Read an Excerpt
Success and the Christian
The Cost and Criteria of Spiritual Maturity
By A. W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 19944 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Spiritual Perfection Defined
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. (Hebrews 5:11)
Did you ever try talking to a person who didn't understand a word you were saying, who didn't know your language? You can stand and talk earnestly to him and he just shakes his head and maybe speaks one word that he's learned, meaning "I don't understand."
Well, that is the reason it is hard. The writer of Hebrews is saying we have many things to say; but I'm talking one language and you understand another. "Seeing ye are dull of hearing. 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" (Hebrews 5:11b-12). I want to call attention to the phrase, "are become such." They weren't such; but they had "become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat" (5:12b). They had regressed and gone back to their childhood state after having, obviously, grown some. "For every one that useth milk," he explains, "is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (5:13-14).
He said that we are to leave the first principles, that is, the elementary instructions of the Christian faith. We are to leave them, but not leave them behind. We are not to leave them as one would leave one house and go to another or leave one city and go to another. We are to leave them behind as a builder who is building a house lays the foundation and leaves it behind as he goes upward. If it's a building like some of the buildings downtown, they leave the foundation far behind and go up several stories until they have thirty, forty or fifty stories towering in the air. They have left the foundation, not that they've departed from it, but they have built upon it. Now that is what the man of God means.
The First Principles
What are these first principles that we are to leave? He names them for us so there is no misunderstanding. He says, "repentance ... faith ... baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (6:1-2). These are the elementary first principles of the doctrine and we are to leave them as a builder leaves the foundation and builds on up. "Not laying again the foundation" (6:1), he says. The structure must rest on the foundation, no matter how high it may tower into the sky.
It rests upon the foundation of Christ—of who He is and of repentance and faith in Him; of baptism into the body of Christ; of the coming resurrection of the dead and the judgment to come. These are basic doctrines of the faith that we rest upon, and no matter how far we go in the Christian faith we never leave them. They are there as a foundation upon which we build.
The trouble was the Hebrews never went beyond the foundation. And this exclusive preoccupation with elementary truth is also characteristic of evangelicals today. Conversely, the ignoring of Christian truth is characteristic of the liberals. But exclusive preoccupation with the first principles is characteristic of the average church. He says that keeps us babies all our lives.
Remaining a Baby
Let's first explore the metaphor about a baby and milk. It is possible to be frozen in your babyhood state, to have your growth suspended and stay right there. Notice the marks of a baby—beautiful in a baby, but terrible in a person when they get to be eighteen or twenty years old.
First, a baby can't concentrate on anything very long. A baby loses interest about as fast as it's possible to lose interest. It'll scream and yell and grab for something delightedly and get it, and ninety seconds later, throw it down and look for something else. That is typical of a baby and it's the way God meant a baby to be. But He didn't mean the baby's father to be like that, nor the baby's mother—nor even the baby's seven-year-old sister. That is characteristic of a baby and it is also characteristic of Christians who became Christians, fundamental Christians, and then froze and stopped developing. They're unable to stick to spiritual exercises. They can't pray very long and can't meditate. In fact, they smile at the whole idea of meditation. They think that was for Thomas Aquinas. As for Bible reading, they don't do it very much—nor very much else that takes discipline and maturity.
A second thing about a baby is that it is preoccupied with simple things, with foundational things. You never talk to a baby about existentialism or the cold war. The baby is satisfied with a half a dozen little things; it is enough to eat and to keep warm and dry and to keep its mother within yelling distance. That is about all a baby cares about.
There are Christians who grow up and have no relish for anything spiritually advanced. They're preoccupied with their first lessons. The average church is a school with only one grade and that is the first one. These Christians never expect to get beyond that and they don't want to hear a man very long who wants to take them beyond that. If their pastor insists they do their homework and get ready for the next grade, they begin to pray that the Lord will call "our dear brother" somewhere else. The more they hate him the more they bear down on the words "our dear brother." All he's trying to do is prepare them for another grade, but that church is dedicated to the first grade, and the first grade is where it's going to remain.
Paul said some of them went up into the second grade and gave it up, and said, "It's too hard here," and they went back to the first.
"How long have you been in the first grade, Junior?"
