Growth in Christ: God’s Call to Christians: Part I
Introduction: The series: Growth in Christ: God’s call to Christians paints a complete picture of salvation. Salvation is more than being saved and a fire escape out of hell. Salvation involves a full-orbed about face not only in one’s future eternally but living as one saved on this earth as a child of God and of the King. This series helps the believer clearly understand growth in Christ: God’s call.
Most believers are familiar with terms such as the general call of the gospel, an invitation, or an altar call. These terms rightly understood indicate something about God. He draws attention to Himself and what He has in store for His people. He does not restrict His kingdom to a class, race, country or nation (Revelation 5:9-11). In that sense, God does not discriminate but He does separate (Matthew 25:31-46). Most people connect God’s call to the urgency and necessity of salvation.
There is another call from God that we encounter expressed in Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you always have obeyed – not only in my presence but in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose. Here Paul captures God’s call for growth in Christlikeness.
Paul is speaking to the church and individual believers – saved people. He knows God’s remnant – saved people – is alive and well because God is faithful. He emphasized the fact that salvation carries with it duty but also privilege and blessing (1 John 5:3). His statement, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, forced his readers to consider what salvation is, and what they were to think, to desire, and to do as saved people. Since the whole person is changed at salvation, Paul encouraged his readers in the joy of their salvation – thinking God’s thoughts, desiring what God desires, and doing what pleases God.
The congregation at Philippi had problems within and without the church which included persecutions, imprisonments, false teaching, and division within (see Philippians 4:2-3). Since the whole person is changed at salvation, Paul encouraged his readers in the joy of their salvation – thinking God’s thoughts, desiring what God desires, and doing what pleases God (Philippians 3:1; 4:4).
Working out one’s salvation (or solutions to problems which every church and every individual has: Philippians 1:6) requires human individual effort. The Holy Spirit works in and with the believer but never for or against the believer. Growth in Christ is evidence that God is at work in the believer.
The believer is to be God’s agent to accomplish God’s goal of believers becoming more like Christ, individually and corporately. Paul reminded his readers that at regeneration they were supernaturally and radically changed (John 3:3-8; 6:60-64). They had become like Christ in principle but not in practice. Prior to God’s saving work they lived in God’s world as if it was their own. They attempted to create their own world – a virtual reality – based on their own self-pleasing thoughts and desires. In their created world (the old “you” and the lifestyle before salvation), they habitually opposed God in varying degrees and in a variety of ways.
Paul used himself as an example. In Philippians 3, he recorded how satisfied he had been while a Pharisee. He characterized himself as a Pharisee of Pharisees and a zealot for the Law (3:3-6). He had it made so he thought. He had been living in God’s world denying that fact. He lived as creator and creature of his own world. He lived as if God as he knew him owed him. He had inverted the Creator-creature distinction thus following in Adam’s and not Christ’s footsteps. Prior to regeneration all mankind thinks God’s world is his own. They habitually oppose God in varying degrees and in a variety of ways. Such is the depths of the cesspool of wickedness from which every believer has come (Romans 3:9-19; 8:5-8; Ephesians 2:1-3). The bad news is truly horrible. The good news (salvation) is surpassingly and incredibly good and GREAT.
Among other things, Paul in his letter to the Philippians was issuing a call to progressive sanctification – personal holiness, growth in Christlikeness. He called his people to holiness and not happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances and holiness depends on the God of circumstances. He called them to renewal and not necessarily to relief. He called to progress and not necessarily to pleasure. Paul knew, and had experienced the fact that pleasure and relief would come but as by-products. A person’s response in and to circumstances is a response to God. Paul called for renewal and not relief and for progress not self-pleasure. He called them, in part, to be changing, because they were the most changed people in the universe and God was not through with His people.
Consider some reasons a person would not work out his salvation. It may be ignorance. Some may simply think life is about getting saved and nothing more. They may go to church, pray, tithe, and even evangelize. The Pharisees did all of those things but most were not saved (Matthew 6: 1-18). Some may not know that change is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian. Some may not know how to change. Some may have grown discouraged not understanding what change is all about and how it looks in their life.
Another reason for not working out one’s salvation may be the person’s divided heart (James 1:5-8; 4:8). The person may still yearn for his previous self-pleasing lifestyle. He may or may not be a Christian.
