3 Indicators of Spiritual Growth | 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

1 Peter

Are you growing spiritually? How can you measure your spiritual growth? Spiritual growth is measured not by external performance, but by an inner transformation of our hearts. 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 shows us three indicators of spiritual growth: love for others, hatred for sin, and hunger for truth.

Blake HolmesFeb 19, 20231 Peter 1:22-2:3

In This Series (13)
When Life Is H.A.R.D. | 1 Peter 5:6-14
John ElmoreApr 30, 2023
Who’s in Charge at Watermark? | 1 Peter 5:1-5
Timothy "TA" AteekApr 23, 2023
Trusting in the Suffering | 1 Peter 4:12-19
John ElmoreApr 16, 2023
The End Is Near | 1 Peter 4:1-11
Timothy "TA" AteekApr 2, 2023
What Christ Accomplished Through His Death, Burial, and Resurrection | 1 Peter 3:18-22
Blake HolmesMar 26, 2023
Hope in Jesus on Display | 1 Peter 3:8-17
Oren MartinMar 19, 2023
The Key to a Better Marriage | 1 Peter 3:1-7
Timothy "TA" AteekMar 12, 2023
God’s Identity, Calling, and Example for You | 1 Peter 2:13-25
John ElmoreMar 5, 2023
How To Find The Right Church | 1 Peter 2:4-12
Timothy "TA" AteekFeb 26, 2023
3 Indicators of Spiritual Growth | 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Blake HolmesFeb 19, 2023
Battling Spiritual Amnesia | 1 Peter 1:13-21
Timothy "TA" AteekFeb 12, 2023
Praise in Present Suffering | 1 Peter 1:3-12
John ElmoreFeb 5, 2023
Remember Who You Are | 1 Peter 1:1-2
Timothy "TA" AteekJan 29, 2023

Spiritual growth is not measured by our activities, knowledge, or experiences. It is not an external performance, but an internal transformation of the heart. 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 shows three indicators of spiritual growth:

Love for others (1 Peter 1:22-25).

  • We are to “love one another earnestly,” proactively pursuing people the way that Christ pursued us. We have been transformed by Christ to love like Christ.
  • Love is the hallmark of the Christian faith. It is how people will know that we are following Christ (John 13:35).
  • Love and truth always go hand-in-hand. It is not loving to “rejoice in wrongdoing” or ignore the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). God is love (1 John 4:8), and in Jesus we see love and truth perfectly united.
  • We are to love even those who are hard to love (Matthew 5:46).

Hatred for sin (1 Peter 2:1).

  • We are to “put away,” or get rid of, five relationship killers:
    • Malice, which is the desire to hurt someone.
    • Deceit, which is deliberate dishonesty.
    • Hypocrisy, which is saying one thing and doing another.
    • Envy, which is to resent someone else’s advantage.
    • Slander, which is harming someone’s reputation.
  • It can be difficult to get rid of these relationship killers because:
    • We live in a culture where outrage is celebrated (Proverbs 29:11).
    • We have been hurt ourselves, and we want to fight back or protect ourselves.
    • It’s easier to see other people’s sin before our own (Matthew 7:3-4).
    • We are accountable for every careless word spoken or posted (Matthew 12:36).

Hunger for truth (1 Peter 2:2-3).

  • We should “long for” the truth of God’s Word. The more we seek it, the more we acquire a taste for it and do crave it.
  • We suppress our appetite for truth when we:
    • Fail to prioritize time reading God’s Word and listening to it being preached.
    • Get distracted and fail to focus when reading or hearing God’s Word.
    • Fail to obey what God’s Word says (James 1:22-24).
  • If reading God’s Word feels more like a drudgery than a delight, then read it:
    • Prayerfully. Pray for a desire to read God’s Word and for a better understanding of it.
    • Devotionally. Recognize that the goal is not just to learn, but to get to know God.
    • Thoughtfully. Take advantage of the resources available to study and understand the Bible.
    • Corporately. Read along with other people.

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • How are you doing at loving other people? Is there anyone you find hard to love? Why is that?
  • Do you tend to be someone who is “all truth”—speaking the truth without love—or “all love,” seeking to affirm everyone without speaking truth? How can you better speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?
  • Which of the five relationship killers above do you need to get rid of? Why do you do those things?
  • Do you have a hunger for the truth? What next step could you take to develop more of an appetite for God’s Word?

