“4 ‘MUSTS’ For Spiritual Growth” (I Peter 2:1-3 sermon)

On Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Washington called General Douglas MacArthur, who was in charge of the Philippines, to tell him about the attack, and that they would undoubtedly be next. William Manchester, author of the MacArthur biography, American Caesar, writes that as soon he got the call, General MacArthur asked “his wife Jean to bring him his Bible, read it for a while, and then set out for The House On The Wall (Philippine HQ), where the situation was chaotic.”

It’s striking that in the midst of a crisis moment like that, General MacArthur would take time to read his Bible; but it shows you how important he knew that it was. The question is: Do WE realize how important it is, for ourselves, and for our spiritual growth? In our passage for today, Peter writes about how to grow as Christians. He says:

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

Here Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, gives us some requirements, “4 ‘Musts’ for Spiritual Growth”:

I. First, he says, You Must PUT ASIDE known sin in your life.

He says in :1, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and all hypocrisy and envy and all slander …”. He’s talking about different sins here:
— “malice” here is the Bible word “kakia,” which just literally means “badness.” (Lenski says it refers to all the sins of the second tablet of the Commandments.) He’s saying, put aside every kind of “badness” from your life. You can’t keep doing “badness” of any kind and grow as a Christian.
Then he lists some specific sins that they need to put away:
— “deceit” — which is lying to people
— “hypocrisy” — which is putting on a mask and acting like you’re someone you are NOT.
— “envy” — means wishing you had what God has given to someone else.
— “all slander” — or talking bad about other people.
He says if you want to grow spiritually, you’ve got to get these things out of your life.

And in Greek these last words are all PLURALS: “hypocrisies, envies, slanders” — meaning every kind of these things. I think partially what that indicates is that it’s not just this list of specific sins that is important, as much as that the main point He’s making here is that you CANNOT grow spiritually if you just continue to abide in any of your sins, whatever they are. You have to “put them aside”, as he says here. You have to stop doing the things God has commanded us not to do, if you want to to be able to grow spiritually.

A lot of people don’t seem to understand this. They think they can just continue in their sin, doing whatever they want to do, and still be happy and right with God, and grow closer to Him. But you CAN’T! Remember,
I John 1 says “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” God cannot have fellowship with darkness — with sin. And if you are just willfully continuing in known sin, you cannot have fellowship with God. Those sins will separate you from active fellowship with God — they won’t make you “lost” again, but they will put a “cloud,” a “fog” between you and God — and they will KILL your spiritual growth.

Some of you know that Cheryl & I have a big pine tree right in front of our house. It is always shedding pine needles. Before we had y’all out the other day, I tried to rake them all up, but you probably noticed there were still some there when you came — they just keep on falling. But if you don’t gather them up, they will keep other things from growing. One article I read said: “As pine trees mature, they shed needles that lie like an acidic carpet around their trunks.” Another article said that it was not the acid from the pine needles that kept things from growing, but just that when they pile up, they act like mulch, and keep anything from growing. But I thought, well, either way, the point is the same: you aren’t going to be able to grow anything under that tree, unless you get those needles OUT of there!

And that is the VERY same thing that God is saying here to us about sin. He says, if you want to grow spiritually, then first thing you’ve got to do in order to be able to grow, is to get these sins OUT of your life. They poison the spiritual “ground” of your life; they shut out God’s “light” from your life — and you will NOT be able to grow as long as you continue in them. You must clean them out; you must, as Peter says here, “put them aside.”

If you want to grow closer to God, and grow in your spiritual life, you must be in the process of turning away from known sin in your life.
What is it, in your own life, that you need to “lay aside”? Maybe it’s one of the sins I read just a minute ago — or maybe it’s not, but I bet that in many of us here this morning, God’s Holy Spirit just put some specific sin in your mind just now. Don’t ignore that. That is not a coincidence. That is God’s way of telling you: THIS is what you need to “lay aside” in your life. You need to listen to Him today, and act on that, and get that thing or those things out of your life, if you want to be able to grow spiritually. You’ve got to put aside known sin in your life.

II. You Must FEED on the Word of God.

Verse 2 says, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”

Here he really gets at what it takes to grow spiritually. He said, you’ve got to get the sin out of your life that keeps you from growing, but THE key element in spiritual growth is the word of God. He says by IT you will grow in respect to salvation.

Last week we saw how “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God abides forever.” Here Peter says, in light of that (“therefore”) — you need to FEED on the word of God every day. In fact, he puts it in terms of a baby, feeding on its mother’s milk. He says “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” He says it is as important for you to have the word of God in your life every day, as it is for a new-born baby to have its mother’s milk.

I’ve been at the hospital numerous times seeing not only my own children and grandchildren, but also dozens of new-born babies from church. I saw one just the other day at the hospital in Galveston. While I was there, a lactation nurse stepped in, and asked how the baby was eating. Was he getting enough milk? The reason she was asking, is that it is SO vital. That mother and child could not leave the hospital if that baby wasn’t getting regular doses of his mother’s milk. God has put just the right nutrients — and even immunities — into the mother’s milk, which are perfect for that child to be healthy and to be able to grow.

