Danny Dutton, age eight from Chula Vista, California, wrote the following for his third grade homework assignment to “Explain God”:
“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grown-ups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way, He doesn’t have to take up His valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.”
“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because He hears everything there must be a terrible lot of noise in His ears, unless He has thought of a way to turn it off.”
“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting His time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.”
“Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of Him preaching to them and they crucified Him. But He was good and kind like His Father and He told His Father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK.”
“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy it’s God. Don’t skip church or do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong! And, besides, the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.”
“And that’s why I believe in God.”
This is a cute story, but an important lesson can be learned here as well. Though children can have some remarkably deep thoughts about God, mostly they are immature in their faith, failing to be able to think correctly about God. It is our job as parents in the Church to help them grow in their faith.
Sadly, in my almost fifteen years of serving as a pastor in four different churches, I have found that many adult Christian’s understanding of God is not much deeper than this eight year olds. There is a maturity problem in the Church, not just with children, but more importantly with adults. Ironically, after I began my study for this week’s sermon, I received the June copy of Christianity Today, whose cover story was entitled “The Juvenilization of the Church.”
According to the article the youth culture which dominates this country has become the norm in our adult expression of Protestant faith. Though the youth culture has injected a somewhat good correction to a stodgy and often lifeless worship, we have too oversimplified our faith, thinking that adults, like children, can’t “get” God. Many of the same methods we have used to reach children with the Gospel are now the same methods we use to communicate the Gospel to adult believers. The net effect has been that only a small minority of American Christians, children or adults, have grown up in their faith.
Although Jesus said we needed to have the simple trust-like faith of children, He didn’t say we should stay that way. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews said that we should attain to a mature faith, not feeding on the soft milk of the faith, but moving on to eating the strong meat of the Gospel (Hebrews 5:12-14).
I see three clear steps we can take to ensure that we can grow up in our faith by looking at the story of Isaiah’s call to ministry found in chapter 6:1-8.
Scripture (Isaiah 6:1-8)
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
I) Growing Up In Your Faith Means Understanding The True Nature Of God
The first step in growing up in our faith will entail us having a more comprehensive view of the nature of God. It has been my experience, due to the finiteness of humans, that we each have a narrow paradigmatic view of God. That is, we have a paradigm or a model that predominates our understanding of God. We normally don’t move from this jumping-off-point far enough to balance the various attributes and characteristics of God into a comprehensive whole.
Some of us rightly see God as ultimate good–the essential God, who is love. The Apostle John said this, as do all the writers of the New Testament. I prefer this paradigm myself, but we must be careful that this picture of God does not create some cheap sentimental, quaint view of God. So, without a balance viewed, a grown-up view of God, He becomes Father Christmas, Mother Earth, or worse the kindly salesman who has convinced us to accept his offer of eternal fire insurance so that we can live in blissful heaven when we die.
Some Christians, who are oriented towards God as Ultimate Truth, have a very dry, analytical understanding of God. This picture is often focused too much on judgment, rules, and sometimes even fear. Though, the Scriptures speak clearly of God as judge, lawgiver, and as One to be revered, without a corresponding view of God as merciful, kind, longsuffering, and good, we are left to wonder why anyone would want to follow what seems to look like a mean, spiteful, and unjust God.
Another movement in the church which is firmly based in Scripture is that God is the God of grace. But in the skewed version of grace, we are saved by grace, we are sanctified by grace, yes, everything is grace, and nothing but grace. This over-correction of the Roman Catholic theology of grace/works has left a lot of people wondering why Jesus ever said that we had to obey Him. In the extreme system of grace there is no need for discipleship if. Jesus said He did not come to overturn to Law, but to fulfill it. Thus, the moral law of God still applies to all Christians.
Isaiah’s Vision Of God Is Comprehensive
So what do learn from Isaiah? Isaiah’s call is predicated on his vision of the true nature of God. When we are called by God to salvation or to His service, we need to know who is calling us. We need to understand who is on the other end of the phone.
Years ago, while attending a denominational council, I was part of a fervent prayer meeting. This meeting went on for hours. One of the pastors asked us to pray that he would be able to raise $500,000 to complete the building project the church had begun. We prayed fervently for this request for the next ten minutes. About twenty minutes later, someone rushed in and said they had just received an email informing him that he had just been given a million dollar inheritance. The room filled with a buzz of excitement that was palpable, with people shouting “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah!” I stood by very skeptical, and then asked the person who received the email, who it was from. Of course, he had no idea. It was the old Nigerian Email Scam. I was blown away that someone so educated could fall for something so well known to be a scam. Sadly, there are people today still falling for the same scam. They are trusting someone they do not know.
Likewise, in our personal relationships, especially in our romantic relationships [single people listen to me now], you should not make life-long marital commitments to someone you do not know. You must know who they are before you can say I want to spend the rest of my life with them. Don’t shut your eyes to those character qualities that are deficient in your boyfriend or girlfriend. By not wanting to know everything you can about the one you profess you love, you actually deny your true love for that person. So it is with God.
