Tag Archives: Spiritual Maturity

1 Corinthians 3:1-6

1 Corinthians 3:1-6 (NRSV) – “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

Individuals in the Corinthian church were fixated on trying to affiliate with certain individuals, whether it be Paul himself or other church leaders. Paul said that this mentality of the Corinthians was “of the flesh” and in accord with “human inclinations” rather than a spiritual mindset. There is a lot of talk today about spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, and the difference between carnal Christians and mature Christians.

In the context of this passage quoted above, spiritual maturity is about recognition of God’s working. Spiritual growth, correspondingly, is about developing a more expansive view of God’s working. The more you recognize God’s influence in your life, the more you see how you have gotten somewhere or accomplished something that you would not have expected of yourself, the more you are growing spiritually, and the less “jealous” you will be of other people.

But what about the reference to “quarreling” in the passage above? This is a bit difficult because the fact is, believers have some very different doctrines and passions. I know from experience that it is difficult to engage in these matters among those who think differently without the discussions developing an argumentative tone. When you run into people who have a very strong conviction about something, and you say something to the contrary, the people you are talking to will see your comment as quarreling.

But sometimes I feel that I have to say something. For example, I will be scrolling through comments posted on Christian articles and videos, and I’ll see a comment that, while well-intentioned, really goes against certain core principles I carry. Typically, it will be a comment I consider unduly judgmental, critical, or pessimistic in a way that clashes with values connected to my faith. I will then scroll through the replies and see that seemingly everyone else posting agrees with the original commenter.

So, I post my own comment in reply. I sometimes get a reply back from somebody implying that I am quarreling. I never say anything judgmental or critical of the original commenter. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if I really needed to say what I said. If virtually everyone commenting thinks a certain way, should I have just let them be? But then, there are a few people who will click the “like” button on my comment or reply saying that they agree. I don’t live for “likes,” but nevertheless, it is meaningful to me to know that somebody read what I had to say and found it interesting. Perhaps they too were uneasy with the prevailing sentiment but did not know how to express what they thought or how to make a case for their own view. Perhaps they will think about something I said as they go about their day, and maybe this will lead to their own realization of something that will have a positive impact for them.

If what I say is able to have this impact for somebody, I do not consider it quarreling in the way that Paul describes in the passage above, because my objective is not to be dissentious. That said, the content of what I say is better if it comes from a desire to express the values I have to help people, rather than making a pronouncement of the fact I disagree with something that was said. I try to focus on appreciating the values that I believe God has instilled in me, rather than focusing on how those values differ from those of other people.

The next post in this series will continue on in Chapter 3 of this epistle.

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul opens the epistle by greeting the church and telling them that they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift.” I believe we should see ourselves in the same way. We are not fundamentally deficient in anything spiritual. Maturing as believers is about focus of attention, perspective on life, and experience that comes from seeing how God works in our circumstances. But to develop in these areas, it is important that we appreciate the spiritual nature that God has given us and have the confidence to live from that nature, knowing that God will work with it so that our lives evolve according to His will, as opposed to thinking that we are problematic people who need some intervention to live as God intended.

Paul then says that Christ will strengthen believers to the end, so that they may be blameless on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ (probably referencing the day of Christ’s return when believers are resurrected or converted to immortality). This is a bit of a difficult passage, given that I do not seem to hear that believers reach the end of their lives in a state of total perfection. My interpretation of this would be that God will work with us so that, by the end of our lives, we accomplished everything He intended for us to accomplish. Despite never becoming perfect in our earthly lives, we end our earthly lives blameless in the sense that, if there is some ideal that we failed to fully attain, God justifies the life we lived. The fact that we accomplished the good works that we did, despite personal issues, is a testimony to God’s grace and transformative power which will operate throughout the universe in the coming ages after Christ’s return.

Moving on in the chapter, Paul writes, 

 

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).

