The Growth Chart of Christian Maturity II, "On Grace in the Ear"
Last week I began a series of articles on the growth chart of Christian maturity as explained by the 19th Church of England pastor, John Newton. We began by understanding the first stage of Christian maturity as "Grace in the Blade." Newton says that this infant and toddler stage of Christian maturity gives way to the adolescent stage he calls, "Grace in the Ear." He wrote, "The Lord has visited his heart, delivered him from the love of sin, and fixed his desires supremely upon Jesus Christ. The spirit of bondage is gradually departing from him, and the hour of liberty, which he longs for, is approaching, when, by a farther discovery of the glorious gospel, it shall be given him to know his acceptance, and to rest upon the Lord's finished salvation." In this way the young Christian will grow out of this insecure stage into greater security in Christ. As his knowledge of God in Christ grows his affections toward him increase and he begins to transition into an adolescent Christian.
"Grace in the Ear"
When we describe a person growing from childhood to adulthood there is that awkward in-between time called "adolescence". In this person we see some remaining marks of childhood, yet there are glimpses of adulthood. And like a true adolescent we don't rush them into adulthood.
The adolescent Christian has a growing confidence in Christ's saving power. Newton says, that the soul of an adolescent Christians rests in Jesus "by a spiritual apprehension of his complete suitableness and sufficiency, as the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption of all who trust in him, and is enabled by an appropriating faith to say, "He is mine, and I am his." The Christian in this stage of maturity focuses on Christ as the object of his faith and his assurance grows even in the midst of his adolescent ups and downs.
God begets faith by his grace in the life of his children, and what he begins he will bring to completion in a full maturity in Jesus Christ. He deals not only with the power of sin but also the presence of sin in his children. This work of God's grace in the life of his children is a long road of sanctification. In the adolescent stage of a Christian's life God is ridding the life of the presence of sin. God is jealous over his children and continues to give them his grace in Christ to deal with sin. He gives them grace for the battle both by his indicatives and imperatives. The adolescent Christian battles sin in his life as he trusts in the all sufficiency of Christ and as he responds in faith to his commands. His heart of love, joy, peace, thanksgiving, trust and praise toward God will fluctuate as he experiences the triumvirate of the world, the flesh and the devil. As an adolescent Christian he is to be acting not as a child but as one who acts on his own grace enabled and faith informed initiative.
This adolescent stage will be stormy. As he acts on his own faith informed initiative he will meet more and more with his own flesh. His sins will be exposed to himself and others. In this adolescent stage there will be reason for humility because of his growing awareness of his own sin and the potential of his flesh in the midst of his own desires, the world and the attacks of the enemy. He must find his righteousness not in himself and his own methods but in Christ, and in Christ he must find more grace for the forgiveness of his sins and the mortification of his flesh.
The adolescent Christian is growing not in self confidence but in his trust in the sufficiency of Christ. He goes through seasons of aloneness. It will seem that the presence of God is gone from him. In these times of the wilderness and darkness he will feel even more the presence of sin in his own life. He will see his own weaknesses and his propensity to turn to false saviors and God substitutes. Yet God uses these times to purge the adolescent Christian of his self righteousness and self confidence. He will find seasons of light in the midst of this darkness, and finding himself walking in verdant pastures coming out of the wilderness as his confidence in the sufficiency of Christ increases. Sometimes he learns this even when he does not feel it as he walks by faith in Christ toward his will.
The spiritually maturing adolescent child of God learns to live by faith even when he does not feel like he even belongs to the family of God. He believes God, trusting him as he recalls the indicatives of the gospel and then he walks by faith in obedience in what he knows the will of God is revealed in his Word. This is when the adolescent begins show true signs of adulthood. He needs both a growing knowledge of who God is as revealed in his sound doctrines, just as he needs a growing knowledge of what his will is.
Finally, because the adolescent Christian learns more of his own vileness in comparison to the glory of Christ, and more of God's faithfulness even when he does not feel it, he becomes in Christ more patient and loving toward others. He learns that as he has been forgiven in Christ, he can forgive others and bear their burdens as they struggle with sin. He learns of the kindness of God that leads him to repentance and he has in Christ more of his kindness and gentleness toward others who are battling sin. He is growing toward mature Christian adulthood as he lives humbly toward God and others, shedding his scales of pride at the cross and showing others this unfathomable depth of God's grace in Christ.