Growth in Christ: Part I
Illustrations from the Natural World
The “Heresy” of Mother Nature
Salvation is always followed by growth in salvation. People are saved from something – self, sin, and Satan – and saved to something – God and growth in Christ. Growth in Christ means becoming like Christ. In His wisdom, God has given mankind examples from nature that demonstrate the principles of growth in Christ. Sadly, fallen man too often pictures God’s work in the natural world as due to something other than God.
We often hear the term Mother Nature. Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth or Earth-Mother) is a common personification of nature. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the term as nature personified as a woman considered as the source and guiding force of creation. The term focuses on the alleged life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by giving it the term mother. The word “nature” comes from the Latin word, “natura” which means birth or character. The term attempts to impart power and control to nature as defined by events that happen throughout the universe. The term also refers to what is occurring in the universe. It expresses the entirety of the phenomena of the world. It was popular in the Middle Ages and continues its popularity today. It has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology and Eastern religions.
The use of the term is a sad commentary on mankind because the term ignores God, the Creator, the Controller and the Sustainer of His world. Not only is He ignored, but the term considers God non-existent or at least impotent. Some may say that the term “protects” God because it “makes’ some force responsible for the ravages of “nature gone amuck.” In Romans 1:18-23, Paul outlined fallen man’s approach to creation. He resists the truth of God’s Being and power by attempting to suppress or hold down the truth that God is and that He is Creator and Controller of His universe. Paul has no room for the myth of Mother Nature.
The Christian can surely, and must, rejoice in God, the Creator and Controller. The power to create is the same power from the same God who controls and sustains all things for His glory and the good of His people (Ephesians 1:3-14). The Christian should turn to nature in order to begin to be gripped by the greatness of God (Psalm 19:1-2; 24:1-2; 47:2-3; 50:4,8; 89:5-6; 96:5-6; 147:4-5). Genesis opened with the declaration of the Triune God creating from nothing (Genesis1:1-2). The Song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15 and the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 highlighted God as the Warrior King and Deliverer who set the Israelites free by controlling nature. In the book of Exodus the term plague actually referred to the miracles of God as He demonstrated that He was God and the entire world was His. “Mother Nature” and the pantheon of Egyptian gods was no match for Yahweh (Exodus 7-14).
Isaiah took much the same approach in chapter 40 of his book. The imagery of God “palming the universe” as if it was a basketball was intended to bring comfort and hope to Israel at the time of the impending exile; Judah was called to turn and repent (40:12). The Holy Spirit gave the same picture in the Psalms (Psalms 19; 33; 146-150). In the book of Job, during God’s session with Job detailed in chapters 38-41), God gives Job a piece of Himself by taking him to the “zoo,” God declared Himself Creator and Controller.
The attributing universal and comprehensive causative and controlling power to nature is similar to giving power to chance as evolutionists do. Chance is an abstraction. It is not a thing. It has no power. Nature is something but not in its own right. It came from somewhere. It had an origin but it has no inherent power. It is a descriptive term. To attribute power to someone or something other than the Triune God is a sin against the first three commandments. It is idolatry and blasphemy.
God wants the Christian to properly view nature. Paul writes in Romans 8:22-23 that nature has a forward, future view – it groans awaiting the final redemption of man’s body. Nature looks forward to the new heavens and the new earth. The Christian looks at the world around him and sees God’s handiwork. How does he respond? No one doubts that there is beauty in nature. Look at the skies, seas, mountains, and desert throughout the world. God’s handiwork displays His very Being: beauty, awesome, and magnificence.
A person who looks at creation – nature – and uses it to deny God is an idolater. Rather nature is a testimony to the presence, power, and wisdom of God (Psalm 104:1-3). Consider the person who pictures the apple tree as a good fruit-provider to be enjoyed and yet considers it only as part of the universe as a result of evolution. That person has used God’s creation and the person’s reasoning to deny God as the good and powerful Creator and Controller. He has sinned grievously.
1. What is your view of the Bible? Give reasons.
2. What is your view of Genesis 1? Give reasons.
3. Read Psalm 19:1-6, Psalm 24:1-2, and Psalm 139 and answer the question: what is God teaching His people?
4. How many times do you invoke Mother Nature as the source of events in the world?
Growth in Christ: Part II
Illustrations from the Natural World
Nature also refers to God’s providential working all things for His glory, the good of the kingdom, and the benefit of the believer. Those workings may be physical storms o such as earthquakes and hurricanes or they may be mass shootings or any number of ways that people sin against another. God created the physical world as man’s abode and man was to have dominion over it. He endowed it with physical laws some of which have been discovered. They help explain God’s control of His world but too often they are used to defy God’s existence.