 

We need to consider what is the ultimate cause of quarrels among believers. I do not think we are as worried about each other’s beliefs as we may think we are. The real concern has to do with character. Believers tend to worry about whether other believers are responsible or properly focused on God. Individual believers have their own ideas about what doctrines (or which teachers) promote these values, and this becomes the basis for sectarianism.

The solution to this issue ultimately lies in the preceding verses, which taught that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift, and that it is God who makes us blameless. On the basis of this teaching, we should be able to trust in each other’s character, as long as there is evidence that a believer regards morality.

When we trust that our core nature is of God’s design, and that He has a sovereign plan to accomplish all that He set out to do with us, we do not have to obsess over the details of other believers’ faith. God will work things out with them.

Now, I do realize that some well-meaning believers teach things that are hard to justify Biblically, and some of these teachings can be hurtful. Paul’s writing does not forbid us to speak against such teaching. However, even in these cases, we can still be of “one mind” with those we disagree with, in the sense of respecting each other as new creations in Christ and participants in God’s plan. And I believe that if this respect is truly held, teachings that are particularly hurtful will be dropped eventually.

 

The next post will address the rest of Chapter 1.

My Thoughts on the “I” Cycle – Part 5

The New Creation “I” Phase

(I have put all of my posts on this cycle together. See the link to the right).

According to Clyde Pilkington’s model called the “I” Cycle, this new “I” phase is the point where the new creation is fully realized. I believe that this phase is easier to understand when looked at in contrast to the phases preceding it. For example, consider the preceding phase, the “God” phase, where the focus is on God’s sovereignty and predestination. Though that phase often brings a sense of relief and assurance to those who enter it, it can also have some drawbacks if one gets “stuck” in that phase.

For example, Clyde Pilkington says, “A lot of people who begin to see the sovereignty of God seem to lose their personal identity . . . [God] didn’t create all of us so that we would just all be Him; he created us to be ourselves (23:10 – 24:00).”

I believe that the full realization of the new creation resolves some issues that existed as previous phases of the cycle. In particular, I want to look at this concept of “being yourself.” At the beginning of the cycle, in the “old-creation” phase, people are living to be themselves, and they see this as their right and their purpose in this world. But when they start to develop a spiritual aspect of life, their paradigm changes.

If people move on to the “I and God” phase, they are mostly being themselves but they keep God in the picture through means such as prayer, rituals, or worship. Later, if they progress to the “God and I” phase, Christians make a conscious effort to surrender their own identity and conform to the will and nature of God.  Then, if they cross the bridge to the “God” phase, they see God as sovereignly operating in them apart from a unique identity. Thus, the first and second phases involve engagement with one’s identity, and the third and fourth phases involve distancing from one’s identity.

But at the destination of the cycle, when the new creation is fully realized, one’s identity becomes the focus again, but it is a reoriented identity. You are being yourself, but you are aware that as a new creation, God’s spirit is working through your interests, passions, and personality.

I must admit that I have some difficulty grasping this at times. Though I can understand it conceptually, I am still learning how this works in the practical aspects of day to day life. From my own experience, there isn’t a precise methodology behind this.

Regarding the new creation, another commentator on the I-Cycle, Martin Zender, says,

We don’t lose our identity . . . we gain it. [The Apostle Paul’s] basic personality didn’t change. The “I” didn’t change. The basic self became transformed by the Cross. Now, he could be himself, he had discovered himself, and that personality of his, that ‘go get ’em guy’, was now transformed and he became a servant of God. You don’t lose yourself, in that sense. You gain it. You have an identity, it’s your identity, and you have a name. Paul . . . didn’t give up who he was. He actually found his true self in Christ (4:40 – 5:48)”

Some passages of Scripture relevant to this topic include:

Galatians 2:19-21 – “I have been crucified with Christ;  and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God

Phil. 2:13 – “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Sometimes, Christians feel a need to qualify passages such as these because they do not want to give them impression that God is “controlling” people apart from their own initiative. But what if, instead of looking at these passages as excuses for gravitating toward inaction, we viewed the Scriptures as liberating us to act, by giving us freedom to act in accord with our nature, trusting that our nature is being oriented by the work of the Holy Spirit?