A common feature of these reasons is ignorance and arrogance of both the good news and the bad news and of true knowledge of God and of self. Believer, it is always wise to remember what salvation is in terms of being saved from what and from whom AND by whom and for what. It is always good to remember Growth in Christ: God’s call::
- What you were in Satan, outside of Christ and without hope AND what you are in Christ;
- Who you were saved from: God as Judge, self, Satan, and sin AND by whom and for whom: you were saved by God for God. God alone saves.
- The cost of salvation to God and to you AND the cost of life as a believer; there is life after salvation; and
- The privilege and blessings of salvation that lead to working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. When you do you will taste and see the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8).
1. Review salvation as given above.
2. Ask yourself: what is the big deal about salvation? What do you learn about God and about yourself and how does that knowledge influence your growth in Christ?
3. Write out specific ways you will work out your salvation – what that will look like in terms of changing thinking, wanting, and doing.
Man’s Chief End and the Fall: Part II
We continue our series: Growth in Christ: God’s call by focusing on man’s chief send. Growth in Christ is shorthand for the term theologians call progressive sanctification. Other terms for growth in Christ include developing Christlikeness; imitating Christ; denying self and talking up one’s cross; growing in wisdom and knowledge; trusting and obeying; dying to sin and self and living to God; putting off and putting on; developing fear of the Lord and putting off fear of man; waking in light as children of Light rather than in darkness; basking in truth as truly wise rather than in falsehood.
These terms and others depict life after salvation. Once saved the believer is called to become more like Christ in thoughts, desires, and actions. He does as he puts off old patterns of thinking, wanting, and acting AND puts on Holy-Spirit motivated, -energized, and -directed thinking, wanting and doing. The dynamic of putting of and putting on refers to changing habit patterns of thinking and wanting and resultant actions that please self and displease God for those are God-pleasing. These patterns are a residual of the believer’s time as a member of Satan’s family and kingdom. They are residuals and habit patterns of remaining sinfulness within the whole person in spite of the radical and supernatural change in the now believer’s heart, his kingdom, and his family.
Different people have sought to simply life and ask what is man’s chief aim and goal for life. A simple place to look for an answer is in the catechism. So question #1 and its answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The answer is succinct and comprehensive in its simplicity. The chief end of man or the reason God created man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. He does that individually and collectively. The answer emphasizes a proper vertical reference for all of life (Matthew 22:37-40). Every person is a theologian. He has a belief about and a relationship with God even if it is denied. He is a created being living in God’s world as a dependent being. He is a good or bad theologian. There is no other choice. The believer who has been radically changed is to live heavenly-minded so he can be of earthly-good (2 Corinthians 5:9, 14-15; Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3). There is salvation and growth or life after salvation.
Moreover, one of God’s primary purposes for creation and re-creation (redemption) is for man to dwell in His holy presence. After Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden and God’s presence, a real question arose. Was man to be allowed into God’s presence, and if so on what basis? God’s yes is recorded in the Bible initially in Genesis 3:15. The battle of the seeds (the woman’s vs. Satan’s) ensued: light vs. darkness, truth vs. error, wickedness vs. righteousness, and God’s way vs. Satan’s way. Evidence of this battle is seen in the world but it is also demonstrated within the heart of every person.
The bottom line is the age-old question of who you will serve. God posed this question to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Joshua posed this question to the Israelites (Joshua 24:14-15). It is the question posed to Christ by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4; Luke 4). It is the question posed to every one daily especially the believer. For the believer, there is a war within (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-18). Only the believer fights and wins the war within. Such is growth in grace: God’s call.
In His time, God fulfilled His initial promise made in the Garden. Man was brought back into God’s presence through the work of the God-man Christ Jesus. The Old Testament ritual system pointed to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. A picture of sacrifice mediated by a privileged and designated high priest is throughout the Old Testament but especially after God met Moses at Mount Sinai. God ordained a sacrificial system and a special priesthood to mediate the perpetual offering of a holy, harmless, undefiled sacrifice. This was ultimately fulfilled in and through the perfect, once-for-all work of the great High Priest Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:23-27; 9:9-10; 10:19-25). Moreover, He is the perfect sacrifice – the true Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). His active obedience and perfect law-keeping and His perfect death on the cross were the source of redemption for every believer.