Moreover, God intended for nature to be enjoyed as a testimony to Him and for mankind’s enjoyment. God demonstrated and demonstrates His creativity, awesomeness, and power in His creation – nature. The grandeur of the vast oceans and mountains should turn the believer to a humbling yet awe-inspiring acknowledgment of the reality of their God.
Creation – nature – is for mankind to enjoy and a vehicle by which to enjoy God. But there is more. Nature teaches us, believer and unbeliever, how God provides for people, His children and His enemies (Matthew. 5:43-48; Acts 14:17). A basic biblical truth for all ages (time and years on this earth!) is this: God saves and grows His people. The biblical terms for these two truths are regeneration and sanctification.
As one studies all of life, one will find that God gives examples in nature to help the Christian rightly view any number of biblical truths. One such truth we encounter is in the natural world of animals. The study of the oyster provides an excellent metaphor for growth in Christ. The oyster makes pearls. So, too, does the Christian. For the Christian, the pearl is Christlikeness.
How do oysters make pearls? The two websites help us to understand oysteriology (eHow.com and science.howstuffworks.com). “As the oyster grows in size, its shell must also grow. The mantle is an organ that produces the oyster’s shell, using minerals from the oyster’s food. The material created by the mantle is called nacre. Nacre lines the inside of the shell.” ¬”The formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritates the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The mantle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl. So a pearl is a foreign substance covered with layers of nacre.”
God has made the oyster the way it is. The oyster uses the irritation provided by God (not Mother Nature). The paragraph above suggests the irritant “slips into the oyster” – “it just is.” Apparently the oyster reaction is a protective reaction.
Biblically speaking, believers know that nothing just is. God is the all-controlling Being who brings all things to pass including irritations – for Himself and His glory, for the oyster and for His people. For the believer who lives in a fallen world, the irritants include unpleasantness and trouble which sometimes is the result of the sins of others and sometimes from their own sins. Yet according to Romans 8:28-29, Romans 5:1-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4, the Christian is in the spiritual pearl-making business. The pearl of the Christian is Christlikeness. It comes about by growth in the character of Christ .The believer puts off self-pleasing and puts on pleasing God. Unlike for the oyster, this activity is not protective. Rather it is an offensive move. It is what the believer was designed for in eternity past and it is what he is saved to do (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:28-29). In the present oyster-like growth occurs only if the person is a believer – one who is Holy Spirit energized, motivated, and actualized.
The believer is to respond to trouble (it is coming if it hasn’t already!) as a Christian oyster – becoming more like Christ. No other religion teaches this truth. No other religion has the Triune God bringing all things to pass God including sanctification. One may say that functioning as an oyster is either God’s wisdom or His foolishness (Romans 8:35-39; Galatians. 5:16-18). The true believer knows that functioning as an oyster rightly understood is God’s plan for believers. – His wisdom. Accordingly, he embraces it! Like Paul, the Christian is to be a fool for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10). In the next blog, I will touch on some of the specifics of functioning as an oyster for Christ.
1. What do you think of God’s creature, the oyster, and God’s design of it?
2. How do you function as a Christian oyster?
3. Name your specific irritations and how Romans 8:28-329 helps you use then God’s way.
Growth in Christ: Part III
Illustrations from the Natural World
The Christian Oyster
Think with me about the metaphor of a Christian oyster for growth in Christlikeness. Our text is 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9:
v.7: We live by faith, not by sight.
v.9: So we make it our goal to please God whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
In verse 7, Paul writes that the believer does not walk by sight but by saving faith. He makes a contrast: interpreting the facts by the senses through feelings, experience, and reason divorced from God’s word, or interpreting facts through biblical truth. The word for walk in the original indicates a programmed, patterned, practiced lifestyle that includes thoughts, desires, and actions. Moreover, all mankind is faith-based as well as rational, thinking being. The issue is which kind. Only the believer has saving faith – one of God’s gifts to all believers but a most necessary one. Only the believer can think God’s thoughts and desires what God desires (Psalm 40:6-8).