There is a progression in the way people view themselves as they go around the cycle. In the starting phase, the “old-creation” phase, people often do not see anything inherently wrong with themselves. Though they may recognize certain weaknesses, they also believe that they have the power to overcome those problems, if only they can find it.

But then, if they progress to the “I and God” phase, they realize that they do have inherent problems that would keep them from succeeding in life without God being with them to help them through. Then, if they move on to the “God and I” phase, they realize that their inward problems are so far reaching that the only way to overcome them is to fully submit themselves to God and seek His will in all matters of life.

And then, if Christians move on to the “God” phase, they still think that something is inherently wrong with them, to the extent that they often wait for God to whoosh in and cause dramatic, inward changes to make them follow His will.

But, if a deeper realization of the new creation is attained, all of the sudden, we do not have to see anything inherently wrong with ourselves. A lot of Christians talk about a dichotomy between the old creation and the new creation, and that they must seek after the spiritual ways of the new creation rather than the selfish ways of the old creation. I understand why Christians see themselves this way. After all, even as believers, people are quite capable of acting awry. Why is that?

I believe it is not because any aspect of ourselves is inherently wrong. After all, we are new creations, and Paul says that as new creations, old things have passed away, and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

However, the new creation needs to be oriented. Its nature is inherently pure, but it needs to be channeled in a beneficial way. It needs to find appropriate ways to express itself. I believe that this is the goal for us as believers. A helpful analogy might be a piano that is in perfect hardware condition, but needs to be tuned to sound good. The Bible’s instructions for how to live serve as tuning guides. Likewise, seeking God’s will is not about trying to suppress any part of ourselves. Rather, it is about tuning our natures.

That concludes my thoughts on the “I”-Cycle for now. I hope that these commentaries have provided insights into your own experiences and inspired some new ideas to ponder. As I said earlier, I myself am still in the process of figuring out how all of these concepts apply on a practical level, so feel free to reply with your own interpretations and experiences.

Works Cited:

Clyde Pilkington: The “I” Cycle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w53DgB9Fks)

Martin Zender: The “I” Cycle, Part 4 (http://martinzender.com/new_zender_sheridan/Zender_Special/zender93.htm

 

 

My Thoughts on the I-Cycle (Part 3)

The “God and I” Phase

This is a continuation of my series of post on Clyde Pilkington’s theory of the I-Cycle. Here are the links to Clyde’s video and my summary of the cycle:

Clyde Pilkington’s Video

My Summary

This post examines the “God and I” phase of the cycle. This is the phase where people decide to fully submit their lives to God. They decide to seek his guidance on all matters of life, and they commit to following His will instead of their own.

This is the phase which many Evangelicals hold as their paradigm. Often times, Christians enter this phase because they believe that, when following their own desires, they are getting into all sorts of trouble. Maybe they know what is right but cannot get themselves to follow through. Or maybe plans in life that sounded good at one time are going awry, causing continual frustration. Perhaps these Christians were involved in some truly noble endeavors, but lacked success in those pursuits and are growing weary, finding themselves in a quandary of guilt or self-questioning.

Thus, these people come to believe that the only way out of these predicaments is to follow God’s leading in all matters of life. Many Christians in this phase have a strong spiritual focus. For example, they may spend a lot of time in prayer and meditation. They place a lot of emphasis on following the Holy Spirit instead of their flesh or their minds. They believe that in order to live for God, they have to set aside their mental feelings and urges (which they consider to be corrupt and selfish) and instead follow their spiritual intuition, which they view as a deeper part of themselves that has the life of God.