The believer was saved and he has work to do. Growth in Christ: God’s call. God called and expects every believer to grow in Christlikeness and holiness (2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 12:14). He is to develop the character of Christ. In later blogs we will discover just what that phrase means.
1. Read John 3:3-8.
2. What did Jesus expect Nicodemus to know?
3. Where would that knowledge come from?
4. What was Nicodemus to do with that knowledge?
a. John 6:60-64 helps you answer the above questions.
b. The knowledge is supernatural knowledge – it is Holy Spirit derived (1 Corinthians 2:16).
c. It is coupled with saving faith so that faith is informed and intelligent.
5. Compare this faith with the faith of the demons: James 2:19. What do you learn?
Non-negotiable Truths: Fear of the Lord: Part III
As we continue the series: Growth in Christ: God’s call, we will consider non-negotiable truths. In one sense growth in Christ can be summarized in terms of fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). It is the constant and dominating awareness of Who God is and who you are in relation n to Him. No one has secrets. All is laid bare before God. Fear of the Lord focuses on relationships and orientation: all of life is vertically – Godward – and horizontally – others related. Fear of the Lord focuses the believer on Who God is as Creator, Sustainer, Controller, and Deliverer of His world and His people. Fear of the Lord forces me to live Coram Deo – before the face of God – in His presence. It forces the believer to view his worldview and presupposition in the context of biblical truth. Fear of the Lord emphasizes God’s power (totally and completely sovereign), wisdom and knowledge (infinite in His wisdom), and goodness and love (perfect in His love).
Growth in Christ: God’s call requires knowledge that is properly applied with the right motivation of thinking, wanting, and doing (Matthew7:24-27; Titus 1:1; 2:11-15). The whole person (inner and outer man and thinking, wanting, and acting) is involved in regeneration and in sanctification. Believers grow in understanding God and self and in the application of this truth as we live and breathe and have our existence in the Triune God unlike most of the people gathered in Athens (Acts 17:24-31).
Several non-negotiable truths are essential for godly living. These truths/principles form a set of beliefs (presuppositions) and a worldview.
1. God is God and you are not. This truth is simple and yet profound. Think with me as you consider the impact of that truth. At some time you will be faced with a reality of who God is and who you are.
2. God is the ever-present, all powerful Creator and Controller of His world. As a corollary truth, you are not God!
God in His awesomeness and majesty is good, wise, powerful, and purposeful.
3. Believers were designed in eternity past to be in Christ (union with Him) for the purpose of being like Christ in anticipation of dwelling in God’s presence eternally (see John 6:37-43; Ephesians1:4).
4. Christ’s resurrection guarantees and affirms the gospel, salvation, saving faith, and the believer’s resurrection both bodily and spiritually. For the believer, resurrection life begins at salvation so the believer has a foretaste of heaven now and is motivated and encouraged to live as Christ did: to please the Father (Romans 6:9-10; 1 John 3:1-3)
5. Our God has revealed these truths for His glory and the good of His people which is another non-negotiable truth.
God’s power and purpose are supremely manifested as He brings His people and creation into another sphere of reality and existence. The believer is regenerated by the supernatural and radical work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart (John 3:3-8; 6:60-64). The Spirit indwells the individual believer and the church. In a real sense, the believer and the church are the most changed persons on earth – another non-negotiable truth. Consequently, the believer and the church are expected to become more like Christ – another non-negotiable truth (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:9; Ephesians 4:11-14). Growth is Christ: God’s call is a duty, a privilege, and a blessing. It is a remarkable adventure initiated, developed, and continued by God the Spirit.
Growth in Christlikeness begins with a right knowledge of the origin, destiny, identity, and purpose of the God-man Jesus and of one’s self. Throughout the gospel of John, John records Jesus’ emphasis on Jesus’ correct knowledge of His of origin and His destiny. This was in contradistinction to the Jews (John 6:41-43, 52; 7:27, 35, 41-42; 8:19, 22, 52-53). These people had ears but did not hear and eyes but did not see. They were not wise except in their own eyes. They had no fear of God. Believers are to grow in fear of the Lord.
