Sunday, February 6, 2022

The 7 Stages of the Spiritual Journey from Birth to Death: Beginning, Prevenient grace, New Birth, Growth, Holiness, Death, & Eternity

1. Birth into a crazy world: Imago Dei / Corruption

You were born into the world, a crying baby, in a hospital most likely, with no knowledge of anything in the world around you. We are born in many ways a blank slate, however, we are born into a particular mindset, of self-interest. We are born selfish, born prone to think about ourselves first, prone to sin, to do bad things. And of course we know that reality dates all the way back to the fall. So every human born on the planet is born in a selfish, fallen state. That’s why there’s so much chaos and destruction in the world, people are naturally disposed to do evil, instead of good.

However, we also have this desire within us for something more. The bible calls it “eternity” placed in our hearts.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. -Eccl 3:11

We’re made in the image and likeness of God, we’re special, blessed, we have a desire to create and feel and grow and learn. We’re very special among God’s creation, but we’re also in rebellion, estranged from God. Two things here are true at the same time, one that we’re fallen, and also that we’re made beautifully in the image of God.

If you’ve ever seen a toddler, a child, they’re beautiful. They’re precious. They seek to learn. They begin to explore. They are fun to be around. They are innocent in many ways.

However, if you’ve ever seen a toddler, you can see how we are born with a sinful nature. They are selfish, if another child has a toy, they go and take it from them, they do bad things with you watching, to see how you’ll react. We’re all born into that state.

2. Prior to Salvation: Prevenient Grace / Free Will

Preferably, how it best works, is that parents raise their children carefully teaching them the truths of the Bible. They attend a youth group, church services, and eventually reach the age of decision, when they get to decide will I follow Jesus myself, or will I go a different direction. It should work that way, but very often it doesn’t.

So for many of us, probably most of us, we were quite confused in our teens, and wandering, and uncertain why we felt so bad, and convicted and just sort of aimless in the world.

And so we see that God begins to call us himself. It says in Acts 17:26-28 26 From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live. 27 He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; 28 as someone has said,‘In him we live and move and exist.’”

So as family and friends pray for us, God reaches out to us, and calls us to himself. We begin to be drawn toward the Creator. We can resist this process, many do, and many also begin to cooperate in this process if seeking God, and asking questions, and studying the Bible, and attending a church or Bible study. But this process can last years, of seeking God, and God calling us to himself.

But there are two factors once again, to hold together, one that God calls us to himself. Two, that we seek after God. And in that process we draw closer and closer to Jesus Christ, the cross, and the offer of eternal salvation. It’s beautiful. But free will is real. And we can either engage in it, or reject it, God will honor our choice, even if it’s the wrong choice.

3. Moment of Salvation – Second Birth / New Life

Now many in the world will never go beyond step two, of that process of being drawn to God. They will repeatedly reject God as he reveals himself in various ways, through a person sharing the gospel with them, through a bible tract, through a beautiful summer day, through a church service, they will continue to turn away from God. Most people follow that path in fact, unfortunately.

But for us blessed few, who have been called to salvation by Christ, we come to that moment of salvation. This is the moment when we are born again.

When we repent and believe Jesus Christ of Nazareth really died on the cross for us, to wash away our sins and give us eternal life, we are born again by the Holy Spirit, and become a completely new person.

Aspects of the Moment of Salvation:
Our sins are forgiven

We are justified before God

We are adopted into God’s family

We go from darkness to being light

We are filled with the Holy Spirit

We are given Christ’s righteousness as a garment

We become part of the kingdom of God

We go from spiritually blind to spiritually seeing

This for us, is the most important moment of our lives. It’s the moment when everything changes. But it’s not the end of the journey, it’s not one and done, it’s the beginning of a lifelong journey.

4. After Salvation – Growth in Sanctification / Daily Repentance

What happens after salvation? We begin a lifelong journey of following Jesus, serving others, relationship with God, and obedience to His will.

We’re called to live so very differently from the world. We're called to live by the leading of the Holy Spirit, not in our flesh, but in the Spirit's leading, living by a certain lifestyle, the lifestyle of Christ.

We’re given commands such as:
Love God, and love our neighbors

Forgive our enemies

Share the gospel with others

Feed the hungry, provide clothing, shelter, meet needs of Christians and non-Christians

Show no partiality

Be guided by God’s will

Perfect holiness in reverence for God

Pray, fast, and seek God’s face

Pray for government and spiritual leaders

Submit to gov authorities

Let your light shine

There are over 1,000 commands in the new testament, things we’re commanded by God to do or not do. We should study faithfully the word of God, and we will know how to live wisely.

