows is simply a distillation of this one truth - that sin is deceitful and hardens the Christian’s heart who is not actively engaged in a daily fight to the death against sin.

It is perhaps best to remember that the young Christian experiences Christianity through naivete.  Naivete is sometimes attractive and even put forth as a virtue.  There are those who misunderstand the command to hinder not the little children from coming unto Jesus. In Matthew 18 Jesus commands his followers to come to him as a child does.  But the analogy Jesus uses is only useful in context.  The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!  They were speaking of ambition, accomplishment, glory in a creation.  Jesus rebukes them to see how a child comes to Christ.  The child comes for different reasons, the child is not coming for personal gain, for glory, for commendation, for reasons of personal ambition.  The child comes from a position of need.  In this way, the mature Christian comes to Jesus from a position of need - our greatest need is the removal of sin in our lives for it is sin and only sin which prevents us from coming to the Father.  It is sin within our hearts, unmortified sin, hidden sin, unknown sin, which makes us enemies of God.  Our Savior dies to cover that sin and the Breath of God comes to live in our heart to mortify - to kill that sin.  We are a Church given to each other to daily commend each other to kill sin.

But naivete leads to something else.  Naivete, as a virtue ignores sin and attempts to suggest that maturity is unnecessary - the greatest Christian is the immature naive Christian because Christ commands us to come to him as children.  This is indeed a most unfortunate distortion of Matthew 18.  And it always leads to mortal danger.

I've rarely met a mature Christian younger than 30.  I've met knowledgeable Christians younger than 30 and I've met experienced Christians younger than 30.  And I have met two or three in my life who were mature.  But even Christ himself waited till he was 30 before he started teaching and ministering.  There's just so much a young Christian needs to learn that transcends Bible knowledge and ministry experience - which requires years of time in the desert.  We can take Paul’s time in the desert as an example - the disciples years walking personally side by side with Christ as an example.

I have been asked, on occasion what I mean by "it always leads to mortal danger?"  This is a fair question and to be helpful I will explain how naivete can be expressed in different ways and how those ways lead one to mortal danger.  What follows here is a particular but incomplete list of only a few ways and the particular danger that accompanies that naive expression.

Everything is simple

The first and often most insipid expression of immaturity and naivete is the "everything is simple" argument. This is the young Christian that believes the Bible is simple, the Gospel is simple and only troublemakers and those that would confuse the church make it hard with doctrine.  Indeed, doctrine is most often the enemy of Christian growth to these Christians.  Instead of growing up in doctrine, these children in the Faith see maturity as pursuit of service, of evangelism and worship.  It’s all simple and doctrine only confuses things, brings division and stifles true Christian love and spiritual growth.

The problem is it isn't simple.  Nowhere in Scripture does God ever say it's simple.  Rather it's a mystery, it's hidden, it's deep calling unto deep, it's maturity that requires searching and study
and even then Peter, as a mature Apostle of our Lord and elder of the Church acknowledges that many of Paul's teaching are just down-right hard to understand!  (2 Peter 3:16)  Peter does not rebuke Paul for making it hard.  Rather he calls them wisdom and warns against twisting them.  What is more twisting to the deep things of Scripture than the admonishment that they are unnecessary?

Jesus confounds the crowds with parables, and then patiently explains them to men who knew Scripture.  It is never simple.  Only the naive think so, and the mortal danger that accompanies the refusal to submit to the complexity of God is 1) arrogance, 2) ignorance, and 3) indifference to the mysteries of God.  We will plumb the mysteries of God for eternity!

Arrogance arises in our hearts when we pretend to “get it.”  We fail to head Peter’s admonition to not be “led astray by the error of [ ] unprincipled men and fall from [our] firm grasp on the truth.” (2 Peter 3:17)  We fail to “make every effort to be sure of [our] calling and election [so that we might] never stumble into sin.”  Indeed arrogance is most often seen in a failure to engage in the battle against sin.  Rather than fight sin we do everything possible to avoid that battle.  We attend worship services, we seek the gifts of the Spirit, we participate in book studies, we go to fellowship meetings, we listen all day to Christian music, we teach Sunday School class, we witness, we go on short-term missions, we dig wells, we feed the hungry, we smile and greet one another with an empty and shallow sincerity because we never know our own battle much less our brother’s battle against sin.  We have run as fast as we can away from the battle against sin seeking anything that can provide a sense of security that we are seeking Christ without attempting to mortify sin in our hearts.  This is the rotten, fly infested, putrid fruit of arrogance.  Instead of falling on our knees in humble admission that God is a mystery and His words are deep waters to ponder and meditate on daily, that our purpose is to build up His word into our hearts for the singular purpose that we might not sin - instead of this posture, we walk boldly into the throne room of God with putrid and defiled clothes rank with feces and and the odor of vomit as if nothing were wrong.  Arrogance most deceives us in the state of our own need of a Savior.  This indeed is the deceitfulness of sin.

Ignorance is a necessary consequence of thinking everything is simple.  When we refuse to recognize that God is immense, complex, infinite, we fail to see God for who He is.  We fall into an idolatry of believing in a simple god who isn't there.  This is a most quick spiritual death.  The mortal error of ignorance is a lack of true worship.  We go through the steps of worship, but we must continually seek higher emotional experiences to fill a void left because we are never meeting the true God of Scripture instead substituting a simple god of our own making.  The addiction of emotion-driven worship is one consequence of taking a Majestic God and substituting a simple god.  Like the alcoholic dreaming of his next drink, like the drug addict willing to do grotesque things with her body to get the next hit, like the sex addict sacrificing family and friends to get that next comforting high - the worship addict seeks to find god in an emotional experience sacrificing true knowledge of God found in the revelation of God in Scripture.

Indifference is the last of my short enumeration of consequences to the “everything is simple” expression.  When we allow the young in the Faith to believe the lie that everything is simple, these young become indifferent to the mysteries of God.  They are inconsequential to their experience of Christianity.  Indifference is manifest in a believer who fails to open Scripture on a regular basis; who fails to admonish themselves or others when they see sin creep in - indeed they begin to fail to see sin for what it is - the abject denial of God’s sovereignty.  When we sin, we rush headlong into the throne room of God, violently shoving God from the throne, seating ourselves and calling for the death of God for imposing His will on our lives.  When we live in indifference, we don't even know we're trying to kill God - we don't see sin - we don't know sin - we don't know God - we are, in perfect spiritual death, become dead to God and the things of God.

Indifference is usually the last of the consequences of this error.  We see this most often in the young in the Faith when they walk away from the Church, abandoning the Faith of their youth.  They're usually not overtly hostile to the Gospel, just indifferent.  They stop going to church.  They see little problem with having more and more ungodly friends.  They stop reading Scripture.  They die day after day and they don't even know they're dying.  Indifference is the saddest of the consequences of believing “everything is simple.”

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