1. Define fear of the Lord.
2. Knowledge of God and self are linked. How does that truth help you apply Matthew 22:37-40 daily?
3. How would you describe the character of Christ? See Ps. 40:6-8.
4. Growth in Christ: God’s call: define the terms and describe your response.
God’s Covenantal Faithfulness: Part IV
Growth: How and Its Motivation
As we continue the series: Growth in Christ: God’s Call, please reflect back on an earlier blog. In it, I reviewed man’s dilemma after God’s judgment post-fall. Adam and Eve were expelled – exiled – from the Garden as self-centered rebels and wanderers. God removed man from His presence. However, from the beginning God was implementing His cosmic plan. God would still bring a people into His presence. The questions raised include when and how. Man’s expulsion from the Garden was the first exile on earth. If God was to be covenantally faithful (a promise maker and keeper), an exodus from man’s darkness and bondage must occur. A personal and corporate exodus did come. This was pictured in the Old Testament by God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt as partial fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. This event was to be perpetually remembered (Exodus 12:14-17, 24-27; 13:14; 20:1-2). It was a pattern of God’s saving grace throughout all ages.
Growth in Christ: God’s call was preset in the Old Testament. God established a sacrificial system mediated by the high priest. This system – priest, sacrifice, and ritual – pointed to Christ, the perfect Lamb of God and His bloody death (John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 7:27). However, unlike the lamb, the crucified Savior rose from the grave as the Conqueror. His resurrection ushered in the new exodus and true resurrection life for each individual and the church (John 17:3; Romans 6:9-11). Unless there was a new exodus to come – Christ’s resurrection (John 14:1-3), there would not have been a historical exodus. Jesus is the greater Moses and His resurrection is the new and greater exodus (Luke 9:31). Without an exodus and the greater exodus, there would be no personal or corporate salvation and no growth in Christ.
A radical change must occur in man – not in God – in order for God to bring man into His presence. God accomplished this change in Christ through His work as Prophet, Priest, and King. The Holy Spirit brings about a change in individuals and the church via His indwelling (John 3:3-8; 6:60-64; Romans 8:9, 11; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:14ff; 1 Peter 2:5ff). This initial radical change is termed regeneration. The magnitude, radical-ness, and comprehensiveness (whole person) of the change is divinely supernatural. The believer’s and the church’s change is to continue on this earth. This continuation is termed progressive sanctification. One function of the Church is to bring the people into full maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14). Growth in Christ: God’s call is both an individual and corporate blessing and responsibility.
Up to this point many believers would be tracking. Many think of themselves as growers. Two vital questions must be addressed regarding growth: how is it to be done and by what motivation? The how of becoming more like Christ is spelled out in many passages including Romans 13:12-14; Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:8-10. Each of these passages emphasize the dynamics of change as putting off and as putting on or replacing the old with the new. Thoughts and desires, individually and patterned must be changed. God-pleasing and Christlike-line actions will follow.
This change process involves the whole person. It focuses on changed thoughts, desires, and actions concerning God, self, and others. It involves the person’s inner man (heart) and his outer man including his brain. There is to be a replacement not a simple substitution, of one thought, one desire, and one action at a time. Also, it involves change in patterns of thoughts, desires, and actions. The person is putting on God- pleasing in lieu of self-pleasing as a way of life and mindset. .
The motivation for change focuses on God and a high view of Him. The believer must agree that God expects and deserves change as the believer develops the character of His Son. Each believer at regeneration had a radical inner-man (heart) operation and change. God the Holy Spirit is the 100% -agent of change (John 3:3-8). In other words salvation is totally of the Lord (Jon. 2:9). The person contributes nothing to his salvation. Understanding this truth is critical to growth in Christ.
As a supernaturally-changed person via the Holy Spirit, the believer has more invested in him by God than the believer has invested in himself. The believer is united with Christ by faith, has the indwelling Holy Spirit, and has the revealed, written Word of God. Out of a real sense of who God is, he embraces who he is in Christ and sets out to please God simply because God is God. He acknowledges that God deserves his devotion and obedience.
Importantly, the believer has a changed view of himself: he is saved from God by God; he is saved from sin and Satan; and he is saved from himself. Out of awe for God and with gratitude for what God in Christ has done to and for him, he will put off self-pleasing habits of thinking, wanting, and doing. He will put on – one thought, desire, and action at a time – God-pleasing thoughts, desires, and actions. Growth in Christ: God’s call involves the whole person and all of life.