And God says here, Christian person: you need the word of God in your life every day, just like that newborn baby needs its mother’s milk. If you want to grow spiritually, THE single most important thing you can do, is to feed on the word of God every day.

And notice just what He says about the kind of “spiritual milk” of the word you need: he says long for the “PURE MILK” of the word. What is the “pure milk” of the word? Well, whenever you say something is “pure,” what do you mean? If you say this is “pure water,” it means it is ONLY water; it has not been contaminated with anything else. If you say that is “pure avocado,” you mean it is avocado mixed with nothing else.
So when God says here that what you need for spiritual growth is the “PURE milk of the word of God,” He means the word of God ALONE. Mixed with nothing else.

This is why I believe that THE single most important thing that any Christian can do, is to have a time every day (preferably in the morning) when it is just YOU, and God’s Holy Spirit, looking at an open page of His word, feeding you the “PURE MILK” of His word, to help you grow.

A lot of people read devotional books, and commentaries, and sermons, and things like that for their quiet time. And listen, I am not against those things. These can be very helpful and very useful tools in the Christian life. But never let these things become a substitute for your own time alone in God’s word. (Cheryl always says, “If I was reading someone’s devotion for my quiet time, I’d feel like I was having THEIR quiet time, not mine!” And that’s true. That devotional is what God spoke to THEM through that scripture. But what does He want to say to YOU today? Only YOU can find out, as you go to His word led by His Holy Spirit.

So it’s ok to use Bible Studies, devotionals, commentaries, and so on. But do not let them substitute for your own time in the “pure milk” of the word. I have said for years, that every Christian needs some time every day, where it is just YOU, and an open Bible, and the Holy Spirit of God speaking to your heart, giving you the “pure milk” of the word.

God says here: THAT is how you are going to grow as a Christian, by longing for the “pure milk” of His word, like a baby does for its mother’s milk. So ask yourself: are you getting that? If you aren’t, you don’t need to wonder why you aren’t growing spiritually. You grow as you get the “pure milk” of the word of God into your life every day. The #1 thing many of us as Christians need to come away with today, is that you need to make a commitment to get the “pure milk of the word” into your life every day!

III. You Must Pay Attention to the Big “IF’’!

“IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” This little sentence in :3 actually makes a BIG point. Everything else we are talking about this morning must be considered in light of this. You can only grow as a Christian by doing the things we have been talking about, “IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” We’re gonna talk about this some more in a minute, but when he uses the phrase here “tasting the kindness of the Lord,” that is just another way of saying, “if you have been saved.” He says in :1, you need to put aside some things, and in :2 he says you need to get into the “pure milk” of the word, and if you do all that, you will “grow in respect to salvation” — ‘IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” In other words, IF you really been saved, then these things will help you to grow.

But that is a big “IF” — and it is not one that you want to take lightly.

It’s like if you were going skydiving, and the instructor says to you: “After you jump out of the airplane, pull the ripcord and the parachute will come out and it will save you — IF you remembered to pack your parachute!” Well, that’s a pretty big “IF”, right? — “IF you packed your parachute”?! That’s pretty important; that’s life or death! When you are skydiving, packing your parachute is a big “IF” you need to make sure about!

Well this “if” here in Verse 3 is a really big deal too. After all the instructions he gave on spiritual growth, he says all this will help you grow: “IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” That “little if” means: “IF you are really saved.” He’s saying, all this that I have told you, will do you absolutely no good at all — and it will probably not even make any sense to you — if you are not saved first. This is a big “IF” that you MUST make sure you have taken care of: “IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

As we’ll see in a minute, “tasting the kindness of the Lord” here means that we have experienced God’s GRACE in our life. See, salvation is not a matter of us “earning” a place in heaven, like a lot of people think. People think things like: “Well, if I do the best I can, and really clean up my life, and If I will spend a lot of time reading the Bible like he talks about here, then I can get myself a place in heaven.”
But that is just so far from the truth. You can do your best to turn away from sin, but you will never cleanse yourself from all of them during your life. And you can never read enough of the Bible to earn yourself a place in heaven.

The only way we get into heaven is by God’s “kindness,” like he talks about here. The Bible word that is translated “kindness” here is a word (chrystos) that means “kind, good, useful.” The Greek scholar Vincent wrote that: ”We have no adjective in English that conveys this blend of being kind and good at the same time.”