This is a big year in the Holmes family. I have four kids, and two of my daughters are graduating this year, one from college and one from high school. It's funny. Do you know what comes with graduation? A lot of pictures. You start taking pictures to commemorate the moment. You also start looking back on pictures. When you look back on pictures, it's like, "What happened to the time? Look at how fast my kids have grown up. Look at how much they've changed."

Then, to be honest, there's a little part of you that's like, hey, let's just ignore the fact how much you've grown up. Right? I have to block that out, how much I've changed. Pictures capture our physical growth. You can look at pictures over the years and see change, but let me ask you something. How do you think we capture or evaluate our spiritual growth? Have you ever asked yourself that? "Hey, how am I growing? How am I maturing in godliness and Christlikeness?"

I think sometimes we look, wrongly, at the external performance, like, "Well, I go to church a lot" or "I give a lot" or "I go to Bible study." Or we might assume that with more knowledge… "The more I know God's Word, then, certainly, the more mature I am." Or it might be an experience. "The more I experience…" Maybe it's a spiritual retreat or a concert you've been to or a worship event, how you feel. You're like, "That's a sign of spiritual maturity."

I propose to you that our spiritual maturity is not measured by our external barometer but an inner transformation of the heart. It's a transformation of the heart. Turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter, chapter 1. We're continuing our series of 1 Peter. If you've been with us, you know that 1 Peter was written to a group of believers who have experienced persecution, and because of that persecution, they've been pushed out of their home. They're exiles.

Now they're in what is modern-day Turkey, for the most part. They've been pushed out of Israel and pushed up north, and they're experiencing suffering. Peter writes to encourage them. "Hey, this is how you live despite the suffering you're experiencing." He reminds them that they have a glorious future, an inheritance through what Christ accomplished for them. He calls them to holiness, that, as believers, as Christians, their lives are to reflect the character of God.

What we're going to see today is that he's going to say, "Hey, here are three ways the evidence of your life of spiritual maturity is going to be shown to others and that you can look at." I want to use this, beginning at chapter 1, verse 22, and I want us to look at this together, and you're going to see as I read this that there are three signs of spiritual maturity, spiritual growth, that he's going to talk about as we walk with the Lord.

The first one is a love for others, a greater love for others. The second is similar to that. It's the opposite of that. The more you love others… It's a hatred for sin. Then, thirdly, is a hunger for truth. Let's look at this together, beginning in chapter 1, verse 22.

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for 'All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.' And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good."

  1. We are to love earnestly. Let's look at this again. "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…" The picture behind earnestly is one who stretches out. It's not like, "Hey, love when it's convenient for you. Love when it's easy." No. It's we love. We take efforts. We stretch out. We go to full extent to love other people.

We don't do this because we just try harder or we discipline ourselves or we will ourselves to love others. Notice what he says. There are two perfect participles here (this is where grammar actually pays off), which tells us something happened in the past; therefore, that should impact our today. Notice what he says. Two things. "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth…" Then verse 23: "…since you have been born again…"

The idea is something has happened to you. What has happened to us? When we have received the Word of God, when we have believed the gospel, God purifies us. He creates us into a new creation. We have been regenerated. We have been reborn. When the seed of the gospel takes root in our hearts, our lives are transformed.

That's what he's saying when he says in verses 23 and 24, "…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…" Notice what he says at verse 25. "And this word is the good news that was preached to you." He quotes Isaiah 40. The Bible is all one book. It has one message. It all points to who Jesus is and his message of salvation and reconciliation.

When we recognize that we are a sinful people who have rebelled against God…every last one of us…that we offer nothing to God, but Jesus Christ in his kindness, his love, and his grace pursued us in spite our rebellion, and he paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, serving as our substitute… He died and three days later rose again, validating all he claimed, said, and did, that through the cross a rebellious, sinful people can be reconciled to a holy, righteous God.

When we recognize what it is God has done for us…it's based on that love…we are able to love others. We have been transformed by Christ to love like Christ. If you want to know, "How am I doing? What's a healthy barometer for whether or not I'm growing spiritually and maturing?" ask yourself, "How am I doing at loving other people?"