In principle, the believer is controlled, not by his wants and desires but by biblical truth. He is not perfected in this lifestyle. That awaits heaven. He is still a sinner but a saved one. Rather, he lives out of saving grace and by enabling grace/sanctifying. He proves himself faithful in order to honor God. His faithfulness is evidenced as he lives a Holy-Spirit directed and energized life. Self no longer takes center stage. Though imperfectly and not continuously, pleasing God becomes his prime motivation as it was for Christ who did it perfectly and continuously (John 4:31-34). Pleasing God means he imitates and becomes more like Christ which is God’s original design for His people.
In verse 9, Paul calls believers to please God in contrast to pleasing-self. The two are antithetical and mutually exclusive unless you are Jesus Christ. He relished pleasing the Triune God for the honor of God and not simply to get. Since the believer has had a heart change and a kingdom/family change, he lives as a member of a new family: God is his Father and Christ is his brother. The believer has a daily, even moment-by-moment choice of pleasing-self or pleasing-God (Romans 13:12-14; Galatians 5:16-18).
The post-fall world is one of sin, misery, and death (Romans 5:12-14). Sinning and being sinned against is part and parcel of the fallen world. Every person, believer and unbeliever, is faced with problems: misery, guilt, condemnation, a lifestyle of rebellion against God, and hell-bound condemnation as a result being in Satan. The believer has been freed from the penalty of sin – its guilt and condemnation and from the power of sin. He will have changed lifestyle (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:1-3, 4-10). Yet he is still in bondage. At the same time he has true freedom because his bondage is to Christ (John 8:31-34; Romans 6:16-19). Even that freedom does not remove remaining sinfulness and its habituation.
The believer is saved but he is a saved sinner. He still functions as if he an unbeliever. This great paradox – the believer is saved with a new heart but he still functions as if he isn’t – has been answered in God’s word. Salvation does not stop the battle between pleasing God and self. It only intensifies it Paul explained in Romans 7:14-25. Only the believer is faced with the dilemma: do I live for me or for Christ.
Progressive sanctification or growth in Christ is the work of God’s free grace in the believer. He continually, progressively, but imperfectly, dies to self and lives to and for God by the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer. Metaphors help us to picture growth in Christ. One such metaphor that illustrates the activity of pleasing-God in the midst of trouble and unpleasantness is the oyster. As discussed in blog II, the oyster uses the irritation of sand to make a pearl. So, too, the Christian uses the unpleasantness of life to make a pearl: the pearl of Christlikeness.
A major issue for proper growth is to have biblical truth at the ready (Psalm 119:9-11). One such truth pertains to God. He is awesome, majestic, high and mighty, good, and purposeful who reaches out to His people. Another truth: He has ordained all that comes to pass and as such God has every person in in their situation (Romans 8:28-29). As Christians, we are to remember the oyster so we can function as one. We are to never deny the reality of trouble OR deny God’s presence, promises, power, plan, provisions, and purposes for us in them. We look beyond the trouble to the God of trouble (John 16:33).
When times seem difficult and unpleasant, stop and think of the oyster and his product. God designed him with a purpose. There is beauty that results from the oyster’s purposeful activity. The oyster is not an image bearer of God – you are. Therefore rejoice that God has seen fit to give information and truth in and by His creation that illustrate His activity in believers. The pearl-making capacity of the oyster is one of those illustrations. The believer will take his que from Romans 8:28-29 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 and produce the pearl of Christlikeness when faced with God’s providence. He honors God in the situation by using the irritation to become more Christ. The irritation is not the key – it is the believer’s response. The believer uses, not avoids or removes himself from, the situation as a tool to put to death self-pleasing and to put on God-pleasing thoughts, desires, and activities. Follow the activity of the oyster in order to bring a pearl out of an irritation.
1. Recall the oyster – one of God’s examples in nature that illustrates His work in the believer and the believer’s response.
2. Write out your last three unpleasant situations and record how you responded in thought, desire, and action.
3. How could you and how did you function as a Christian oyster in those situation?
4. Commit 2 Corinthians 5:9 to memory and use it as your Christian-oyster passage. Record the results. The joy of your salvation via pleasing God should increase as you do.
Illustrations from the Natural World: Part IV
I conclude the series: Growth in Christ. The previous blogs have focused on God and His work in the natural world. We marvel (we should!) at how all nature sings this is my Father’s world and in response the believer rests and rejoices in that truth (Psalm 24:1-2; Acts 14:14-15; 17:24-28). No matter your present situation always start vertically. Train yourself to think vertically. A proper reference to God simplifies life and helps the believer stay the course of becoming more Christ. Growth in Christ is the greatest privilege and blessing the believer has on this earth (1 John 3:1-3).