Well, how long have you been listening to the same truth and hearing the same doctrine? You must be born again and there's a judgment and so on. While that is true and we must not leave that, we must use that to advance. But we don't do it. Whole generations of Christians grow up in the first grade. They learn to read their Bible in the light of this. To them, nothing in the Bible ever means anything beyond this elementary stage. They have Bible conferences dedicated to the first grade in the Christian life, Bible schools dedicated to the continuance of the first grade. For my part, I feel that I want a little ambition, a little spiritual ambition. Paul said, "Forgetting those things which are behind ... I press toward the mark" (Philippians 3:13b-14a). There was a man not satisfied with the first grade.
Another thing about a baby is its cry for amusement. It loves to be amused. When I'm on a bus somewhere I'm delighted to see a baby looking over a mother's shoulder. If the mother sees me, I just sit there dignified as can be. But if I can see the baby, I begin to do things that invariably rouse the baby and we have a good time. Finally, the mother notices him and pulls him down and wonders who that old fellow is back there. Well, I won't harm the baby; it loves to be amused. It doesn't take $100 to do it. You can do it by wiggling your finger or looking through your fingers at it.
Just as babies love to be amused, so the cry for amusement in religion is evidence that we are frozen in the first grade. We're still children and we're going to remain that way. Children have to have toys and they have to have novelties and they have to have new playmates every once in a while. And the Church is like that.
Religious entertainment has so corrupted the Church of Christ that millions don't know that it's a heresy. Millions of evangelicals throughout the world have devoted themselves to religious entertainment. They don't know that it's as much a heresy as the counting of beads or the splashing of holy water or something else. To expose this, of course, raises a storm of angry protest among the people.
A Christian businessman once said to me, "Brother Tozer, I don't make a god out of you; but I follow you and believe you. What I'd like to know is why so many people like you but don't know what you're talking about." And I said, "Brother, I give up, I have no idea why it is." But it's true. As soon as they think you're exposing the love of religious entertainment, you're finished in a minute.
One man wrote an article as an exposé of me. He said that I claimed that religious entertainment was wrong and he said, "Don't you know that every time you sing a hymn, it's entertainment?" Every time you sing a hymn? I don't know how that fellow ever finds his way home at night. He ought to have a seeing eye dog and a man with a white cane to take him home!
When you raise your eyes to God and sing, "Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me," is that entertainment—or is it worship? Isn't there a difference between worship and entertainment? The church that can't worship must be entertained. And men who can't lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment. That is why we have the great evangelical heresy here today—the heresy of religious entertainment.
And then there is another characteristic of immaturity—a child can neither read nor enjoy advanced literature, even when they get to be five or six years old. He'll come and make you sit, he'll read the book through, but all it says is, "I saw a cat and the cat was white." You know, there's nothing much to it. It's nothing profound. If he never went beyond that, you'd feel very bad for your child. When he first comes home and says, "Mommy, Daddy, listen to me read," no matter what you are doing or what's burning on the stove, he grabs you and pulls you down and reads. He can read! How proud you are! He can read, wonderful! You never thought he'd make it, but he did; now he can read the whole book. We never knew how much our kids memorized and fooled us! But anyhow, they were reading.
Suppose ten years from now he comes in—now he's seventeen—and says, "Mommy, Daddy, I can read—'The cat is red.'"
You'd say to your husband or wife, "I think we ought to do something for this boy. I think we ought to take him somewhere."
That is exactly why the Holy Spirit wrote the book of Hebrews. He said, "Let's leave this." Why stay where you are and remain forever engrossed in the fundamentals of religion? We excuse anything by repeating, "You've got to be born again." We can have any kind of show and say, "Now, you ought to be born again"—first principles all over. The Holy Spirit 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" (6:1), and so on, "But let us go on unto perfection."
Now how shall we go on?
Perfection means maturity. Just as when your son stands twenty-one years old and has his college degree, he's as healthy as they come and good-natured and well-balanced and you are proud of that big boy. What's happened to him is he's matured, that is all. But he's not perfect. Go into his room in the morning and see if what you see lying around there is perfect. He steps out of his trousers and leaves them there and his shoes over here. He's not perfect; but he's mature. He's come up to his maturity now and you're happy. You feel good and if you're a Christian, you thank God that your boy stands tall and straight and mature and healthy.