Love is the hallmark of the Christian faith. In fact, Jesus says in John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you…" What? Memorize more Scripture? Come to church more often? Give more? Stay away from certain behaviors, certain people? No. "…have love for one another." "If you love others the way I have loved you, if you allow the gospel to take root in your heart and surrender to my Spirit, then that gospel is able to transform your life."

In Romans 1:16, Paul says, "For the gospel is the very power of God for salvation." In 1 Corinthians, he says, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." The gospel, when we receive it, transforms us so we can then love others.

Paul is going to say in 1 Timothy, "The goal of our instruction, the goal of all of our preaching, is not just for you to learn more, but is love, for you to love God and love others more." Love is the hallmark of the Christian faith. First John 4: "In this is love, not that we have loved God…" This is so important. We did not choose God. "…but that he loved us…"

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He stretched out. He loved us earnestly. First John 4 again: "[God] loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the satisfaction] for our sins." He satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf, paid our penalty, died the death we deserved, so we might have life. He says, "Beloved, if God so loved us [like that], we also ought to love one another."

That's the transforming power of the gospel. That's the call. That's the hallmark of the Christian life: a love for others. Now, I want to be really clear, because love today is a really squishy term, if you will. It now needs definition, because there is a way in which the world defines love, and then there's a way in which the Bible defines love. We have to be really clear on this. Otherwise, we're completely misunderstood.

The world defines love as originating within you, however you define love, what you believe to be love, what is true for you, what is your truth. Quite simply, "Love is love" is what is argued. Hang with me philosophically. Is that really true? We're told today that to love someone is to have an unquestioned acceptance of an individual's choices. "Love is love." It resides within them and your acceptance to believe and accept what they believe, however fleetingly romantic or what sentiment it might be.

The Bible says something completely different about love. The Bible roots the definition of love in the character and attribute of God. It's not fleeting. It's not up to us to determine. No, it's really specific. First Corinthians 13. Love is defined like this: "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." This is so important.

Biblically, love and truth always go hand in hand. You see this most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ…always true, always loving. Today, we bifurcate these two ideas, wrongly. I want you to stop and think about this with me. There are some of us… This room is going to be split. About 50 percent of us are the "all truth" people. We camp on, "Well, this is what is true." Then there's about 50 percent of us who are "all love" people. If you don't know who you are, ask those in your Community Group, and they'll tell you.

You know the "all truth" people. The "all truth" people want to just chapter and verse you, tell you how you can grow, what you need to change, what is true. They're there to correct you. Man, I can empathize with that. I have been there. I've been the "all truth" guy. In my zeal to want to tell the truth, what I've done is I've just given myself license to be a jerk, but I cloak myself in, "Hey, I'm just telling you the truth." But is that loving?

Then there are others of us over here where it's, "Hey, that's not loving," but then we sacrifice the truth. I've done that, and why do I do that? Because I want to be a people pleaser. I want to avoid that conflict. I don't want to hurt someone. I don't want them to think less of me. But is that loving? Not biblically. Love and truth, biblically, always go hand in hand. It's not a juxtaposition. We're called to love one another earnestly.

We're even to love those people. Do you know who the "those people" are in your life? Let me help you. It's those people you talk about who don't look like you, don't think like you, don't vote like you. Now you're starting to understand. Right? It's those people. Or it's those people who drove in the left-hand lane on the way to church this morning about 10 miles per hour below the speed limit while on their phone and completely frustrated you.

I want you to think for a second about whoever those people are for you. You have a category for that. It's those people who are hardest for you to love. It might be the high-drama people in your life. You're like, "Man, it just… I don't want to stretch out for you. If you stay over there, I'll love you great." But is that really what we're called to do?

Jesus says in Matthew 5, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" I want you to think about this for a second. If you love those who look like you, think like you, behave like you, and vote like you, what really are you doing? Who are you in love with? Yourself. You're in love just with yourself.

Friends, God is calling us to love others who may be hard to love. God is calling us to extend ourselves, which might come at a cost…not to love them out of our own effort and strength, but because God has first loved us. That's the transforming work of the gospel in our lives: that we love because Christ first loved us. How are you doing in growing in Christlikeness and maturing in the faith?

