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Are You Stuck in Spiritual First-Grade?

आध्यात्मिक विकास

Are You Stuck in Spiritual First-Grade?

The city of Ephesus was a place of great education and learning in ancient times.

Situated right in the heart of the city was an amazing place called Philosophers’ Square, crowned with the magnificent Library of Celsus, the third-largest library in the world at the time. Appropriately called “the light of Asia,” Ephesus attracted people from all over the continent who came to study and learn in this city and unique facility. The ruins still stand as a striking testimony to its former greatness.

Great arches still stand at one side of the Philosophers’ Square through which people walked as they entered the Central Marketplace in the heart of the city. Directly opposite the arches are steps leading up to what was once called the School of Tyrannus, where the apostle Paul taught New Testament doctrine to countless people for more than two years while he resided in Ephesus. Acts 19:9,10 tells us that he taught every morning and afternoon until, finally, the name of Jesus and the Gospel message were known all over Asia.

 Why would the apostle Paul commit to that kind of rigorous, sustained schedule of teaching God’s Word for such a prolonged period? Because Paul believed that it was imperative for the Word of God to be taught so people would have a foundation on which to build their lives. This was particularly true for the new believers who had been saved out of paganism and had no idea what the Word of God said about right and wrong. They literally needed someone to take them to school to establish them in the principles of good Christian doctrine.

 That’s what sound Bible doctrine does — it establishes a foundation. It was important for the early Church, and it’s important for the modern Church.

Today’s Church

Allow me to be frank with you. I am very concerned about the state of the modern Church. What bothers me the most as I travel and visit churches, especially across the Western world, is that I often see an absence of good Bible teaching.

In my travels, I hear a lot of good motivational and inspirational preaching. I encounter a great deal of amazing praise and worship music. However, I see a real void of solid, foundational Bible teaching. This troubling trend is evident in the Christian community. More and more, believers are beginning to know less and less of the Bible.

This is a very serious state of affairs within the Church at large. When there is an absence of the teaching of Scripture, it creates an unstable, catastrophic situation for the people of God. They lose their ability to discern what is right and what is wrong or to make decisions, based on godly wisdom, about what they should and shouldn’t do in their lives.

On the other hand, the Bible is the immovable plumb line. And where the Bible is the immovable plumb line in people’s lives, those people become firmly established on the foundation of God’s Word. It is for that reason that I am fully engaged in praying for and working toward a revival of the Bible in the Church at large. There is nothing more wonderful than the Word of God. It is a platform we can build our lives on. And when the Word of God is exercised and actively working in us, it thoroughly prepares us for life.

Stuck in the ‘First Grade’

Scholars are not sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. Perhaps it was the apostle Paul, but what we know for sure is that its real Author was God, and it was designed for you and for me! We also know for sure that the writer God used to pen this epistle was concerned about his readers. We can see the author’s concern stated in Hebrews 5:12:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

It seems these Hebrew believers were stuck spiritually. At a time when they should have already been very advanced, they needed to be taught the ABCs of their Christian faith all over again.

Let me start our discussion on this passage of Scripture by sharing an illustration to bring my point home. Let’s say that you’re walking down a school hallway and you look into a classroom of first-graders, where you see a room full of children sitting at their little desks, studying along with their teacher. But then you notice that right in the middle of all those first-graders is a 60-year-old man, sitting on a little chair at his tiny desk. There he sits, oversized and squeezed into his space, studying the ABCs and other elementary principles, along with all the other first-graders.

If the man had never had the opportunity for an education, it might seem admirable that he would humble himself to attend a first-grade class and learn. However, what if that man had been sitting at that tiny desk for years and years and years? Suppose he had been required to repeat the first grade over and over because he didn’t apply himself, he was too lazy, or he just didn’t take the need to study and grow seriously? Suppose it is a result of his lack of commitment to learn that he is still sitting in the same chair at the same desk more than 50 years later. Suppose that is the reason all his former classmates have grown up and gone on to have families and careers, and this man is still stuck where he began.

