Four Steps to Spiritual Maturity
Do you consider yourself to be spiritually mature? Does God? Are you growing as a Christian? This lesson outlines four important steps of spiritual growth as seen in the life of Ezra.

Today's lesson is very straightforward. It is based upon one simple concept: All Christians must make progress toward spiritual maturity. All Christians should grow! Do you believe this to be true?

I Peter 2:1,2 states - "Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." The same apostle closed his second epistle with this command - "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen" (II Pet. 3:18).

I believe that Christians are always doing one of two things. They are either growing or dying spiritually. If a person is stagnating, then in actuality he is dying. If a little child does not grow over a span of time, we would quickly become concerned--and rightfully so! If a Christian is not maturing spiritually and becoming more like Christ, then we should also be concerned. God expects us to grow!

Our intent at this time is to reflect upon four major steps to spiritual growth, as found in the life of Ezra. Ezra was a great leader in Israel during a period of restoration, and Ezra 7:10 explains the reason why he was so effective - "For Ezra had [1] prepared his heart [2] to seek the Law of the LORD, and [3] to do it, and [4] to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel." Let's elaborate upon these points.

Ezra prepared his heart for service, but how? How does a person living today prepare his heart? Some would suggest that running many miles each day and eating a lot of whole grain foods is the best way to prepare one's heart. Although that might be beneficial for one's physical heart, it won't do anything for the spiritual heart (i.e., one's mindset or attitude). Our attitudes are crucial (cf. Prov. 23:7), and they must be properly prepared.

Jesus spoke of at least two ways we can guard our hearts and prepare them. In Luke 8:18, He stated - "Therefore take heed how you hear..." When you're in Bible class, or listening to a sermon, or just reading the Scriptures on your own, how do you hear God's word? Do you do so attentively and eagerly? Or, is it boring and a great chore for you to endure a message from the word? Jesus also taught in Mark 4:24 - "Take heed what you hear..." God wants us to keep our hearts pure from wicked thoughts. "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). If we fail to prepare our hearts then we won't be able to obey the greatest commandment, which is to love the LORD our God with every fiber of our being (Matt. 22:37,38). We must apply our minds to instruction from the Lord, and our ears to His words of knowledge (Prov. 23:12).

Are you preparing your heart properly? What do you allow to enter into it? Evil things like adultery, murder, covetousness, deceit, blasphemy, and pride originate in the heart and defile an individual (Mark 7:21-23). How can one know if he has prepared his heart properly? If he is willing to be guided by God's word in every aspect of life and is willing to turn from sin immediately if he discovers it in his life, then such a one has prepared his heart before God. This is certainly what Ezra did.

Ezra prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD (Ezra 7:10). Once a person's heart is in the right place, then he is ready to seek God's will--as it is recorded in the Scriptures--with all his might. Those who are wise will learn the truth and not let go of it at any cost. They will passionately pursue wisdom and understanding. Such should be a chief priority of every Christian. No matter what the world may offer you to forsake the truth or compromise your convictions, it is not worth it!

The psalmist once wrote - "With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments" (Psa. 119:10). If one's heart is right with God, he won't be following in a lukewarm manner. One who is truly seeking God with all his heart is not as likely to wander from the Lord's commands as one who is only committed half-heartedly. Those who are pursuing the law of God love it more than earthly riches (Psa. 119:127). They are diligent to present themselves approved to God, as workers who do not need to be ashamed since they rightly handle the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). Many will be destroyed for their lack of knowledge (which leads to disobedience), but not those who are seeking God's law (cf. Hos. 4:6)! Are you seeking the Law of the Lord?

Ezra prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it (Ezra 7:10). Ezra would have been wasting his time preparing his heart and seeking to understand God's law if he didn't intend to follow through and obey God! The same is true with us today. It is vain to seek and learn and then fail to do. Knowledge without implementation is utter folly.

The Lord inquired in Luke 6:46 - "But why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Jesus was frustrated with those in His day who respected Him with their tongues but not with their deeds. Only those who are naive would think that He would be more lenient toward such behavior today.

Consider some other passages on this theme: I John 2:3,4 - "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and truth is not in him." Revelation 22:14 - "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city." James 4:17 - "Therefore to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin."

It is true that some commandments are extremely hard to obey (e.g., Ezra 10). However, if one has prepared his heart properly and is seeking God's laws, then he will be willing to follow God's wishes even in extremely difficult situations. Are you obeying (or doing) the commandments of the Lord?

According to Ezra 7:10, Ezra prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra's duty was not just to himself. He had a responsibility to teach others, and so do we! Christians must share the gospel with the world. Mark 16:15 instructs - "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Are you doing your part to teach the lost?

Additionally, we must teach and train faithful Christian men to become preachers. Paul stated in II Timothy 2:2 - "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Finally, we must teach our children the word of God and instill within them godly values. As Ephesians 6:4 teaches - "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Are you teaching others the truth?

Dear friends, if you're not growing spiritually, you're dying! Spiritual stagnation is just another term for death. Even if you think that you are spiritually mature, there is always progress to be made.

One may be able to hide a lack of spiritual growth from his fellow man, but nothing is hidden from God! Where are you in the sight of God Almighty? Does He consider you a faithful disciple of His? Does the Lord view you as one who has prepared his heart to seek His law, to do it, and to teach it to others? If the answer is no, you are spiritually immature and can certainly do better! Make the pursuit of spiritual maturity a priority in your life. Spiritual growth does not just happen on accident, it takes effort and discipline. Those who are wise will follow Ezra's example in this regard (cf. Rom. 15:4).

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.