The first question you have to ask yourself is "How am I doing at loving people? How am I doing at loving those who are hard for me to love?" It might be the cold, callous neighbor next door. It might be the employee you work with who talks too much and just drives you crazy. It might be the overly political uncle who ruins every Thanksgiving. I don't know. How are you doing loving those people?

  1. Hatred for sin. Notice what he says. "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." These are five relationship killers. So, if you love people well, you're going to want to get rid of these five relationship killers. I want to explain each one. The first one is malice. What is malice? Malice is a desire to harm or hurt someone. You've been hurt, so what do you want to do? You want to hurt them.

Then there's deceit, just a deliberate dishonesty, for whatever motive. It could be insecurity. It could be greed, selfishness, or self-protection. We deceive. Peter is going, "Hey, you have to throw these things away. You have to get rid of these." "Put these away," he says. All malice, all deceit, and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying one thing but living another. We're all guilty of this. To some extent or another, we're all hypocrites. We say one thing, but then we do another. That's hypocrisy.

He mentions envy. Do you know what envy is? Many people assume envy is the same thing as jealousy. That's not the case. Envy is far more sinister than jealousy. Jealousy is "I'm just jealous of the fact that you drive a nicer car than I do," but envy is what Shakespeare called the green monster, because when you had envy, you looked sick. You were green with envy.

Envy is not just that you drive a nicer car than I do, but I resent the fact that you drive that car, and I want to take it from you. It's not just good enough for me to go get a nice car that I can drive and you can have one too. No, no, no. I resent your advantage, and I want to take that from you, and only I should drive that car. That's what envy is. Peter is going, "You have to get rid of envy." That's a relationship killer.

You have to get rid of slander. Slander is harming someone's reputation. That's willfully going about and telling other people news and word and gossip and information that's just going to slander and hurt their reputation in view of others. Case in point: see Twitter. It's a dumpster fire of slander. Not always healthy, sometimes informative, but, man, can it be hurtful.

What you see here… I love the force of this verb. "Put away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander." Put that away. Throw it away. You have to run from it. In my home, with six people living in my house, we not only have trash that's built into the cabinets. I went to The Container Store and got two stand-alone trash cans to put outside of our kitchen island because so much trash has accumulated.

It's like a game in our home, an unspoken game. I don't know how many of y'all play this. It seems to be that everybody stuffs enough trash into the can, and then when it gets to the top, it's like, "How much trash can I balance on top without feeling the responsibility that I need to now take this out? I'll just keep piling it on in the hope that… Well, maybe it just stays right there. It's okay. Somebody else can take it out, because I'm busy." Anybody ever done that? Yeah, thank you. All of the people who raised your hand, you're honest. I appreciate that.

I get it. Because what do we do? We're great at collecting and piling up trash. What we need to do is to take it out. We have to take it out. That's what Peter is saying. Do you want to know what's killing your relationships? Do you know what's hurting and hindering your ability to connect with others? Do you know why people keep a distance from you at work or why you want to keep a distance from others? It's these five things. We have to hate them. We want to get them out of our lives and not let them accumulate…not keep balancing them and tolerating them, but get rid of them.

That's so much easier said than done, isn't it? First, we live in an outrage culture where the more you express your outrage, the more authentic it feels, the better you feel. It's a "win at all costs," "demonize the other side," "say what you want" culture we live in. "Cut them out. Cancel them. Run from them. They're bad. They're the enemy."

So we slander, we have malice in our hearts, and those in our tribe applaud us. We feel good about it because we said the truth. Peter is going, "Hey, man. That's not of Christ." These are five relationship killers that are going to hurt you. Wisdom says (Proverbs 29:11), "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." Only a fool gives full vent to his anger, but wisdom is those who hold it back.

It's also hard to put away these five relationship killers because we've been hurt. Just face it. Hurt people hurt people. Because we've been hurt, we let the trash pile up in our lives instead of taking it out. Again, you don't take out the trash by your own efforts; you ask God to help you, to empower you by his Spirit to remove that from your heart so you can love, so you can forgive.