Such a scenario would be bizarre indeed, especially if that 60-year-old man was mentally sound. That may sound very strange, but that is actually happening in the Church all the time. People come to Christ, and, in a certain sense, they go to first grade spiritually. They are new Christians, and it’s time for them to learn “the ABCs” of the Christian faith. But often because these believers don’t apply themselves, or because they are never correctly taught, they never really embrace and apply those foundational principles to their own lives. Therefore, they never graduate to the next level spiritually, and they remain stuck in “the first grade.”

Prerequisites for Spiritual Maturity

 Just because you grow older in age doesn’t mean that you’re automatically maturing. In the same way, just being older in the Lord doesn’t necessarily make you spiritually mature. You have to apply yourself to wisdom and become exercised by truth. First, you have to hear the truth and receive it as truth. Then you have to decide to act on the truth as a way of life. In this way, you are exercised by the truth — the process by which you mature so you can eventually graduate to the next spiritual level.

So I want to ask you: What is your level of spiritual maturity right now? Are you still in elementary school, or have you attained college-level spiritually? Or are you somewhere in between? Most importantly, what is your spiritual status in God’s eyes? This is really a very important question. We all need to honestly assess ourselves in order to grow spiritually. No one who remains stagnant grows.

Let’s look again at Hebrews 5:12, where the writer of Hebrews wrote of his concern that his readers were not where they were supposed to be spiritually:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

 Notice how this verse begins: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers….” This word “ought” is the Greek word opheilo, which describes an obligation; a necessity; something that should be achieved or accomplished; something that is owed; or a moral duty. It refers to a response to something a person has heard or seen. In this case, the word refers to Christians who have heard and seen a great deal of God’s truth and are now morally obligated to be able to correctly communicate and even teach that truth to others. They’ve been in class so long that they should know the subject inside and out.

That is why the verse continues to say, “You ought to be teachers.” The word “teachers” is the plural form of the Greek word didaskalos. This word didaskalos is a very important term here, describing a masterful teacher or someone who is superior in his field of expertise. It was the very word used in the First Century to describe rabbis. So the writer of Hebrews was basically saying to his readers, “After all the church meetings you’ve attended and after everything you have heard with your ears and seen with your eyes, you are actually morally obligated by this time to be masterful at your subject.”

This is a serious statement the Holy Spirit was making to those Hebrew believers, as well as to us today. Think about your own life. Consider the deluge of sermons, teachings, and lessons you’ve heard in church, on audio recordings, in Bible studies and classes, on the Internet, through social media, etc. If you’re at all interested in spiritual matters, you have probably been inundated with the Word of God coming at you from every direction. And given the volume of spiritual information you’ve ingested over the years, you might conclude that you ought to be quite far along spiritually.

That was exactly the case with the Hebrew believers whom the writer of Hebrews was particularly addressing in this epistle. However, in their case, they were not very far along spiritually at all. In fact, the writer went on to say, “…Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.”

That word “need” is the word chreia, which describes a lack, a need, or a deficit that needs to be met. The writer was identifying that these Hebrew believers had a spiritual problem: They were saved, but they didn’t know the fundamental truths of Scripture they needed to build their lives upon. They were still at a baby stage spiritually.

So when the writer wrote, “Ye have need,” he was saying, “You have a deficit; you have a lack.” Then he identified their need: “that someone teach you the first principles of the oracles of God.”

These Hebrew believers had a spiritual problem: They were saved, but they didn’t know the fundamental truths of Scripture they needed to build their lives upon.

They were still at a baby stage spiritually.

The word “principles” is the Greek word stoicheion. This word describes basic elements, fundamentals, or rudimentary knowledge. The word “first,” the Greek word arches, describes the first, the beginning, or something elementary. Early philosophers used this word stoicheion to describe the arche (first) elements — in other words, the elements without which nothing else could find existence. These are the elements that form the “building blocks” comprising all of constructed creation. Thus, these “principles” are the basic truths upon which rests the entire house of New Testament truth.

In Hebrews 5:12, the word stoicheion refers to foundational knowledge, or as the verse states it, “first principles.” So by saying “first principles,” the writer was describing the fundamental knowledge that is required for every believer to obtain before he can advance to a higher level of spiritual education.