Many Christians in this phase feel a sense of peace that they lacked before. Instead of simultaneously living for themselves but also trying to follow a set of religious rules, they feel free and empowered now that they can follow the Holy Spirit’s leading instead of trying to conform to fixed rules or ordinances that they never quite succeeded at. Furthermore, they perceive that their selfish tendencies are now being subdued since they are no longer tantalizing those tendencies with their own desires and ambitions of life.

I consider this to be the first phase of the “I”-Cycle that has a Biblical basis for fully living in it. For example, the Apostle James writes,

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15).

Also consider the following passage from the Apostle Paul,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect(Romans 12:1-2).

In this “God and I” phase of the I-Cycle, Christians often seem to be “on fire” for God. This is where being “separate from the world” really becomes a prominent part of one’s mentality. As opposed to the previous phase, where one’s faith is more of a private aspect of life, many Christians in the “God and I” phase take their faith public and engage in faith-related discussions with those around them.

Christians who have reached this phase often serve as “spiritual role models” for those who are in the earlier phases. Some Christians who reach this phase are comfortable living in it for the rest of their lives. However, there are others who develop tensions while living in this phase, which lead to further developments in their spiritual journey.

I want to describe some common characteristics in the journey to, through, and beyond this phase, based on many testimonies I have read.

Often times, Christians enter the “God and I” phase out of a sincere desire to know God’s will and have a deeper relationship with Him. They often have a healthy sense of humility and inward peace as they keep their focus on God rather than themselves. Their relationship with God is like a new world for them, and the spiritual distance between themselves and the rest of the world isn’t bearing upon their minds. However, there comes a point where they notice the distance.

When the distance grabs their attention, they observe that they are making a lot of sacrifices to keep God first in their lives, whereas other people are carelessly going about their own ways. At this point, they start becoming a bit self-righteous about their choice to follow God. They sense that they are striving to maintain their spiritual purity amid a world that’s going down the drain. They may eventually become overwhelmed and burned out.

At that point, some of these Christians step back into a mentality that resembles the previous phase of the I-Cycle, “I and God.” However, other Christians move forward into the next phase of the cycle, the “God” phase, which we will look at in the next post.

My Thoughts on the “I” Cycle – Part 2

The “I and God” Phase

I am continuing my interpretation of the “I Cycle,” a theory about spiritual development created by Clyde Pilkington from the ministry StudyShelf. Here is a link to Mr. Pilkington’s video (Clyde Pilkington – The I-Cycle). The “I and God” Phase is discussed during 2:10 – 4:00 in the video.

Here is my own post where I summarized the whole cycle (I-Cycle Summary).

In the last post, I looked at the starting point of the cycle, the old-creation “I” phase. That phase is where people feel that the world revolves around themselves and that they are entitled to have their desires met.

Some people live their entire lives in that phase. But others move beyond, and come to a point where they realize that they themselves do not have the power to overcome all of life’s challenges. They realize that they are going to need God’s help to get through certain circumstances. Thus, they enter the “I and God” phase. I will share my thoughts on this phase based on testimonies I have read and people I have personally known.

“I and God” believers are still, for the most part, making their own decisions for their lives, and going about their business as they would without their faith. However, they also keep God in their minds and see Him as being there for them when they need help. They may pray regularly, attend church, and read books about spirituality to see how God can help them. However, their faith is likely to be somewhat of a private aspect of their lives, and they probably do not talk about their faith to everyone they encounter.

These people do not like to be intruded upon. Their minds tend to filter out the words of preachers who would try to make them feel guilty, or tell them that they have to change their lives in some radical way. They are easily turned off by pushy religious folks. “I and God” believers often think that their religious life needs to be properly balanced with other aspects of life. When they read the Bible, they probably see it through the lenses of their own moral judgments, and more or less feel vindicated by the Bible’s admonitions, though they may be open to adjustment on some matters of character or attitude.

The “I and God” Christians are a widely varied group in terms of their spiritual walk. Some of them may be mature spiritually. However, others have a tendency to be viewed as “lukewarm,” “carnal,” or “baby Christians.” They could be seen as trying to get the benefits of being a believer without totally committing their lives to Christ.