Part of growth in Christ is embedded in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Moreover, the enduring Christian should be an encouragement to all believers. The Bible teaches believers that they are pilgrims whose home is in heaven. He passes through this life to his home (Philippians 3:20-21; Hebrews 12:1-3, 18-24). The believer’s root is in heaven and a forward look at the reality of heaven is a source of hope, courage, and comfort and growth in Christ (1 John 3:1-3). Earthly life is a reality and it is to be joy because it is the first step in the believer’s final destiny.
Living as one destined to heaven and having a piece of heaven on this through the indwelling Holy Spirit makes it possible for the believer to be of earthly good. These may seem to hard challenging concepts. Heaven seems so far away and problems in this life loom large and much more real than heaven. That is where the truth of Scripture really shines light to see Light.
The concept of growth in Christ may not be a new concept for you. Functioning as a Christian oyster may be a new phrase to you but the concept it expresses is not new. . An example will be helpful to illustrate the beauty of God’s revelation in Scripture and in the natural world. Consider: you are late for work and the boss is counting on you to be on time. You encounter slow-moving traffic. Many drivers are pushing for their alleged rightful spot. You evaluate the situation as you do any and all events. What is more important to you at the time: getting to work or using the situation to grow? Is your goal to please God or to please self? Many fail right here because a proper vertical reference is not a controlling theme of their life.
At this point, arrival at work on time seems preferred because they are so many perceived benefits. As time marches on (actually God’s providence), you conclude you will be late. In response to your position on the road, which is really God’s providence, you have two and only two choices. You evaluate yourself and God through the lens of the situation or you evaluate the circumstances through God and His Word.
In the present scenario, you escalate your focus on what should be rather than on what is. Should be is based on your logic and wants – what you think is best. What is expresses a God-focus. Acknowledging and embracing the reality of you in your situation (what is) motivates you to focus on the fact and wisdom and goodness of God’s providential control. Pleasing-self focuses on your control or lack of it and can take several forms. These include sinful reactions of fear, worry, and anger. Your responses focus on control and flow from the mindset that God owes me or I have to take matters into my own hands. Basically you are saying God made a mistake.
In marked contrast, a God-pleasing response is a Christian-oyster response. God, not Mother Nature, through and in this situation has brought you to a point in which you are to realize that relationships matter. As a growing Christian, and like the oyster, you begin to use the irritation of the situation. Make no mistake God brings had times to the believer. You begin to make the pearl – faithfully trusting God. You counsel yourself to be still and know that God is God AND you are not (Psalm 46:10). That is a great whoa verse! You then honestly assess yourself in your situation. Prayerfully you pray for wisdom as you recall one of God’s purposes for unpleasantness and “I would rather not have” situations (James 1:2-4, 5-8; 1 Peter1:6-7).
Confidently and graciously you experience the peace of God. It is more than a feeling. As a result you act perhaps grudgingly at first. You actively wave the other person in who is trying to bulldoze his way into your lane (Philippians 4:6-7). You conclude that God is good! It is a good thing to honor God! His goodness is not based on how many irritations occur in a believer’s life. His goodness is based on the fact that the one unifying theme of pleasing God simplifies life. God ordained creation and redemption for His glory and the believer’s good. For the believer, pleasing God trumps all other activity this side of heaven (1 John 3:1-3).
If that is not your prime motivation ask yourself why not? Why have you settled for so little in this life? Those are great questions to ponder regularly. God is saving a people usually one person at a time. He is bringing His people into His presence. Once in the kingdom, salvation does not cease. Rather, the believer, the most changed person trustingly and thankfully takes up the mantle of the Christian oyster (Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 1:4). The believer is to be the most changing person. It is the most logical thing to do (Romans 12:1-2).
1. How are you doing in taking the activity of the oyster and bringing a pearl out of an irritation? Be specific.
2. Keep a whoa journal: recall the situation, how used Ps. 46;10, and you response and the results.
3. Keep a wow journal: recall when and how you functioned as a Christian oyster and the results.
4. Have you made becoming more like Christ a priority? Give reasons and evaluate them from a 2 Corinthians 5:9 and Philippians 2:12-13 perspective. What you learn?
5. Rejoice that you have the blessing, the privilege, and duty to become more like Christ (1 John 3:1-3; 5:3-4). How do you respond?