Jesus said, “Before you build a tower, won’t you sit down and estimate the cost before you build, so that you will ensure that you have enough to get the job done.” Simply put, Jesus is saying don’t become a Christian without making sure you know what you are getting into–until you have a clear understanding of who God is and what His calling means for the rest of your life.
Isaiah understood clearly who it was who was calling him. He saw God high and lifted up, seated on the throne of heaven. He realized that as a man there was a great gulf between man and God—a gulf that can only be bridged by God Himself.
Isaiah also saw God as the Sovereign King of the Universe. God is all-powerful. He is in control, and we are not. One of the soldiers in my battalion, who attended my chapel services in Iraq, said he saw a billboard once that said that God was in control. He disagreed with that statement vehemently. He believed he was in control, and God was there to help him—God was his co-pilot. His view of God was stunted to the point that if I could not convince him that God was truly in control, I would have to tell him that God cannot be God unless He is Sovereign. To believe in a God who is not sovereign is to not believe in God at all. It is functional atheism.
Isaiah reports that the angels sing around the throne, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty.” This is the same song that the angels in the Book of Revelation were singing when St. John had a vision of God in heaven. It is also the song we, as believers, will sing for all of eternity at the consummation of all things.
I think it was John MacArthur or maybe R.C. Sproul who said, the Bible nowhere reports that “God is love, love, love.” He is thrice holy. He is holy, holy, holy! He is perfect, He is without sin, He is glorious, and in His holiness is unapproachable. I remember the Beatles singing that song, “All you need is love, love, love; love is all you need.” But that is not the Word of God, His self-revelation of who He is. God is Holy, Holy, Holy!
Isaiah’s vision of God and his call is made clear upon a deeper revelation of God, and we will never grow up in our faith until we see God for who He truly is as He is revealed in Christ and His Word. If we are not in His Word, we will never know who He is that is calling.
II) Growing Up In Your Faith Means Responding Appropriately To God’s Character
To grow up in our faith means we will respond appropriately to this comprehensive understanding of God’s character.
Isaiah rightly understands his inadequacy before God. He has no right to see this majestic vision or even stand before God. Isaiah rightly understands his position as a sinner before the holy God. He understands that in comparison to God he is a dreadful sinner.
As we read Scripture we might be lulled into the idea that Isaiah is a hero or maybe think of him is one of the good guys, just like we may see ourselves as one the good ones. But since Isaiah is grown up in his faith, he realizes that he is a dreadful sinner in need of mercy and salvation. He knows he has no business being the very presence of God. Without understanding the nature of our own depravity before God, we will not see our need for a savior or salvation.
The juvenilization of our faith has been so impacted by the self-esteem movement that we sometimes think it wrong to tell people that they are sinners. We are all sinners; we all fall short of the glory of God. We cannot stand before a Holy God until we stand in the righteousness of Jesus, until we have received the grace of God through Jesus.
So, after Isaiah receives the vision and understands God’s true nature, he is contrite and immediately confesses his sinfulness. He stands not as the Pharisee does in the temple thanking God for his own righteousness, but as the publican acknowledging that he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy.
And, of course, because the character of God is wholly good and full of grace and abounding in mercy, God takes away the sins of those who repent.
III) Growing Up In Your Faith Means Stepping Up And Going
Thirdly, we are only going to grow in our faith when we decide to trust and obey, to step up to the plate and go where God tells us to go.
No one receives a call, responds appropriately in contrition and confession, and is left to his or her own devices. Isaiah, now cleansed by the grace of God, is commissioned to be His messenger. Similarly, after we have received the Holy Spirit in baptism we are all called to be Christ’s ambassadors.
So, growing up in your faith means understanding the call and the caller, being contrite, regularly confessing your sins, and obeying the commission. In the Army if you don’t volunteer, you are in danger of being “voluntold.” But the mature believer, knowing the nature of God, having received the blessing of salvation, never needs to be coerced by God, but is willing to step up to the plate and go and do God’s work.
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and makes disciples of all the nations.” Since, we have received the call, since we have confessed our sins, since we have the power, we can now carry out the commission.
Growing in your faith is that simple, not easy, but nevertheless, simple: It is obedience to the one who loved us so much that He paved the way by sacrificing all that we should gain all. Trust and obey as the old hymn goes. And obedience really ought to be quite natural. Since, you are blessed so much you instinctively want to bless others with the love and knowledge of Christ.
The last part of Isaiah chapter 6 speaks of stump–a remnant of Israelites who will understand and obey the message of God. Likewise, there is a stump in the church who desires to grow in their faith; a group of Christians unsatisfied with a mere caricature of God, or a juvenile feel-good religion. I believe you are those Christians, and I pray that you will grow up in your faith to the glory of God. Let us pray.
© Paul Dordal, 2012