1. Meditate and pray through the above truths.
2. Rejoice in your salvation.
3. According to Hebrews 4:12, make an honest spiritual inventory including the major ways (be specific) that you are a self-pleaser. Ask your spouse or mature Christian friend to critique the list.</li
4. Commit to replacing those thoughts, desires, and actions with God-pleasing ones.
Growth in Christ: God’s Call: Part V
Change as a Whole Person
Continuing our series: Growth in Christ: God’s call, we focus on the activity of the whole person. In progressive sanctification (growth in Christlikeness), there is to be a progressive pattern of “put off” (that which displeasing to and for God) and “put on”(that which glorifies Him). God is still 100% active, but the believer is 100% active as well (see Philippians 2:12-13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3). The believer is to exercise (give evidence of) his heart change by putting off old habits of self-pleasing, self-trust, and self-worship (2 Peter 1:5-10; 3:18). These habits were developed while an unbeliever, an enemy of God, in Satan’s kingdom and family.
Life as an unbeliever is one of running from God to self in order to do one’s own thing. Until salvation each person lives in his own world as much as he can. He creates his own virtual reality which competes with God. This rebellion can be very pronounced in some people while subtle in others. Either way it is anti-God rebellion. Self-pleasing habits of thinking, wanting, and doing are often expressed by such mantra as I want and I deserve. These patterns are carried over into person’s life as a believer.
So what does growth look like? Although the specifics will differ per person, there is a common thread of growth in all believers. There will be change in regard to God, self, and others (Matthew 22:37-40). When a person thinks about God differently he relates to himself and others differently. The vertical reference controls the horizontal reference of life. Enmity and dissatisfaction with God, twin characteristics of life in Satan’s kingdom, are replaced by a desire to come and taste God and His goodness (Psalm 34:8). Thoughts and desires change about God, self, and others. The person begins to develop more and more the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:22). The believer pursues fruit prayerfully, wisely, and energetically. Such is Growth in Christ: God’s call.
The person functions from the truth that God is God and he isn’t. The person grows in his satisfaction of this truth. He realizes that God deserves to be honored, served, and worshipped and does not. Actions follow. The believer is moved toward God because God has moved toward him and indwelt him with His Holy Spirit. It is important to be reminded that the Spirit works in and with the believer but never for or against him.
A changed view of God, self, and others results in hunger for His Word and its application. The changing person will be quicker to rely upon and follow biblical principles daily. This is in contrast to being motivated by feelings, experiences, and logic removed from biblical truth. Therefore, concrete actions follow. For instance, rather than responding with sinful fear, sinful anger, depression, and worry in any situation, you recall such passages as Psalm 46:10 (Be still and know I am God). This is God’s world; control is His business not yours; honoring Him is your duty, privilege, and blessing. You then return good for evil, consider others more important than self, and provide a gentle answer (Romans 12:17-21; Philippians 2:3-5; Proverbs 15:1).
The believer is to continue to develop a faith-in-action plan as he follows Psalm 119:9-11. A faith-in-action plan is a biblical template – biblical truth that is at the ready when tempted to please self. According to Hebrews 4:12 and James 1:22 the person will develop a list that includes what, when, where, how, and why it is easy for him to please self. These are times that the believer is to be diligent and function as a Christian oyster (2 Corinthians 5:7, 9). The oyster uses irritations to make a pearl. The Christian’s pearl is growth in Christlikeness. The growing believer will be excited about individual growth because it fits God’s program of corporate (church) and cosmic regeneration. Ironically, change is a foundational cornerstone for the Christian even though he has an unchangeable God. The believer will embrace change as God’s appointed means to bring about the reality of the new heavens and the new earth.
1. What kind of Son was Jesus? Was pleasing His Father simply duty? Use John 4:31-34, Hebrews12:1-3, and John 17:1-5, 24-26 to help answer these questions.
2. Articulate succinctly the bad news and the good news of the gospel and determine how that knowledge stimulates you to please God.
