Disciples Grow in Spiritual Maturity

Sandeep Poonen

I want to highlight three traits of disciples worthy of more thought:
  • Disciples are ruthless against the love of money
  • Disciples are ruthless against seeking the honor of man
  • Disciples grow in their desire to reach the unreachable

The love of money

When Peter and John healed the lame man, money was not Peter’s solution to human suffering (Acts 3:6). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter saw no need for silver and gold to help the poor and the hurting. The name of Jesus was what Peter needed. This principle is sadly ignored by most of Christianity.
Almost all our solutions to human suffering depend on how much money we have. We problem-solve to the limits of our bank accounts, rather than looking to the infinite God. Almost all Christian healers therefore claim: “I don’t have as much money as I need. If you give sacrificially (even get into debt to give to me), I will pray for your healing! And if nothing happens, then it’s because YOU didn’t have enough faith. Or YOU didn’t sow a big enough seed! So keep giving me your money, and God will ultimately bless/heal you.”Tragically, millions of Christians are presently trapped in this deception.
A godly man gave me this invaluable insight to spot false leaders: Look at the man’s attitude towards money. If he loves money, he cannot hear from God. I use this simple test for all those who claim to be Christian leaders. Even if there is no glaring outward sin, I stay far away from anyone in whom I see a clear love for money. And I invariably find that their greed for money invariably exposes their lack of spiritual depth over time.
Even if we offer our bodies to be burned at the stake, it is still worthless to God if we love money – because no one can love money and love God (1 Corinthians 13:3; Matthew 6:24).

The honor of man

In Acts 8, we read about a magician named Simon who attracted people with his magic skills. When Philip came and preached the gospel and healed the sick and cast out demons under the power of the true God, Simon knew that this was a great power and received Phillip’s message. But Simon only received it superficially. He was more interested in the glamour of the gifts of the Holy Spirit than a holy life, that when Simon saw Peter and John lay their hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, Simon craved that miraculous ability too.
Simon had never seen his need to die to impressing others. When he was a heathen magician, he could impress others through his sorcery. When he saw the superior power of Philip, he wanted that… until he saw the even more impressive power of Peter and John, desperate enough to offer money for it.
Peter strongly rebuked Simon for this (Acts 8:20-23), telling Simon that he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”Simon’s slavery to impressing others had created in him a gall of bitterness. This has great application to our lives. Our desires to impress other people will result in a deep bitter jealousy in our hearts. When we are jealous of another’s success, it is because we have not ruthlessly died to seeking the honor of man.
One note here about the love of money here. Peter had already seen the seriousness of loving money that had killed Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), so he easily refused Simon’s offer of money. Even though Peter was a full-time minister living off the free-will offerings of others, he had NO desire to gain financially from his supernatural gifts.

Reaching the unreachable

The Old Covenant was strictly for the people of Israel. Jesus extended His good news of the New Covenant to the whole world. And Peter was used to bring the first Gentile (Cornelius) to a born-again faith in Jesus (Acts 10).
Since even Jesus was not sent to reach the Gentiles in His public ministry (Matthew 15:24), God had to change Peter’s mindset about non-Jews. He did this through a vision (Acts 10:9-16) just before Peter was sent to Cornelius’s house. Peter was sleeping on the rooftop, and he saw a vision of a blanket being lowered with a lot of animals that were considered unclean according to the Mosaic Law. Peter heard a voice telling him to kill and eat. When Peter refused, he heard these beautiful words, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15).
This was a prophetic vision to prepare Peter for the salvation of Cornelius. But this has an important principle that we see here. True disciples must grow in seeking to reach the unreachable. The Gentiles were considered unclean to the Jews – according to the Old Covenant. But God deemed the Old Covenant faulty and tore it up (Hebrews 8:8,13). In the New Covenant, nobody was unclean or unreachable. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world.
In our lives, there are many people that we can think could never be saved. But as we grow as disciples of Jesus, we learn more of God’s heart. God considered every single human being worthy of His Son’s sacrifice. Jesus saw that even the worst of sinners was valuable enough to die for.
This is the heart of God that disciples partake of. This is the Divine Nature that is available to us as we feast on His great and magnificent promises. The promises of God not only bring us love and forgiveness and security, they also give us God’s heart which is full of mercy and compassion.
God is said to be rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4). As we get to know God, we too will take on His heart of mercy and compassion to every single human being.

Falling back to old tendencies (sins)

Even with all of the wonderful changes in Peter after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was immune from sin. Even AFTER Peter was repeatedly filled with the Holy Spirit; he still made some terribly sinful choices later on.
Some believers can wrongly think that the baptism of the Holy Spirit will instantly and permanently transform them into holy people. This is not true. The Holy Spirit is a Holy Helper, not a Holy Possessor. He does not come to overpower our self-will. He comes as a Helper, eagerly waiting for us to ask for His help. But whenever we seek to do our own will and satisfy our own sinful desires, we will find that we will fall into sin.
We will enjoy persistent victory over sin only if we actively asked the Holy Spirit for help. We can seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but we also have to honor the Holy Spirit by actively seeking His help.  Otherwise we will “quench” the fire that He brings.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But the verse right after that is also important. Galatians 5:24 –Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This is an important caution about the baptism in the Holy Spirit: The baptism/filling of the Holy Spirit does not automatically make us holy; the Holy Spirit comes to help us be holy. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is not a guaranteed by-product of those who are born of the Spirit or even those who evidence some gifts of the Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is borne in us AS we do our part to crucify our flesh with its passions and desires.
Peter also had to choose to keep listening to the Holy Spirit. He often made the right choice, but he fell back to his old legalistic ways by refusing to eat with Gentiles when he was around legalistic Jewish Christians. So when Paul met with Peter, he confronted Peter for this hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14).
Despite the miraculous vision that Peter saw, and despite being used to witness the first Gentile being born again, Peter succumbed here to seeking the honor of others. Peter rejected the Holy Spirit’s voice and made the evil choice to treat the Gentiles as inferior. And given Peter’s stature, his hypocrisy even corrupted Barnabas (known for his immense gift to encourage others).
This is a warning for the rest of us. Hypocrisy and seeking the approval of man are sins that reside deep within us. Far beneath sins like sexual immorality and outbursts of anger, we will find hypocrisy, legalism, honor seeking, and pride still abounding. We who desire to live wholly for God will pay close attention to these sins, and walk with soberness because we need the Holy Spirit’s help to keep them pure.