See, as mankind, we had all sinned, and turned our backs on God. We all deserved “the wages of sin,” which is death — eternal death, apart from God in hell. “BUT GOD” was “kind, good” to us; He showed us His “chrystos,” His kindness and goodness, by having mercy on us, and He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross and paid for our sins, so that if we would hear the message of Jesus and REPENT, and come back to Him, and trust what Jesus did on the cross to save us, we could be forgiven.
So when we hear that message, and repent, God forgives us, and He sends His Holy Spirit into our lives to help us follow Him. And we “taste the kindness of the Lord;” we experience His goodness and His kindness towards us.

So every Christian has “tasted the kindness of the Lord,” like Peter talks about here. “Tasting the kindness of the Lord” is what it means to be a Christian. So by adding verse 3 here, he’s saying: don’t forget this point. It’s a little verse, but it makes a BIG point. NONE of this we are talking about today will work for you if you are not really saved. The indispensable prerequisite for growing spiritually, is that you are really saved, and you have “tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

Have you “tasted the kindness of the Lord”? There’s no more important question than that.
But this same verse also teaches us something else that is very important:

IV. You Must Have The Right Motivation

That little expression in :3 also addresses our motivation: “If you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

As we saw, that expression basically means, “If you have been saved.” BUT it is also important that he doesn’t put it that way. He doesn’t just say “If you’ve been saved.” He specifically says, “If you have TASTED THE KINDNESS OF THE LORD.” Those words “tasted the kindness” are a quote from Psalm 34 in the Old Testament. (In fact, Psalm 34 must’ve been one of Peter’s favorite Psalms, because he refers to it several times here in his letter!) Psalm 34:8 is the verse that says “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” He says, if you have “tasted and seen that God is good,” in other words, if you have really “tasted,” or experienced Him, then that becomes your motivation: you’ll want to grow, and experience more of Him.

Last Monday night, Cheryl made us a real “delicacy” for dinner: beans & franks. Only to her credit, it wasn’t “just” beans & franks: she added brown sugar and some other ingredients to the beans, so they were more like sweet baked beans; and then instead of putting in regular hot dogs, she used spicy sausages. She told me it was going to be different, so I tried it — and OH MAN it was so good — sweet and spicy! So I piled it on my plate; and we ate and watched a murder mystery like we often do. And while we were watching, I got up and got some more. And then after a while I got up and got some more — I had thirds! (I did NOT get on the scale the next morning; I didn’t want to know …) But as soon as I had tasted that stuff; I knew I wanted more.

And that is what Peter says here about our relationship with God, too. He says, “IF you have (really) tasted the kindness of the Lord”, then you are going to want more of it. If you’ve really been saved — if you’ve really come to know the mercy and grace and love of God, and if you have really started a relationship with Him, then you will want more. You’ve “tasted,” so now you want more.

So THAT should be your motivation to grow spiritually:
— THAT is why you should put aside these sins,
— THAT is why you should discipline yourself and spend time in God’s word daily,
Because you’ve tasted and you’ve seen how good God is — and now you want MORE! Getting more of Him should be your motivation for growing in your Christian life.

— Your motivation to grow can’t be so that other people will think better of you.
— Your motivation to grow can’t be just so you can tell people how “disciplined” you are.
— Your motivation to grow can’t be so you will look better than other people.
— Your motivation to grow can’t be so that you can “advance up the ladder” in the leadership of the church.
None of these things are good motivations; and they will fail you.
The only motivation that will really keep you going and growing in the Christian life, that will keep you putting away sin and and walking in His word every day, is that you really want MORE of the God whom you have tasted and seen how good He is; and you want more! THAT will keep you growing.

And quite honestly, that explains the reason why many people do NOT want to grow: it’s because they have never truly “tasted and seen that the Lord is good.” They have never really “tasted the kindness of the Lord.” They may have “gone down to the front,” or “filled out a card,” or “got baptized” or whatever; but they have never really tasted the goodness of God, so that they want more.

What about you? This is one of the bests tests of whether your walk with God is real or not: can you say you have really “tasted His goodness”? Do you have a “taste” of His grace, and His glory, and His goodness, and you want more? And does that drive you to be more holy and to walk with Him in His word? Or are you just “going to church” and doing some “religious stuff” that you really don’t want to do, because you feel like other people want you to do it? It’s a big difference. One of these people is really “saved;” they have really “tasted the goodness of the Lord;” but the other person is really lost. They have never really “tasted the goodness of the Lord.” And they are never going to grow spiritually; they are never going to cleanse their life from sin, and they will never walk consistently in God’s word. Because they have never really “tasted the goodness of the Lord.” They are lost.

The question is: which of these two people are YOU?
— some of us as Christians today need to do at least one of two things:
you need repent of a specific sin God convicted you of today; and
You need to commit to get “the pure milk” of God’s word into your life … Maybe you’ve been doing some kind of “devotion,” but you’ve not been getting the pure milk, God’s Spirit speaking through His word to YOU …

— or maybe you’d say, “I’ve never ‘tasted and seen that God is good,’ and today I really need to commit my life to Jesus as my Lord & Savior for the very first time. Pray and ask Him to save you and come into your life right now …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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