3. Read Psalm 40:6-8 and Hebrews 10:5-7. What do you learn about Christ and how does that motivate you?
Growth in Christ: God’s Call: Part VI
As we continue the series: growth in Christ: God’s call, I will review specific characteristics of it. The rationale for growth in Christ focuses on God’s redemptive work and His covenantal faithfulness in working out His plan. The believer is the most changed person and is to be the most changing person. This fact alone should be a prime motivator. Growth is one of the greatest privileges and blessings this side of heaven. Moreover, eternally – in heaven – the believer will continue to grow in his perfected state and family status as a God-pleaser and worshipper. John, in 1 John 3:1-3, describes this as amazing!
First, growth in Christ is relational. It is initiated by God’s relationship with every believer through Christ and is developed by the Holy Spirit. Throughout his 13 letters, Paul emphasizes union with Christ by the use of the phrase, in Christ. By it Paul means that Christ has united Himself to the believer and the believer is united to Christ. These are unbreakable relationships formed by God at salvation. God will never change what He has done in His Son (Romans 8:32-34). Such is growth in Christ: God’s call.
Every person is either in Christ or out of Christ. Only the believer is in Christ. He is in proper relationship to Christ because Christ is properly related to him by virtue of salvation. The unbeliever is improperly related to Christ and Christ to him. He is in Satan’s family and kingdom.
At regeneration, the believer is put into Christ – into a proper relationship to Him. At the same time, he has been radically transferred from Satan’s kingdom and family into God’s (Colossians 1:13). Therefore, the believer develops more of the character of Christ daily – he grows in Christlikeness. Yet he can and does function as if he is not in Christ. At times he will be motivated by self-pleasing habits learned and practiced while as a member of Satan’s kingdom and family. Habits and their motivation die hard (Proverbs 5:21-22; 26:11). The believer is called to put off self-pleasing and its expression daily.
Second, growth in Christ is rational. Being in Christ or union with Christ enables the believer to think God’s thoughts, to desire that which God desires in His word, and to trust and obey. In fact, the believer recognizes this mindset and the resultant activity as the most sensible and reasonable way to live. Honoring and worshipping God is best for God and for the believer – actually the whole world (Romans 12:1-2). Previously the unbeliever thought Satan’s thoughts. He desired to please himself as he futilely suppressed the truth of God in his ungodliness (Romans. 1:18-20; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-3).
The suppressing activity learned so well in Satan’s kingdom and family is replaced in principle as soon as one is regenerated. However, old anti-God habits of thinking, wanting, and doing die hard. However, the believer knows truth and as he applies truth daily, he is becoming more like Christ. Growth in Christ: God’s call is a wonderful plan and reality.
I continue to return to one truth simple but profound fact: God is God and you are not (Psalms 24:1-2; 46:10). The believer has a new capacity to reinterpret facts, self, others, and circumstances according to biblical truth. The key is the realization that the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). How? Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, and the written Word, the Bible (John 14:6; 17:17). The believer has a new interpretative grid. He considers and acts upon the following non-negotiable truths previously discussed. Three are quite simple yet profound:
- God is infinite, independent, and awesome and the believer is finite and dependent;
- This is God’s world;
- God is the Rule Maker for His glory and the good of His people.
However, truth and biblical principles alone are not freeing. It is application of truth that is the key. Wisdom is the application of biblical truth for the purpose of godliness and growth in Christlikeness (Proverbs 1:7; Matthew 7:24-27; Titus 1:1-2; James 1:22-25).
Third, growth in Christ is religious in nature. Man was created a religious, worshiping being. He was designed to serve and worship the Creator. True worship is not only an act of the will based on proper knowledge of God and man, but it is motivated by a desire to please and honor God. At salvation man was saved in order to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Yet his habituation to self-worship and self-pleasing, learned as an unbeliever, competes with his worship of God. Self gets in the way! Knowing the bad news that every believer was a hell-deserving sinner destined for misery in this life and God’s wrath in the next is essential for growth in the character of Christ. Such is growth in Christ: God’s call.
An aspect of the bad news is summarized in Proverbs 4:18-19 (in contrast to the believer, the unbeliever is in darkness but is satisfied with and ignorant of his darkness) and Proverbs 13:15b (those who fail to know and apply biblical principles are destined for misery and hardness in his present life). In part, this is what every believer was saved from.