The Six ‘First Principles’

An example in the natural of the “first principles” concept would be a child learning to read. That child can’t read deep, intellectually complex literature until he first learns his ABCs and how to read simple English sentence structures. Only then can he move on to literature that contains more complex sentence structures and expounds on deeper and more profound concepts.

Let’s skip ahead for a moment to Hebrews 6:1 and 2, where we are given what the Bible calls “the principles of the doctrines of Christ” — those first, or elementary, principles that every Christian should know. It says:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

In this verse, the Bible gives us the elementary principles — or as the Greek word indicates, the starting points — that every believer should know. In other words, this verse gives us the ABCs, the foundational bedrock, of the Christian life.

There are six of these elementary principles:

  1. Repentance from dead works

  2. Faith toward God

  3. The doctrine of baptisms

  4. The laying on of hands

  5. Resurrection from the dead

  6. The doctrine of eternal judgment

These are the ABCs of the Christian life. And when believers do not know these fundamental doctrines, it causes them to struggle and make catastrophic mistakes in their lives.

Had these Hebrew believers who were being addressed learned these foundational doctrines earlier, they would have been further along in their walk with God. This is also a very real issue in the modern-day Church. Many Christians try to act like they are on a very advanced spiritual level. But too often, they don’t even know the ABCs of their Christian faith — and that lack of knowledge causes them to make critical mistakes.

First Things First

I want to give you a natural example of this truth from my own life. When I was an adolescent, I became physically sick and couldn’t go to school for nearly half a year. During that extended period of lost class time, I missed a very important time when they were teaching new concepts in mathematics.

I had struggled with mathematics even before this happened, but having missed this very important slice of time during the seventh grade, I found myself utterly lost in math class when I returned to school. They had all covered material I hadn’t covered, and it was if they were all speaking a foreign language!

At the end of that school year, I graduated to the next class. But throughout that next school year, I continued to struggle because I hadn’t learned the fundamentals everyone else had learned.

Then I went into the ninth grade and faced the prospect of ninth-grade algebra. I remember being so afraid to go to my algebra class! If I’d been lost in math in the seventh and eighth grades, how in the world was I going to do algebra in the ninth grade? And as it turned out, I wasn’t able to pass in algebra that year — not because I was stupid, but because I had missed the first principles. I had missed the rudimentary knowledge that was essential before I could advance to the next level of education.

This is what happens with many believers. They “skip class” when it comes to their “ABCs” — the fundamental doctrines of their faith — yet they try to advance to become “upperclassmen,” claiming a high level of spirituality. But because they’re not equipped to advance, these Christians subsequently come to wrong spiritual conclusions. They embrace teachings that sound interesting but don’t quite fit with the Word of God, and they’re not able to discern what isn’t right. And the reason they keep coming to such inaccurate spiritual conclusions is that they missed the fundamentals, the first principles, of the Christian faith that are absolutely essential for growth.

I’m amazed sometimes at the foolishness that some Christians embrace and believe. I can often see that these same people are very sincere and passionate about the Lord, but it’s quite evident to me that a lot of what they espouse as biblical doctrine is just spiritual silliness. Why do people embrace such nonsense? Because they’re not established in fundamental, rudimentary spiritual truth — the basic doctrines of Christ that give us our sure foundation.

That foundation of fundamental spiritual truths provides a platform on which to build everything else in our lives. It informs our Christian experience and affects the way we perceive what is right and what is wrong. It tells us what we are to believe and what we need to reject. It gives us tools and instruments by which to make decisions and helps us come to correct conclusions.

That’s why it is so essential that you avail yourself of solid teaching on fundamental Bible doctrines in our walk with God. The truth is, you’re headed for trouble if you don’t have a truly strong, Bible-based foundation in your life. You could end up making catastrophic spiritual calculations — and that is an outcome you want to avoid at all costs.

That foundation of fundamental spiritual truths provides a platform on which to build everything else in our lives. It tells us what we are to believe and what we need to reject. It gives us tools and instruments by which to make decisions and helps us come to correct conclusions.

It’s so tragic when people make wrong spiritual decisions that adversely impact their life course, their relationships, and even their destinies in God. My friends, we must learn our ABCs, and we must practice them!

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