“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”2 Peter 1:8
We recently started a new sermon series at Rock Haven Church in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. These books, found in the Old Testament of the Bible, provide an account of God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people. A main theme that emerges in 1 and 2 Kings is the spiritual decline of Israel.
First Kings starts with an aging King David. King David and his reign represented a high point in Israel’s history. He is known as “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22)
But over the course of the books, we read about the spiritual decline of Israel through the actions and unfaithfulness of the kings. The kingdom of Israel is soon divided into two, Judah and Israel. And 2 Kings ends with both Israel and Judah carried off into exile by enemy nations used by God to discipline them for their idolatry and disobedience.
Their Spiritual Decline, But Not Ours?
When we hear that phrase “spiritual decline,” many Christians today make a quick jump from Israel’s spiritual decline in Kings to what they see happening in the United States. They look at Israel’s rejection of God’s ways and make comparisons with what they observe in the United States today.
And we certainly do see that. From a biblical perspective, I too can’t help but be concerned with the moral direction of our nation.
But if we as Christians aren’t careful, we can become too quick at pointing out the spiritual decline of other people and our nation without reckoning with our own spiritual decline, both as individuals and as the church. We can be too quick to diagnose it in people far from us, yet blindly drift toward indifference in our own lives.
If we’re not careful and intentional, our passion for the gospel over time will give way to complacency. Complacency will give way to compromise. Compromise will give way to indifference.
And indifference to the gospel opens the door to allow anything and everything in our lives and within the church.
That’s the danger of undiagnosed spiritual decline.
This is why I wrote here that my prayer for 2022 is for spiritual hunger. I pray that God would spark a fire in the hearts of his people, making them hungry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and its power in this world.
An Enemy of Our Sanctification
I pray the warning of spiritual decline we find in 1 and 2 Kings helps us to evaluate our own lives first so we can diagnose any spiritual decline or hardening in our own hearts.
Hebrews 3 and 4 talk about the promised rest God has for his people. But sin, disobedience, and unbelief hardened the hearts of many of them during their time in the wilderness so that they were unable to enter God’s promised rest. Hebrews 4:11 calls to us with the same warning, saying, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
Like trying to walk up a downward escalator, as soon as you stop stepping forward, you begin drifting backward.
Henry Blackaby said, “One of the great deceptions many dying churches believe is that they don’t need to make any significant changes; they just need a pastor to help them continue doing what they have always done.”
This is why continual growth and change within the church and within our hearts is so important.
For God, staying the same is what he does for all eternity, because he’s God. He’s already perfect and any change in his character would mean there was some deficiency somewhere within him that needed to be corrected, which just isn’t true.
But for us, we are far from perfect. We are far from being like Christ. So change in the direction of Christlikeness is perpetually necessary. When we resist change, we’re saying there’s no deficiency in me. There’s nothing that needs to be corrected, which again, just isn’t true.
Staying the same is comfortable. But when it comes to our sanctification (the ongoing work God does in us of setting us apart from this world to make us holy and perfect like Christ), comfort can become the enemy.
Change Toward Christ, Not Toward Culture
But keep in mind this isn’t change just for the sake of change. This is change for the sake of Christlikeness.
The change we need isn’t change toward the culture, becoming more and more like whatever philosophy is currently captivating the news. The change we need is toward Christ.
We’re not seeking to change anything about the truth of God’s Word or the message of the gospel. We’re seeking after God so that the truth of his Word and the message of his gospel will change us to become ever increasingly like Christ.
Ineffective And Unfruitful?
Peter wrote about the necessity of continual change and growth in his second letter. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)
As we grow in these qualities, we grow in becoming like Christ. Growing in Christlikeness keeps us from becoming ineffective and unfruitful in our knowledge of Jesus. We can have all the head knowledge in the world about Jesus, but if our character isn’t being formed into his character, then we will be ineffective and unfruitful.
I don’t know about you, but “ineffective and unfruitful” is not how I want my faith to be described.
Diagnosing Spiritual Decline
So how can we diagnose spiritual decline in our lives? Maybe a few of these questions might help:
- When was the last time I was amazed by something I read in the Bible?
- When was the last time I was convicted that something I was doing, saying, or believing didn’t align with what I read in the Bible?
- Do the complaints I speak outnumber the encouragements I share?
- When was the last time I apologized or asked for forgiveness for something?
- When was the last time I shared with someone something I had learned from the Bible?
- What input in my life have I given the loudest voice? (Social media? News? A person or personality?)
- What do I get angry about? (Maybe a better way to ask this would be, what would other people close to me say I get angry about?)
These questions aren’t meant to be a club of guilt I use to bash you over the head with.
I hope you instead see them as a stir stick. When you’re drinking hot chocolate, if you let your cup sit long enough the chocolate settles to the bottom. So you need to stir it up again to keep it chocolatey.
Christians are a lot like that. When we get comfortable, we begin to settle. So we need to be stirred up repeatedly. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …”
I pray the Spirit works through these questions to stir your faith toward greater effectiveness and fruitfulness.
Be Freshly Amazed
So let’s continue growing in Jesus Christ. Let’s not see Christ-directed change as an enemy, but as our needed ally in our sanctification. Let’s ask God, “what do you have next for me, Lord?” and then humbly pursue it. Let’s not allow comfort to spark a downward drift from passion to complacency to compromise to indifference.
In Jesus, we have such a great and gracious Savior. Let’s be quick to diagnose spiritual decline in our own hearts first so that we can repent of it and come to a fresh amazement that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)