Fourth, growth in Christ is theological. It requires a proper understanding of the gospel, knowing both the bad news and the good news. The good news describes what the sinner was saved to: a relationship with God in Christ by the indwelling, active Holy Spirit. As a child of God the believer is called to please God. The only way to please God is to become more like Jesus Christ. Growth in Christ: God’s call is one outworking of salvation. The believer is saved in order to please and worship God. Being pleased – satisfied and contented – as one pleases God may be a byproduct and result of pleasing God. But pleasing God to get something can never be the primary motive for pleasing Him (Matthew 6:33).
1. Write out your habits of self-pleasing in terms of thoughts, desires, and actions. Be specific. Think in biblical terms. For instance, you may say “I am selfish.” Write out the specifics of your selfishness.
2. Using Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:8-10 write out specific put ons – biblical thoughts, desires, and actions – that you will put in place (replace) of self-pleasing habits.
3. Read Titus 1:1-2 and Matthew 7:24-27: what do you need to think, to desire, and to do as one growing in Christlikeness?
Growth in Christ: God’s Call: Part VII
Every Believer: A Functional Christian Oyster
As we continue the series: Growth in Christ: God’s call I will take us into the animal kingdom. The Holy Spirit makes use of various figures of speech to make a point. One example is a metaphor. The Bible uses words in a metaphorical sense to emphasize comparison. The idea derived from one object is carried over to another object. The metaphor is a comparison by direct assertion. A few examples from the New Testament include Herod as a fox (Luke 13:32), the people as a flock of sheep (Luke 12:32), and Jesus as the Good Shepherd and His people as sheep (John 10:16). Certainly Herod was no literal fox, the people were not a flock of sheep, and Jesus was not a literal shepherd.
We must be careful when using any figures of speech including metaphors. The word being compared may not be in the original language and it may be used out of context. Man is not an animal, certainly no oyster. I prefer to convey the idea that the Christian is to function as an oyster. Just as the oyster uses a grain of sand – an irritant – to build a beautiful pearl, the believer is to use the situation, unpleasantness and all, to make the pearl of Christlikeness. Jesus teaches this concept in John 4:31-34 and Paul teaches it in 2 Corinthians 5:9: So we make it our goal/ambition to please Him whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
The oyster was created with the capacity to take an irritant – sand – and fashion the pearl. The oyster uses the irritation (a foreign substance) provided by God. The oyster’s work is not simply “life” or “the way it is.” Biblically speaking, believers know that nothing just is. We have an all-controlling God Who brings all things to pass, including irritations for the oyster and for His people. These irritants include unpleasantness and trouble sometimes from the sins of others and sometimes from our own sins or both. The believer has been change at regeneration such that he is able to grow in Christ” God’s call.
According to various passages in Scripture (the Christian is in the “spiritual pearl-making” business of growth in Christlikeness (Romans 5:1-5; 8:28-29, 1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4). This activity is not protective or defensive. Rather it is an offensive move. It is what the believer was designed for in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4). God designed His people to be in His presence. That won’t happen unless man is changed and becomes as His Son.
Growth in Christ-like character is termed progressive sanctification and is the modus operandi for every believer. The how of becoming like Christ was answered before and while Jesus was on the cross. The wisdom and power of God is shown by a crucified Christ, the perfect High Priest and the perfect Sacrifice (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 24, 30). Jesus used what men intended for evil to accomplish a good God’s purpose (Genesis 50:19-21; Romans 8:28-29). Moreover, the death of Christ set the stage for a resurrected Christ. The wisdom of God is clearly demonstrated by and through a crucified, resurrected, and exalted Christ.
In a fallen world, you can expect irritations and unpleasantness and even “I don’t like” situations. The cross and a crucified holy, harmless, undefiled Savior rightly understood was one of the greatest events in all history (don’t forget the resurrection – the cross and the resurrection are the twin pillars of the gospel: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Rightly understood God’s providence – all situations in life – are the context AND the tool for the believer and the church to use to grow and change. When that happens God’s kingdom is advanced and God is glorified. Such is Growth in Christ: God’s call.
1. List your irritations in order of priority and record how they are irritations.
2. Apply the truths developed and learned from Romans 8:28-29 and 2 Corinthians 5:9.
3. Record the results in terms of changed thinking and wanting in regards to God and self and the resultant actions.
Growth in Christ: God’s Call: Part VIII
Conclusion and Examples
We come to the conclusion of the series: Growth in Christ: God’s call. How does change look in a believer’s life? There are general principles as we have discussed and their specific application. Knowledge of non-negotiable truths and principles and their application are linked. For instance, take the task of waking up in the morning. The task may not be simple for some people. Those with any number of physical problems such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will find it laborious and time consuming to get up and get moving. How does one help that person grow in Christ: God’s call or is the person a victim to his problem and circumstances?