That is what the Holy Spirit means. He doesn't mean become a wax saint without a speck of imperfection, without a freckle on your soul. He means maturing in God. Grow up in God so that you're no longer a baby, having to be entertained with the first principles. You are now growing up in God, becoming a strong Christian, learning to carry heavy burdens in the Holy Spirit, to pray effectively, to suffer with the world and with the church, and to carry the cross.
How do I go about it? Let me give several suggestions.
One is to make up your mind, to decide. By deciding, you can't save yourself, but you can decide to get saved and you can make up your mind after you are saved to go on with God. Until our minds are made up, God won't work with us. Or if He does, He will work toward getting it made up. Make up your mind. Get the loose ends tied up and get ready.
When a young man is called into the army, he gets that nice little letter—a beautifully worded, fraternal, nice-sounding letter—but it all means the same thing: "you're in." Before this young fellow goes he fixes up his room and has a last date with his girlfriend and goes down where he hangs out sometimes, talks to the boys and says, "Well, I'll be seeing you in two years." And he gets ready. He says his good-byes and gets ready.
A Christian must make up his mind to go on with God and to grow up into God and learn the deep and high and lofty things of God. He must say to himself, "I've fooled around in kindergarten long enough. I've been a kindergarten Christian long enough now. I want to grow until I know what God's talking about and the high, lofty things of the Spirit."
The second thing is to put away unChristlike things. Put away unChristlike habits and acts, squelch within you unChristlike desires, put away unChristlike plans and get rid of hindrances and thoughts and thought habits.
The third thing is to become preoccupied with the Scriptures, the Word of God. This Book of God is a powerful thing, powerful indeed. If you read it, it will bring you out and take you along. When we sing, "Break Thou the Bread of Life," we're praying that God will give us an understanding of the Scriptures. And then, pushing it on a bit and raising it to its mystical phase, we're saying, "Lord, when we take Communion, break Thou the Bread to me." That is all the same. So get preoccupied with the Scriptures. Don't just have a chapter occasionally; but read it until it warms your heart. Read it until it begins to talk to you. We haven't read the Scripture until it begins to talk to us. We only think we have. So, get preoccupied with the Scriptures. Get a good large text Bible and I recommend King James; but there are other good versions besides the King James; the King James is a good basic version always to have around and trust.
The fourth thing is take up your cross. Learn how to suffer for the Lord's sake a little bit. The reason the communists are slowly encroaching on us in the Western world is that we love our comforts too much. [Sermon originally preached in early 1960s.] They're not looking for comforts; they're looking for victory.
A friend of mine went to see a man who was the head of a local communist cell in a local communist headquarters where they send out literature. The communist said, "Come in, Reverend, and sit down." He went in and sat. "Now, we're communists," he said, "you know that, and you're a minister. Of course, we're miles apart. But," he said, "I want to tell you something. We learned our technique from your book of Acts." He said, "We learned how to win and conquer from your book of Acts." And he said, "You who believe the Bible have thrown overboard the methods of the early Church and we who don't believe it have adopted them and they're working."
What was the method? It's a very simple method of the early Church. It was to go witness, give everything to the Lord and give up all to God and bear your cross, take the consequences. The result was in the first hundred years of the Christian Church the whole known world was evangelized. We don't know that now because our missionaries are telling us, or at least they're leaving the impression, that there are parts of the world that were not evangelized. Every part of the known world was evangelized about one hundred years after our Lord's resurrection.
The next thing is to get Christ in your focus, get the Lord Jesus Christ in your focus.
Show me Thy face,
one transient gleam of loveliness divine.
And I will never think or dream
of any love save Thine.
Open your heart to the Holy Spirit and I'm sure God will take you on. And remember, this isn't a luxury. This is a necessity that we forsake the first principles and give up our childhood and go on into God; it is basic necessity. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift ... if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews 6:4, 6a).
So this doctrine, this teaching, this exhortation by the Holy Spirit to leave the first principles and go on toward perfection is not to make deluxe saints. It is to make any kind of saints, a most basic necessity in the Christian life.CHAPTER 2
He Is a Jealous Lover
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 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, 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: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (Philippians 3:7-15)
Excerpted from Success and the Christian by A. W. Tozer. Copyright © 19944 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.