The more you pursue God and his Spirit and his Word, what happens is your affections begin to change. God does a work in your life, and you pursue people, and what once tasted good is no longer appetizing. You don't want to respond with malice anymore. You don't want to respond with deceit. Hurt people hurt people. It feels good to get them back. It's just not of Christ.

Thirdly, it's easier said than done because it's easier to see these traits, these sins, in other people than in our own lives. In Matthew 7, Jesus says, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?" It's easier for us to see hypocrisy in somebody else, and we just don't like it.

It's easier for us to hear malice in somebody's words or slander coming out of somebody else's mouth before we recognize it in our own lives. We need people to help us. We need people to point out to us, "Hey, man. The word you're using right now or what you just posted or what you just said or what you just sent… Do you think that's a wise choice? Does that represent the King we say we love and want to serve and follow? I know it may feel good for a moment, but is that what we represent and who we are?"

My son and I went and took golf lessons when we were on vacation last summer. While we were walking out to the range, you walk by all of the little stations out on the course. When you do that, you can't help but notice everybody's golf swing. Some are pretty good, pretty decent. Others, you're like, "Hey, son, not that. Don't do that."

So, we go, and we have our instructor, and he's helping us work on our swing. The guy says to us, "Hey, you know what? Why don't y'all come inside. We have a simulator where you're going to swing, and then I'll be able to video you. I'm going to show you your swing, and you can see what it is you're doing, what I'm trying to get across to you." I'm like, "Okay."

So we go inside. I swing probably 12 times or whatever. He captures everything on video, and then he plays it back for me. Then do you know what I recognized? I recognized, "It is time for me to sell my clubs. It's over. There's no hope for me. I make Charles Barkley look terrific." If you've ever seen his golf swing, you know what I'm talking about.

I'm thinking to myself, "You know what? I'm really glad you showed this to me. What must people think when they watch me play golf, other than 'Let's just love that guy and tell him, "Hey, quit the game of golf"'?" It was really helpful, because I got to see my swing, things I wouldn't have noticed on my own. We need people to help us. We have relationship killers in our lives that are contributing to how people are experiencing our Community Group, our workplace, our family, our relationship with our kids and siblings, friends, neighbors. We're all prone to and guilty of this.

Just this week, I had lunch with the guys in my Community Group. I'm sitting there, and unfortunately, a very live example of some things they had just shared with me. I know they care, but I was tremendously guilty of negative interpretation. I felt defensive and frustrated. Candidly, I just wanted to withdraw, to push them away, but it was so good for me to have somebody say, "Stay with me, Blake. I want you to hear me." They didn't give up on me, but they loved me earnestly.

It's where I can see my golf swing. I could see the attitude I had, how I was negatively interpreting their actions. I could say to them, "Hey, man, will you forgive me? I have not believed the best about what you said. It's affecting us. I have to get rid of that." Instead, if I'm not careful, I'm going to let that trash pile up, and even worse, I'll go digging in the trash. That resentment, over time, is going to hurt us, and it's going to hurt me.

So, what I want to tell you is we're called to throw away malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander and get it out of our lives, because we're going to be held accountable for every careless word and post. Do you realize that? Every careless word and post we're going to be held accountable for.

Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak…" (Matthew 12:36) That verse always stops me cold in my tracks. Every careless word? Phew! So, one sign of spiritual growth is our love for others. We love others more earnestly. Another sign of spiritual growth is we hate sin. We hate the things God hates.

  1. A hunger for the truth. Look again at what he says in verses 2 and 3. "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up [mature spiritually] into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." That's a conditional statement: assuming you know God is good.

What happens is for those of us who are pursuing God, we develop a greater hunger for the things he desires. We have a greater appetite to know him, to know his Word. I love the metaphor here because it's so easy for us to understand. I mean, any new parent gets this, because your baby cries eagerly and frequently, wakes you up at night. Why? Because that baby knows that apart from that milk… If he or she is not fed, she's not going to live. Her very life depends upon it. So, we're to come to God's Word with a hunger, with a thirst to know him more, to seek his will.

Whenever I go out of town… I think this has been a tradition for years. Whenever we go out of town as a family or I leave town, the very first meal I seek out when I come back is Tex-Mex, every time. It doesn't matter where I go…California, Florida, New York. Wherever I go, when I come back, I want to go eat Tex-Mex, real Tex-Mex, not California. Don't send me any emails. There is not Tex-Mex in California. Real Tex-Mex. I crave it. Why? Because I've been gone. I hunger for it.