Among “I and God” believers, lifestyles vary widely. Some of them are still very much living however they want to. However, my personal feeling is that their attitudes have changed from the previous phase. Instead of entitlement and being the center of the universe, their attitudes shift to rationalization. On one hand, they perceive that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to live. However, whether consciously or subconsciously, they rationalize to say that the way they want to live is morally acceptable. Thus, they see themselves as obedient to God while basically living however they want.

But there are other Christians in this group who are making efforts to live as they honestly perceive the Bible to teach. However, they may be troubled by a lack of self-control. They feel bad when they do something wrong, but the effort they make to follow through with repentances may seem somewhat lacking in fervor.

However, I also think there is a third group of believers within the “I and God” phase. These people are very self-disciplined, and are very much staying away from moral vices. They feel that they are good Christians by virtue of their self-controlled and motivated natures, and thus, even though they are still following their own ambitions, they perceive God’s approval to be upon their lifestyles.

There are some believers who remain in the “I and God” phase for the rest of their lives, and I am not trying to say that there is anything inherently “wrong” with that, for I believe it is God who determines what phase a person will reach in this life.

However, if people move beyond the “I and God” phase, it is often prompted by adversity or temptation which they feel they cannot overcome unless they completely surrender their lives to God. When they come to that point, they enter the “God and I” phase of the “I-Cycle.” We will look at that phase next time.

 

The “I” Cycle (Summary)

In my last post, I shared a link to the video where the writer Clyde Pilkington describes his theory called the “I” Cycle. I first heard about the “I” Cycle in 2013. I thought it was interesting, but it was not until here lately that I suddenly realized how powerful this model could be. I believe that this model for spiritual growth could profoundly address many of the debates facing believers today, in particular, the faith-works controversy.

Before I give my own thoughts on the “I” Cycle, I want to summarize Mr. Pilkington’s theory in case you didn’t have time to watch the whole video.

Phase 1: The old-creation “I”

This is where people begin life. Infants are only aware of their own needs. As they grow into early childhood, they gain awareness of the broader world but see the world as revolving around themselves, and feel entitled to have their desires met. Some people continue this self-centered mentality into adulthood.

Phase 2: “I and God”

At this phase, people decide to make God a part of their lives. They realize that there are situations in life in which they need His help. Although they may engage in church and prayer, they are primarily following their own pursuits and ambitions, even though they see God as being available when they need Him.

Phase 3: “God and I”

This is where people decide to put God first in their lives. They often realize that, left to themselves, they are creating a lot of trouble. So, they decide to surrender their lives to God and follow Him step by step.

Phase 4: “God”

At this phase, people put more emphasis on God’s sovereignty. They come to believe that God is not relying on their own obedience for His will to be fulfilled, even though He may choose to use them. People in this phase often reject the concept of free will.

Phase 5: The new-creation “I”

Here, at the completion of the cycle, people come to fully see themselves as new creations in Christ. In contrast to the “God and I” phase, people are no longer focused on “submitting” themselves to Christ. Instead, they see the life of Christ as inherently expressed through their lives. At the same time, in contrast to the “God” phase, people do not let their comprehension of God’s sovereignty inhibit them from getting into action or acknowledging their own accomplishments. They no longer think that God has to swoop in and do something with them in order for His plans to be fulfilled. Instead, seeing themselves as new creations, they are free to act without having to worry about some part of them interfering with God’s plans. Life is no longer about overcoming one’s natural state to conform to a “correct” state. Instead, as new creations, people are free to be who they are.

Here is the link to Mr. Pilkington’s video where he discusses the “I” Cycle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w53DgB9Fks

In my next post, I will share my own thoughts on each of these phases and how I see them reflected in the Bible, and the lives of believers. I also want to show ways in which this model could address debates in the church today.