The person is a theologian in God’s world when he goes to bed and when he awakens. Upon awakening, his call to be good theologian kicks into high gear. How so, you ask. The person is thinking as he awakens: another day for what? The choice is actually twofold: to please God or self. From the moment any of us open our eyes, the choice is before us: whom do we serve (Joshua 24:14-15)? The person with RA may be alone in the bedroom, just he and God. What does he think, desire, and do? The fact of his RA does not change the reality of who God is, who he is as a child of God, and what God privileges him to do: grow in Christlikeness. He is to function as a Christian oyster but how? Such is growth in Christ: God’s call.
The fact that he has armed himself with these truths and others is evidence of growth. As a result the believer keeps up with personal responsibilities to God and family to the degree that he is able. Simply getting dressed may be a monumental God-honoring activity. His focus is on pleasing God not simply getting by, hanging on, or accepting. Taking medications and doing exercises may be part of good stewardships. Throughout the day, the chair or even the bed may be appealing. Rest may be an example of good stewardship, but there is a God to serve and honor. Grace is both saving and enabling or sanctifying grace. Growth will come either in Satan’s image or God’s image. Such is growth in Christ: God’s call.
Take the person who is so fearful that the bed and the bedroom has become his place of refuge and escape. The person would not explain it that way but in response to life – actually God’s providence – he has decided to seek his own refuge and to run to it for self-protection. The person has refused to acknowledge, accept, and act on the fact that this God’s world and we are to live it his way for His glory. In that way, God blesses His children.
The fearful person runs to the bedroom and away from God. He has denied the Scriptural truth that God’s love is perfect and casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). That simple truth points him to the cross where God’s love and justice met. Sinful fear leads to bondage and godly fears releases the person from his wrong thinking and wanting. Actually sinful fear is a way of thinking and wanting that is focused on self and control and presumed lack of it. The person does not trust God. Such passages as Psalms 56:3-4, John 14:1-3, and 1 John 4:18 address growth in Christ: God’s call! Truth does set you free!
There is also the person’s wants. We are born wanters. Our capacity to want what God wants is godly wanting. But since sin, we want what we want at the expense of what God wants and others want. Sinful wanting is characteristic of Satan and his family. We are arrogant and ignorant competitors with God. Others may be wrong but God never is! What you want may be a godly desire (a better job, to be married) unless you want it more than you want to please God. How will you know? If you sin to get it or sin if don’t get it, your wanting is ungodly and sinful self-pleasing.
James 4:1-4 addresses this dynamic. In his congregation, James told his people that fights and quarrels (those two words cover the gamut of interpersonal conflicts) are present because of I wants and I deserve that reign in their hearts. As a result they attack or protect and defend or do both. No blood was shed physically but death was all about. Anytime there is strife and disunity there is the pride and growth in satanic reasoning. James told the people to put off the mindset of your wants now and put on the mindset of Christ, which he described as wisdom in James 3:13-18 and repentance James 4:6-10. The particulars of the application of these truths are manifold but the motivation is singular: honor and glorify God.
As you consider growth in Christ: God’s call, remember that knowledge is one key for pleasing the Lord. Peter told the congregation to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Learn God’s ways – thoughts and desires. Hide the word in your heart so it is accessible (Psalm 119:9-11). Make use of God’s truth and the indwelling Holy Spirit by reciting those truths. Then apply them by practicing their use in both the hard and easy providences of God. In that way, you will enjoy God in ways that you did not think possible.
1. Record those times and situations that you find it easy to grow in Christlikeness. Be specific as to what that looks like in thought, desire, and action.
2. What makes it easy?
3. What does Christlikeness look like in those incidents?
4. Record those time and circumstances in which you find it hard to grow in Christlikeness. Be specific as to what it looks like in thought, desire, and action.
5. What makes it hard?
6. What does satanic-likeness look like?
7. Record how you have grown in Christlikeness and how you intend for your program to continue. Be specific.