I wonder how many of us have a hunger to know God's Word. More importantly, not just to know it for information's sake, but to know it so we can know the mind and heart of God. We want to know God. The reality is we can suppress our appetite for truth. We can do that when we fail to prioritize our time with the Lord. We simply don't make time to read. We don't make time to gather on Sundays to hear the preaching of God's Word.

When we do that, we suppress our appetite. Or when we do read or we do come, we're simply distracted. We have our phone, and there are a million distractions around us. We're not wholly attentive to what it is the Lord is trying to teach us. That suppresses our appetite, our hunger to want to know him more, to understand his Word.

Or even worse than that is what James warns us of in James 1. We're like the one who looks in a mirror, but then doesn't do anything about it…we gain the information, but then we disregard it…the one who lives in disobedience. We hear God's Word, but then we're like, "You know what? Forget it. I'm not going to respond to that." We suppress the truth of God in our lives.

I encourage you, friends. If reading God's Word feels more like drudgery than a delight, I would encourage you to read prayerfully. Go before the Lord and ask his Spirit to help you to see what you don't see and hear what it is you don't hear on your own and, by the illumination of God's Spirit, to reveal to you his will for your life. He will show up if you'll be quiet and diligently seek him. Read devotionally. Read not just to know more, but read devotionally to know the God who loves you. It's not just for information but for transformation. We go to seek God, to know him, the God of Scriptures.

Read thoughtfully. I feel like sometimes, when we go to God's Word, we read it, but we don't read it thoughtfully. When we come to questions, we don't scrutinize and ask questions and wrestle. We, like no other time in the history of the church, have so many resources available to us, so many books and teachers and resources we can draw from, so that when we come to something, we can stop and go, "Hey, I don't know what this means." So we read thoughtfully.

We read inquisitively. We come with a hunger to want to know and understand. The more we seek him, it's like a dimmer switch in our lives. The more we come, the more he reveals. The more we seek him, the more he reveals. The more he reveals, the more we want to know. The light becomes brighter and brighter, and we understand more.

We also read corporately. I can't say it enough. Join the Journey is an effort for us to read God's Word together. It's fun to receive texts from those I'm living life with in the morning. "Hey, this is what I got out of our time in the Journey." I learn from them. We're reading it together, and we're talking about it.

We're asking ourselves questions. Or "This is what I need to confess in light of that" or "I don't understand that verse" or "Why is that even there?" or "How appropriate is that for me today?" or "I read this, and I'm praying for you." So we read together. Why? Because we have a hunger to know God more.

I recently went with my wife to the symphony. That's a stretch for me. This George Strait fan doesn't really go to symphonies, but I was looking forward to going. I said, "To go and to really appreciate this, I need to learn a little bit about this." So I made it a point to listen every day for that week. I was just going to listen to what it was we were going to hear.

That took me to, okay, now I'm listening to it and, candidly, kind of don't get it right now, but I'm listening, trying to understand. Then I take what's essentially a mini-course in classical music. I learn about the baroque period and the classical period and the romantic period. I learn about the traits of all of those, and now I'm becoming a little more interested. Then I'm listening to different composers, and I'm like, "I like that one. That one I could do without." I'm learning about the history and when they wrote.

Then I go, and I listen to the symphony. I'm with my wife, and I'm recognizing, "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't just the music." It's remarkable to actually watch that many people, from the strings to the horns to percussion to piano…everyone making an incredible sound. Although I may not be officially a classical guy, what I recognized… More and more, I could appreciate the genius behind the music.

What the music did was it helped point me to the composer. Like, "Who wrote that? What was in their mind? How did they think of that?" I propose to you that when you read Scripture… The Bible is 66 books with 40 different authors written over 1,500 years, and there is one who it speaks of, one it points to. It is Jesus Christ, the great composer, the great writer of the symphony.

You have the historical books, the poetical books, the prophetical books. You have the Gospels, historical books. You have epistles and apocalyptic. When it all comes together, it makes for one sound, communicating the message and the love of Jesus Christ. When we listen, we fall more in love not just with the sound and the beauty of what we see but the one who wrote it.

