Grow in Grace and Knowledge
Once one has the life that leads to spiritual apprehension and understanding, one always desires more and more of this knowledge and understanding. There is this principle of growth in life. You see it in the seed. You put the little seeds into the ground, but there’s a germ of life there that’s always expanding and growing, stretching out, seeking more and more. That is the great characteristic of life. This is what differentiates something living from an inanimate object. And this is very true of those who are born again. The Scripture reminds us that we go through these stages. We are born. We are babes in Christ. Then we begin to grow. We become children. We become young men. This is John’s specification in his first epistle. Children—young men—old men. There’s this growth and this development. That is the nature of this life, just as it is of every other kind of life. Therefore we are entitled to deduce from this that one of the marks of the man who is born again is that he desires more—more of this food, more of this drink, more of this nutriment that is going to feed his mind and enable it to understand more and better and to go on and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
Now let’s be clear about this. This obviously is something that varies. I’m not saying there’s a standard that one must always desire in every particular case. Obviously not. As you get variations in growth between members of the same family, and as you get variations in the rate of growth in every one of us, so it happens in the spiritual life. All I’m contending for is that there is this element of desire for more. Now this is put to us in many ways in the Scripture. Take that verse from the First Epistle of Peter, the second chapter: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet. 2:2). Now you see the supposition. If you have tasted that the Lord is gracious, he’s arguing in a sense, though he puts it in the form of an exhortation, you will desire more of this unadulterated, pure word. That is true. He gives a picture of a newborn baby who desires milk, and so we desire the sincere milk of the Word. The apostle Paul puts it in terms of his own experience. This is, it seems to me, is the norm that we should always be recognizing and by which we should evaluate ourselves. The apostle, in spite of his amazing experiences, his unusual attainments, the work that he had been privileged to do as the Apostle to the Gentiles, can still say in Philippians 3:10 (this is his desire), “That I may know him.” You see, concerning the things he used to glory in and boast of he now says:
I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ [that’s what he’s after], and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained [he’s not satisfied; he hasn’t arrived; he hasn’t reached the goal], either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. (Phil. 3:8–15)
Be Aware of the Dangers
That’s it. You see, he’s not satisfied with what he has. He has a great deal. He knows so much. He thanks God for all that. But he’s not satisfied. He desires more, and he’s pressing after it. He can never have too much of this.
Now the very nature of the life principle within us produces that desire. In other words, a very good test of life is an awareness of our ignorance. The more a man knows in any realm, the more he’s aware of his ignorance. And it’s very true here. With this life you’re given spiritual apprehension and knowledge, and that in turn makes you aware of your ignorance. You become aware, for instance, of your past ignorance, and you’re amazed at yourself. How often have I been told this, and there’s nothing that rejoices the heart of a pastor more than this. People come to me and say, “You know, I simply cannot understand how I was so slow in seeing it. I’m amazed at myself.” They remained in such ignorance perhaps for years, but now they see it. And they see, of course, the terrible danger of ignorance. That is the ultimate trouble with the unbeliever— he’s ignorant. You see, the gospel of Jesus is truth, and truth gives light and instruction and knowledge to the mind and to the understanding. When a man is born again, he begins to realize that he had been dwelling in the ignorance of darkness. The apostle Paul says that about himself, you remember. He’s amazed that he’s a preacher at all, that this grace should be given to him who was before, he said, “A blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” But he says, “I did it ignorantly in unbelief ” (1 Tim. 1:13). The moment a man receives life and light and knowledge, he sees his former ignorance, and he’s appalled at it. He’s horrified at it. Fancy a man persecuting Christ, hating him, regarding Christ as a blasphemer. He sees it now, and he’s appalled at the terrible dangers of ignorance. And that, of course, stimulates at once the desire to receive greater and greater knowledge. He realizes what he’s missed in the past, and he doesn’t want to go on missing this.