5. Holiness unto the Lord – Security in Christ / Abiding in the Vine

God helps us along the journey. He is very good to us. Our part is to have faith in Him. And to continue on the journey of salvation.

So here we come to the topic of holiness. All Christians are called to go on into maturity. Many Christians remain like babies, drinking only milk, when they should be going on to solid foods.

We abide in Christ, by remaining with Christ. We continue in the faith. We don’t give up. We don’t fall away. We grow, and grow, and grow and eventually we are living as mature Christians. We go on from the basic doctrines, to deeper things of the Spirit. We practice our spiritual gifts, we serve in ministry, we fast and pray, we study our Bible, and we serve those in need. 

Sin is the greatest danger to the Christian. When we stumble into sin, it hurts our walk with God, and gives birth to disillusionment. We become frustrated, convicted, and we struggle more and more as we sin. Eventually sin will drive us away from God, if we don’t put to death the works of the flesh.

Continued obedient faith is an important part of our walk with Christ. Remain with Jesus. It's not one and done as many teach. Instead we must continue, and remain in the vine.  

John 15:1-8 says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

God the Father is the gardener, Christ is the vine, we are the branches connected to the vine, bearing good fruit in Christ. And we must remain in the vine, and if we do not remain in the vine. We'll shrivel up, and be removed from the vine, and thrown into the fire. That's hell. So we need to remain the vine.  And Christ keeps us. Two things we hold together in contention in the Bible, the fact that God preserves us in the vine, and nothing can separate us from His love, and the fact that we need to cling to Christ, and not fall away, but abide in the vine. Otherwise why would Christ command us to "remain in Him?" So we must remain in Him. 

We must abide in Christ, our whole lives, and continue in the faith, moving on toward maturity, and holiness in reverence of God.

2nd Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

Hebrews 6:1 “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.”

Hebrews 3:12-15 "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

6. Entering Glory – Physical Death / Spiritual Life

The next phase of the journey is a very difficult thing, that is facing physical death. All of us humans born on Earth must face physical death, unless we are raptured before we die, but we won’t get into that right now.

We all face physical death. That moment when we die. Hopefully it’s of old age. But death can come for us at any time. Which is why we must always be ready to meet Jesus.

Hebrews 9:27-28 “Just as man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment, so also Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many...”

When we pass through physical death, we will be brought before the throne room of God. And we’ll give an account for our lives, and the decisions we made. We will be judged, as Christians, on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Isn't that wonderful? God will look and see that we've been ransomed by the Son, and will welcome us into paradise.

However, suppose you are a Christian, who is truly born again, but lives in active sins, judges others, refuses to forgive their enemies, hates others, steals, lies, and then comes before God for judgment. That Christian will be sent to hell. Though they did receive Jesus Christ as their savior, they dirtied their garment of righteousness they were given (Revelation 3:4). They could always have repented at any time of those things. But if they never did, then they’ll have to answer for that at the judgment throne of God. Yes, Christians who live in sin can be sent to hell. So be zealous, and repent of any sins in your life. And live a daily lifestyle of repentance. But try not to worry, God will help you along the way. The Spirit will convict you daily if you're caught in sin or false doctrine, He will guide you out of it, but you must respond to His call with repentance and faith. 

7. Life after Death – New Jerusalem / The Pit

This is what I'm looking forward to, because the journey doesn’t end at physical death. After physical death, we either face eternal life in paradise or eternal life in hell. Those are the two options. There are no middle places, no purgatory, as some believe. There is no reincarnation either. We have this life, then either heaven or hell.

For us Christians who show ourselves faithful in Christ, following Jesus and believing in Jesus, we will receive a mansion, a home, in the New Heavens and New Earth, in a particular city called the New Jerusalem. This city is 1500 miles long and wide and tall. You’ll be rewarded in the New Jerusalem based on the good works you did in life. Every good deed you do in this life is like another jewel in your crown in heaven, another brick in your home in heaven. But of course only Jesus Christ can bring us into the city. The rewards for the good deeds are simply icing on the cake. There are many rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:12, Rev 22:12, Luke 12:33-34, Matthew 6:4).

That for me is when life really starts, the New Jerusalem. This current world is temporary, and empty, and pointless to me. If it were up to me, I would probably want to go to heaven right now and never return to this Earth. I do not love this world, and I hope you don’t either. We should not love the world or anything in the world. But we should have our heart’s set on a new world and a new city, with eternal foundations.

No one can really imagine what God has prepared for those who love him. No mind has conceived of it, no emotion can explain it, no words can document it. It’s beyond us. But it’s real. And it’s good. And there will be new adventures ahead, that we can hardly imagine. It won't be boring. The joy and happiness of heaven is always new, everyday, constantly new, as infinite as God himself. Glory to God, amen.