I want to encourage you to sit and listen. I want to encourage you to know the God who loves you. The more you love others, the more you hate sin, and the more you hunger for the truth, the more you will grow in Christlikeness. I want you now to hear from a friend of mine, Sara Fusco, who's going to come up and share with you ways in which God has been at work in her heart.

Sara Fusco: My name is Sara Fusco, and I currently have the privilege of teaching high school science at the most amazing Christian private school and leading a women's Bible study here on Thursday nights. It's also my privilege to get to share a little of God's story in my life with you today.

I didn't grow up in a God-fearing home or a God-loving home. In fact, we never talked about God in my home. We didn't talk about much of anything of worth. When I tried, I was told my feelings were wrong, so I learned not to share them. I stuffed all the hard stuff inside, including the physical and sexual abuse I suffered when I was a kid. I didn't have a good relationship with my parents. How can you without communication?

So I sought the attention and recognition I desperately desired through trying to be perfect in everything I did. What a crushing existence that was. Thankfully, God met me where I was through two friends who started a Bible study my junior year of high school. At the first meeting, I heard about Christ dying on the cross, which I had heard before, but it went further. I heard about him wanting a relationship with me…with me. How could that be? I wasn't certain of the answer, but I wanted that relationship.

That night, I accepted Christ's provision for me through his death and resurrection. I admitted my sin and my need for a Savior, and that night, I became a daughter of the King. But even as my new reality settled in, I still felt unworthy and unlovable. College opened a whole new world of opportunities for me. I was still searching for worth, value, security, and love, and now I had a myriad of inappropriate places to look for it.

Many wrong choices left me feeling even more unworthy and unlovable, but God… Aren't those two amazing words? But God was pursuing me the whole time. The next year, he brought those same two girls to play soccer with me in college. Through them and other faithful friends, I learned what it meant to walk with God, and God was faithful to change my heart.

My desires were changing. I began turning away from the selfish, worldly ways I had been living that were leading me deeper into depression and darkness. I had a new desire to obey God. I started attending a church near the college campus, and the pastor and his wife took me under their wing. Twenty-five years later, that couple, with their two now-grown kids, are my family.

Because of their love and encouragement, I started counseling with another leader from the church. I needed to process the hurts of the past abuse and my family upbringing, but before we dug into those deep wounds, we studied Scripture. My counselor would give me a short passage of Scripture to dig into, and the next time we met, the two of us would study it together. We did this for months, and it was exactly what I needed.

I needed to know who God says I am. I needed to know his truth before I could combat the lies that I believed. This process developed in me a hunger for God's Word. Psalm 139 was paramount in me understanding where my worth comes from and establishing for me that I am worthy and lovable. When we did finally dig into my issues, knowing God's truth and his unchanging character and goodness helped me find peace.

As in Romans 12:2, God was and continues to transform my heart and mind with his truth. One of my favorite reminders in the Bible is found multiple times, including Deuteronomy 31:6, where God promises to never leave or forsake us. For someone with major trust issues, this was life altering. I finally found somebody worthy of full trust, someone who wouldn't abandon me, someone I could always go to and tell my feelings and experiences to without rebuke.

I found God to be my safe place. I can confidently proclaim that I am worthy, I am loved, and I am secure in Christ. It is in him I find my satisfaction and contentment. Today, as I abide with him, he empowers me to pour into the lives of others. I get to do this daily at school and with dear friends but also through other opportunities, like leading at women's Bible study and mentoring younger women.

The more I study God's Word and rely on him, the more he equips and uses me to positively affect the lives of those around me. I find immense joy in sharing God's truth with others. God has redeemed my story over and over. Every time I get the opportunity to speak into another's hurts and painful past, God is glorified and my past is redeemed. I get to comfort others how God has comforted me.

I know God did not desire a painful past for any of us, but I also know he is good, and he can use our past pain for good. I'm truly humbled that he allows me to be a vessel through which he can pour out truth and love for his glory. I can't step from this platform without adamantly encouraging you to dig into God's Word, his truth. It is informative, and it is transformative. It is beautiful, and it is sweet. It is a giant love letter written to each of us, and I pray that you will know it more deeply, obey it more fully, and share it more freely. To God be the glory.