Now this argument works unconsciously, subconsciously, but it does work. And the man, therefore, desires greater and greater knowledge. And on top of that he begins to realize the dangers of ignorance. He’s been given the mind of Christ; the Spirit has revealed the deep things of God to him. And he’s clear, as we indicated earlier, on the fundamental doctrines of salvation. But he also becomes aware, as he never was before, of the adversary, of the enemy, of the accuser of the brethren, of the subtleties of the devil. He knew nothing about that before. The unbeliever, you know, not only doesn’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, he doesn’t believe in the devil. And whether a man believes in the devil or not is a very good test of whether he is a believer or not. The unbeliever ridicules the doctrines of salvation even though he knows nothing about our conflict, which is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and the powers, against our adversary the devil. But the believer has this knowledge. And so a man who has new life and has this spiritual apprehension and understanding realizes that in a sense he’s in a very dangerous position. He’s going to be the special object of the attacks of the devil. What will the devil do with him? Well, the devil will not try to ridicule the whole of Christianity. What the devil will now do with him will be to try to insinuate certain heresies, certain errors, certain doubts and queries and questions about particular matters. That’s what the devil did in the early church, as we see in the New Testament, and that’s what he’s been doing ever since. He’s very active at the present time among evangelicals. They are looking again at the early chapters of Genesis. Have they been wrong all these years? They’ve been looking anew at evolution and so on, the supernatural. This is the subtlety of the devil.
The Christian is not merely a man who knows now that he’s been forgiven, and that’s the end of it all. Not at all. That’s merely the introduction.
Now the man who is truly spiritual and does not merely have an intellectual knowledge of the Bible recognizes these subtle dangers. And therefore he has a fear of going astray, of being led astray into error, into heresy, into mistaken notions. He can see from the New Testament that this happened to the early Christians. The history of the church confirms that; so he’s aware of this terrible danger as it confronts him. And therefore his very instinct urges him to have more and more of this knowledge.
Don’t Remain a Babe
You see what I’m trying to suggest to you, my dear friends. If you are one of those people who said, “Oh yes, I made my decision, and I’ve been a Christian ever since,” and you don’t want very much more, well, that tells us a lot about you. The people who think they have it all, that they’ve arrived, don’t. What you find about them is that at the end of fifty years they’re exactly as they were at the beginning. They don’t know any more, they don’t understand any more, they have no deeper experience. They started as babes, and they ended as babes. Though they may be old in years, they’re still spiritual babes. And you find oftentimes that such children are fractious, and they dislike learning. They dislike knowledge; they don’t want further understanding. The suggestion that they are not complete they dislike very much indeed. Children often don’t want to go to school. Well, that’s sometimes true in the spiritual realm. But when there is true life, one begins to understand these dangers and desires more knowledge, more instruction, further light on these spiritual problems in order to be saved from these various errors and dangers.
But let me put this positively, because it’s much more wonderful when you look at it in the positive way. The man who really has this life in him and has this spiritual understanding realizes that he’s like a man who has been brought in from the street into a great palace. There he was in the street with the rain and the mud, lacking food and lacking anything that gives real delight and satisfaction. Suddenly he’s taken hold of and is brought in. He’s given new clothes. He’s cleansed in the vestibule, and he’s ushered into this great palace. And there is food, and there are treasures of art and of knowledge and of everything good. Now the Christian is a man who realizes that’s the truth about him. The Christian is not merely a man who knows now that he’s been forgiven, and that’s the end of it all. Not at all. That’s merely the introduction. He’s been ushered into a great treasure house. What is he facing? Well, the apostle Paul speaks of this in writing to the Ephesians in chapter 3. He says that he is commissioned now to go to declare “among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Later on in that same chapter he states that his business is to make known unto people what is “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19). Now the moment a man gets any sort of inkling of that, he’s stretching every nerve. He wants to get at this and after it. He sees all this tremendous treasure, and he is anxious to partake of it.
Do you know anything of this eagerness? Do you know anything of this hunger and thirst after this? Are you delving into the mystery, the profundities of this great Word of God? You see all the treasure that is here, and you’re following it, and you can’t keep up with it because it’s ever going ahead of you and eluding you as you press toward the mark. You’re not satisfied. How can you be? What you have is wonderful. Of course it is. But you don’t stop there. It’s like a man at a great banquet, if you like. You don’t spend the whole of your time just drinking soup. That’s merely an appetizer. That’s merely something to stimulate your appetite. Look at the menu, my dear friend. Look right through it. There’s an order in these things, but it gets more wonderful as you go on. The man who is born again is a man who has some consciousness of this, and there is a deep desire within him to have more and more of the sincere milk of the Word, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
This article is adapted from Experiencing the New Birth: Studies in John 3 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
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